Two large-diaphragm FET microphones have been released from TechZone Audio recently; the Stellar X2 and X2 Vintage. I received a single X2, and a matched stereo pair of the X2 Vintage mics mere days before the whole world went on quarantine lockdown, so let's just say I've gotten to know them pretty well. My first impression when removing them from their padded cases was that their build quality is nice and solid. Their black steel bodies and metal mesh grills make for sturdy and strong mics, and there's a weight to them that implies quality and dependability. The two different series are very similar in look, with the only noticeable difference being their grill color (silver for the X2 Vintage and black for the X2). With both mics being cardioid pattern only, the biggest difference that I noticed when reading the specs is that the X2 Vintage has a 2 dB bump between 1.5 kHz and 8 kHz, with the highs beginning to roll off at 10 kHz, while the X2 is much flatter, with a slight 1 dB bump between 9 kHz and 13 kHz where it then begins to roll off. Both mics have a frequency range of 20 Hz to 18 kHz.

I chose to record using the X2 Vintage mics first. The "vintage" tag is added here partly because the capsule used (a K47-style) is based on the classic Neumann U 47, delivering a nice warm and midrange focused sound that is responsive and sensitive. I was interested to hear how it would capture the sound of my Martin acoustic guitar, and was impressed with the results. The X2 Vintage performed liked a mic well above its price tag. The recording was full, precise, and the tone was nicely balanced. It captured both the delicate finger picking, as well as harder full-on strums with full articulation, and the finished results were natural sounding and true to the source. Having two of the X2 Vintage mics gave me the chance to experiment with some stereo guitar and vocal recordings. Here is where these microphones really shined. Normally, I have to try three to four different mic positions to capture a good open sound with acoustic guitar, but I got it right away with these. The moment I realized that I really liked this particular model came after recording vocals. I'll admit I was a bit dubious when I read the Neumann U 47 comparison, but TechZone managed to get the X2 Vintage respectfully close here, and I can see it being a good choice in a situation where a Neumann is wanted but not financially attainable. I did about 50 takes of vocals, both quiet and close up, then also louder/full-on screaming from a foot and a half away. With its high-frequency attenuation custom circuit, the results were not overly harsh, sounding smooth and pronounced in just the right places. I know the "warm" description has been a cliché for some time now when describing gear, but it's the only thing that really fits here. I compared my finished vocal recordings with some older takes I did in a studio with a real Neumann U 47 years ago, and although I could tell the recent takes were done in a treated bedroom compared to the ones from a professional studio, I could also hear that similar richness and body of tone a U 47-style capsule will get you with the X2 Vintage. There's obviously going to be differences when comparing a $250 mic with a $5,000 one, but they were minor enough to be impressed. I was ready for them to be glaringly different, but that just wasn't the case. Lastly, I used the X2 Vintage to record a quick podcast while implementing the included foam wind cover, which resulted in an articulate and crisp voice recording without too much sibilance. After the recording, the podcaster was eager to purchase an X2 Vintage to replace his well-known USB mic – which was price equivalent.

Finishing up with the standard (non-Vintage) Stellar X2, I put it through the same paces (acoustic guitar, vocals) and found it a tad bit brighter (although not harsh) while not possessing the same vocal pop and warmth of the X2 Vintage. To be honest, that isn't exactly a negative, as these are characteristics I might want in a mic for loud electric guitar and/or an overhead on a drum set. The Stellar X2 is more of a workhorse mic in my opinion – a tool you can use for almost everything – compared to the X2 Vintage, where you might reserve it for specific voice types or string instruments. The Stellar X2 reminded me a lot of my Audio-Technica AT2035 – which I've owned for over 10 years – except it was a bit more responsive, which I assume was from the Stellar X2's K67-style capsule. It's a neutral microphone that handled everything I threw at it, and again, punched well above its weight class. The only criticism I do have is that both models lack controls for pads and high-pass filters.

In closing, I was impressed with both of these mics and the sounds they captured, along with how quiet they are. Both designs use custom-made, low noise, transformerless FET circuits, with high-quality capsules (gold-sputtered 34 mm K47 and K67-styles), and German-made capacitors. This yields a high output signal, extremely low distortion, and low self-noise (10 dB A-weighted for the X2 Vintage, and 13 dB A-weighted for the X2). I found that both the Stellar X2 and the Stellar X2 Vintage make for affordable, solid performing microphones that will give you results that sound like you used something much more expensive. All TechZone microphones come with an aluminum flight case, a spring shock mount, a European to American thread adapter, a foam wind cover, and a handy leather pouch. What TechZone has achieved here are microphones that are within reach for all of us on a budget without skimping on the important pieces that make for a good quality studio tool. I do believe that we have a bit of a needle mover here, and, as soon as people are allowed to be within six feet of each other again, I can't wait to do some more recording with the TechZone Audio Stellar microphones!

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

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