Chameleon Labs TS-1 – The Tape Op Review (#2 of 2)

TapeOp Issue #60/July, 2007 | by

We’ve had a pair of TS-1‘s at The Hangar for the last six months or so, and they’ve seen a fair amount of use in that time. It seems that almost every time I walk back to the studio, there’s at least one TS-1 out on the floor.

I’ve made a point of asking the engineers what they thought about the TS-1 and listening to the track. One of the TS-1’s first sessions was with engineer Ralph Stover. I’ve always loved the drum sounds Ralph gets here. A near perfect mix of close-mic’ing and room sound — commercial but not at all sterile sounding. He always seems to get set up very quickly, using essentially the same mics and preamps each session, going for what he knows will work. That’s why I was a bit surprised to see the TS-1 as the snare mic. “Sounds amazing,” was Ralph’s comment, and I had to agree. Everything you wanted from the snare, solid body — not too woofy — and nice top end, but not too much high end; nor was it harsh. Very natural sounding.

The next time I heard the TS-1 on a track was when engineer, and Tape Op’s pre-press dude, Scott McChane used them on an acoustic guitar track for Alaska based artist, Matt Hopper. Again, the mic just sounded great — really natural with just the right amount of low mids and a nice, natural top end.

On a session for the band Say No More on Drive Thru Records, engineer Robert Cheek used the TS-1s for top and bottom snare mics (in conjunction with a Heil PR-20) and kept them up for the entire record. The snare had that perfect pop/punk snare tone that only got better when Robert ran it through the Chandler/EMI TG 12413 limiter and TG12345 EQ.

Engineer Eric Broyhill has also been using the TS-1s as overheads, and his comment was, “They sound awesome. Warm but with an extended top end. I could really see each cymbal without it being washy. I had them placed pretty high too, about eight feet above the kit.” This mic seems to excel at capturing sources with potentially challenging top-end transients as noted in the examples here.

I’ve always really liked SDC’s as used above, but I’ve heard some that are brittle and harsh from over-hyped top end. Or, the preamp section seems to be less than flattering above 8 kHz or so, adding an unpleasant distortion that sounds great on really shitty worn-out acoustic guitar strings, beat-up snare heads, and filthy cymbals, but not so nice on good instruments with good players. And who amongst us really wants to buy mics that only sound good on shitty sources? For me, the holy grail of SDC’s is the Neumann KM-84, a mic I’ve used extensively over the years but don’t currently own due to its cost.

Of course, I’ve always wanted to hear, but have not yet been fortunate enough to hear, the tube-based Neumann KM 54, a mic that is essentially the same type as the TS-1. I’ve found the Audio Technica Pro 37 to be a very nice and affordably-priced SDC. But, the mic that has kept me from buying a costly pair of KM 84s on eBay is the THE KA-04 body with the THE cardioid capsule. This mic is so close to what I remember the KM-84 sounding like, that whatever differences there are, I’m going to just chalk them up to my auditory-brain interface and my wallet-brain interface keeping a happy balance. I, and all of the engineers above, have been using the THEs for the past three years, and they are universally regarded as sounding pretty much excellent on whatever source they’re put on.

So, as a final test of the TS-1, I thought it would be interesting to compare them to the THEs that we all know and love around The Hangar. Scott, Bryce Gonzales, and I made two short recordings with both mics: a Guild steel string acoustic both strummed and finger picked; and a hi-hat cymbal both open and closed. On both sources, both mics sounded excellent and remarkably close to each other, especially below 8 kHz or so. But, the THE had a bit more extended top end and better transient response. I couldn’t really say that one or the other mic sounded better; they both sounded great. The THE has had years of successful use on tracks here by all of the above engineers, and I think the TS-1 will soon be joining it. The main difference is in the top end as noted. If I were recording to analog tape, I’d probably put up the THE first, whereas if I was recording to digital, I’d probably go with the TS-1. If I wanted an acoustic guitar to really cut through a dense track, I’d go with the THE, but if I were looking for a guitar track to sit a little bit more in the background, or if the track was pretty open, I might go with the TS-1 first. Bottom line, every recordist should have at least one SDC in their mic locker, and the TS-1 is a versatile and excellent sounding mic. If this were your only SDC, you’d be in great shape.

(See also Mark Rubel’s review of the TS-1.)

Read more about the Chameleon Labs TS-1 small-diaphragm tube condenser.

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