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First Listen: Townsend Labs Sphere L22 Condenser Studio Microphone

Over the past couple days, I’ve been spending some quality time with the new Townsend Labs microphone system, the Sphere L22. As with any other mic modeling system, I was a bit skeptical going into the demo. I’ve been lucky enough to use all the real versions of the microphones modeled on countless recordings across all genres of music over the last 10 years. I must say, the Townsend Labs Sphere L22 is the real deal.

Right off the bat, I was blown away by the natural sound of the microphone without any processing happening. By itself, it has a very wide frequency range, a lot of depth in the low end, a nice presence in the higher frequencies and it can handle up to 140dB of SPL.

The microphone is built really well. Some other microphone modelers feel cheap when you are holding them, but the Townsend Labs feels like a high quality microphone similar to a Neumann U47, and comes with a very nice shock mount, road ready case, felt bag, and heavy duty threaded clip if no shock mount is needed.

The power of this microphone lies in the included Sphere DSP plug-in (UAD, VST, AU, AAX Native). The plug-in accurately models the response of a wide range of microphones, including the transient response, harmonics, proximity effect, and three dimensional polar response. Choose between the industry's best mics such as the Neumann U 47, Neumann M49, Neumann U 67, Neumann U 87, AKG C12, Telefunken 251, AKG 451, Cole 4038, and Shure SM57, as well as Townsend mic models.

One of the greatest features of the L22 that sets it apart from its competitors is the ability to change the microphone, polar pattern, filters, axis position to the sound source and proximity effect after you have recorded the source. This gives you endless options to shape the sound, no matter where the mix goes. Vocal tone not working? Easily switch the microphone that best fits the song. Not enough low end in the guitar? Add more proximity effect to fill in the low end. Even better, every parameter inside the plug-in can be automated, so you could change these settings throughout the song if desired.

I was messing around with changing the axis position of the mic during a breakdown and the effect I was getting was really cool. The only way to do that in a studio environment would be walking the mic around the speaker cabinet while recording (which I’ve done), but usually results in some kind of room noise and the inability to hear the sweet spots. With the L22, if you mess up by going to far one way or another, simply redo the automation.

The Sphere L22 can be run in a mono mode or the single microphone can record in stereo. The cable that is included has a six pin female connection from the base of the microphone and breaks out into two standard XLR cables that are to be plugged into your interface. The first cable is for the front of the microphone and the second is for the rear. In order to use the full power of L22, both channels must be recorded simultaneously, allowing you to access all the different polar patterns and microphone styles. The beauty of this is, even if you record a mono source using L22, you have the option to turn that into a stereo recording and select two separate microphones if you choose.

The picture above shows the mono plug-in window. On the mono setting you have the option to select from nine polar patterns, each model will highlight the polar patterns that are standard on the real version of the microphone. With the Sphere L22, you can use polar patterns that aren't native to it’s real counterpart. Want to use a super cardioid pattern with a U 47? No problem. It will also highlight the original filter options available of the modeled microphone, if the original microphone doesn’t have any built in filters, you can still apply three different styles within the Sphere plug-in.

One of the most powerful features to me is the ability to change the axis position of the microphone. Often times when recording an electric guitar or acoustic instrument, your natural instinct is to throw the mic on the front of the cabinet or pointed directly at the sound source. If it sounds good, you more than likely will not go back into the live room and experiment with changing the mic position, mostly because your scared of losing the good tone you already have. With the Sphere L22, you can rest easy knowing that you have a great tone with the mic pointed directly at the sound source, but have the option to change the axis at any time. With the combination of axis control and the polar pattern switching, you can sculpt the tone to fit into any track, usually without the use of drastic EQ.

Then we have the proximity control. Proximity effect is caused by how close your microphone is to the sound source and will determine how much low end is in the recorded signal. For more proximity effect (boost in low end) move the mic closer. If it’s sounding too boomy, move the microphone away from the sound source. This was a great feature to mess around with. Vocalist tend to move around a lot while singing, causing some spots to be full of low end and some to be a little thinner since they back up from the microphone. I was testing this on a dynamic vocal, where the verse is up close and personal, but the singer stepped away during the chorus since they were belting. Since every parameter can be automated, I was able to boost the proximity effect in the chorus when the singer stepped back from the mic and was able to match the low frequency response they had in the verse, without the addition of an EQ or splitting the performance between two tracks.

Pictured above is the stereo layout of the Sphere plug-in. This can be accessed in the mono mode by hitting the “Dual” button the bottom right of the plug-in, or will default to this mode if recording a stereo track. In the stereo mode, you can select two separate microphones, and adjust the polar patterns, filters and axis position independently. In this mode, the proximity effect will be applied to the sum of both mics, and can’t be controlled separately. The controls can be linked by engaging the “Link” button on the top center of the plug-in window, or can be controlled independently. In the center of the plug-in window, you have the ability to adjust the mix of the microphones, far left being “Mic 1”, and far right being “Mic 2”, the middle position will give a 50/50 blend between the two. The “Align” option will determine how the capsules are placed next to each other, and can be adjusted forward or backwards 2cm. Depending on the polar patterns selected, this can really help get rid of phase, or add a cool phase effect.

One of the most powerful features in this mode is the Off Axis Correction, located in the bottom left of the plug-in window. When engaged, this will assign a “master” polar pattern between both mics, and still allow each mic to have it’s own unique polar pattern. This can be used to fix any phasing issues between the two mics if you weren't able to achieve that with the “Align” function, but I found this can be used to not only “fix” the sound, but to shape the sound in a whole new way. As you dial the knob from left to right, it will change the “master” polar pattern, and changes the way the mics are responding to each other, this will either make them more in or out of phase. With a little bit of experimenting, I was able to make a mono acoustic guitar track sound insanely huge, with tones of depth, width, and full low frequency response. Once that is dialed in, you can then switch between different microphones to see which one works best.

The Townsend Labs Sphere L22 is priced at $1,499, which is a little pricier than the similarly designed Slate Digital VMS which comes in at $999. Both models are great, but each have their own strengths and weaknesses. If you are looking into to a microphone modeling system, I highly recommend doing some research to find which one will work best for your studio.

Vintage King is currently giving away a Townsend Labs Sphere L22 to one lucky winner. Sign up here for your chance to bring home one of these excellent microphone modeling systems.

If you have any questions, please contact your Vintage King Audio Consultant by email or phone at 888.653.1184, or stop by one of our showrooms to demo one for yourself. To hear the Sphere L22 in action, watch the video below featuring Josh Gleave and Janelle Wheeler of the Nashville-based band Lockhart demo.

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