Sony, widely known for their consumer entertainment products, takes pro audio very seriously. In the professional microphone market, Sony previously produced three remarkable microphones: the C37A from the ‘50s became a staple for symphonic recording, the C38 (‘60s) and the C38B (2000s) known as wonderful vocal and piano microphones, and the iconic C-800G (1990’s) revered as a very special vocal mic that has been featured on singers like Mariah Carey, Eminem, and Alison Krauss. For the C-800G, Sony developed new technologies, specifically liquid Peltier cooling for its main tube and a dual-tube-rectified power supply. So when Sony announced a new lineup of studio microphones this year, I was expecting something special. The C-100 is described as a high-resolution mic developed for vocals and critical instrument recording. In short, it’s a condenser mic that features two newly developed capsules with a body that borrows some technology from the C-800G. The remarkable specification of the C-100 is that its frequency response is quoted as ranging from 20 Hz to 50 kHz! This mic is aimed at the high-end recording market, but is reasonably priced, whereas the C-800G fetches over $10,000. The hi-res label placed on the C-100 infers that this mic is also suited for high sample rate, audiophile recording applications.
The C-100 uses two different capsules in tandem: one large, dual-sided condenser capsule, and one smaller, single-sided electret condenser capsule. The idea behind the dual capsules is that the larger capsule captures full range audio frequencies while the smaller capsule captures frequencies above 25 kHz. It may be debatable how much audio above 20 kHz humans can perceive but capturing audio above 20 kHz certainly has some very practical merits. Even beyond high frequency temporal effects, capturing ultra-high frequencies proves useful in sound design where acoustic sounds are often pitch shifted down an octave or more. Imagine pitch shifting a sword-fight impact down an octave, where the fundamental frequency may now be 1 kHz while still retaining useful audio at 15 kHz or higher! This is a sound designer’s dream microphone.
The all-black microphone body is compact and lightweight, measuring about 7-inches high and about 1.5-inches in diameter. The mic is packaged in a foam-lined Pelican-style case, and includes a well-designed circular plastic mount that clamps firmly around the C-100’s body. On the mic body are three switches; one for selecting between cardioid, omni, and bi-directional patterns; one for employing a high-pass filter; and another for activating a -10 dB pad. Like all Sony products, the fit and finish of this mic and its accessories are first class and inspire confidence in the quality and robustness of the product.
In cardioid mode the microphone’s frequency response reflects its intended use as a vocal mic, with a flat midrange and slightly boosted highs around 10 kHz. The omni and bi-directional settings provide a slightly flatter high frequency response, but retain a very slight boost below 100 Hz. The high frequency capsule only picks up from the front side of the mic, so for omni and bi-directional patterns you could expect the highest frequencies to be more directional and slightly attenuated.
On both male and female vocals I found the mic to be very smooth, without any harshness in the upper mids or sibilance in the high frequencies. I auditioned the mic on pop songs and classical recitals. I especially liked the C-100 on the classical voices where it was placed a few feet in front of and below the singer’s mouth. On pop songs, I used a generous amount of EQ to open up the high frequencies in order to create a more “pop” sound. I wouldn’t describe the vocal sound as dull, but I would call it relaxed and natural, as opposed to forward or present. This mic would be an excellent choice for vocals in an acoustic, folk, or Americana setting, but maybe a bit too nice for intense pop and rock vocals – then again, it could be just the right trick for an overly sibilant or piercing voice.
I used a pair of the C-100s on a traditional Arabic classical record that I recorded at the Evergreen Stage in Burbank at 176 kHz sample rate. Here I employed the mics on acoustic guitar, oud, qanun, and violin. The guitar player remarked during the first playback that he had never heard his guitar sound so good. I was pleased with the articulation, frequency, and dynamic response of the C-100 on all the instruments, and as a result will probably use only minimal (if any) EQ during mixing for this project. Violin in particular is sometimes strident and difficult to close mic, but the C-100 presented a natural, well-balanced sound for the instrument when placed about two feet above and slightly in front of the player’s head. In my experience, the closest mics in sound to the C-100 on these instruments would be a Neumann KM 54/56, a KM 86i, or perhaps the Schoeps CMC 6 or Sennheiser MKH 800. Though each of these mics have their own distinct tone, they all fall into the articulated, slightly flattering, and almost never harsh category.
On grand piano I usually try a few different stereo setups, starting with an X/Y pair about six inches above the hammers. On a particular Yamaha C7, this position proved too bright for a solo piano recording though might have fit well in a dense pop production. The positioning that felt just right was a Blumlein arrangement just over the edge of the curve of the piano, looking towards the middle of the strings. Here I found a perfect balance between articulation, size, and room ambience for a piano-featured pop song. On a studio upright piano, placing the two C-100s in cardioid behind the piano with each one about a third of way from the sides and 15 inches off the floor provided a wonderful and realistic piano presentation.
The C-100 handled acoustic guitar well and, compared to both Neumann U 87s and AKG C451s, the Sony produced a more balanced and “folky” sound rather than a mid-focused rock ‘n’ roll sound. A stereo pair of the C-100s, with one mic pointed at the 14th fret and one pointed just below the bridge, produced a very realistic stereo image with balanced tone and would work well for pop as well as classical recordings. On electric guitar amp, the C-100 easily handled extremely loud levels and produced an excellent sound when placed a few feet from the cabinet, pointing straight at the speaker.
Additionally, I used the C-100s for some field recordings, along with a Sound Devices MixPre-6 recorder, and I would highly recommend this pairing for high sample rate location recording for music performances, or for film and TV production. I found the C-100’s tone stayed consistent regardless of the preamps that I used, and even the battery powered Sound Devices recorder had no problem providing phantom power to a pair of these mics. Sony also produces a portable DSD recorder that would be an excellent pairing for the C-100 microphones.
Overall, I would say that the C-100 is a natural sounding and accurate mic, without the typical low frequency colorations of many large diaphragm condensers. The C-100 would quickly become a staple in any microphone collection and find a wide range of uses among even the most revered microphones. At $1399 street, the C-100 competes with mics well over twice the price and will surely become a studio standard. In addition to the C-100, Sony has also released the C-100U and C-100N, the C-100’s small diaphragm uni-directional and non-directional cousins.