If you’ve read any of our previous reviews, you’ll know that we’re particularly fond of sE here at the mag, not just because of the quality of microphones (and the marvellous reflexion filters of course) but because of quite how affordable that quality is.
Case in point, the sE X1 clocks in at a very wallet-friendly price, but having heard the mic in use only for a brief period of time, I was keen to sit down with it for a proper review, as the results were sounding incredibly promising. We’ve taken some sound clips of a guitar and vocal separately and then together, which you can hear below on our Soundcloud clip, but first let’s take a look at what you’re getting.
The X1 is a large-diaphragm, fixed-cardioid FET mic (with a hand-built capsule, no less), which requires 48V phantom power (in this case we supplied that with a Focusrite Saffire 6 interface). It’s a well-machined, solidly-built affair that should take a fair few knocks, coated in a matt black finish and with a sturdy steel grille. The mic comes packaged with a swivel mount, and while you might decide to upgrade to a separately-bought shock mount, we actually found the included model to be just fine for day-to-day recording duties.
The mic also has a 10dB pad and low-frequency cut switch. It’s been nice to see these features appearing more and more on mics that don’t cost the earth, and it means that you’ll be less likely to need to upgrade to a more expensive vocal mic any time soon.
The sound samples below hopefully convey a few crucial points. One is that the mic itself is amicably quiet. While of course this is a mic that’ll be ideal for a bedroom-recording/home studio setup, it’s good to know that actually there’s not any noise cluttering up the signals while you’re tracking your vocals or acoustic guitars (which will be the most likely application).
There’s a gentle bright colouring towards the higher end of the frequencies. You can actually here it on my vocal (we did nothing to the track with the DAW, just hit record and stitched the three samples together), and in my case it’s actually a helpful push which adds a bit of a sing-song quality (apologies for my warblings, by the way – I don’t claim to be a singer!). I suspect a lot of people will be equally satisfied with the X1 picking out that detail. If you already have a toppy high-end sound to your voice, you might find it a touch too bright (which you can likely sort out with EQ-ing of course), but on the whole for the majority of close-mic’ing jobs this’ll do just fine.
The -10db pad – which will deal with any overload you’re getting from recording a source by dropping the gain, and will help to smooth out sounds be more that bit more pleasing – is as I say nice addition on this microphone, and makes the X1 all the more adaptive to voices and other sources. The low cut filter – which will give you more headroom and cut out rumbles from any unnecessary low-end frequencies – is a welcome addition too, especially as in bedroom environments mic handling and stand movement are likely to be a problem.
Speaking of other sources, you can hear the impressive results on the guitar recording too – singer-songwriters will be absolutely made-up with this mic as it does a good job of grabbing the fine detail. You get that same high-end zing of course, but for poppy/acoustic tracks that’s no bad thing.
All in all, I was impressed with the X1’s sound, especially considering the price. It’ll be perfect for a home studio or bedroom setup, but has enough mileage in it as a general all-rounder, I suspect it’ll be kept in a producer’s arsenal long after upgrading to more expensive models. While the price may suggest that this is an entry-level product, I personally think that it aggressively takes on models at double the price, perhaps even more than that. Speaking of other models, I’m looking forward to reviewing the sE X1-R ribbon and sE X1-D kick drum mic, due October.
It’s easy to be dismissive of anything that looks suspiciously good value for money, but a setup with the X1, a Reflexion filter and a decent audio interface/preamp will do justice to almost any vocal, and will be a go-to in the studio once you’re used to its character.