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It’s a very interesting time in the recording industry. The landscape is drastically changing as digital modeling technology comes closer and closer to recreating the sound of the analog classics we all know and love.
Over the past year, I’ve had the chance to use some of the top modeling microphones and preamp systems including the Universal Audio Unison preamps, Townsend Labs Sphere microphone, Slate VMS microphone and now the Antelope Audio Edge Strip. There hasn’t been a system that’s let me down yet. In my opinion, it would be hard to find a more versatile microphone for under $1,500 than the Antelope, Slate or Townsend Labs.
Watch our new video below to hear some of the different microphone emulations in use on different sound sources and continue on afterward to read about Bryan Reilly's thoughts on the Edge Strip's performance throughout the demo.
Although the modeling technology has gotten really close to the real deal, there’s still a difference in the overall vibe and sonic characteristics, so don’t start selling off your classic mics just yet. But if you’re looking to add another classic mic flavor to some of your upcoming recordings without breaking the bank, I highly recommend trying out one of these systems.
I’ve always been a big fan of Antelope Audio products. They make some of the best clocks on the market, and over the past couple years have released some incredible sounding interfaces that have a good deal of I/O at a reasonable price point including the Discrete 4, Discrete 8, Orion Studio, Orion 32+, Zen Studio and the Goliath HD.
Not only has Antelope released a whole new line of high-quality interfaces, they’ve built a library of professional grade audio effects that model vintage and modern EQs, compressors, effects processors, guitar/bass amps and cabinets and tape machines. On most Antelope interfaces, the effects are powered by an internal FPGA (field-programmable gate array), which allows you to monitor and record them in real time with effectively zero latency.
Needless to say, I was excited to try out the new Edge Strip for myself and put it to the test on a couple of different sources. The Edge Strip came loaded with the Native Fusion AFX pack which includes a variety of native plug-ins that model a 1073 preamp, 1073 EQ, Sta-Level compressor, V76 preamp and more. Also included with the bundle were some timeless mic models including the 47 FET, U87, U67, UM57, Sony C800, Royer R-121, Coles 4038, AKG C12, AKG 414, TLM 103 and the Edge itself.
Before you get started with the Edge, you’ll need to do some set up within the computer to make sure everything is installed and working properly. First, you’ll want to hook up the Discrete MP to your computer through an available USB connection. The USB is only used for remote control of the Discrete MP settings (such as gain and phantom power), and does not act as an audio interface.
The Discrete MP is the hardware portion of the system which includes the dual combo XLR-TRS jacks. This is where you plug the dual XLR-Y microphone cable, which connects to the Edge microphone using a 5-pin XLR connector. It also provides hands-on control of preamp gain level, phantom power on/off and an oscillator for calibrating the proper level into your recording interface or A/D converter.
Both the Edge microphone and Discrete MP preamp are fully analog. Two balanced 1/4” outputs allow the Discrete MP to be hooked up to any recording interface, mixer or converter of your choice.
Note that the Edge microphone is a dual-capsule large diaphragm condenser microphone. The name “Edge” actually derives from the “edge-terminated” design of the capsules themselves, a design made famous by the legendary AKG CK12 capsule. The pair of capsules is equipped with 6-micron gold sputtered membranes which provide a smooth silky tone all on its own, but also allows the mic to take shape of some of the most sought-after mics on the market.
Both capsules feed a separate analog output, which allows each capsule to be individually processed and recombined. This allows the Edge to precisely model every polar pattern on every microphone, which can also be changed even after audio has been recorded. When used as the Edge on its own, the polar pattern becomes continuously variable from omnidirectional through to cardioid and bidirectional and any point in-between.
Once the Discrete MP is hooked up via USB, create an Antelope account and download all the necessary drivers and software. A step-by-step installation instructions card is provided in the Edge Strip’s road case. Be sure to do this before you start a recording session, since with all of the downloads and updates, this will take a bit of time. You’ll also need an iLok and iLok account to sync all the downloadable plug-ins.
Once you’re all set up, open up your DAW, create a stereo track, insert the Antelope Edge plug-in, engage Phantom Power on the Discrete MP, record-enable the track and you’re ready to start recording.
Acoustic guitar is one of the most revealing instruments when it comes to demonstrating what a microphone or preamp can do because of its wide dynamic range, frequency response and harmonic overtones. When working with the Edge Strip I did a single pass of an acoustic guitar performance and modeled four different microphones including the straight sound of the Edge, AKG414, U67 and Royer R-121.
I first dialed in the tone with no modeling, just the pure sound of the Edge microphone. I have to say, the natural sound of the microphone is pretty outstanding. It’s clean and neutral, but still provides great detail across the entire frequency range.
After getting a good level on the preamp, I started to apply some of Antelope’s plug-ins to fatten up the tone. I played around with changing the Polar Pattern as it was playing back, and found it best to close my eyes and spin the dial until something excited my ears.
For most of the mic models, I found either Omni or Figure-8 had the best overall tone. I then used the 1073 preamp to add a little color, and 1073 EQ to control some of the rumble, add some body to the lower mids, and open up the top end a little bit.
I think the natural sound of the Edge is a winner on acoustic guitars, and may be my favorite amongst the other modeled examples. Just from this example, I was sold that the Edge is a stellar microphone in its price range and can easily hold up to some of the boutique mics on the market on its own merits.
After printing the performance with the Edge, I duplicated the channel and started over with all the plug-in settings set back to neutral. First, I changed the mic model within the Antelope Edge plug-in to the U67, because as I mentioned earlier, you can change the microphone type and polar pattern even after audio is recorded, opening up endless possibilities when it comes to fitting the acoustic guitar into a track during the mix.
I then added the V76 preamp emulator to add some color (outstanding sounding plug-in for adding a little “hair” to a source) then inserted the 1073 EQ to help shape the tone, this time adding the Sta-Levin compressor, which models the Gates Sta-Level.
Listening to the examples side-by-side, I can hear the color that the U67 modeling adds. I often use a vintage U67 when recording acoustic guitars, I like how it captures the low end and lower midrange frequencies without being too boomy or boxy, and also provides a smooth top end that isn’t harsh, brittle or hollow sounding.
Although I don’t think the Edge sounds exactly like the vintage U67, it’s pretty close. I’m sure by tweaking some parameters on the included plug-ins, you can get the two to sound similar in a final mix.
Considering a vintage U67 is about 10 times the price of the Edge Strip, I’d say the Edge is a winner on the U67 modeling. This would be an excellent microphone if you’re looking for a vintage vibe and endless versatility while leaving a little room in your budget for some extra outboard gear or plug-ins.
In this example, I went back to the 1073 preamp, 1073 EQ but kept the Stay-Levin on. Often times I find the natural sound of a 414 to be a little too bright and brittle for my taste while recording a solo acoustic guitar performance (although sometimes it works wonders for making the percussive side of the acoustic cut through a full band track).
When I first loaded the 414 modeling, it made the acoustic boomy and boxy, very unlike the sound of a 414 that I’m used to hearing. Part of this might be chalked up to the many variations on the 414 design that AKG has offered throughout the years. Based on the graphic on the plugin, Antelope appears to have selected the circa-1976 C414EB as their model of choice. Although I didn’t get to hear the Edge side by side against a real 414 during this demo, I would say the modeling is a little off on this one, but it still had a great overall tone. Once I applied some color from the preamp, and shaped up the tone with the 1073 EQ, it was sounding much closer to how I’m used to hearing a 414.
Even more-so than the other examples, the Stay-Levin compressor was adding some magic to this take. I highly recommend trying an actual Sta-Level at some point (a modern recreation is available today from Retro Instruments), it’s one of those compressors that makes anything sound better just by running through it. You can nail it with large amounts of gain reduction and it remains transparent, but will add loads of excitement and depth to almost any source. If you don’t have the option of trying the real thing, this is the best sounding plug-in I’ve heard try to emulate it.
This is one of my favorite mics for tracking an acoustic guitar. It doesn’t ever sound too bright, harsh or hype up anything in the higher frequencies. It always provides a huge low end and captures all the nuances and transients in the percussive parts of the performance. The R-121 is also great at taking EQ, so if you want it a little brighter in the mix, something like a Pultec EQP-1a or Helios EQ does an excellent job on opening that up.
I used the V76 preamp on this example, 1073 EQ and a little bit of the Stay-Levin. After tweaking the parameters on each plug-in a bit, I was able to land on something pretty close to the sound of a real Royer recording. This is a great example of how versatile the Edge Strip can be. Switching from the U67 to the R-121 models within the plug-in completely changed the overall sound and feel of the performance.
It got me thinking that you could automate or simply create separate tracks within a session and change the type of microphone from section to section. You could also duplicate the track and blend the sound of two different mic models on the same performance to add some extra depth from verse to chorus.
Just by going through these four examples, I’m sold on the Edge. I think it’s a fantastic microphone for the price and offers so many tonal options, it would be a great addition to any size studio.
For electric guitar, I did a shootout with the Edge against the Royer R-121 close-miked on a Fender Vibralux with a clean tone. The R-121 is one of my favorite mics for this type of tone, again for its ability to capture detailed transients, provide a rich low end and creamy top end without sounding harsh. I used the Antelope 1073 preamp and EQ on the Edge, and Universal Audio’s Neve 1073 Unison preamp with the Royer.
I left the Royer channel alone and started doing some shaping on the Edge to match the tone of the Royer. With a little bit of love, I think I ended up with something that was pretty darn close. Keep in mind, the Edge is a dual capsule large diaphragm condenser microphone. With that being said, it’s very impressive that I can even come close to the sound of a ribbon mic, and I think if you didn’t hear them side by side, you could be fooled into thinking that the performance was recorded with a Royer.
So although it took a little bit of work to make the Edge sound similar to the Royer, I was able to get very close only using the included Antelope plug-ins. But even if I wasn’t trying to match the exact tone of the Royer, I still think the Edge has a great ribbon tone. All-in-all, another win for the Edge in my book.
The last example I did was a mono drum overhead, this time shooting out the Edge against a Coles 4038. I placed them both right next to each other about three feet above the kit where the kick and snare meet.
The Coles 4038 is one of my favorite drum overheads on the planet, whether I set one up in mono, or two in a spaced or Blumlein pair, it always sounds amazing and captures a pure representation of the kit. They add power and weight to the kick, snare and toms and deliver detail from the cymbals without them jumping out and attacking you. I find it’s one of the best microphones to use if the drummer is a basher.
I did the same set-up on these as I did with the Royer: 1073 channel strips on both channels. For this example, I dialed in the sound of the Coles first, trying to get the best mono overhead tone I could get from the Neve 1073 unison channel strip.
Before I even changed a single setting on the Neve 1073, the Coles sounded incredible. I used a bit of EQ to tame the lower frequencies, then opened up the top end a bit to make the snare and hats pop.
When I moved over to the Edge, it was lacking a bit of the natural low end and depth that the Coles provided, and was also much brighter in nature. Again, I think this is probably due to the Edge being a large diaphragm condenser microphone.
So I started to shape the Edge to get as close as I could to the Coles. I wasn’t able to make them sound exactly the same with the included plug-ins, but I was able to get close. I was very impressed by how much ribbon character was coming through from what started as a condenser.
Right from the start, I thought this was going to be the hardest microphone to model, and although I personally don’t think they’re exact, the Edge still has a great ribbon tone - another win for the Edge.
As much as I love the original versions of all these microphones, I’ve become a huge fan of all the modeling systems. For $1,295, the Edge Strip offers an incredible range of microphone types and a nice plug-in bundle to further shape the tone. Also included is a heavy-duty carrying case, shock mount, and pop filter that conveniently attaches to the included shock mount.
If you’re just starting off and looking to add some quality gear on a reasonable budget, I would highly recommend doing a shootout for yourself. This would be a great first or second microphone in your locker and would work great on everything from drums to vocals.
I also think this system would be a great addition to larger commercial facilities. Even if just used for room microphones, the ability to change the microphone type and polar pattern after you’ve recorded audio unlocks a world of possibilities in the production or final mix of a track.