An affordable introduction to the possibilities of mic modeling
Review by Mike Metlay
Back in our September 2009 issue, Darwin Grosse had a good time reviewing the ECM-87 cardioid condenser mic from Gauge Precision Instruments. The ECM-87 is made in China to the specifications of company founders and multiplatinum recording engineers Chandler Bridges and Rob Chiarelli. Each and every Gauge mic is unboxed, tested, and listened to personally by Chandler and Gauge CEO Jeff Piergeorge in their studio before being sold (or, if they don’t meet standards, sent back). This “cherry picking” selection process results in mics that are consistently great-sounding while remaining quite affordable.
- OCTOBER 2019: Austrian Audio OC818 Multipattern Dual Output Condenser Microphone
- SEPTEMBER 2019: Dynaudio Core 59 High-End Professional Reference Monitor
- AUGUST 2019: Steinberg AXR4 Thunderbolt 2 Audio Interface
- JULY 2019: PSI Audio A17-M Studio Monitors
- JUNE 2019: Lynx Aurora (n)
- MAY 2019: Vanguard Audio Labs V4 and V44S
- APRIL 2019: Blue Ember
- MARCH 2019: Kii Audio THREE
- FEBRUARY 2019: Chandler Limited TG Microphone
- JANUARY 2019: ADAM Audio Studio Pro SP-5
I got to use the mic after Darwin’s review, and really enjoyed my time with it. Years later, it was great to revisit the ECM-87 as part of Gauge’s new Virtual Mic Locker.
The ECM-87 is a large-diaphragm solid-state condenser mic with a cardioid polar pattern that requires phantom power. It sports a 1.07″ 6-micron diaphragm and offers a sensitivity of 12.5 mV/Pa (94 dB SPL at 1 kHz), self-noise of 17 dBA, and a maximum SPL of 128 dB (0.5% THD at 1 kHz). Its only control is a low-frequency rolloff switch hidden inside the mic. It comes in silver or “stealth” black, and the Virtual Mic Locker bundle includes a spider shockmount, a metal-mesh pop filter of quite good quality on a gooseneck stand-clamp mount, a soft carry bag and polishing cloth, and a license for the ECM-87 Mic Clone plug-in (which can also be purchased separately by current ECM-87 owners).
It bears a passing resemblance to a certain famous mic with the number 87 in its name, but has a sound all its own: a couple of small but significant bumps below 50 Hz, a slow rise to 2 kHz, a 4 dB broad bump between 3 and 6 kHz, and a more pronounced and broad 6 dB peak centered on roughly 12 kHz. This gives it a classic “big condenser sound” with a strong treble peak that’s not overwhelming, a nice presence in the upper mids, and solid but not boomy bass.
This frequency response makes it a workhorse for all kinds of applications. It’s great on vocals (although sibilance can be a problem on some voices), does a lovely job of picking up acoustic guitar when aimed at the 12th fret and backed off a bit over a foot away, and on woodwinds and mountain dulcimer at a similar distance. While I didn’t test it on drum overheads, I’d imagine it would work well in a mono or spaced-pair configuration or as part of a Glyn Johns setup; it sounded great on hand percussion.
The Gauge website jokes about it sounding terrible on accordion, harmonica, and bagpipes, but it worked well with my melodica when backed off a couple of feet. Harmonica? Yeah, that sucked… and I didn’t try it on bagpipes, sorry.
Proximity effect was not super-pronounced unless I got very close to the mic (2″ or less). Off-axis response sounded nice and smooth rather than weird or spiky in the highs.
In other words, this is an affordable mic that punches well above its weight class and would be a great addition to the mic locker of many studios, from a beginner’s bedroom on up. It’s a solid performer on its own, so it’s well-suited as a basis for the ECM-87 Mic Clone plug-in.
…or with a clone
ECM-87 Mic Clone is available in AU, VST, or AAX Native formats, and uses the PACE iLok system (either on a USB key or directly to your hard drive). It can be used as you track with the ECM-87, or on already-recorded tracks during mixdown.
“Modeling” can mean a variety of processes, and the Gauge website gives no hints on how the plug-in works. Nor is there a manual, but I suppose you don’t really need one: the user interface has just eight buttons and one slider. Click through the buttons as you listen, move the slider until it sounds best to you, boom, done.
Each button selects a particular model, and the slider varies the mic’s tone and frequency response in a way that’s different for each:
1. M49: This setting’s less sibilant than that of the base mic, and increasing the slider setting causes it to get weightier in the upper mids. Great on female vocals.
2. U87: This is very close to the sound of the base mic to start; moving the slider thins out the mids and emphasizes the higher presence bump.
3. U67: This is quite similar to the U87 model but with more clarity in all frequency ranges, yet with less trebliness even at higher settings. A personal favorite of mine!
4. U47: Warm and almost boomy, with very weighty and present mids. A winner on many sources, including dulcimer, winds… and yes, melodica.
5. 47FET: The slider brings out the boom without losing the snap, emulating the tone that makes the original such a great choice for kick drum.
6. C12: This is the brightest and thinnest and clearest of the models, with the least low end punch. The slider contours the overall tone in the upper mids and highs without touching the lows very much; it’s wonderful on acoustic guitar.
7. 414: The effect of the slider is easiest to hear on this model, as it quite dramatically brings out a lower-mid boost that can quickly turn into a honk if you’re not careful. My favorite on hand percussion.
8. C800: The last model offers more aggressive boom and less top end, which is great on sibilant voices. The slider boosts overall mid emphasis in a very musical way.
I approached this review from the standpoint of a beginner looking to give mic modeling a try and get a taste of what it’s all about. The Virtual Mic Locker works well in that regard, but it’s more than just a “beginner’s modeling mic.”
Sure, there are more expensive modeling mics with many more features, but even experienced engineers will like how easy it is to find a great tone for any source. The ECM-87 Virtual Mic Locker is fun, fast, and gives wonderfully musical results without breaking the bank… and it’s based on a mic that delivers great results on its own, making it a genuine winner for studios of all sizes.
More from: Gauge Precision Instruments, www.gauge-usa.com