Hand-built by Matt Stager in his Nashville workshop, the eponymously named Stager Microphones trace their origin back nearly a decade to 2011. Matt’s designs are both sonically and visually striking, and would be a welcome addition to any recording studio looking to add the classic warmth, detail and body of a ribbon mic to their arsenal.
We recently chatted with Matt to learn more about the early days of his company, his lifelong involvement in pro audio and putting his own stamp on the burgeoning world of modern ribbon microphones.
The HUB: Matt, give us a little bit of background into yourself. How’d you get into the world of pro audio?
Matt Stager: My introduction to audio began with my father. He owns a live sound company in Central Pennsylvania and is generally into audio and production. I've been digging through his piles of gear since I was in diapers.
The HUB: Can you speak a little bit about those formative years? Was there a lot of “take your son to work days” growing up? Were you assisting him at all as you got older?
MS: I went to shows to help and hear bands as often as possible. Generally, it was the only way I could get out of the house. For some reason or another, it always seemed like I was getting grounded and going out to help my dad with shows was the best way to get out of the house. That would typically mean helping with set up and then go get some pizza and hang out at the arcade for a little while before soundcheck. A lot of times he would try and get me to run lights but I had absolutely no interest in lighting.
I always had an abundance of equipment to play with around the house. I’d rummage around to find gear my dad wasn't using and try and hook it up, just playing with some speakers, a mixer and a 4-track.
The HUB: What was your first exposure to ribbon microphones?
MS: While mixing ear monitors for a band, I had used some imported modern ribbons as overheads. I eventually decided to re-ribbon them and just couldn't get over how well they worked on the kit, even in a live setting and especially for ear monitors.
The HUB: What was it about the way those mics were working that you thought they needed a re-ribboning?
MS: Well, they just didn't sound that good, so there was really nothing to lose by doing a little experimentation.
The HUB: At what point did you feel the itch to start making your own microphones?
MS: Probably around 2011. My brother Benjamin found an old ribbon mic, which is what the SR-1A was modeled after. It was so simple (so I thought).
It had been kind of a pipe dream for a while. Being on the road for so many years afforded me some time to work on little side projects, including kit bus compressor. Around that time, I realized how much I enjoy making gear. I had been on the road for 14 years at that point and was ready for a change.
The HUB: How did you gain the technical knowledge necessary to build your own microphones?
MS: I guess you could say it goes back to a lot of trial and error, reading and asking questions. I dont have a degree in electrical engineering or anything like that, but I trust my ears, and listen to everything very closely.
The HUB: Did you have a mentor in this process? Someone you’d met in your years on the road?
MS: Pretty much every tech that I’ve met since moving to Nashville in '99 has inspired me in some way.
The HUB: How did you start assembling the necessary equipment for manufacturing? Did you have to fabricate any tool or machines yourself?
MS: A lot of the tools I use are ones that I've made. For example, no one really sells a ribbon corrugation machine, unless you're able to find a nice old RCA one, so I fabricated my own. I also fabricate all of the grills, which I made the dies and presses for.
I was going to attempt to make a toroid winder, but it quickly became clear that it has to be a very precise machine, almost like a sewing machine. I was very fortunate to find a nice, professional toroid winder which enables me to make all transformers in-house.
All of the serious machine work is done in the Midwest on precision multi-million-dollar mills, which is far more than I can do in my small shop. I will have a small run of parts machined and then do all the powder coating, make the grills, transformers, motors and assembly.
The HUB: From your standpoint, what component of the mics have you found to impact the sound the most?
MS: Everything kind of works together. I guess a close example is a guitar, or a circuit. Every component plays a part. As far as ribbon mics go, the transformer and motor design are two of the biggest determining factors.
The HUB: How do you set your designs apart from other ribbon mics on the market? Can you describe the “Stager sound”?
MS: From the SR-1A you’ll find a vintage feel with big lows whereas as you go to the SR-2N to the SR-3 you’ll find the sound gradually gets more modern, with faster-sounding ribbon with a flatter frequency response.
The microphones all use a transformer I designed and personally wind. Sonically, it embodies the clearest possible low end, neutral midrange and detailed top end. I wouldn't necessarily say that the mics have a sound, per say, more so that they empower the artist to find their sound without restrictions.
The HUB: Can you speak a little bit about how your live sound background informs your approach to microphone design?
It's as simple as wanting to capture as close to what you hear when you stand in front of the musician and make it bigger and louder.
The HUB: Is there a primary application you design your mics for? For example, vocals versus guitars versus drums?
MS: Not necessarily. I believe that the microphone should bring out certain characteristics from each instrument, setting it apart and making it a valuable tool. Of course, that’s not to say that the mics don't excel on drums and guitars and bass! Those are my primary choice of test instruments.
The HUB: What’s your favorite application?
MS: My favorite application would be on the drum kit, just over the kick, perpendicular to the ground. There is something about how the figure 8 works with the front and back of the kick drum. Sometimes it can be the only mic needed.
The HUB: Last question! Where will we have seen and heard your mics in use?
MS: Kings of Leon were probably the first band to take Stager mics on the road. They had me powder coat some SR-1A's white to match their set. They were using one on Matthew Followill’s guitar. I think when their touring picks back up, we’re switching to SR-2Ns because they’re easier to have on the road. The SR-1A is about 6 lbs., whereas the SR-2N is just under 1 lb.
Chris Stapleton's crew have been using them on his electric guitar for a while.
Carrie Underwood was using a pair of SR-2Ns with the stereo shock mount. I decided it was the perfect reason to design a dedicated stereo mic, which is where the stereo SR-2N comes from. Her engineer Tim Holder and drummer Garrett Goodwin love its imaging and realism over the kit.
Rob Schnapf has been enjoying all of the mics lately, using them on the latest Kurt Vile release and with the band X, to name a few.
The HUB: Thanks for your time, Matt!