McGary Audio

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Home Recording!
Bruce Bartlett Microphones
Spark Mini-Mic For Guitar Recording

Price: $179 each
Likes: authentic guitar sound , price;
Dislikes: clip needs more felt;
More info: Bruce Bartlett Microphones

by John Gatski

The acoustic guitar always has been a moving target to record correctly from internally-attached microphones. Try as they might, internal pickups don’t quite sound like the guitar does au natural. For those who want the natural tone of the guitar recording, external instrument microphones fit the bill, but require stands, careful positioning, rock solid placement without moving, etc. It’s a lot of work to make that Martin sound like, er, a Martin.
But what if you could get that big mic sound with just a little mic attached to the sound hole — without mic stands and the hassle of trying to keep the guitar from moving so it won’t skew the recording. Sound hole attached mics have been around for years; some are expensive; many are cheap. The Bruce Bartlett’s Spark Mini-Mic, reviewed here, gives the best of both worlds; low-cost and good sound.
Bruce Bartlett and I go way back to the days when Bruce was a mic engineer at Crown, back in the days when they made microphones in the USA. Bruce also is a recording engineer and an author on recording in the studio and live audio. He wrote quite a few reviews for me at Pro Audio Review, the professional gear review magazine I created in 1995. He knows recording, and he knows microphones. When I discovered that Bruce was now making microphones on his own, I knew his products would would be good.

The Spark Mini-Mic, priced at an amazing $179, is based on Bruce Bartlett’s first on-instrument microphone, an omni-directional miniature electret mic — assembled and designed in the USA. The microphone is perfect for recording acoustic guitar — in that it is omni-directional (picking up sounds uniformly in a 360 degree radius around the mic) and its size allows full frequency response — without the proximity bass effect that is common with big microphones placed near the guitar top. The advantage of an onboard mic is that you can move around with the guitar and the sound does not change, unlike a microphone on a stand.

The 24-bit replay was impressive. The Martin sounded like a Martin. No piezo-etched midrange and low treble and no need for any EQing down the bass. Just smooth accuracy. The mic is perfectly voiced for the guitar.

The mic comes with a simple, metal clip mount with adhesive felt to avoid scratching your beloved guitar top, and it has a 8 ft. cable with XLR male connector that allows it to connect to a microphone preamp. It requires phantom power, operating from 12V to 48V DC.
According to Bruce Bartlett, the mic has full frequency response from 40 Hz to 20 kHz. Maximum SPL is 130 dB (an acoustic guitar seldom goes above 90 dB at full strum). The clip is simple, but effective with felt on one side to prevent scratching your guitar and the 8 feet of wire offers the user some flexibility in locating the recording gear within operating distance of the player.
Bartlett also produces other microphones, including stage microphones for amplifying actors, and other versions of the Mini-Mic for sound reinforcement of instruments on stage.

The setup
I recorded several acoustic guitars with the Spark Mini-Mic including a Martin HD-28V dreadnaught, a Martin OO-18V fingerstyle, small body and a Gibson SJ200 super jumbo. I recorded to a TASCAM DVRA-1000HD high-resolution stereo recorder, using a True Systems Pre 2, two-channel mic preamp, which is one of the quietest and most dynamic mic preamps on the market. I used Alpha Core solid-silver mic cables from the preamp output to the the recorder.
I also had fun and got amazing results using a portable set up with the handheld, TASCAM DR-100 24-bit Flash recorder, which has XLR mic connections and built-in phantom power. Bartlett sent me two microphones to record in stereo, but since they are omni-directional, the difference between mono and stereo is not as noticeable as using cardioid (directional) microphones. But I recorded the guitar both ways.
For mono, I mounted the clip on the bottom of the sound hole toward the middle of the pick guard. For stereo, I put the second mic toward the back of the sound hole.

The audition
First up, was the HD28V Martin, a loud and powerful solid-rosewood body, solid-spruce top guitar with scalloped, forward shifted braces for greater volume. I figured this guitar would be the ultimate test. With its loud, big bass character, could the mic deliver the guitar's midrange and top end without getting lost in the bass bloom?
With the recorder in gear, I played several minutes of strummed folks music, then I did some basic flat picking. The 24-bit replay was impressive. The Martin sounded like a Martin. No piezo-etched midrange and low treble and no need for any EQing down the bass. The mic was perfectly voiced for the guitar. The shimmer of the phosphor bronze strings and chorus strums sounded just like I hear it when I play, or when I sit in front of another player and hear him play the guitar. The big bass was big, but not overly pronounced.

I am not surprised that Bruce Bartlett would come out with a high-quality array of microphone products. With his years of recording and design experience, the Spark Mini-Mic is a top-tier microphone in its performance for an amazing low price.

Next up was the Gibson SJ-200. Same result; the jangly, emphasized midrange and low treble — with tight bass — were transmitted by the Spark mics with incredible accuracy. And even if I played loud, the mic was not overwhelmed as long as preamp gain was kept in check. It should be pointed out that the 24-bit recordings also showcased the dynamic range of this mic; its openness and level changes were laid down on the recorded tracks with precision.
Since the mic did so well on the big body guitars, it was a foregone conclusion that ti would do well on the Martin 00-18V, a small-body, fingerpicking guitar with sold-spruce top and Honduran mahogany body. I was correct. The warm, plucky character combined with the mahogany body overtones and resonance really showcased the classic, small body Martin sound.

Using two Mini-Mics, the stereo recordings were spacious enough and can work well for those whose main instrument is guitar, such as classical guitarists and guitar/vocalists who like a full-width recorded sound. Stereo image has very good width, even though the mics are only inches apart. Still, the sound is not really lacking with the single omni-capsule recorded to two channels. It filled out the recordings nicely.
I have only one complaint about the Spark Mini-Mic: the clip’s unfelted side, which goes inside the sound hole, could scuff the wood inside the guitar. You can’t see it unless you look with a mirror, but some guitarists may not want to have scuff marks on an expensive guitar — even if they are only on the inside. I suggest adding felt to both sides of the clip.

The verdict
I am not surprised that Bruce Bartlett would come out with a high-quality array of microphone products. With his years of recording and design experience, the Spark Mini-Mic is a top-tier microphone in its performance for an amazing low price. If you like to record your pure acoustic guitar without the complexity of separate mic on a stand, the Spark Mini-Mic is highly recommended and gets an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

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1 comment:

Bruce Bartlett said...

Bartlett Microphones has become Bartlett Audio.

The Spark Mic is now called the Banjo Mic. If you want to mount it on a guitar, please email and ask for a Sound Hole Mount to go with the Banjo Mic.

We also make mics for sound reinforcement: The Guitar Mic, Guitar Mic B, Mandolin Mic, Banjo Mic, Cello Mic and Bass Mic. -- Bruce Bartlett