If you haven't already heard of the King Bee and Worker Bee mics from Neat Microphones, do me a favor, and watch one of the numerous "unboxing" videos uploaded to YouTube by customers of these mics. Neat's packaging is a visual treat, as are the mics themselves. Each mic in the Bee line arrives in bee-themed packaging that's clever and imaginative, including a milk-crate-like plastic box with honeycomb-patterned grille, and lots of yellow-and-black cardboard and foam. Per the whimsical, hexagonally cut Field Guide booklets included with the mics, all of the packaging material is 100% recyclable, and you can re-purpose the plastic box for things like cables and other studio sundries. Regardless, that's still a lot of volume and weight (4 lb according to my postal scale) that needs to be shipped from China, and I feel like I should go and purchase carbon credits after taking delivery of these mics. Guilt aside, the whole experience is entertaining, especially when you pick up the actual mics in your hand.
Both the King Bee and Worker Bee mics are beautifully designed and manufactured, and they're quite heavy. Each mic has yellow silicone bands that form grippy "bee stripes" around its black body; and connected to the body by a thin neck is a headbasket, with a yellow-gold mesh front and a black-mesh rear. A pop filter made of superfine yellow-gold weave, sandwiched within two layers of honeycomb plastic, snaps directly onto the front of each mic's headbasket. A velvety slip-on cover with an embroidered Neat logo and a black shockmount with yellow elastic bands are also included with each mic. And lastly, a bee-shaped tchotchke that's not quite a dreidel is in the box too. I've been told by Gibson that a unique number on it identifies you for future giveaways and prizes.
If this emphasis on fanciful styling and theme-based marketing reminds you of Blue Microphones, give yourself a pat on the back, because these Neat mics are the handiwork of Skipper Wise [Tape Op #40] and Martins Saulespurens, the original co-founders of Blue, working together with Ken Niles and Clayton Harrison, also former key employees of Blue. With the help of Gibson Brands (Neat's parent company), Skipper and his team are offering high-performing, eccentric-looking mics at very affordable prices. Currently, there are four mics in the line. The Bumblebee and Beecaster are "desktop" USB mics, while the King Bee and Worker Bee are side-address studio mics. I've spent many months using the latter two mics on a wide variety of sources, and I'll start off by saying that I'm very impressed.
Inside the headbasket of the $349 King Bee is a 34 mm, dual-backplate capsule, with only its front diaphragm wired to the preamp circuitry — hence, the mic's cardioid polar pattern. The all-discrete Class A circuitry is JFET-based, with a transformer-coupled output. At distances of 2 ft or greater, frequency response is relatively flat from 50 Hz to 16 kHz. Extending further down and up, I measured −8 dB at 20 Hz, and −6 dB at 20 kHz. I also confirmed a slight midrange scoop of 1–2 dB from 400 Hz to 2 kHz, as well as an octave-wide presence bump with a 3 dB peak centered at 3.5 kHz, and another octave-wide area of lift from 7–14 kHz. With a decrease in mic'ing distance, proximity effect results in greater bass response, as expected. For example, at 8'' distance, the King Bee's frequency response exhibits a gradual rise in the lows, starting at 350 Hz and measuring +6 dB at 60 Hz. My tests of off-axis behavior confirm that the polar pattern is actually supercardioid, with the greatest rejection at 135°, especially in the midrange. The frequency response at 45° tracks very well to the on-axis response, but with the highs starting to slope down at 9 kHz. Beyond that angle, the response starts to take on significant dips and peaks. Importantly, there's very little harmonic distortion across the whole spectrum, even in the extreme lows and also where lesser LDCs tend to resonate between 4–8 kHz.
What does all this mean? In one sentence — the King Bee makes things sound bigger than life, without overdoing it. The presence and high-frequency boosts are subtle, which is not the case with many affordable mics. This additional "excitement" to the King Bee's highs results in greater detail, sparkle, and air, without undue sibilance or harshness. Proximity-based "enrichment" to the lows adds girth and chestiness, without the distorted "fog" of poorly implemented LDCs. Granted, you can still achieve a "tubby" sounding vocal by singing 4'' or less from the capsule (which is easy to do when you're using the snap-on pop filter), but if you're careful with mic'ing distance, you can really control the low-frequency response to your advantage. I've used the King Bee for a variety of purposes — front-of-kit, vocal, guitar amp, bass amp, saxophone, etc. — and I've been very happy with the results. It wouldn't be my first choice for acoustic guitar; in this role, I found the mic too difficult to position without boominess. But otherwise, it's a good LDC all-rounder and a great vocal mic, especially if you're shooting for a deeper and warmer, classic sound. Moreover, if you want to tone down the King Bee's slight emphasis of the highs, using the snap-on pop filter results in 2–3 dB of attenuation from 6–10 kHz, according to my measurements, with a bit less attenuation at higher frequencies.
Although the Worker Bee shares the same headbasket as the King Bee, the Worker Bee is a medium-diaphragm condenser with a 24 mm electret capsule. Its body is shorter than the King Bee's, and its transformerless output is about 6 dB quieter. The internal circuitry is still all-discrete, Class A. The Worker Bee's frequency response is also relatively flat, but with a smaller midrange scoop centered at 2 kHz, as well as less presence boost, a little more energy at 5 kHz, and a little less at 13 kHz. Expectedly, I measured less distortion in the mids and highs, and more in the lows, especially below 50 Hz. I also measured an off-axis response that's truly cardioid and remains surprisingly smooth, even at 135 degrees.
In use, the Worker Bee is a great complement to the King Bee; you can use both mics in the same recording session, and the images they capture seem to stay out of each other's way. The smaller Worker Bee is less about bigger-than-life sounds, and more about midrange smoothness, tight transients, and overall balance. Vocals through it sound honest and natural, acoustic guitars warm and full, guitar amps bold and up front, and hand percussion clear and airy. Because proximity effect is far less pronounced and therefore easier to control, the Worker Bee is also more predictable for close-mic'ing all types of instruments, including drums. If you have yet to try an MDC on toms or snare drums, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise. The Worker Bee is great at capturing the snap, body, thud, and resonance of drums, whether the mic is an inch over the drum head or it's a few inches back from the rim. Placement is easy too; being a side-address mic, you can position it so it's peeking over the rim of the drum at whatever distance or angle you desire. And with a street price of $199, you can afford to mic the snare and the toms with a few Worker Bees. It's also a very neutral room mic with its exemplary off-axis response, and for this same reason, it's really forgiving when you use it to record a piano, no matter the distance you choose. Furthermore, if you're tracking a whole band live, the in-room bleed that the Worker Bee captures is nicely balanced, and because it doesn't suffer from a sudden ramp-up of proximity effect, you can close-mic vocals or instruments with less worry. The only caveat is that I recommend using a high-pass filter to cut out the distortion in the extreme lows (some of it is even infrasonic) so that this hidden energy doesn't end up affecting downstream compressors or other aspects of the mix later on.
With both mics being so utilitarian, I really wish that they had lighter bodies and optional rigid mic-clips. The shockmount included with both mics is a nice enough design, but it's not very flexible when it comes to positioning the mics within tight confines. The square cross-section of the mics, and the layout of the two captive thumbscrews that lock the mic into the mount, restrict the mics to forward or backward–facing orientation only. Most round-section mics, on the other hand, can be rotated 360° in their shockmounts. Also, one of my Neat shockmounts slips from the weight of either mic. The two rubber o-rings within the clutch of the angle-setting clamp are being compressed to the point that they fail to grip the surfaces opposite them. Neat assures me that this problem has been fixed, and current production shockmounts do not slip.
Complaints about the shockmount aside, I am very impressed with these two side-address condensers from Neat Microphones. Both sound great individually, and together as complementary siblings. If you were to ask me which one to buy, I'd say get both! For $550, you'd have two mics to add to your locker, and between the two, you'd have many recording scenarios covered. Or even better, pick up one King Bee and several Worker Bee mics, and you'd really be set. While you're contemplating this recommendation, check out the personal website of Skipper Wise , President of Neat Microphones. It's presented as an autobiographical timeline of his life as a musician, producer, studio owner, record label employee, company founder, product designer, and entrepreneur. The personal stories and philosophies he presents are meaningful and enlightening in regards to the design and manufacturing of the Neat mics, as well as the Blue mics that preceded these. Also, the aforementioned Field Guide to each mic is definitely worth reading. Under the section entitled "Pollination" are four pages of invaluable mic'ing tips that are relevant to any mic, not just the Neats.