BEESNEEZ PHELICITY, ELLY & TRIBUTE T1
Three different mics with three different sounds.
Review: Greg Walker
I first came across the Australian mic manufacturer BeesNeez when I was asked to review the Arabella, Jade and James ‘Studio Series’ tube models back in Issue 67. I immediately fell for their detailed, vibey sound and the Arabella ended up staying on in the studio permanently. This has become my no brainer, go-to mic for mono drum overhead and it never fails to deliver – I put it up somewhere over the kit, hit record and enjoy. It also handles vocals, guitar amps and other duties very nicely.
So I was pleased when three new additions to the BeesNeez catalogue arrive at my doorstep for review: the Phelicity and Elly are from the upgraded Producer Series while the T1 is the first offering in the new Tribute Series. All three mics feature a weighty brass and bronze capsule construction, chrome-plated brass bases and a very heavy-duty build quality. They’re big, <<heavy>> and great looking.
The Phelicity is a multi-pattern long body valve microphone that derives much of its design inspiration from the classic AKG C12. The short-body Elly is more of a hybrid, using the same K7 capsule as the T1 model, but with a fixed pattern cardioid transformer-balanced FET design that dispenses with any external power supply and is optimised for vocal work. The T1 is the biggest microphone of the three, being reminiscent of the famous long-body Neumann U47, albeit with a nine-position polar-pattern selector on the power supply. All these BeesNeez mics are made near Kyogle, in northern NSW, right down to the casings, capsules and power supplies.
The Phelicity has a commanding presence in the studio with its long barrel and large retro-styled BeesNeez badge. The textured silver body and gleaming chrome base and cage lend it a timeless look, and when you put it up on a session people are suitably impressed. It’s worth emphasising that this mic is a very heavy piece of kit due to the extensive use of brass in the construction. My standard K&M stands can <<just>> about support the Phelicity’s weight but I’ve generally used one of my old-school stands with a more weighty steel base to stabilise it when extending a boom out to any real distance. Fortunately the supplied 51mm suspension mount is well and truly up to the job and is a good match visually for the mic. My only gripe here is that the smallish clips that secure the mic in place tend to want to hide under the elastic, making adjustments somewhat fiddly. The Phelicity has a dual-backplate edge-terminated K12 capsule and utilises a NOS (new old stock) Mullard RAF tube and Cinemag 2461 NiCo transformer. There’s a selection of nine polar patterns on the external power supply, ranging from figure-eight through to omni and a three-metre Gotham seven-pin cable connects it to the mic. I’d advise prospective buyers to shell out the extra $50 for the six-metre length cable, otherwise you’ll tend to find yourself moving the power supply around a lot.
Another cool feature of all three mics is the internal damping in the capsule, which means handling noise and environmental transference via mic stands etc are noticeably reduced compared to most other large diaphragm condensers. Indeed, I rarely used a pop-screen for vocals with any of these mics, a pleasant surprise given their vintage pedigree and diaphragm size.
PHELICITY WITH ELECTRICITY
The first thing I did with the Phelicity after it arrived was plug it into a Neve preamp, stick it in front of a Fender guitar amp and start tracking some stacked guitar parts. My initial reaction was that it sounded very nice indeed, with the valve flavour of the microphone really augmenting what was best about the amp’s low and midrange frequencies, while smoothing out the highs in a pleasing ‘valvey’ kind of way. Next I tried it as a drum overhead (in the same role where my Arabella repeatedly excels), but here I wasn’t so convinced as it tended to bring a rather thin tone out of the kit and room, even when I switched from omni to a more directional cardioid pattern. Different story on percussion though, where the Phelicity worked wonders on tambourines, shakers and pretty much everything else I could bang, shake or rattle near it. In this application the tops were full of detail but not hard sounding the way some condensers can be. There’s a definite vintage quality to these sounds that makes you want to turn them up in the mix – always a good sign! The Phelicity gets a big tick on percussion.
On vocals the mic has a definite upper midrange bite to it, which can be either good or bad depending on the vocalist and the delivery. I enjoyed it on my voice, especially on quieter material where the mic’s presence and detail allowed it to punch through the mix effortlessly. I also liked singing into it set to the full omni position; not sure why but it just seemed to suit my voice that way. I put it up on a female vocalist for a session but found the mic too hard sounding on her louder songs (I eventually chose a very dark ribbon mic for this task). Having said that, her voice sounded superb through the Phelicity on the quieter material.
I also used the Phelicity a lot as a room mic for some live duo recordings in a small hall, and as a piano room mic, and was pleased with the realism of the results. On violins and cello it was also very impressive, giving depth and clarity without undue emphasis on the bow and rosin artefacts. The Phelicity has plenty of character – a trait I’ve always liked about the BeesNeez sound. My only question with the Phelicity is how the upper midrange presence behaves on ‘harder’ voices and whether this emphasis might make the mic less of an all-rounder in some applications.
The short bodied Elly is only a bit less impressive looking than the Phelicity, and being a fixed cardioid design is very simple to set up. The mic features a transformer-balanced FET circuit, the new BeesNeez K7 capsule, and a Cinemag 24110 transformer. Again you need to take some care setting up the Elly with a decent stand, as it’s a hefty customer (despite being utterly dwarfed by the giant T1). My first impressions of it were similar in fact to the Phelicity; great on guitar cabs through both Neve and API mic preamps. It delivered a warm character-filled version of what I was hearing in the room, although perhaps not quite as flattering as the Phelicity. On my voice, however, it seemed a better fit, offering plenty of detail in the midrange and a better tonal balance overall. I also used it on another male voice for backing vocals. Here again it worked a treat and sat very naturally in the mix with no treatment whatsoever.
The real surprise came when I experimented one afternoon and placed it about six inches above the snare as part of a three-mic drum setup. Going through an API preamp the snare sound absolutely knocked me for six; it had so much beef, snap and realism I kept checking to see if I was actually hearing things right. Being a condenser microphone there was a lot of bleed from the kick, hats and toms of course, but they all sounded fantastic too, with tons of depth and weight to them. As a consequence I kept going back to this setup whenever I recorded drums, and it was just a matter of filling out the toms and cymbals with a carefully placed overhead and a dynamic mic inside the kick drum. The Elly also rocked as a drum overhead more in the vein of the Arabella and was very impressive in front of a kick drum too. As a room mic the Elly did a very nice job on a variety of sources, although unfortunately you can’t switch it to omni, which limits its room applications somewhat.
Above the open top of an upright piano the Elly leant weight and presence to the sound without getting harsh, and once again the sonic picture felt quite complete. Overall I’d say the Elly is a real bargain and I’m very impressed by the build quality and sonic performance of this mic. I’ve got a feeling BeesNeez has a real winner on its hands with this more affordable member of the Producer Series and that Ellys will be spreading through the audio community ‘like ribbon mics’ in no time.
And now to the elephant in the room. The T1 is a ginormous beast of a mic, looks great and is an absolute pleasure to address either as a singer or instrumentalist – and well it should with a price tag well in excess of four grand. On the flipside of this argument, it’s still only roughly half the price of a used U47 in today’s vintage marketplace, and then of course you’ve still got those rather large questions of maintenance, repair and tube sourcing hanging over your head.
The T1 features a dual-lapped K7 capsule, an oversized NiCo 2461 transformer and a NOS EF Series steel tube from the ’40s. Here, for the first time, the BeesNeez badge doesn’t look too big and the impression you’re left with is that the Germans may have invented the original U47 not so much as a sound capture device as an offensive weapon. I haven’t sung into a real U47 for about five years so I won’t try to compare the T1 sound to this much-revered classic, although you can find a bit of discussion online if you search for it. Vintage Neumann guru Klaus Heyne speaks very favourably of the new BeesNeez K7 capsule in comparison to other recent Neumann K47 capsule reproductions, so you can take it as given that BeesNeez have got a lot of things right in trying to reproduce arguably the most well-regarded microphone in history.
The T1 ‘Tribute’ arrived a little after the other mics so I already had my ears attuned to their sonic qualities, and when I plugged the T1 in I hoped to be able to hear another step up in performance from the Producer Series models. I recorded an entire song straight off the bat using only the T1 set to cardioid on each source, via a UA 2108 solid-state mic preamp: acoustic guitar, drums (with a dynamic in the kick drum for fairness’ sake and the T1 hovering just above and in front of the kit), vocals, piano, bass amp and electric guitar. Then I sat back and listened… and was very impressed by what I heard. Basically the track sat together amazingly well given there was no EQ or compression to be seen anywhere. The track had tremendous tonal balance, warmth and valve mojo but with excellent presence and detail to the point where it sounded like it had already hit some tasty outboard processing. It wasn’t overly bright but zesty in the upper mids and highs, clearly marking it out as a superior microphone. The Tribute struck me as a real rock ’n’ roll microphone geared towards delivering big, bold sounds, as well as more than a hint of harmonic distortion. I wouldn’t recommend it for classical recordings or applications where a pristine sound image is required, but as a pop/rock microphone it’s as good as anything I’ve used since I last bumped into a real U47. While perhaps lacking a U47’s huge bottom end, I didn’t really miss this in my time with the T1 and there was no mud or mush to deal with in any of the subsequent applications I used it in.
DIAL UP A SMILE
I recorded quite a few vocalists performing different kinds of material with the T1 and every time it felt like the right mic, and vocals sat in the track effortlessly. As a drum overhead it immediately evoked the kind of retro cool that you wish you could coax out of your cheaper condensers and it certainly ate my U87 for dinner in this application. Guitar cabs sounded great too, the T1 making them sing out with smooth clarity up top and plenty of oomph down below, although for my preferred guitar amp sound the Phelicity edged it out with its extra bit of zing. I did some more vocal tests with the other two BeesNeez mics, singing into each one in turn – just to confirm my feelings about them – and sure enough the Tribute beat them hands down as a vocal mic. It’s not that the Phelicity and Elly sounded bad; the T1 simply took things to another level of sonic performance.
On classical guitar and cello the Tribute 1 delivered nice articulation of the lower frequencies while smoothing out the highs and again providing a result that already felt very much like a finished product. The key to all these sounds for me was the even tonal balance which, time after time, whether six inches or four meters away, gave me the sound I was looking for straight off the bat. I haven’t been as impressed by a microphone since I reviewed the AEA A440 ribbon mic and there’s only a select group of mics out there that can give you these kinds of excellent results in this many applications. It’s a wonderful thing to have access to such amazing reproductions of classic microphones without the headaches of the vintage gear merry-go-round, albeit at a price most of us mere mortals might still balk at. Nevertheless, if you’re ready to take the plunge I think you’ll find the T1 a serious contender in the U47 clone wars, and one that’s more than capable of putting a smile on the dial of even the most jaded recording engineer or lighting up the most jet-lagged of singers.
WEAK AT THE NEEZ
A pretty awesome trio of microphones then. All three do nothing to dispel my view that BeesNeez are seriously cooking with gas up in Kyogle. I love the new improved look and feel of the Producer Series and the fact that they’re now made lock, stock and barrel in Australia. The Phelicity may not be such an all-rounder but it’s a great vocal and guitar cab mic on the right source. The Elly is very good value and rules on snare, and the T1 can basically run your studio for you while you pop off down the beach. Seriously though, the presence of any of these microphones in your studio will make it a better place to work in, and if you can stump up for the T1 in particular you’ll find that recording just got a whole lot easier and more fun. For those of us in the real world meanwhile, the Elly looks to be a great all-rounder at a great price that can give the international competition a real run for its money.