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Musician's Friend Staff Writer
A few years back, in a radio and TV class, I learned that a dynamic mic is durable. You can hammer nails with it or toss it around like a lariat, it’s fairly inexpensive, and it works great for vocals because of its predominately midrange frequency response—all characteristics that make it great for live performance. On the other hand, I learned that a ribbon mic is expensive, sensitive, and fragile. I was taught to treat a ribbon mic with care, not blow into it (or any mic for that matter) and definitely not drop it. The old school thinking held that ribbon mics are mostly for the recording studio. Forget that thinking, here’s new school: ribbons aren’t just for studios. Guitarists such as Joe Satriani are now using ribbon mics that have been designed for live performance as well as studio use.
The Joe Satriani Guitar Amp Mic Pack from CAD features two microphones endorsed and used by the guitar virtuoso: the Trion 7000 Dual-Element Ribbon and the D189 Supercardioid Dynamic. Strictly speaking, both mics are dynamic, meaning they have a conductor that moves in a magnetic field. What we commonly call a dynamic mic is more precisely called a dynamic moving-coil mic that uses a coil of wire, whereas a dynamic ribbon mic uses a narrow strip of ultra-thin aluminum. But from here on, I’ll refer to the D189 as a dynamic mic and the Trion 7000 as a ribbon mic.
The CAD Joe Satriani Guitar Amp Mic Pack combination of a dynamic mic and ribbon mic works well in the studio for recording guitar amps by providing a fuller, richer sound. Here’s a typical setup: The D189 dynamic mic is placed close to the guitar speaker cabinet because it can handle high sound pressure levels. The D189, like other well-known dynamic mics, has a frequency response (40Hz to 18kHz) that does a great job of picking up the midrange frequencies of a guitar amp. It has an extended high frequency range above 15k to add sparkle missing from many dynamic mics. The D189’s accuracy and lack of coloration means no additional EQ is needed if you are happy with your amp sound.
The Trion 7000 ribbon mic is placed further from the cabinet to round out the sound from the D189. It has a lower frequency response range (25Hz to 9kHz) than the D189 and provides lots of warmth, delivering a pleasing, smooth texture without edginess. For more spatial depth, the bidirectional pickup pattern captures ambient sound reflections of the room. The Trion 7000 is also great for recording vocals, acoustic instruments, brass, strings, and piano. A word of caution—it’s important to protect the mic by not using phantom power and to avoid using this mic on the bass drum because the air pressure could damage the ribbon. Because the ribbon is so sensitive, it comes with a suspension shockmount that protects the mic and keeps unwanted vibrations from being picked up. The heavy-duty, foam-padded aluminum carrying case protects the 7000 when it’s not being used.
Because ribbon mics are so fragile, as recently as the late ’90s, it would have been quite unusual to see them used for live performances. The modern design of the Trion 7000 ribbon mic makes it more durable, allowing it to better withstand the rigors of a live rock performance, particularly the sound pressure levels produced by guitar amps. Joe explained to me how he uses both the D189 and the Trion 7000 in his live guitar setup:
“Since hooking up with CAD I’ve been using the Trion 7000 on my dry 4x12 cab, just slightly off center and a few inches back depending on how much low end we need; closer for more, further back for less. The D189 is used on the other wet cab for a brighter sound, and is placed on axis just off from the center of the speaker. These mic signals are used either alone or blended together with my Peavey JSX cab’s direct recording out XLR outputs to create different guitar sounds during my performance: The 7000 for big fat low end and the smoothest highs; the D189 for a more aggressive attack and brighter sound; and the DI out for discrete, clean tones and an overall tight, “in your face” fat sound. These inputs are all time-adjusted at the FOH position for phasing accuracy.”
To experience the live sound of the CAD mics, I enlisted the services of a local band that frequently practices in the club where they are the house band. The guitarist duplicated Joe Satriani’s mic placement in front of his cabinet and we proceeded to check out the sound through the PA. The key to the Joe Satriani Guitar Amp Mic Pack performance is how well the two mics complement each other. Like Joe, the guitarist has spent a lot of time and money getting his rig to sound just right, so he wants to capture that sound with a minimum of coloration. The guitarist used his wireless guitar rig to play at the front-of-the-house soundboard. We began by listening to each of the mics alone. In an A/B comparison with the guitarist’s usual dynamic amp mic, the D189 did indeed provide more brightness. We experimented with pointing the mic at different locations on the speaker cab—closer to the center to increase high frequencies as well as toward the outer rim for greater warmth. We decided just off-center provided the desired crispness.
For the Trion 7000, we experimented a little longer with placement to make sure we were getting the absolute best sound. We varied the mic distance from the cab to hear how the proximity effect yielded a deeper, richer bass. Mixing the two mics provided a glorious, full-spectrum sheet of sound—fat, round power chords; chunky rhythms with crisp mids; and singing, stinging leads with just the right amount of smoothness to avoid ear fatigue. In addition to enhanced feedback rejection and background noise reduction, the tight pickup patterns of both mics ensured that only the cab was picked up, making it possible to mix the guitar at a higher level when needed.
At its very modest price, this pack is an amazingly cost-effective way to close-mic your guitar cab. Given that Joe Satriani could command just about any setup, it’s a testament to CAD’s performance that these units are Satch’s mics of choice.