Test Drive: A Gaggle of Ribbon Microphones

WoodpeckerBLUE WOODPECKER

I have a former student who now works for Blue Microphones in Southern California, and he was the one who tipped me that Blue had entered the ribbon mic lottery. Blue has a reputation for making really good mics with really weird names, so I was anxious to check out the $1299 Blue Woodpecker.

Yep, that’s a real wood veneer on the outside of the Woodpecker, framed in gold-plated metalwork. It’s a classy looking microphone, and Blue presents it properly in a cherrywood box that also holds the brass shockmount. The package communicates quality and personality at the same time. In use, this microphone has both.

The Woodpecker features the classic ribbon figure-8 polar pattern, and the specs claim it can handle a max SPL of 136dB, with a dynamic range of 114dB. The frequency response plot is about what you’d expect from a ribbon at 20Hz to 20kHz, with a huge boost below 200Hz but an uncharacteristic 3dB boost around 6 or 7kHz. But what’s very different is that while phantom power can be fatal to some ribbon microphones, this ribbon microphone actually requires 48V phantom to power the active Class A electronics inside the mic body.

woodpecker curve

For the first go-round, I plugged the Woodpecker into the solid-state RNP. I fully expected to crank the input level to near the maximum for this ribbon. Recording a male VO in his mid-30s who sounded about 20, I was surprised at how little gain was actually required. With the talent about eight inches from the mic, I was able to set the preamp input at 12dB of gain with room to spare and zero noise. His somewhat nasal tone came across with a pleasant fullness in the low end, without any hint of boominess. The highs were clean and open-sounding without any brittleness.

I then plugged the Woodpecker into an all-tube Manley VoxBox. With the same talent, the recording got warmer-sounding, but I again found myself rolling off about 2dB on the low end to keep him from sounding chesty. The highs became smoother but were still clean, and his voice had just the right amount of presence. I switched the Woodpecker with a TLM-103 condenser, and I liked him better on the Woodpecker... he sounded more like he was standing next to me.

On the other hand, with a big-voice-baritone male VO I found it necessary to back him off the Woodpecker another couple of inches to reduce the low end. Any closer than eight inches caused the proximity effect to kick in, which made the baritone too boomy for my tastes. With a female VO, the Woodpecker filled out the low-mids of her voice nicely, and gave me goosebumps on an intimate read. It also tamed her transients and sibilance nicely, as ribbon mics usually do.

The Blue Woodpecker is not your ordinary ribbon microphone. With the Woodpecker, Blue Microphones nailed its first foray into the ribbon category. It definitely has a personality, but it’s one I like. I also like the fact that doesn’t require tons of clean gain to function. While the Woodpecker is not cheap at $1299 (it tends to street at about a grand), it is nevertheless a keeper.

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