The C720 Anniversary Special commemorates Josephson's twenty years in business. Like many other large-diaphragm condenser mics employing a two-sided capsule, the C720 has multiple, user-selectable pickup patterns, including cardioid, hypercardioid, subcardioid, omni, and figure-8. But what's unique about this mic is that you can smoothly vary the polar response between these settings and you can do this at mix time-after the recording has already been made. Additionally, the basket surrounding the capsule is made from a patent-pending, open-cell metal "foam" that is acoustically transparent. Needless to say, you will find no other mic with both of these features, and if you are ever lucky to record with
the C720, I think you will be dutifully impressed. Let's discuss the metal foam basket first. Unlike traditional screens, this foam is self-supporting, so there are no wires or structures required to hold the basket's shape. Furthermore, the high percentage of open space in the foam allows sound pressure to "pass" right through it, and because the boundary of the foam material is distributed over a range of radii and thickness, acoustic resonance within the basket is vastly reduced and spread out over a wider span of frequencies with lower energy per frequency. The result? An incredibly smooth response, especially in the upper mids and highs. During the few months that I had this mic on loan, I was able to record some of the most natural-sounding violin, acoustic guitar, and piano tracks I've captured to disk; and these are instruments that will tax any recording chain that doesn't exhibit a smooth midrange to upper-end. Meanwhile, the metal foam is surprisingly effective at stopping air, even with all its openness. With well-trained singers, I was able to get away with recording vocals without a pop filter. (If you've ever A/B'ed a vocal with/without a pop filter, you know that standard pop filters do indeed have an audible effect on the high-frequency response of a mic.) And a single-layer pop filter would probably do where a dual-layer might be needed with any other large-
diaphragm condenser. Now let's move on to the continuously-variable pickup
pattern. How does the C720 accomplish this magic? It has two outputs, one each for the front and rear-facing diaphragms. If you're sure of your choice of pickup pattern, you can premix these outputs to a single track of your recorder. The well-written manual describes how to adjust the relative volumes and polarities of these two signals to control the polar response. But if you want to change the polar response post-performance, just record the two outputs to two different tracks. By varying the relative levels of these tracks later, you change the pickup pattern. Very cool! Furthermore, because the pickup pattern also affects proximity response, you can also adjust that during mixdown.
How does this techie-geeky stuff translate to what you hear? Well, first off, the ability to change polar response while mixing is kind of eerie. It's like you're conjuring up something that someone else experienced, as you change the polar pattern to pick up more or less room ambience. You really do get a feel for the room this way, and it's like you're being slowly teleported into the
recordedspace.Thisisespeciallytrueifyou'rewearing headphones while you adjust the polar response. Moreover, the ability to also vary the proximity response helps in defining the "intimacy" of the recording. With a directional pickup pattern selected, placing the C720 closer to the source brings up the brawniest portion of the lows and lower mids, without sounding muddy. It's easy to dial up a "radio voice", even when the track is heard on small speakers. On male vocals, I was able to capture a much deeper (but still desirable) sound than I could get with other mics in my collection, including TLM 49 (Tape Op #61), UMT 70S (#45), M 930 (#45), UM 92.1S (#36), GT60 (#54), KSM32 (#16), and SE2200A (#48). I could also turn down the proximity effect and turn up the room to add depth to vocals-extremely handy for placing background vocals.
For these same reasons, the C720 is great on acoustic guitar. It's not too percussive and not too boomy like some LDCs can get when mic'ing an acoustic, and you can control the amount of room in the performance. Plus, if you do want some proximity-induced boominess while still retaining some ambience, you can mix the mic's outputs for a figure-8 pattern. Similarly, the C720 offers extreme flexibility and a nicely balanced sound for bass and electric guitar.
My favorite use of the C720 is as a front-of-kit mic on drums. For example, while recording drummer Luther "Trip" Gray (Tsunami, Ida, Glorytellers) for an upcoming album with guitarist Joe Morris, I placed the mic out front and to the side of the kit, measured so that the snare's top head and the kick's beater head were each equidistant to a Royer SF-12 stereo ribbon (Tape Op #25) overhead and the C720. When it came time to mix, it was super-easy to bring up just the right amount of room and the right amount of "boom" (without screwing up the transients of the snare and kick drum hits) to accurately communicate the live performance of the duo in my studio.
If I had to make a general statement about the sound of the C720, I'd say it's the smoothest large-diaphragm condenser I've ever used, without any evidence of mud in the lower-mids or iciness in the highs. No matter what instrument I recorded with the mic, I was able to capture a clear image-never cloudy and never sibilant. There is a slight bit of hype when set for cardioid polar response, but it's very subtle and not at all overdone. And as you might expect, when you adjust the pattern towards omni, the bigger-than-life character of the lows and highs goes away with the proximity response, but the highs remain nicely detailed even if they aren't hyped. Only twenty of the C720 Anniversary Specials were manufactured in 2008 (and at the time of writing, only two were unsold, both in Europe), so if you want to experience a C720 for yourself, you may have to book time in a studio that owns one. While you're waiting for your chance to try one out, check out the other impressive mics in Josephson's line.
($4150 street; www.josephson.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.