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Tech Notes by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while I run into a few products that perform way beyond my wildest expectations. A classic example would be the Kurzweil K2000 and K2500.

A few weeks ago, I got an assignment to review the Earthworks TC40K Condenser microphones ($800 retail) for Electronic Musician. I had done the review of the company's OM1 and TC30K mics for the magazine back in the November 1996 issue and found them to be absolutely great, and I subsequently devoted part of a Tech Notes column to these excellent performers in the Fall issue of Sweet Notes.

Well, as amazing as those mics were, the TC40Ks are even better. But quite honestly, it was not until I got my hands on a premium microphone preamp that I could really appreciate just how incredible these things actually were, since your average "off-the-shelf"
Earthworks TC40K Condenser Mic
The futuristic-looking Earthworks TC40k.
mixer/preamp just doesn't have specs to match these superb mics. Thanks to Chuck Surack at Sweet-water, I was able to plug the TC40Ks into an awesome Oram MWS (which stands for Microphone Workstation) and let me tell you, this is one fantastic preamp - but more on that in just a few minutes.

For the EM review, I recorded and then sampled a relatively inexpensive Ibanez 12-string guitar, as well as a ridiculously expensive 1960s vintage Gibson B-45 12-string. What was not surprising was how great the Gibson sounded - what was shocking was how well the Ibanez reproduced using these mics. It's almost as if the TC40Ks magically added some top-end harmonic structure to the Ibanez that gave the Gibson some stiff sonic competition. I should mention here that the TC40Ks are omnidirectional, so you should plan on working closer to your source than you normally would with cardioids. In the case of the guitars, I had the mics only about seven inches from the guitar body, one pointed at bridge and the other at the fingerboard.

The very next day I recorded a William Dowd harpsichord built in Boston in 1975. Placing the mics a scant four inches above the strings and about two feet apart produced a set of samples that sounded incredibly even across the full five octave range of this beautiful instrument.

Next, I threw some heavy duty guitar and bass at these mics with them set right up against the grille cloth of the amp. Even with the explosive transients of some popped bass notes, there was absolutely no distortion. Even pounding on a snare drum and cymbal placed inches away didn't bother these mics.

Finally, I did some recordings of a local rock group in a live club setting using just two TC40Ks. The results, particularly when played back over some great headphones (like the high end AKGs), were about as close to "being there" as I've ever heard. Every note, every drum hit was captured beautifully, and I didn't even have to move the mics around - they sounded fantastic right where I originally set them, about twelve feet away from the group.

Part of the richness and overall "liveness" of my recording was because of the mics' excellent time coherence, meaning that all the frequencies arrived at the mic and were converted to an analog electrical signal with no time domain "smearing" of the original information. Adequately explaining this would take up more space than we have here, but trust me, the results were dynamite.

Of course, as already mentioned, getting the very best performance out of these mics requires a great mic preamp (though believe me, you'll even hear the difference through just about any mic pre), which is exactly
Oram MWS Mic Preamp
The superb Oram MWS mic preamp.
what the Oram MWS is. This unit has a frequency response that's down only 3 dB at 40 kHz, making it a perfect match for the TC40K's extended 9 Hz 40 kHz frequency response. Essentially, the MWS features two channels lifted right from the incredible Oram BEQ Mixing Consoles which feature that much sought-after "British EQ."

Frankly, I had heard a lot about this type of equalization, but had never actually experienced it for myself. Take it from me: I'm now a believer! This is not some manu-facturer's hype - this is something almost anyone can hear and appreciate, not just people with so-called "golden ears." The EQ controls allow you to precisely tune-in exactly the sound quality you're looking for. What's more, this puppy is super quiet! For remote recordings, you can plug the TC40Ks (or any mic of your choice, of course) into the Oram MWS, then directly into your DAT recorder and get audio quality that just a few years ago would have been nearly impossible to achieve.

Speaking of Oram products, if you read the last issue of Sweet Notes, you know that Sweetwater is the not only a dealer for Oram, but is also the official North American distributor for this great line. According to Chuck at Sweetwater, the first shipments of consoles and other products (like the MWS and the HD-EQ2) have just arrived. Of course, many of these are already committed to filling orders placed by studios all across the country - seems like there's been quite a pent-up demand for Oram mixers out there in studioland.

That demand is certainly understandable given my own experience with the MWS. I can't wait to make my annual trip up to Sweetwater and see (and hear) the new BEQ Consoles, the Series 8 and Series 24. You're sure to hear a lot more industry buzz about these mixing desks - and incidentally, they are just that, true mixing desks, not big table-top mixers - as well as seeing a lot of ads in the trade magazines. If you're in the market for a pro quality console that will in all likelihood last you a lifetime, I'd strongly advise you to call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer today. They can set you up with a great price on an absolutely fabulous console.

Then again, if you're like me and just need a really top quality mic preamp with truly astonishing performance, look no further than the MWS. At $2195 (that's retail), it's still a significant investment, but one that will pay big dividends in audio quality, particularly when matched up with some great mics like the Earthworks TC40Ks.

It's hard to believe how far we've all come in the last decade. I remember getting my first digital reverb in about 1987 and paying big bucks for the thing. All it would do was reverb. Today, you can have a digital multieffects like the Lexicon MPX-1 that does everything but wash your dishes for less money. Hey, you can buy two loaded K2500s for about the same money I spent back then for a K250! But I'm not complaining. I think it's great that all this power is in the hands of people like you and I instead of being available only to big name recording artists and expensive studios.

Still, the trick is to really know how to use all this incredible stuff. Anyone can own great audio gear these days, but to make it sound great, well, that still takes a heck of a lot of work. But with the tools and techniques we all have available now, I have to admit this is the kind of work I love!


This issue marks my fifth anniversary as a contributor to Sweet Notes and a member of the Sweetwater family. I don't know about anyone else, but these five years have blown by in what seems like little more than a heartbeat. Looking back on some of the columns I've done over the years, I think I've written some good stuff.

I consider it an honor that the editors allow me this space each issue, and a real privilege to have well over 100,000 readers see the words I write. I hope I've given you all some interesting insights, valuable information and maybe a few laughs along the way. If history is any indicator, the next five years will be even more exciting than the last.

Many thanks to Chuck and Brenda and all my friends at Sweetwater for a great five years. And thanks to all of you who join me here every few months. Without you, I'd just be talking to myself. And how much fun would that be?

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