3 Zigma Audio CHI
Detachable-Capsule Pencil Condenser Microphone
The CHI is a modular microphone system, also known as a “hybrid” mic system, modeled after Schoeps “Colette” microphone series. The basic idea is that capsules are separate from “head amplifiers,” and can be mixed and matched to suit any specific recording need.
But while the Colette series offers only small-diaphragm capsules, the CHI system offers small and large-diaphragm capsules.
The CHI system’s initial release, in 2009, consisted of a single head amp — a transformerless FET design built into a brass body — and eight interchangeable capsules. The name is pronounced chai, and stands for “Capsule Head Integration.”
The transformerless head amp (microphone body) was designed with minimalist circuitry. It is intended as a neutral, transparent, low-noise amplifier, so that the tone of the capsule is not affected by any coloration or distortion from the amplifier stage.
The amp circuit was designed by JP Gerard, the lead designer for ADK.
The capsules were designed in a 3-way collaboration between JP Gerard, ADK founder Larry Villella, and an unnamed aerospace engineer in Australia, and are built at a new facility set up by 3 Zigma in rural China.
This “capsuleworks” has grown into a full microphone factory and is handling the manufacture of the entire CHI system.
Four small-diameter (17mm) capsules are available, covering the traditional SDC options: cardioid, hypercardioid, and omni (two varieties). These small-diameter capsules are intended to provide transparency (or neutrality) and versatility rather than a colored response.
JP and I have long had this back and forth tête-à-tête about flavors, because he’s European, and I’m American… As you know, there’s British EQ and American EQ; there’s a flavor difference. There’s a cultural underpinning to all of this. That’s why Bösendorfers don’t sound like Steinways and Beethoven doesn’t sound like Mozart.
When we came to the all-important small-diaphragm CHI, we had this classic argument where JP loves Schoeps, and I love KM-84s. We did this compromise curve, that’s not as bright as a Schoeps, and not as mellow as a KM-84.
And he and I both concluded it’s the most useful small-diaphragm cardioid either one of us has ever used. And it was because instead of being stubborn, we compromised and made a blend.
The two SDC omni capsules are distinguished by their HF response.
Diffuse Field response: to be used when a relatively flat treble is required off-axis, for instance when the room sound needs to be accurately represented (= brighter source). No proximity effect and a detailed, emphasized top end to compensate for HF losses encountered when the mics are placed away from the source. This is the best choice for “natural” distant stereo recordings.
Free Field response: to be used when a relatively flat treble is required on-axis, for instance when the source needs to be accurately represented (= darker room sound). No proximity effect and a detailed but un-emphasized top end. This is the best choice for solo work, when a very natural sound up close is needed. Lifelike response, in mono or stereo.
Four large-diameter (27.5mm) capsules are also available. In contrast to the SDC capsules, the LDC capsules provide no pattern variation, but lots of color — that is, they are all cardioid, and are distinguished by the tone they provide.
- C-Lol-12 - Inspired by the C12. The same capsule (p/n GK12) can be found in ADK’s CS-12.
- C-Lol-47 - Inspired by the U-47.
- C-Lol-67 - Inspired by the U-67. The same capsule (p/n GK67) can be found in ADK’s CS-67.
- C-Lol-251 - Inspired by the Ela M 251. Has two presence peaks, +2dB @ 5kHz and +5dB @ 15kHz, and deeper lows than the other Lollipop capsules (-2dB @ 20Hz). The same capsule can be found in ADK’s Cremona 251-Au.
Because the CHI is designed as a mix-and-match system, multiple packages are offered, including a la carte bodies and caps. Example MSRPs:
- CHI Transformerless head amp: $595
- Head amp plus one LD capsule (C-Lol-12, C-Lol-67, C-Lol-47): $895
- Head amp plus C-Lol-251: $995
- Two head amps plus two SDC caps (cardioid or Omni-diffuse), matched: $1995
- Four head amps plus four SDC caps, matched: $3995
- Head amp plus one LDC and two SDC: $2180 (add $100 for C-Lol-251)
- Two head amps, two LDC, four SDC: $3995
The initial (2009) production run of brass-body CHI microphones suffered from a few minor usability challenges — for example, the shockmounts would not grip the microphones adequately, the capsule threads felt a little too delicate, and the LDC caps did not sufficiently indicate their model numbers nor the front of the capsule.
These issues will all be addressed in the 2010 production run, which will introduce:
- A redesigned mic body, machined from stainless-steel
- A second head amp, with a transformer-coupled output stage
- A new LDC capsule based on the M49
- New shockmount and flightcase options
The 3 Zigma Audio CHI is also known as: HA-TL.
The mic was released in 2008.
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