Review of the M-Audio Solaris Condenser Microphone
A Versatile multi-pattern condenser Mic for amps, rooms, instruments,
by the Tweak
its durable coffin like case, the Solaris lies safely in state
means different things to different people.
To an astronomer, it is a star. To a geek, it is an OS from Sun Microsystems.
To a literary buff, its a novel by Stanislaw Lem, to music buffs, a band,
and even a comic book anti-hero by name. Now recording studio jocks
have their own Solaris, a condenser microphone from M-Audio.
The pictures you see in the ads really
don't do the mic justice. When you look at the low price and then
the pic you start thinking low-cost plastic trash mic. And what's
with that big ball on top--weird!. Wrong and wrong. You really
need to see it and hold it in your hand to appreciate what it is.
This mic is no lightweight. And it neither feels or sounds cheap.
In fact, the Solaris is heavier than most mics I have. So much I had
to tighten the lugs on my boom stand pretty tight to get it to sit up straight.
Don't put your cheap boom out too far or you know what will happen.
The Mic comes in an attractive, black aluminum
reinforced case with locks, something typically reserved for higher priced
mics. When you pick it up you notice a precision manufactured feel.
Another surprise is that it comes with a shock mount as standard
equipment--no add-ons to buy. All of this gives the mic a great first
impression. There are 3 switches on the mic, all located exactly where
one wants them. On the front you have a -10db pad switch and
a bass rolloff switch. On the back is the multi-pattern
switch for Omni, Cardioid and Figure 8 patterns. Its a large condenser
mic, so it requires phantom power on your preamp, mixer or audio interface
in order to work.
The Solaris is, on the inside a 1.1 inch solid brass capsule that is
double sided, so in figure 8 and Omni modes, it picks up from the front
and the back. M-audio claims that all Solaris mics have less than
+/- 1db variation, which is pretty close. This makes it a good candidate
for a stereo pair without worrying about whether they will match.
The pad is quite effective when you know you are going to get loud on it.
The bass rolloff cuts at a slope of 6db per octave at 125Hz. To my
ears, it was a dramatic bass cut and quite useful at removing bass frequencies.
It has a rated frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHZ. There was much
less proximity effect than on other mics and it sounded quite natural even
at close range. The stated max SPL is 130db, which is adequate for
most applications. I would not want to use it as a kick or snare close
mic but think it would do fine as an overhead.
That's not a ball on top of the Solaris. The mic is designed like
a large lollipop. You can see the capsule through the mesh if you
hold it up to the light, suspended in the center of the lollipop.
M-Audio cautions us in the manual never to subject the mic to physical shock.
Yep, you don't want to drop this one or even have the drummer knock into
it. The Solaris does not like being jolted and your preamp will emit
a nasty noise if you do. Perhaps that is why they supplied us with
a shock mount and nice case. I'll be using them to keep this mic pristine.
I tested the mic on my voice and on acoustic guitar and give it high
marks on both. Vocals came out very clear and transparent to my ears.
No muddy bass clouding. I found it did not like me getting right on
the mic (within 1 inch) like I dowith my TLM 103 for a little proximity
boost for my soft low voice. A "P" plosive fed right into the
mic is a definite track killer (but of course that is bad mic technique
with any mic). At 4-8" away the sound was focused, yet clear. A loud
vocalist will get farther out. I suggest a pop filter. I found
the Solaris, in cardioid mode, picked up less of the room than the Rode
NT1 and definitely less bass. I have a distant train that goes by
every hour at the TweakLab and the Solaris did not pick up very much of
it where the Rode seems to capture every rumble. This rejection is
a good thing for those of us in less than stellar rooms. Its a quiet
mic for a condenser.
On acoustic guitar the Solaris did well especially with the pad off and
rolloff off. Facing a little right of the sound hole, parallel to
the strings, it was almost as good as my
SM81 with a remarkably precise and consistent tone. There is a
definite advantage being able to point the sm81 capsule exactly where you
want it. With the Solaris, as you can see by its size, you might have
to struggle with pointing it. Yet I was surprised at this as
there was no mention of acoustic guitar in the manual. (The manual
says "is also great for most other instruments and applications--including
amplified guitar or bass"). I did not test those. I did try
a hand drum (Darbouka) and it was nice. 2 different exotic tambourines--excellent,
no splatter. A few wood flutes--good definition. I found in a mix
of all the above, with vocals I did not have to make any bass adjustments.
There was no mud. That will keep me reaching for this mic over and
I think it is a solid mic for vocals, both spoken and sung, but as mentioned
before, watch out for plosives. I think it's be great for recording
a group of singers or 2 at once using the figure 8 pattern. I can
see possibilities for voice over for video production and podcasts.
Nice for ambient recordings, recording the room, or a source at a distance.
While I would not call it "bright", it does have the ability to rise above
in a mix. I think it would be a really good mic for sampling and recording
instruments that benefit from condensers. If you need one mic that
can do both vocals and acoustic guitar under $300 its a prime contender.
I think it will beat out getting two cheaper mics (large and small condensers)
that add up to $300.
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