I love microphones. When used – or abused – in the right situation, I’m a firm believer that nothing will give you an interesting tone or character like a unique microphone. Whether it’s a cheap thrift store mic or a sophisticated, out-of-budget vintage beauty, there’s not a preamp or piece of hardware that articulates that immediate “something” that a microphone brings.

It seems that these days there are hundreds of mic manufacturers out there hitting all price points and styles. So, I’ll be transparent here when I say that I didn’t know about TechZone Audio Products when Tape Op asked me to review the new Stellar X3 large-diaphragm condenser. That being said, I enjoy new products from new companies as I have no preconceived ideas or judgments I might possibly apply when reviewing a piece of gear. I was also unaware of pricing or any specific details of this microphone before testing – always a good place to start.

The Stellar X3 arrived in a small, black aluminum “flight-case” along with a shock mount, foam windscreen, and hand-signed quality certificate. The first thing that surprised me was the small size of the microphone in conjunction with the its heft. It feels incredibly robust, quite heavy when in hand, and the black powder-coated paint makes for a sexy look.

The hand-tuned 34 mm K67 capsule is gold-sputtered and made from pure brass and Japanese Mylar at 3 microns (as opposed to the traditional 6-microns), which according to TZ (Tech Zone) makes the microphone more sensitive with an improved signal to noise ratio. The transformerless JFET circuit enables the Stellar X3 to handle transients (like drum overheads) with minimal distortion, or any unwanted compression effects – a max SPL of 135 dB with very low self-noise (at <8 dB). The mic is a fixed cardioid, has a frequency response from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, and two toggle switches on the front providing a 10 dB pad and a 160 Hz high-pass filter.

I’ve had this microphone for a couple of months and have used it to track male and female vocals, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar – I’m incredibly impressed. The most immediate thing I noticed across all sources is how detailed this mic is. There is a pristine and sophisticated quality here that is never harsh, yet still sounds beautiful in the top end of the frequency spectrum.

I enjoyed the Stellar X3 on acoustic guitar and would have loved to have had a pair to work with. I’m more of a strummy player than an arpeggiated player, and there was a smoothness and definition that was incredibly appealing – not overly bright and sounded quite warm for a FET microphone. I’d have no problem swapping out my twice as expensive “German usual suspect” for the Stellar X3. And, as stated before, it performed brilliantly on vocals; present and articulated while sitting well in mixes with little or no EQ.

The mic also shined when in front of my custom Friedman Amplification Runt-20 Combo guitar amp. When the amp was clean, the X3 was again clear and expressive. With the amp cranked, I felt that the beautiful high end that the X3 brings wasn’t exactly ideal for the situation. That said, rolling off a little of the top end and notching out a bit around 10 kHz at mix solved any issue that I might have had while tracking.

The only real issue that I had was how cheap the shock mount felt and performed. The threads on the portion that screws onto the stand seemed “rough,” and the black paint looked oddly shiny when paired with the beauty of the powder-coated mic itself. I understand that both of these issues have been addressed by TZ – as a completely new piece of hardware is being used for the screw-on portion and the paint now matches the microphone.

When I found out the X3 was only $350, I was absolutely blown away. I already liked this microphone a great deal before I knew its price, and was already set on purchasing a second one. Buying another is now a no-brainer. The X3 is an incredibly diverse microphone that handles so many different recording situations with ease and finesse. Its clarity is gorgeous and accurate. I’ve got no problem putting Stellar X3 up against mics that cost four to five times the price. If you’re on a budget and had to choose only one microphone to cover all your bases, the X3 might just be that mic.

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

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