The opportunity to play with this one-of-a-kind microphone from Scope Labs has been an absolute pleasure. Their introductory product, the Periscope, stands in a category of its own because of its unique look, build, sound, and impact on recordings. This Finland-based company has already found a spot in the mic lockers of producers like Butch Vig [Tape Op #11], The Chemical Brothers, Ricky Damian, and Joe Barresi [#23] – for good reason.
As soon as I opened the cardboard box the Periscope was shipped in, I knew this microphone was going to be something different. The case resembles a small treasure chest, with latches that make you feel like you’re unlocking something magical. Upon unbolting this mysterious coffer, my eyes were torn between looking at the pink satin lining or the microphone itself. The Periscope is unlike any mic I’ve ever seen – an actual copper pipe with a right-angle attachment at one end. The capsule is behind what looks like an eyeball on the right-angled end of the microphone, and the body is lined with machined aluminum screws, resembling the centerpiece on the mantle in a Dracula movie.
The build of the microphone gets even more interesting; it’s a condenser with a built-in compressor set to “crush” mode – similar in many ways to “all buttons in” mode on a Universal Audio 1176. With locked in compressor settings and a polarized electret capsule with an omnidirectional pickup pattern, this microphone has an extremely unique sound for wide variety of uses. Scope’s website is worth a visit. While the attention to detail on this mic is obviously meticulous, the team at Scope Labs doesn’t take themselves too seriously (look at the Periscope’s tech specs). It comes with a simple stand mount, made of soft black plastic that works well, but I did need to tighten the screw a couple of times to hold up the interestingly distributed weight of the mic.
This mic has vibe for days, which right off the bat made me assume it would serve a certain role in the studio. But let me be clear, it is far from a one trick pony. I’ll get into some of my specific experiences below, but before I do, I’d like to touch on a few of the unique benefits the Periscope offers. Beginning at the mixing process while tracking (rather than “taking care of it in post”) is a technique used by professional engineers across the globe, and the Periscope allows you to do this without needing to use or buy channels of compressors. It saves time during sessions by serving as an instant parallel compression mic – no need to patch the compressor in and dial in settings; just plug n’ play. Not only is it like crushing the signal, I found that it worked exceptionally well as a live room talkback mic.
I got to use the Periscope on many drum sessions, and absolutely loved it in a number of spots. It works incredibly well as a room mic, and I had an absolute blast hearing it in as many spots around the room as I could without annoying the drummer. I will say this – because it smashes the signal, you unapologetically hear the room. This made it a little intense when the drummer was heavy on the cymbals, and in those cases I stuck it under the snare. When placed there, the Periscope brought out the snare’s rattle in a funky way while crushing the attack of the snare and kick. Depending on the drummer and performance, this gave a super colorful sound that was a mix between lo-fi and brushes on the snare. I tried it in front of the kick, as an overhead, and in the crotch position, but each of these times I moved it to other spots with more success.
Next, I tried it on electric guitars. As with my experience with it on the drums, I liked it more as a room mic. When I had it right in front of the amp, it brought out all of the amp and fret noise. In one case I was able to use this in a fun way as an auxiliary effect, but for cleaner tones it shined in different spots around the room. The Periscope has a hot signal, which made it easy to place far away, or even in other rooms. I had much more success when using it with preamps that have pads and separate input/output gain controls.
After having used it on a number of noisy sources I tried it on acoustic guitar and vocals. I was shocked at the result – it was smooth and in no way harsh. While it added aggressiveness to drums and electric guitars, it was controlled and round with vocals and acoustic guitar. This is partly what informed my earlier comments about “mixing while tracking.” It allowed me to blend a clean and crushed signal right away, which instantly gave the recordings a more professional sound.
I’ve had a blast with the Periscope, and after witnessing a number of clients dig into this mic, I’m absolutely buying one for my studio. It shattered my assumptions over multiple uses, which makes me believe that there’s more potential yet to be unlocked. It may not be a mic you use on every session, but when it fits it adds something that is hard to replicate without a much bigger investment. Well done, Scope Labs!