A single microphone that allows you to digitally emulate famously expensive mics of yesteryear and today at a fraction of the cost? It reminds me of the advent of guitar amp modeling, and how far that technology has come since first being introduced. As a guitarist, I've seen amp modeling go from a so-so novelty to a "can't tell the difference" solution. I think that Antelope has made a big leap forward with their new mic modeling technology, and a few other companies have also jumped into the mic emulator arena – including Slate Digital and Townsend Labs.
For this review, Antelope sent their large diaphragm, dual membrane condenser modeling microphone; the Edge Duo (along with their Discrete 4 interface). But there are also two other microphones in the Edge series: the Edge Solo (a fixed cardioid, large diaphragm condenser mic at a lower price point of $695), and the pricier Edge Quadro at $2,995 with four outputs and 360 degree stereo recording capability.
Antelope's packaging is very attractive and sleek. The mic comes in a black, square-shaped suitcase. Upon flipping the two front latches and opening the top of the case, the mic, windscreen, and shock mount are revealed snuggly tucked into a heavy-duty, custom foam housing. Underneath the top tray lies the included oxygen-free XLR Y cable. The mic is housed in a clean, flat black metal body with a red grille. There are no switches for patterns, pads, phase, etc. as this is all done via software. The shock mount is a heavy-duty affair with two attachments: one for your mic stand and the other for the wind screen.
The mic itself is a large diaphragm condenser with a 6-micron gold-sputtered dual-membrane capsule that feeds dual XLR outputs (via the included Y cable which is 5-pin to 3-pin XLR). Antelope explains that this is to recreate the characteristic of the on/off axis response and proximity effect accuracy of each mic model. The mic itself has a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz, with a sensitivity of -35 dB, and a THD+N of -116 dB.
Polar patterns are variable, meaning that you get the usual settings (cardioid, omni, figure-8), plus you can tweak the software to get settings between patterns. Want a little more omni with your cardioid? No problem. You can use both sides of the mic for two vocalists, etc. It will capture each side discretely, which is super handy because you can treat each side as an individual track with separate EQ, compression, etc. When using the sides discretely you can't engage the modeling (remember that earlier bit about on/off axis and proximity effect modeling?) – but I found it to be a useful feature nonetheless.
There are a number of mic emulations currently available for the Edge Duo, and Antelope plans to add to their mic model library. Currently 11 models are included with purchase. These include models of classic German condenser mics dubbed the "Berlin" 47 FT, 49T, 57, 67, 87, and M103, as well as the "Vienna" 12 and 414, and the "Tokyo" 800T condenser models. A few ribbon emulations including the "Oxford 4038" and Sacramento "121R" [We're scratching our heads on this one, as Sacramento is a long ways from Burbank. -LC]. The plug-in interface is straightforward and clean, with design elements that harken back to the respective heritage (and likeness) of each mic.
So how does this thing work? The Edge Duo is essentially a neutral, clean, and flat capturing mic. The source signal is then processed via Antelope's mic emulator software to create the sound of the classic mic model you've selected. The mic itself has a natural sound that's useful even without using a model. For getting the most out of the modeling microphone software, Antelope recommends the use of their own preamp/converter for ease and best results – though you can use your own interface and process your mic through Antelope's mic emulator plug-ins (VST, AU, AAX – both Mac/PC). Antelope's interface provides for zero latency with the mic modeling, as everything is processed before it gets to your computer via their FPGA engine so as not to tax your CPU. If you do go the third-party interface route, you'll need an iLok 2 or 3 and there may be a little latency to deal with. Installation is slightly cumbersome, but once I got everything downloaded and installed, the system was rock solid.
I recommend investing in at least their Edge Strip package, which gets you the Edge Duo mic with an analog discrete interface and some mic plug-ins to get the most out of the emulations. But that being said, experimenting with other mic preamps may yield a unique flavor. When using the plug-ins in your DAW of choice, you aren't locked into the sound that you get when tracking as you can change the mic models after the fact, or even in real time!
I put the Edge Duo through the paces on an intensive back up vocal session for the new record by progressive metal band Infinite Spectrum, and I loved the option of tonally changing the character of the tracks to better complement the material after the fact. The Edge Duo got used on acoustic guitar and guitar amp tracks with nice results. When I A/B'd a vocal take through both Antelope's modeled 414 and an actual AKG 414 from my mic locker, I found my particular real 414 to be richer in tone, but the modeled version was definitely in the ballpark. My feeling is that though this may not be a replacement for a real mic locker, it can be a welcome tool for adding more flavors to your tracks without breaking the bank.
Regarding the accuracy of some of the more high-end software models, I have to admit that I don't have many of these imitated mics in my personal locker for a side-by-side comparison. So, I reached out to my frequent collaborator (and Grammy-winning engineer) Chris Theis (ticemix.com) to get some thoughts on detailed comparisons between the modeled stuff and their real-world analog counterparts. Chris felt that the vocal mic on its own sounded decent with a spot on low end and midrange, but the top end seemed slightly sibilant. With thoughts to the modeled mics, what he anticipated hearing was what he heard – with most of the modeled mics sounding close to the real-world mics they emulate. We agreed that the Vienna 414 model, compared to the original 414, was not as warm but had a nice midrange presence that was clear and pleasing. The Vienna 12 and the Berlin 67 models were favorites as they imparted the flavor of the classics' signature tube warmth with a fat roundness.
Economically speaking, the Edge Duo practically screams, "Buy me!" The flexibility of not being locked into one sound and being able to transform mic flavors during the mix is a needle mover. I felt that the models offer more than just a token change in color of the source, as it feels and sounds like you tracked with a different mic! For those with limited microphone resources, this is a good solution to "virtually" expand your mic locker.