The DrAlienSmith DirtMic-01 is an awesome "outside the box" mic for creating rich harmonic distortion effects without a plug-in or guitar pedal. It's very useful for blending with clean vocals, bass, and electric guitar tracks in order to enhance a source's sound. It can also be used as a stand alone source mic for a purely distorted sound.

The DirtMic-01 is a modified stock Superlux D112/C harmonica microphone with the addition of a phantom powered distortion circuit inside, plus a transformer balanced output. I was so excited to try this mic that I took it right out of the box and didn't read the instructions – I'm too impatient, so it took me 15 minutes to realize this mic needs phantom power. Aside from that, the mic was very easy to get used to. Just plug in and go! DrAlienSmith claims it is the "monster of all character microphones" – I agree with this statement. The distortion possibilities range from subtle to insane. To quote my studio assistant after hearing the DirtMic-01 on an electric guitar amp; "This mic is f'ing crazy man!"

Its simple but useful design incorporates a cool pre-gain volume pot (with clickable center position detent) and includes a sturdy mic mount, which is often missing from bullet style mics. The volume pot controls the level of distortion, so you can really fine tune the effect. When it's all the way down the DirtMic-01 does not pass signal. I found the mid position a good starting point for most sources, especially for vocals and drums. The more extreme setting provided killer results on electric guitar tracks, adding an almost fuzzy synth element to the sound when it was already sounding rich and nasty out of the amp.

Electric bass sounded super-present with DirtMic-01 mic volume pot relatively low and lightly blended in with a clean source mic. Just adding a touch of this mic really made bass tracks pop out. I even thought it sounded good on an acoustic guitar that was bleeding in while I was tracking vocals with it and achieved excellent results when blending it in with the clean vocal and acoustic mics to get a slightly overdriven sound.

The DirtMic-01 clearly has an excess of studio potential, with endless possibilities for contorting sound. I definitely found myself setting it up just for fun whenever I had a spare input during tracking sessions (without the band even knowing). I would then assess later whether it made sense to actually use the distorted track. Though the DirtMic-01 seems to be geared for recording applications, I imagine that it could provide a good solution for vocalists wanting to add distortion effects to their live performances while having more control over their affected sound – as long the FOH engineer knows what they're doing!

In principle, I much prefer recording with this mic than creating similar effects in the box, even if it means reamping with the DirtMic-01 – it just sounds more realistic as it's true analog distortion. Used in tandem with a clean mic on guitar or bass it's like having an additional amp. Overall, I found the DirtMic-01 more appealing for bass, vocals, and guitar, but I did try it as a drum kit "trash mic" and, with the right band or song, it sounds great! The DirtMic-01 is rad, but it may not be for everyone. One unit costs around $185 US including the $14 shipping. At this price I think it's well worth adding to your mic collection, especially if you're an adventurous recordist and not afraid to commit to radical sounds when tracking.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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