Transparency comes in many colors. The Archangel is a mic preamp that seems to create its own reality of transparency - with unprecedented "passive gain" topology; cool, interesting design; and general feel of quality throughout. I got to plug this thing in, finally, after a lot of conversation with the designer, and found myself freaking out while recording Puss N Boots - Sasha Dobson, Norah Jones, and Catherine Popper - who are three talented ladies that make amazing sounds. We had the Dove microphone in the room for that one. Sasha and I also decided to do an EP of covers together; and the vocals, piano, and percussion (featuring Mauro Refosco of Atoms For Peace) were all recorded with the Dove and Archangel together. What I heard coming out of my ATC monitors in a very well tuned room was amazing on every source and not easy to define in historical terms.
It seems to me that so much of what we all pursue when we save up to get things like Neumann U 47 and U 67 mics is the idiomatic, historical-precedent-based satisfaction of knowing that if it isn't working sonically, it's not us as the engineers screwing everything up. After all, so-and-so used a "47" for their record, so if it isn't awesome for us, then we should try the SM7 [Tape Op #36], but at least the U 47 sits there like a diploma on the wall of the doctor's office. It hangs over the shoulder of the person advising you on a path towards "better."
These things are more than just "tools" when it all comes down to it, and the Dove and Archangel have that something that makes recording a magical pursuit. Really. I feel confident saying that in print. I have had people do takes where they finally figured out the part, and then by letting them know they should do one more - knowing in their heart that it is right - we wind up with a take that is a little more self-assured and just comes down the wires better, sits better, and feels better to listen to. The muscles relax subtly in their bodies, and they deliver something we are all proud of. When that take happens, and you have a great microphone and preamp set up to capture it, you are winning at music.
In this case, the topologies and design philosophies are so deeply ingrained in these pieces of gear, they are intrinsic to the way they work and sound and how we will interface with them - everything from the mind game that is a singer's experience of stepping up to a good-looking, solid, amazingly well-built microphone - to the positive and heavy clicking the engineer feels while setting the autoformer output on the preamp. Much like having someone set up a large or medium-format camera and lights to take your photograph, rather than your pal with an email- camera-phone-music-thingy snapping a pic of you with pizza sauce on your shirt - you rise to it. You sit up a little straighter, and you think about what shirt you are wearing that day. It's an event. The quality of the capture device right up in your face speaks volumes. What you are doing matters.
When you feel like what you are doing makes a difference to the world, you take care doing it. When you take care doing it, you use good tools. Ronin Applied Sciences makes these kinds of tools. Confidence inspiring, amazingly well built, killer sounding tools that have a greater impact on a recording situation than their simple utility and already impressive specs would imply on paper.
Too many pieces of gear seem to lean too heavily on historical precedent, claiming vintage "vibe" or whatever; or they try to raise the torch for some ever-shifting notion of "purism" and "transparency" that will never fool anyone on the planet into thinking that there is a tiny drummer in the back of their car that appears every time they hit play - in lieu of actual tone and dedication to great reproduction of the original gesture.
Is the Dove mic great? Yes. Is it a killer addition to any mic collection? For sure. At Studio G, we have a zillion great mics to choose from, and I can't wait to add a Dove to our selection. It will be the only modern FET LDC I own with a power supply, and honestly, when I heard Sasha's vocal through it, I stopped caring about whether it had unicorn blood, tubes, transformers, electricity, or steam in it. It's an amazing microphone in front of an amazing singer, and I was completely stoked at what I was hearing. Technically, it is using dual rails supplying ±18 V with 40 mA of current, with a separate 60 V supply for the capsule, and for the first time ever in a FET LDC mic, no coupling capacitor.
Much like when I walk into a studio and someone has a Placid Audio Copperphone [Tape Op #42, #85] or a few other pieces that have come around in the last ten years that are super cool, this mic says, "I care about what I am hearing, and the goal of this studio is to capture great sounds with great tools and be creative." Plus, the fact that this completely high-end, amazingly well-made microphone doesn't cost a zillion dollars is astounding.
Though steam or unicorn blood is cool with me, I did talk to Dimitri about what the hell is actually going on inside the Archangel preamp, because it is simply difficult to believe. It is passive. Yes. Passive. YES. PASSIVE. Transformers are used to step up the level of your microphone, and then an autoformer allows you to attenuate, if needed. It's not a fader - you are actually stepping through the different windings when you turn the custom knob on the front of the box, and the level goes down at the output. I found myself using this preamp wide open at all times, as it produces 40 dB of gain, using tubes for zero-gain buffers between the transformer stages - and again, no coupling capacitors. On Sasha's vocal, I found myself wanting a little more gain and a little bit of limiting on the way in, so I put a Retro 176 [Tape Op #66] after the Archangel. We had done all the basic tracking to a Studer 827 2'' machine at 15 ips, and this vocal was now going straight into Pro Tools via my BURL converters. The transparency and overall "fit" of the vocal was stunning. It sounded like the singer, but with just the right peaks and valleys to really flatter the source. Much like how the right lighting can really change the emotional impact of a photograph, the tiny ups and downs in frequency response of this (and every) mic affect the emotional content of a recording, especially the human voice. This vocal chain proved to be the winner for this circumstance, and the mics I normally employ on Sasha were put back in their boxes. My primary vocal mic for her has been an original Soundelux U95. I have recorded some of the most compelling vocals in my life with that mic, with countless other prized mics (U 47, U 49, U 67, U 87, CMV 563, Ela M 251, U 48, etc.) sitting on the shelf. I recorded everyone from Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) to Mos Def with that mic. On this EP, it went back in its box.
The combination of the Dove mic and Archangel preamp brings about a paradigm shift - a different and interesting reality - like a new species of bird that flaps its wings differently from any of its cousins in the sky, but flies high nonetheless. For anyone who can appreciate the subtlety of emotional content in an artist's performance, or the transient brutality of a hard-hitting drummer, the Dove and Archangel will not let you down.