Shinybox 46 – The Tape Op Review

TapeOp Issue #53/May, 2006 | by

ShinyBox is Jon Ulrigg, a one man operation in Washington state. A musician and self-described electronics freak, Jon is a passionate guy who came to microphone design after a long period of soul-searching and with a desire to make tools for musicians. He was interested in ribbon mics, and after seeing what several Chinese factories were offering, Jon spent some time trying out the models at hand and refining his design, wanting to make a high-output, affordable microphone that would tighten the gap between boutique ribbons and what was currently available. His first ribbon model is the ShinyBox 46. Manufactured in China and receiving final tweaks and upgrades in Jon’s shop, the 46 is a stellar microphone that is an amazing value.

The 46 is smaller — about 2/3rds the size — than the continually re-branded “Nady” style ribbons that have been around for the last two years or so. ShinyBox claims that this smaller size reduces the proximity effect, and I would have to agree. The 46 excels at tight mic’ing for an amazingly intimate sound. The mic’s tone is full and open, with a natural sounding midrange that is easy to fall in love with. In the last few years, I’ve been using ribbon microphones more and more — often my first choice for most applications. I find the sound to be much more pleasing and natural, and I wind up using them in one way or another on just about everything I track. Using a ribbon is a great way to soften digital recording situations, and it can be an escape from “modern” sounding treble.

Where ShinyBox differs from other manufacturers is that with the 46, you can choose a couple of different output transformers. You can buy the 46 stock, outfit it with a Cinemag (the 46C), or spec a Lundahl (46L). Jon from ShinyBox, who is just great to talk to on the phone (and very, very approachable) sent me all three. He picked the Cinemag and Lundahl transformers after months of swapping new and vintage transformers.

Of the ribbons that I’m familiar with, I would characterize the ShinyBox 46 as sitting somewhere near the Coles 4038 [see Tape Op review of Coles 4038]. The 46 has the midrange detail of the Coles and the full but controlled bottom end that makes the Coles such a joy to use. Granted, the Coles has more top end than the ShinyBox, but since a 46-series mic is a third (or fourth) of the cost, that’s pretty smoking. I generally reach for EQ with most ribbons as they respond so well to slight boosts in the upper mids and highs, so the top end deficiency of the 46 is easily remedied. I was constantly surprised at how good of an all-around general instrument mic the 46 is. Certain ribbon microphones sound great in particular situations but start to lag in others. The 46 sounded fantastic over and over again on whatever I put it on. I used the ShinyBox extensively working with songwriter Patrick Park, later with a band from NY called The Rosewood Thieves, and on the three sweet voices of a group called Chapin Sisters from LA. It became the staple microphone, with the clichéd, “What mic is that? Sounds amazing!” moment in full effect. Mixing was easy, with the ShinyBox tracks needing little EQ and responding really well to compression.

I found that, as expected, the 46L had the highest output, but I didn’t really think that the difference in gain between the 46L and 46C was really that much of an issue. But as always, with a ribbon, it’s worth striving for every last dB of gain you can get. Both transformers have more than enough output to allow you to use any number of mic preamps, from budget to boutique. As for the tonal differences, the Cinemag seemed to bring out the sweeter and more resonant qualities of the 46, while the Lundahl had a much more extended top end that really provided a surprising amount of detail. The Cinemag tranformer was a bit more “musical,” and the Lundahl was a bit more “accurate.” The 46L was really perfect on drums, piano, and male vocals where the treble was sweet and really focused, and the 46C was my continual choice for percussion, electric guitars, and female vocals. On drums, the 46L was just perfect as a mono overhead about four feet above the kick drum, slightly towards the ride. The stock 46 sounded fine, but the transformer upgrades made such a huge difference in available gain that it sat in its case for most of the time.

The ShinyBox mount is a standard L-bracket that sits on the side of the mic. It’s useful and lends itself well to precise positioning, but the metal from which it’s constructed is a bit flimsy (bendable), so you have to treat it with care. It’s not going to break, but you need to be careful. Jon told me that future mics will most likely ship with a spider shockmount.

The ShinyBox 46L and 46C have become two of my most favorite microphones. I can’t imagine doing a session without them.

More info about the Shinybox 46, 46C, 46L passive ribbon microphones.

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