By Jim Miller

   If I were an action hero — you know, someone like Arnold or Mel or Bruce — I would have survived a helicopter crash and several gunshot wounds and still been tough enough to beat up the dastardly villain in a fair fight and sweep the leading lady off her feet… and all before lunchtime.

   Not being an action hero, I'm sitting here wondering if it's okay to take some more Tylenol. See, I'm typing this with one hand because my left arm is in a cast up to the elbow. That tends to happen when you have a badly broken wrist. It hurts, but what hurts most is not being able to pick up a guitar or sit at my K2500 and play. Poor, poor me.

   Still, despite the pain and inconvenience and frustration, I feel lucky because in three or four weeks the cast will be off and I can get back to what I love most, which is making music. Honestly, I can't believe all the great gear in my studio right now. A dozen years ago, in my wildest dreams, I would never have imagined that I would own all this fantastic equipment (well, the bank owns it, but they let me use it). I even have a CD recorder… incredible!

   This injury has opened my eyes up again and given me a new appreciation for my studio, my family and my friends. I hope none of you breaks a limb or even catches a cold. But I also hope that, like me, you'll take a look at your own studio or stage rig and see how wonderful it is to have all this music-making potential available.

Earthworks Z30X
Earthworks LAB102
Up top, the new Earthworks Z30X cardioid mic and below, the super-quiet LAB102 mic preamp

   Okay, that's the end of my little motivational speech. Let's talk about cool new gear. First off, a couple of items from those nice folks at Earthworks. Already rightly famous for their critically-acclaimed TC30K and TC40K omnidirectional microphones, the company decided it was time to put their talents to work creating a cardioid condenser mic that was the equal of their omnis. The end result is the Z30X ($750 list) which the company calls an enhanced cardioid. It features a near ruler flat frequency response from 30Hz (at about 15cm) right out to 30kHz.

   I've had the good fortune to have one on hand for evaluation for over a month now, and I can tell you from experience that if you ever thought about owning one of the company's TC-Series mics, but just "couldn't go omni," you're going to want to get yourself a Z30X (or two). It has that unusual laser weaponry look of all the Earthworks mics, plus an almost unbelievably uncolored, detailed sound. It also has the outstanding imaging characteristics of the TC-Series with the added benefit of some enhanced bass when close-miking, which is typical of cardioids.

   While I haven't used the mic in as many sessions as I would have liked (mostly due to that broken wrist), I did have the opportunity to use it to sample a particularly nice Guild F50 flattop acoustic guitar. I did a side-by-side comparison with a TC40K, and I'd be hard pressed to say which sounded better; both were amazingly open and richly detailed. I also did some multi-mic samples of a nice Tama drum kit, placing two TC40Ks about four feet out, with the Z30X as my close mic. Since the mic can handle SPLs up to 145dB (without a pad), I didn't have to worry about any distortion. I particularly liked the transients on the toms and the snappiness of the Tama piccolo snare.

   What's more, the Z30X does a great job on vocals, something I would never use the TC40Ks on. I won't mention the names of the mics I compared it to, but the Z30X consistently held its own. Granted, some performers and engineers like a vocal mic with somewhat more presence, even if that's not truly accurate (let's face it, we've all grown accustomed to slightly hyped-up vocals), but the mic is so clean, you can easily add a bit of EQ to compensate. As a bonus, the mic is virtually impervious to handling noise.

   Now if you are a fanatic about your mics and love accurate sound, you'll want a mic preamp that won't compromise your audio signal. Some mic preamps, including many that cost thousands of dollars, sound fantastic, but they are not, by definition, accurate. Like certain mics, these top mic pres tend to color the sound, though in a very musical manner. Sometimes that's exactly what you want (let's face it, how much of today's music could ever be considered "uncolored"). But in designing the LAB-Series mic preamps, Earthworks took their audio purist approach to the extreme and designed a unit that is as flat and truly uncolored as possible using current technology.

   Just look for a second at the specs of the LAB101 Mono and LAB102 Stereo mic preamps. How many preamps (or any other audio gear) can boast a frequency response of 2Hz to 100kHz ±0.1dB? Also contributing significantly to the accuracy is a lightning fast rise time of 0.25Ásec (trust me, that's fast!). What's more, the LAB101 and 102 are incredibly quiet, even by today's standards, and actually become quieter at higher gain settings. Having auditioned a LAB102 ($1500 list) recently, I can tell you that this claim is absolutely true.

   The gain of both models is arranged in 6 dB steps from 0 to 66dB. Each channel has a single XLR input to which 48 Volt phantom power can be applied via a front panel switch, plus phase reversal and (here's something different — and very useful) standby switches for each channel. Outputs are one XLR jack and one 1/4" TRS for each channel. And that's it — no EQ, no tubes, no big meters, no unneeded bells and whistles, and absolutely no unwanted coloration of the sound.

   Sweetwater has the Z30X and the LAB101 and 102 preamps in stock right now, so be sure to call your Sales Engineer for additional details and special pricing if you're in the market for amazingly accurate, transparent sound. Doing live two-channel recording direct to DAT? This might just be the setup to have.

Mark of the Unicorn 2408
Mark of the Unicorn's 2408: A sophisticated hard disk recording system with a list price of just $995 — and it's in stock!

   The other big news right now is that by the time you read this, the Mark of the Unicorn 2408 Hard Disk Recording System will most likely be shipping. You read about it last issue, and at a list price of just $995, you know this product is really hot! In fact, a few customers actually burned their fingers on last issue's cover… just kidding, but interest has been almost overwhelming and our list of back orders is growing daily. I mean, who isn't looking for a computer-based hard disk recording system that gives you 24 ins and outs with eight analog inputs (each with 20-bit 64x oversampling converters) and facilities for linking up with just about any modular multitrack (ADAT, DA-88, etc) and more features than I could possibly list here? What's more, the 2408 runs with either a Mac or PC, so you're getting a unit that's enormously versatile and allows you to grow your system to up to 72 ins and outs and as many channels as your particular computer allows. Sound interesting? Call your Sales Engineer for all the heart-pounding details and your special pricing.

   Just one final brief item. This issue marks my seventh anniversary writing this column for Sweet Notes. That's seven years of great memories and wonderful friends that I've been lucky enough to make at Sweetwater. So thank you, Chuck and Brenda and thanks to all of you great folks at Sweetwater who always make me feel so welcome when I come by for a visit and who make writing this column (and the other stories I sometimes write for Sweet Notes) such a pleasure. It's been a wonderful ride so far, and I look forward to the next seven years. Who can even begin to imagine what amazing equipment we'll be talking about by then?

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