From the November/December 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY DOUG YOUNG
When it comes to capturing the sound of acoustic guitars, good microphones are worth their weight in gold—and this is most often reflected in their cost. Countering this trend, Blue Microphones has introduced the Ember, which at $99.99 is the most affordable option in the company’s line of XLR mics. Blue is known for its wide range of microphones, from the $50 Snowball iCE USB mic all the way to the $4,000 Bottle. The Ember targets those doing home recording, podcasting, or YouTube videos, and is a true XLR phantom-powered microphone that looks great and sounds as good—and even better—than some more expensive microphones.
The Ember is a small (14mm) diaphragm electret condenser mic with a cardioid (directional) polar pattern. Unlike many small diaphragm mics, the Ember has a side-address form factor—the sound is picked up from the side of the mic rather the end. This can be beneficial in video applications; from a visual standpoint, the mic can be placed in a way that makes it fairly unobtrusive. In addition, the Ember is quite attractive, with a classy-looking bluish-grey matte finish, so you actually may want to feature the Ember front and center in your videos.
The Ember arrived in a sturdy cardboard box with foam cutouts for the mic and its clip, suitable for long-term storage. The mic is surprisingly heavy at .84 lbs., and it feels quite substantial and robust. It mounts to a stand with a somewhat unique threaded mic clip/swivel (included) that also feels sturdy and well-made. The clip allows the mic to be rotated freely— quite useful for fine-tuning the mic placement and sound—and then locked in place. Blue’s optional S3 shock mount is also compatible with the Ember.
A Range of Applications
Blue recommends the Ember for use with vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, and even drums. As with all cardioid mics, the directional pattern rejects sound from the rear, making it useful in spaces that may not have optimal acoustic treatment, or where some isolation from other sounds is needed, such as recording multiple instruments. Cardioid mics inherently exhibit a proximity effect, where the bass response increases as you get closer to the microphone. The Ember’s proximity effect is quite noticeable and can be used to good effect if you’d like that big radio voice for podcasting applications. For recording vocals or guitars, you can use the effect to dial in the sound you want—just move closer for more low end, and back away for a more balanced sound. Although the Ember has a grill, an additional pop-filter would be very helpful for close vocal work.
The Ember’s frequency response is flat within +/- 3dB throughout its frequency range. Although not as flat in an absolute sense as many pricier mics, the Ember does not exhibit any specific frequency anomalies, such as a broach presence peak or large bass roll-off. The mic is also flatter (+/- 1dB) within the primary vocal range, which is also an important range for an acoustic guitar. As a result, it sounds fairly neutral and balanced. It has the ability to handle high volume levels produced by drums or electric guitar amps, and therefore has more than enough headroom for vocals or acoustic guitar.
Taking a Test Drive
I focused primarily on recording acoustic guitar with the Ember, because I am not a vocalist. In the often-recommend location, aimed at the neck/body joint of the guitar, about 16 inches away, the Ember sounded clear and balanced. As with most mics, you can dial in a range of sounds by changing the mic position. For example, bringing the mic in closer and rotating a bit toward the soundhole produced a bigger, warmer sound.
The Ember’s 19dB of self-noise (always a concern when recording quiet instruments) is roughly in line with other mics in its price range. Compared to other mics I own that cost many times as much, the noise of the Ember was evident, but not enough to be a problem. In most home recording environments, environmental noise is a far greater issue.
Using the mic for a vocal narration also worked well. The proximity effect was easy to hear; from two feet away, my voice was clear and natural, while moving it in five to eight inches produced that intimate “radio voice.”
I found that the mic’s sensitivity and directionality worked well for picking up both voice and guitar, so with the right placement a single Ember could capture guitar and vocals and could easily be used to record YouTube lessons or demos.
It can be challenging to find an affordable microphone that does a good job capturing an acoustic guitar, but the Blue Ember is an impressive option. It’s definitely worth consideration if you are getting started with home recording, posting videos online, or just want to add an attractive, good-sounding mic to your toolbox. At this price, you might consider picking up a pair!
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Microphone type: 14mm cardioid electret condenser; 48-volt phantom-powered XLR
Frequency response: 38Hz – 20kHz (+/- 3dB), +/-1dB from 100Hz to 3kHz
Output impedance: 40 ohms
Maximum SPL: 132 dB SPL (1% THD)
Signal to noise ratio: 73dB
Self-noise: 19dB (A-weighted)
Off-axis rejection: 12.8dB (90 degrees)
Weight: .84 lbs
Size: 219 mm x 38.26 mm x 31.91 mm
Made In China
Price $99.99 (street)
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.