As engineers and studio owners, we all get excited (and check our cashflow) when a new microphone design hits the streets – especially when that microphone is built by an expert with a deep knowledge of the classics we know and love. When Matt McGlynn reached out to us with news of his new FET microphone (named after an island in Brazil that's purported to be a UFO landing site – all things Roswell Pro Audio are named after claimed alien occurrences) and inspired by the venerable Telefunken ELA M 251, veteran Tape Op reviewers Eli Crews and Adam Kagan raised their hands to volunteer before the ink could dry on the press release. Here are their thoughts on this shiny new beast below.
AK: Roswell Pro Audio sprouted organically out of a love for everything microphones; first a website dedicated to all aspects of microphones recordinghacks.com; then an online store providing DIY and microphone modification kits and parts microphone-parts.com; then eventually a full-blown commercial microphone company (Roswell Pro Audio). Along the way, owner Matt McGlynn has studied and mastered every aspect of microphone design, building, and now marketing. The Roswell Delphos [Tape Op #117] microphone debuted in late 2016 and has been very well received by both top tier pros as well as the entry-level crowd. Roswell's fourth and most recently released microphone, the Colares, raises the bar a bit in terms of price and boutique-ness.
EC: As one sometimes does, I've been thinking a lot about what makes a good microphone. There are so many choices available to us now that it has become quite difficult to pinpoint what exactly we should be looking (or listening) for in a microphone purchase. A lot of it has to do with filling a need or finding a hole in your current collection – looking for the perfect complement that does something a little different than any of the other mics you already own. There are, of course, classic qualities we believe we want in a mic: warmth, fullness, air – mostly somewhat vague descriptors that aren't meaningless, but also fall short of characterizing how a microphone really sounds. I won't attempt to explain exactly how the Roswell Colares really sounds, since I believe that to be a somewhat impossible task. However, I will tell you about my experiences with it over the last few months to help you figure out if it should be your next mic purchase.
AK: The Colares aims to compete with the most sought after large-diaphragm condenser vocal mics, including the Telefunken ELA M 251 and the classic AKG C12 – along with similarly voiced mics such as the Manley Reference Cardioid [#112], the Sony C800, and the Neumann M 149. These legacy microphones are known for their clarity and bright, harmonically rich vocal tones, without sacrificing body or introducing harsh sibilance. Roswell chose a design that skips the tube circuit and instead uses a JFET amplifier circuit. In practice, JFET transistor amplifiers provide excellent amplification for low level microphone circuits while offering extremely high resolution and harmonic detail, resulting in a cleaner and more natural sound than tubes and other (bipolar) transistors. Roswell sourced a NOS [new old stock] JFET for the Colares that provides tube-like second harmonics when pushed hard but stays clean, with less harmonic color on softer sources or when the pad is engaged. Along with the JFET circuit, Roswell has chosen audiophile components from the finest manufacturers, as well as a hand-selected edge-terminated capsule á la the CK12 capsule used in the original AKG C12 and Telefunken ELA M 251 microphones.
EC: The Colares recently emerged as Roswell's flagship vocal microphone, at a price point perhaps above what your average hobbyist engineer would be likely to shell out, but far less than the kind of money people are willing to pay for what they believe to be excellent microphones – vintage or new. Roswell claims the Colares' design was inspired by the Telefunken ELA M 251 mic. Out of the box, the Colares has a beautiful rust-colored enamel sheen, a classic-looking grille, a couple of little switches for filters and pads, and a pleasing heft. Also out of the box, it has a box, which feels just a hair cheap but certainly provides nice protection for the mic and its accompanying shock mount. Roswell wins with me on two counts here: first off, the provided mount happens to be my favorite universal shock mount – Rycote's InVision [#84] with the little thumbscrews and red rubber pads. Second, the Rycote mount fits into the carrying case with the microphone. As far as I'm concerned, this should be a requirement for any new microphone on the market, and would save me lot of money on Pelican cases.
But back to my original question for a moment, which I believe was; what makes a good microphone? In the case of the Colares, it was immediately apparent to me that this was a good one, but why? I eventually realized over my trial period with the mic that it has the two things I have come to value most in a new-to-me microphone: detail and versatility. These are the primary two qualities that a mic can possess that will allow me to work less hard, once an instrument or vocal is sitting in a mix. It also means that mic has value; if a mic sounds good on multiple sources, I don't need as many other mics – then why is my mic locker overflowing (insert crying-face-emoji)? The Colares sounded good on every source I put it in front of. This may seem like a lukewarm statement, but it's really not when you think about it. Sounding good on anything is an incredibly difficult and rare achievement for a mic, and I really liked the sounds I got on piano, drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, and voice.
AK: I had the opportunity to do some recordings with both the Roswell Colares and the Roswell Delphos while making some side-by-side comparisons. First, the Delphos is a strong contender for the Neumann U 87/TLM 103 type of sound to my ears. The Delphos has a smooth midrange focus, while being slightly aggressive and dry. Because the mic rejects a lot of the room sound, it's excellent for radio voiceover or vocals where the room doesn't sound good. The Colares on the other hand is much more open and airy sounding, with a more 3-dimensional pickup of the singer in the room. The Colares is cardioid pattern only, but the off-axis pickup is clean and relatively uncolored, so the room sounds natural around the instrument. I usually try to record vocals without a pop filter – even without the pad, the singer can get very close to the microphone when necessary, without blowing out the capsule. The head basket grill is pretty acoustically transparent, so if you're skipping the pop filter, you should pay careful attention to mic placement. All three bass roll off positions worked on male, female voice, and acoustic guitar – even the highest roll off didn't noticeably affect the tone of the useable low frequencies. According to Roswell, the pad switch not only lowers the mic's output by 10 dB, but it also lowers the harmonic content, or density of the sound a bit. In practice, I didn't notice a huge tonal difference on my vocals or acoustic guitar, but I suspect that on gritty rock vocals, drum overhead, piano, and guitar amps the tonal difference would be more apparent.
EC: Let's talk more about voice, because the Colares is being specifically marketed as a vocal mic. When it comes to recording vocals, over the years I have leaned more and more towards that quality I referred to a moment ago: detail. I think I favor it over all other single-word qualities, because in some ways it encompasses them all. Detail in the low end might be called body or warmth, detail in the midrange may be thought of as presence, and in the high end it's air. It also includes another quality I look for when recording voice: depth. If I can hear the space the singer is in – I favor slightly live rooms over dead spaces for recording vocals – and all of their micro-dynamics are intact, then I develop an emotional relationship with the vocal performance that I just don't get if there isn't enough detail. The Colares delivered this detail in an extremely impressive way. I feel like the only other microphones that have given me as much detail as the Colares cost five to ten times as much. It also has a very hefty output level, which made pairing it with a preamp pretty easy. I favored the tube-based Retro Instruments' Powerstrip [#82] as the tastiest combination, but had luck through the solid-state AEA RPQ [#73] as well as a vintage Neve 33114. Roswell reminded me that the -10 dB pad can make the mic cleaner by reducing the 2nd-order harmonics, but I preferred the mic with the switch off – even for loud singers, having reminded myself that "detailed" and "clean" are not the same thing.
AK: For pop and R&B vocals, the Colares sounded great to me. It was very open on top but with a nice body and presence – the kind of vocal tone that sits well in a mix without any EQ. The Delphos, by comparison, is a more in-your-face kind of sound, which excels at rock vocals or adds a familiar vintage-style thickness to strummed acoustic guitar. The Colares on acoustic guitar pretty much gives back what you put in – a clear, articulate, and well-balanced sound. During an ADR [automatic dialog replacement] session for a film that I was mixing, I found the Delphos sounded more focused with a "radio DJ" tone, while the Colares remained much more natural and open, which provided a bit more sonic perspective on the actor's distance from the mic. Both mics were extremely useful, and recording with them provided two great options during the dialog edit. On vocals, I never found the Colares to be sibilant or strident on the high end, and the low end sounded clean and smooth. I would definitely put the sound of the Colares in the Telefunken ELA M 251/AKG C12 camp and the Delphos more in the Neumann U 87 camp. Roswell has certainly covered some solid ground with tonal options between the Delphos and Colares.
EC: This is an excellent microphone, I sincerely doubt anyone would be disappointed if it's the next one they buy.
AK: The Colares' price puts it squarely in a niche above the entry-level fare, but well below its intended competition. In fact, in the $1200 to $4000 price range we could use more microphones with the sonic and build quality of the Colares.