When DrAlienSmith started teasing a new transformer-balanced microphone design (loosely based on the fabled beyerdynamic M380 and AKG D30) with two headphone drivers used as mic capsules shoved in it, I practically threw my money at him! I’ve connected headphones to a DI box a few times and had a ton of fun with drums, so it was nice to see someone take that idea and finally try to do it right.

Alan Smith originally prototyped the mic with a single headphone driver. Like a ribbon element, there’s a natural figure-8 pattern to a headphone driver. One side sounded darker than the other though. During testing, he had two prototypes on the same source, with each facing a different direction to more easily compare the sonic differences between each side. Inevitably he ended up listening to both of the mics combined and had a “why not both?” moment. Because each 50 mm headphone driver sits on top of one another facing different directions, the bottom driver had to be phase reversed in order to play well with the top one when using both drivers simultaneously. If dual headphone drivers weren’t cool enough, a three-way switch on the side of the microphone can also select single top driver mode or single bottom driver mode.

Sonically, the front facing/top driver sounds brighter and picks up more attack on your kick drum. The rear facing/bottom driver sounds darker and definitely has more body to it. On kick duties you’ll probably want to start on the dual driver setting (middle position on the switch). If you’re a metal head, or you’re pulling out the double kick pedal, the top capsule might clean things up a bit and give you a crisper attack. If you want to go more mellow and feel your kick more than hear it, the bottom capsule is really beautiful. On my trusty 22x20 Gretsch kick drum, with the Alien8 positioned a bit closer to the beater head than I would normally put something like a Sennheiser e602, I absolutely loved the dual capsule setting. Keep in mind that this mic is a figure-8 microphone, so it’s picking up the back of your resonant head as well. To compensate, I found angling the Alien8 down towards the bottom of the drum helped balance out the resonant head while compensating for the added attack from moving it closer to the beater head.

Although it’s voiced to be a kick drum mic, you’re also going to be pleasantly surprised when you hear this thing on a guitar cab. The Alien8 has a bit of a roll off starting around 10 kHz, but still manages to sound alive and open when in dual driver or top driver modes. When I put up a Shure SM57 for comparison’s sake, dual capsule mode on the Alien8 made the SM57 sound broken in the low end and harsh in the higher frequencies. By switching to the darker sounding rear-facing driver on the bottom, you’ll definitely loose a little bit of clarity. However, I will say that the smoothness and body were reminiscent of a ribbon on that setting, so it definitely has its place depending on what you want to hear.

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

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