As a rule, I love large diaphragm condensers because condensers tend to be very accurate and the large diaphragm gives their sound a really desirable smoothness. But cheaper mics can sound harsh or they can lack that true-to-life accuracy. So you pay for quality, right? Yes, but you don’t always have to pay too much for quality. Studio Projects has developed a well-deserved reputation for delivering serious quality at seriously affordable prices. And the flagship of their CS mic line, the CS5 is no exception with a great tone, a host of cool features and a price tag of only $350.
First off, I plugged the CS5 in and was struck by how full and rich the tone was just when I spoke into it. Tonally, it definitely did not fall in line with the slew of cheap, harsh-sounding condensers on the market. It does, however, have a pleasing high-frequency openness that can help a vocal pop or give drums a nice cut in the mix. It’s the kind of airiness that you look for from condensers.
I ended up shooting it out on drums, acoustic guitar and vocals with my older CAD Equitek E-200 (a similar large diaphragm FET condenser design), an unnamed Chinese-made condenser (representing that slew of mics on the market I was talking about) and I even pulled out my vintage Neumann UM57 tube mic just to see how the low end compared.
Across the board in this shootout the CS5 came off with an impressively full, balanced response. Most notably, it had a surprisingly plush bottom end that approached the boom of the old tube UM57! Of course, the CS5 is a new mic with a FET circuit, so I’m not saying it sounds like a vintage tube mic. In fact, it sounds very modern and clear. I’m just saying as far as the bottom end goes it was more impressive than its FET counterparts.
Even more impressive than its sonic response was its various features that allow the CS5 to be useful in a number of recording situations. The CS5 sports five different polar patterns – figure 8, hyper-cardioid, cardioid, wide cardioid and omni. There are four different built-in pads – 5db, 10db, 15db and 20db. I really like the varying levels because it allows you to really attenuate the signal a lot if you’re using it on drums or really loud amps, but you can dial in just enough attenuation for quieter amping situations, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated by having to use in-line pads that give you too much or too little attenuation. The multiple pads are sweet!
The back of the mic also has two 5-position roll-off switches that are really useful. As I said, the CS5 is not short on low end, so if you find that you’re overwhelmed by bass frequencies you can flip on the high-pass filter at 50Hz, 75Hz, 150Hz and 300Hz. This is also often useful on vocal tracks to help clean up some of the mud and keep the vocals sounding focused. Also, if you have any street noise or subway rumble the high-pass filter is really great to use. The CS5 also has a high frequency roll-off that you can set to 15kHz, 7kHz, 5kHz and 3kHz. The low-pass filter seemed more subtle to me, which is desirable for higher frequencies – you don’t want to kill the airiness. But sometimes, depending on the source (if it’s a brighter vocalist, particularly cutting cymbals, etc.), you might want to pull down some of the top end, so the low-pass filter is a really nice feature.
I really like to get the sound as close to the way I want it on the way into my DAW. I don’t like to have to use (or overuse) software EQ’s to dial in the right tone. The CS5’s pattern selector, pads and filters make it a whole lot easier to get it right in the first place. Not only is it impressive-sounding to begin with, but the CS5 is a well-thought-out, versatile mic for just about any application. The CS5 also comes with a shock mount, a windscreen and a sturdy metal carrying case. Oh, and the best part is its affordability ($350!). Check out www.studioprojects.com for more information. -Mike Vecchio