So many microphones... I once had a friend tell me, “Every mic, no matter what kind or what condition, will be better than every other mic on at least one thing. Your job is to figure out and to know what that one thing is.” Sage wisdom. A large part of our daily work comes down to a simple choice. “What do I put on this sound source?” We stress and experiment, try different approaches, specific placements, put mics where they’re not supposed to go, listen and do it all over again. Some things sound great. Other times there’s a lot of “meh” going on. When a microphone just constantly sounds good everywhere, no matter where you stick it; handles anything put in front of it with ease; and constantly provides great results, so that you just wind up moving on to the next part of your work — believe me, you take notice.
The Bock 195 is a large-diaphragm cardioid-only FET mic that distinguishes itself at first listen with a clear, focused sound that is impressively full but not boomy. Swapping it into position as an ambient guitar amp mic on the day it arrived, I literally said “finally...” with a sense of relief when I heard the 195 come up. And I had already been pleased with the mic I was using at the time! The 195 just brought a sense of presence and depth to the guitar without suffering from any hyped top end. This would happen over and over again with the 195, anywhere I used it from kick drum to acoustic stringed instruments, piano, percussion, and vocals. It just delivered. It’s a wonderfully musical microphone, with an easily tailored low end that makes this an easy choice on any kind of bass source, but the 195’s top end is so lovely sounding that it would be a mistake to just think of it as a bass mic.
The 195’s build is solidly impressive; one of the first things that you notice when you first pick it up is how heavy it is — not overly so — but you immediately get the sensation that there’s more going on under the hood here than you might have originally thought. Not surprising as more than half of the body cavity is taken up by Bock’s proprietary transformer. On the back, you find three recessed switches that are definitely going to take a very small screwdriver or a paperclip to flip. The plus side is that you’ll never have to worry that they might get switched accidentally. There’s a 10 dB pad, a low-cut filter that cleans up the signal down at 20 Hz, and a Fat/Norm switch that changes the overall curve of the mic. The Fat setting increases bass response and sounds fantastic on bass cab and kick drum. It would be easy to just leave this on most of the time.
In day-to-day use, one of the most appealing characteristics of the 195 is just how pleasant and downright useful the mic sounded off-axis. The best EQ is always at the mic, and with most cardioid microphones, I find I’m always only thinking of the very front — straight ahead and not much else. With the Bock, it was easy to tweak the response of the mic by just rotating the mic in position. More often than not with other microphones, this reveals resonances and unpleasantries that will bring you back to the straight and narrow quickly. The Bock’s off-axis response is really lovely, yielding a whole other set of tonality that makes the 195 probably my favorite ambient mic that I’ve ever used. On a session at Water Music in Hoboken with Vetiver, the 195 was amazing as a distance mic on pedal steel, and I was able to just turn the mic until I got the top-end response that I wanted. On a record with singer/songwriter Neal Casal, the 195 became part of every guitar overdub, occasionally taking the place of the tighter amp placement completely during mix. With percussion, the 195 positively killed, handling tambourine hits with ease. According to Bock, the mic’s internal gain structure is set to leave as much headroom as possible to avoid distortion, and I found the 195 handled transients with ease.
I don’t really subscribe to the idea of just using one mic on everything during the overdub phase — I really mix things up a lot — but the 195 has made me reconsider that position. I think it’s an amazing value for the money, and if you’re only going to get one mic, I’d handily suggest the 195. It’s unfussy, stupidly easy to use, and is up to just about any task. I think it’s awesome. ($1080 street; www.bockaudiodesigns.com)
I recently got to try out M-Audio's new large- diaphragm condenser mics. The two are well constructed and moderately priced (though not as dirt cheap as the many bargain-basement Chinese condensers...