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A new model collection for the Townsend Labs Sphere mic and UAD-2/Apollo DSP

 

By Paul Vnuk Jr.

Just a few months ago, in our November 2017 issue, we took our first look at the Sphere L22 Modeling Microphone from Townsend Labs. While I assumed that we’d be revisiting the L22 as new models became available down the line, I admit I wasn’t expecting that to be just a few months later… not that I’m complaining!

If you missed that review, the Sphere L22 is a traditional 8.9″ x 2.5″ large-diaphragm condenser microphone designed to offer a clean and neutral capture of a source. Then, with the use of the Sphere modeling plug-in, you can alter the microphone to take on the sonic characteristics of a selection of well-known microphone brands and models.

While not the only modeling microphone on the market, the L22 sets itself apart form the pack in two significant ways. First, unlike other mics which require a fixed combination of microphone and preamp/interface, the L22 can be used with any matched 2-channel preamp or interface. The reason it needs a 2-channel interface leads us to to the other part of its unique design.

The L22 is a true multipattern modeling mic; it uses a dual XLR breakout cable to take a tap off of each individual capsule diaphragm. These signals are then recombined in the plug-in, where you can alter the polar pattern, proximity effect, and off-axis rejection, and use a single L22 in stereo… all during tracking or later during mixdown.

The Sphere plug-in is included as a native plug-in for VST 2, VST3, AAX Native and Audio Units. If you own a Universal Audio UAD-2 accelerator card or Apollo interface, it is the only modeling mic authorized to work as a UAD plug-in as well. As of version 9.4 of the UAD software, the L22 has picked up some exclusive UA mic models in addition to its existing collection.

Universal Audio’s latest v9.4 update not only includes brand spanking new emulations of the Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor, Dytronics Tri-Stereo Chorus, and the Gallien-Krueger 800RB Bass Amp, but it also includes UA’s second collaboration with Ocean Way Studios and engineer Allen Sides. The first was the Ocean Way Studios dynamic room modeling plug‑in, and now it’s The Ocean Way Microphone Collection.

In the Sphere’s original line up are are the large-diaphragm models LD-47K, LD-49K, LD-67, LD-87, LD-12, LD-251, and LD-800, as well as the specialty models SD-451, RB-4038, and DN-57. Each number gives away the family of origin, and according to Townsend Labs, that is exactly what each model is. They are based on pristine modern familial sonics rather than any single specific classic unit.

The new Ocean Way collection is the exact opposite: The Ocean Way Microphone Collection is made up of 12 microphones from engineer Allen Sides’ personal microphone locker, which is legendary as one of the premier mic collections in the world. The microphones modeled in this collection have a pedigree of use that includes Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Phil Collins, Joni Mitchell, Little Richard, Alanis Morissette, Faith Hill, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder and many more stars.

This new collection of mic models is made exclusively for use with the Sphere L22 and a Universal Audio UAD-2 or Apollo. It is not available as a native plug-in, and it is not a Townsend Labs product; it’s a Universal Audio product that uses the Sphere and UAD-2 as a combined platform. It’s important to clarify this, as some users were initially confused by the release of a new model collection that’s not a free upgrade for Sphere owners.

 

The Ocean Way models

In use, the GUI and functions of this plug-in are exactly the same as the regular Sphere plug-in. The only difference is aesthetics: the GUI is done in Ocean Way brown with a square pattern window.

The mics in this collection are:

OW-47 (Neumann U 47), OW-12 #1 and OW-12 #2 (two different AKG C12), OW-49 (Neumann M 49), OW-269 (Neumann M 269), OW-800 (Allen Sides’ prototype Sony C800G), OW-50 (Neumann M 50), OW-K53 (Neumann KM 53), OW-K54 (Neumann KM 54), OW-55 (Sony C55P), OW-K3A (RCA KU-3A ribbon), and OW-57U3 (Shure SM57 Unidyne III dynamic). Once again, the bulk of the collection centers on large-diaphragm mics, with some specialty small diaphragm models, a ribbon mic, and a dynamic adding extra flavors.

Digging into comparisons between the new models and the original Townsend models revealed some fascinating contrasts.

~ The new OW-47 is pretty close to LD-47K, with a touch more low-mid weight and less top end. I’d call this a “5%” difference.

~ Comparing the 12s, the differences are quite noticeable. I would order them as OW-12 #1 being the most open and dimensional, OW-12 #2 being much rounder—even pillowy—and the original LD-12 firmly in the middle, like a brand-new clean stock model.

~ The best descriptive of OW-49 is that it sounds much more big, dusty, and vintage than the LD-49K.

~ Although these are not models of the same mic, I compared the OW-269 to the LD-67. The LD-67 was a touch darker than the OW-269, which had more air. This was to be expected, because that’s how it is in the real world: both mics share a capsule and body but have different amplifiers and tube stages.

~ The two 800-based models were very similar, with the Allen Sides prototype being a touch less toppy and maybe a bit more forward, but only subtly so.

~ Comparing the last two similar models in the collection, the vintage Ocean Way Unidyne III was much thinner and more aggressive than the DN-57.

 

Comparing these modeled mics really shows off how well both the Townsend and UA teams did. Most of the differences I described above are subtle, most noticeable when compared side-by-side… confirming that the family resemblance and accuracy of the models are quite well done.

Of the other mics I would love to say, “Wow, they nailed it,” but with the exception of talking into an AEA version of the KU3A at NAMM, these are models I have never owned or used in person. In fact, the Sony C55P is a broadcast condenser that I had never even heard of until this review… although apparently Ocean Way and Allen like them so much they have more than a few on hand.

Also note that polar pattern and proximity settings in the software play a healthy role in the sound and use of these mics, and have the added benefit of offering patterns, filters, and proximity effects not found on the originals. All of this makes the sonic palette of this collection even broader.

 

Conclusion

One final note: When we did the Sphere L22 review last November, we added a comparison video to our YouTube page. Following this review, we will be adding a second part to the video that will make use of the same song and performance but will run through all of the new Ocean Way models. We’ll also do some side-by-side comparisons with the original collection, so you can hear what this mic and plug-in collection can do for you.

The plug-in can be activated from Universal Audio’s website and can be demoed with ease from your UAD control panel. If you own the Townsend L22 Sphere and a UAD-2 device, this collection is really a no-brainer. If you have one of the two but not both, it may well sway you into completing the set!

 

Price: $249

More from: Universal Audio, www.uaudio.com

 

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