sE Electronics sE2200a – The Tape Op Review

TapeOp Issue #48/July, 2005 | by

$300 (street) buys you a fantastic-sounding, large-diaphragm condenser, complete with suitcase and shockmount? Unbelievable!

I recently recorded four songs with Chris Colbourn (Buffalo Tom) and Hilken Mancini (Fuzzy) for an upcoming dual-solo album. Chris’s voice tends to be somewhere between nasal and raspy, in an endearing way. I wanted to lean his voice toward raspy. As we auditioned mics, I was looking for something that would accentuate some of the highs without getting too raspy, while providing some low-end body (through controlled proximity effect) to counter the nasal tone. I also needed a clean midrange sound, especially in the upper mids — I’ll explain my reasoning for this later.

First I tried the Gefell M990 tube condenser. Too sibilant and too much rasp, and the midrange wasn’t working for me. I moved on to the M990’s solid-state cousin, the M930, but it too didn’t work. Next up, the Shure KSM32, a go-to mic of sorts for me. Despite the KSM32’s smooth midrange response, Chris’s voice sounded too small and the high end wasn’t cutting through the doubled acoustic guitars. I was hesitant to try the SE2200A, having just used it as the “center” mic for the acoustic tracks, but I gave it a go anyway. Bingo! The highs were up front but much smoother than with the other mics, and the proximity effect brought up the “chest” in Chris’s voice. And the mids — especially the upper mids — were just what I needed. Reason? I like to use frequency-selective compression on vocals. In other words, I compress different frequency bands differently, and to make Chris’s voice seem up front without losing the “intimate” factor of his voice, I squashed the upper mids while auto-gaining them up to the same level as the less-compressed bands above and below. The result? Each syllable was clearly audible, but the dynamic qualities were still there, so the voice sounded controlled without sounding compressed. If the mic’s upper mids are too peaky, this technique makes for a harsh sound, but the SE2200A worked perfectly here.

I had similar results recording the vocals for Helms. Sean McCarthy covers a whole range of vocal styles — whispering, talking, singing, screaming — sometimes all in one take! The SE2200A turned out to be the perfect mic because it was extremely quiet but very capable of handling the screams. I used a whole chain of different compression — frequency-selective, overdriven tube, tape emulation, and “nuke” — to get the sounds we needed, and the exceptional smoothness and clarity evident in the SE2200A’s response made this all possible.

Where else have I used this mic? I quickly mentioned above that I’d used it for the “center” mic on acoustic guitar tracks. Here’s how. Because I was using an SF-12 stereo ribbon about 16'' in front of the guitar to pick up lots of body, fretboard — and room — I needed a second mic to “focus” the acoustic. I took the SE2200A and positioned it about 32'' from the front of the guitar with the SF?12 placed directly in between. I delayed the SE2000A by 1.2ms to phase-align the mics as much as possible. The smooth top end of the SE2200A really brought out the acoustic’s strings, without sounding brittle or tinny.

I’ve also used the mic on my Yamaha U3 upright. The bright voicing of the Yamaha was faithfully reproduced without the piano’s timbre going cold (as it often does with over-hyped, large-diaphragm condensers), and as I moved the mic closer to the soundboard over the open top, I had good control over the low-end sustain (while admittingly picking up more of the trap work).

And in a recent tracking session with The Dirty Whites, the SE2200A fared well as a front kick-drum mic. With it placed about 10'' in front of the front head, the mic picked up enough “boom” while still providing enough presence to allow the kick to punch through the sound of The Dirty White’s bass guitar, quite possibly the loudest instrument I’ve ever recorded.

SE is a US company that owns and operates a factory in Shanghai that makes only SE products. SE mics are not rebadged and sold under different brand names, and they’re definitely not the typical “Chinese mics.” I’ve seen photos of other Chinese mic factories (in which the various brands of the mics being assembled were easily ascertainable), so when I saw photos of the SE facility and assembly line, it was immediately clear why SE’s build quality is so much higher. Taking apart an SE mic really made me appreciate the quality of the CNC-manufactured parts.

SE offers a free, seven-day loan program, so how can you go wrong? Try an SE2200A — or any other SE mic — in the comfort and familiarity of your own studio, and decide for yourself. ($399 MSRP; sE Electronics)

Read more about the sE Electronics zE2200a large-diaphragm condenser microphone.

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