Review of the M-Audio Solaris by TweakHeadz Lab
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Review of the M-Audio Solaris Condenser Microphone

 

A Versatile multi-pattern condenser Mic for amps, rooms, instruments, vocal groups

 

by the Tweak

 

 

Sitting in its durable coffin like case, the Solaris lies safely in state

 

 

The word Solaris 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.

MAudio Solaris Multi-Pattern Condenser Microphone

Solaris is a large-capsule condenser microphone that sounds as good as it looks. Beneath the stylish exterior lies the best-sounding solid-state electronics available at any price.

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.

  Solaris shown with shock mount

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 Shure 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 over again.  

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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Solaris at the M-audio site

 

 

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