Universal Audio SP-1 microphones review: a matched small diaphragm pair for an even smaller price
UA’s rapidly-expanding microphone line adds pencil condensers that promise pro results without busting your bank.
⊕ Detail and clarity across the spectrum, free from HF harshness
⊕ Well balanced off-axis rejection
⊕ Real quality in a variety of stereo configurations
⊖ No pad or HPF options (not 100% a bad thing)
Universal Audio has taken on the Townsend Labs L22 Sphere modelling mic and announced its upcoming triad of David Bock-designed large diaphragm condenser mics, none of which are remotely budget options. Though UA seldom creates low-budget gear, its two new Standard range mics, the large diaphragm dynamic SD-1 and the SP-1 pair on review here, are both firmly in the affordable category.
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Matched for stereo
The SP-1 microphones come as a matched pair with a pair of mic clips, foam windscreens and a T-bar mount for single stand stereo setups – X/Y and ORTF, for example. The matt grey finish complements the excellent build quality of the mics, from the well-weighted metal casing to the tapered socket end that aids sliding into the mic clip. The obligatory UA badge is a touch of class to finish it all off.
The T-bar stereo mount is a simple plastic affair that performs without adding any serious weight to an extended boom arm. It is wide enough to allow up to ~30cm distance between the two diaphragms at a 90-degree angle. The mic stand mount socket is of the ⅝-inch variety so an adapter is necessary for ⅜-inch stands and boom arms.
Without a testing chamber, it’s hard to confirm the degree to which the SP-1 pair is matched. But, in use, the stereo field – in particular the centre image – is rendered as expected for a well-matched pair. It may well be that the overall quality control is tight enough that any two SP-1s are effectively matched, but either way, this is still a tick in the value-for-money box.
Heart shaped pencil
The polar pickup pattern is cardioid, though UA may have plans for a range of different capsules to be made available as the head is unscrewable. The rear rejection and side attenuation are of a high standard, making placement and adjustment easy and effective. The front pickup zone is wide enough so that, when used as drum kit overheads, cymbals that are slightly off-axis don’t lose their crispness or sizzle. The SP-1s keep a tight focus, even at a bit of a distance, while allowing the sense of space to remain unmuddied as the frequency range is squeezed off-axis. The rear rejection quality associated with quality small diaphragm condensers is present and correct here.
Up close, the SP-1 has a healthy 142dB SPL before significant distortion, so it is happy to get in amongst drums, horns and the metallic end of percussion without losing fidelity. However, there is no internal pad so inline or preamp options will be needed in these situations. The nominal output is such that in most drum overhead set-ups a pad is unlikely to be needed even with major tub thumpers.
At the other end of the scale, the self-noise is appreciably low and will allow delicate acoustic recordings without the immediate need for noise reduction. The proximity effect is not problematic so getting up close isn’t always going to be a compromise on the low mids, though with decreasing distance a trade-off becomes naturally inevitable.
The other form of nuisance noise, stand transmitted vibrations (foot tapping, drum kits of hardwood floors, and so on) are well attenuated in line with higher-priced small diaphragm condensers; the hefty metal casing appears to be a smart balance between this attenuation and a boom arm friendly net weight. As with the lack of pad control, a low cut or high pass filter switch option would be appreciated, as with mics like the Sontronics STC-1, but at least there is no immediate need for one. The counter to hosting these options in the mic is that they add weight, size, and can often be fiddly and provide more paths to malfunction, whereas most preamps have pads and filters.
Tonally, these mics make a promising first impression. Everything is well articulated from top to bottom, and the fatiguing high-frequency lift that compromises some low-priced models is not in evidence. The SP-1 has the treble detail that is the hallmark of SD condensers and there are no obvious peaks beyond the gentle lift this type of mic brings. There is no part of the frequency spectrum that is lacking, so when there’s bass in the source there’s bass going to the preamp, whether it’s wanted or not.
One characteristic that jumps out is a mid-focus, almost a low Q (high bandwidth) bell curve lift that does a superb job of bringing some sources forward, particularly in stereo, though this depends on the room acoustic and its own mid-frequency response. When set up alongside a pair of Calrec CM1050s the SP-1s lent a dryness to drums and cymbals in particular. Whether this is preferable is subjective, but this quality does not hinder UA’s mic in any way. As a further note, the SP-1s held their own against the discontinued CM1050s with any difference more a matter of taste and context than objective technicalities.
Most importantly the SP-1s allow a source’s details to be rendered in such a way that relatively heavy-handed EQ can be applied without it becoming absurdly harsh or dull, a test that quickly shows up low-quality capsules and head amplifiers. Obviously, piling on 9kHz to any SD condenser is going to get nasty in the end, but elsewhere there is room for exaggeration and style which makes these mics ideal creative tools. They deliver a well-defined picture without overt colouration, especially in the stereo pattern of your choosing.
The combination of UA build quality, sonic clarity and price make the SP-1 stereo set hard to ignore, and even harder to match. For UA Apollo interface, users there are also channel strip presets made for the SP-1. This half of the new Standard mic range from Universal Audio is setting a high standard indeed, and hopefully one that will be augmented with other designs and alternative SP-1 capsules.
Audio examples are all recorded with Focusrite ISA828 preamps and no further processing apart from volume, panning and dither.
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