Microphone Review: sE X1R

Andrew —  — 3 Comments

sE X1r

sE Electronics have taken the tough steel grill and non-slip finished chassis from the existing  X1 condenser mic, and fitted it with a ribbon to produce the sE X1R. It may seem strange to completely redesign the mechanics and electronics of a microphone and then house it in an old body, but there is a good reason for that. Usually ribbon microphones are delicate, easily damaged by being dropped and the actual diaphragms are notorious for collapsing or tearing at high volume, but the X1R is not your usual ribbon microphone – this one’s robust.

The X1R Tech Specs

The frequency response of ribbon microphones usually tails off in the higher frequencies, which means they sound soft, warm and unobtrusive. This is true of the X1r which has the natural tone of a ribbon mic, but has also inherited some of the HF extension technology from its bigger brothers the V1 and V2 which gives it a gentle boost around 5kHz.

For a passive ribbon mic it gives out a decent amount of level and is nice and quiet, so if buying a specialised low-noise ribbon preamp is too much, then just plug it straight into a mic amp on your audio interface, and you should still enough level through to record vocals or acoustic etc.

The X1r has a max SPL of 135dB, which is a lot. In fact, it’s enough to rig in front of a guitar cab – which of course we did. At high levels you definitely won’t need an additional pre-amp, as the X1r will throw out heaps of level and still sound clean. When it’s rigged up close, you will definitely notice some bass-tip up creeping in which would make this a nice voice-over mic, and even a cheaper alternative to a Coles 4038 which would cost you more than two and a half times the money.

One useful feature that the X1R has is phantom power protection to prevent the mic being damaged if +48V is sent to it accidentally. This is especially useful if you want to use it with condenser mics on one interface, but you can’t set phantom power on individual channels.

How Does It Sound?

Vocals
As it is a ribbon mic, a pop shield would certainly be required as the plosive consonants like ‘b’s and ‘p’s will make the capsule pop quite easily. The microphone gives a warm tone to vocals, but the hf roll off would make it difficult for them to really stand out in a complex mix. Having said that, it might work very well on something simple and open like a solo vocalist with an acoustic guitar, or for spoken word.

Acoustic guitar
In the studio, we found the X1R worked best positioned by the neck and aimed back down the body, otherwise the natural response of the mic means you lose too much brightness from the strings. The result was natural sounding with a nice tone in the high-mid frequencies, and when put into a mix it still sounded really punchy but not obtrusive thanks to the hf roll off. With a just a little compression and eq, it was nice and easy to balance in the mix. The X1R also performed beautifully in a mid-side pair on acoustic, where it created a gentle and very natural sounding stereo image.

Electric guitar
This was mostly a test to see if the mic could stand up to the high SPLs from a guitar cabinet (which it did), but the sound it produced was a welcome surprise. We took out some of the lower-end to counterbalance the proximity effect and gave it a presence boost around 5kHz, and the result was a really chunky and warm sound which would make a really nice blues guitar tone.

Application

The X1R has the warmth of much older ribbon or tube mics with the modern twist of an hf extension, which gives it a lot of character and will certainly bring something new and useful to your mic collection.

By pricing it at £299, sE have made the X1R a strong contender for those looking to buy a high-quality microphone for home recording, which is exactly where we feel it fits. As an early purchase for a new home studio the X1R would be a solid choice, and would also complement a large diaphragm condenser very nicely if you already have one.

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