M-Audio is a company that is present and accounted for at virtually all parts of the recording process. Need an interface, pair of studio monitors, control surface, pocket sized recorder, or perhaps some microphones? They’ve got you covered. One would have to think that experience gleaned in one product area might very well translate to other product areas, bringing the overall quality and performance levels up. In this review of the Pulsar II small diaphragm condenser microphone I will test that hypothesis.
The Pulsar II Matched Pair retails for $399, though the street price is right around the $300 mark. So, what do you get for your $300, other than two microphones? First off, a nicely finished wooden jeweler’s box with die cut foam securing the contents inside, an ORTF microphone bar, foam windscreens, and a pair microphone clips bearing way more than a passing resemblance to the beyerdynamic MKV 9 microphone clip. Although there were no individual frequency response charts included with the microphones M-Audio claims that all Pulsar II matched pairs are within 1 dB of each other. The Pulsar II ‘s self noise is rated at a low 15 dBA which is rather good, especially for a small diaphragm condenser microphone in this price range. Frequency response is listed as 20Hz- 20kHz, which without any specified deviation means absolutely nothing! The included response chart seems to show a fairly flat response up until a moderate rise somewhere around 7kHz or so, and then a drop off up around the 14kHz mark. The microphone itself has a black painted brass body with a chromed grille and endpiece, and features a 6 micron 3/4” diaphragm. The output of the microphone is biased into Class A, and the topology of the output stage is FET. There is a 10dB level cut pad along with a switchable high pass filter (12dB per octave at 80Hz). The Pulsar II microphones are made in China and they carry a one year limited warranty.
First up for recording duties was a birch Premier jazz drum kit with a 20” kick, along with a 12” rack tom and a 14” floor tom. I’ve grown fairly accustomed to the wood rimmed Ayotte Keplinger stainless steel snare drum that I’ve been using for a while, but truth be told it’s a bit too much for the rest of this kit to keep up with. With that in mind I also called into use a 1970’s Ludwig Superphonic which better matched the character and acoustic output of the rest of the kit. Cymbals for this project were 1970’s Zildjian A’s and K’s.
Before I had the chance to record a single bar, I ran into something about the Pulsar II that really irritated me and that was the included microphone clips. It’s bad enough that they copied the beyerdynamic clip (I mean that irks me from a “cloning” perspective), but they didn’t even bother manufacturing it to the correct tolerances, and as a result the microphone readily slides around inside of the clip. If someone were to consider using these on a gig, they’d absolutely need to duct tape the mics to the clips. The tension on the angle adjustment of clips was also much too loose out of the box so it was impossible to aim then without major (ED style) drooping, so don’t forget to bring some mic clip Viagra in the form of a 2.5mm allen wrench to the gig! Probably the best course of action would be to throw the m-audio clips in with your recycling, and buy a pair of the “real deal” beyerdynamic clips. On the other hand, the included stereo bar is a nice extra, and one can position the microphones so that they will conform to the ORTF specification for microphone spacing. There is also a considerable range of adjustment possible which is nice if you chose to deviate from the ORTF spec.
I mounted the Pulsar 11’s to large Atlas studio boom stand using the ORTF mounting bar and positioned them so that they were approximately 1 foot in front of the drum kit, and three feet above the rack tom. Other than the bass drum (which was a bit low in the mix) the kit sounded surprisingly realistic, rendering the cymbals as more than just white noise (which is a common affliction among inexpensive mics) and providing an excellent representation of both the Ayotte and Ludwig snares. Toms sounded fairly robust, and the microphones did a more than credible job at tracking the transients.
Later, I pulled the stand away positioning it about 12 feet in front of the drum kit to get an idea of how well the Pulsar II’s could resolve the ambiance and reverb tails of the room. Turns out they were actually pretty good! Contrary to the marketing puffery on M-Audio’s website, you’re not going to mistake the Pulsar II’s for a Neumann KM84/184 with a more “Schoeps-like” top end, (or even a 40 Series audio-technica small diaphragm condenser), but I was nevertheless pleased with the overall ambiance and sense of space in this particular application for a microphone at this price point.
Thanks to the on-board pad (which extends the maximum spl to 144dB), the microphone didn’t ever seem to overload when I put it very close to the shell of the snare drum/s. While it wasn’t ultimately a sound that ended up getting used on that particular song, it was still quite respectable. I didn’t care for the sound of the Pulsar nearly as much when used in the typical “angled towards the drum head” positioning, but that sort of arrangement doesn’t typically work that well (for me, at any rate) with most non-dynamic microphones I’ve used.
The Pulsar II’s were at their best when placed directly above the ride and crash cymbals, providing a nice contrast between the sound of the nylon tipped sticks hitting the cymbal, and the wash of the undertone. I did notice that the low note of the K series 20” ride was a little attenuated in volume compared to other (more costly) microphones I’ve used in this application. The Pulsar II also sounded quite good when used to capture the high hat. The M-Audio’s sounded clean, bright, and detailed micing a brass-jingled tambourine, and I had similar good results with triangle and afuche-cabasa. Once again, I appreciated that the M-Audio mics didn’t exhibit the typical “white noise” type tonality on those instruments.
Used in a stereo configuration on a Jean Larrivee jumbo cutaway acoustic guitar, the Pulsar II’s sounded a little bit recessed and hi-fi, as opposed to natural and warm. I found that the high end sheen that was pleasing on the drums, cymbals and percussion, wasn’t quite as nice on acoustic guitar. On the other hand, while this kind of semi-cutting tonality wouldn’t be my first choice when used by itself, it could provide some assistance to help a guitar cut through a dense mix.
The M-Audio mics were a very cool choice when placed right up against the twin speakers in a vintage 1987 GK 250ML guitar amplifier. This amplifier (which could never be described as mellow or recessed) really came to life through the Pulsar II’s, and its over-the-top chorus virtually exploded out of my monitors. Kismet, right?
The M-Audio Pulsar II microphones represent a good choice for those in the market for a low cost matched pair of small diaphragm condensers. Their low self-noise makes them a contender for ambient micing duties, and the 1db matching between mics is impressive at this price point. In my opinion they neatly fill in the price and performance gap between the current crop of low-end small-diaphragm microphones, and the “old-line” fully professional microphones, at a price much closer to the entry level stuff. Now if they could just re-engineer those microphone clips!
UREI 809 and Fostex NF-1 monitors, Legacy Point One subwoofer; Pass Labs X250 amplifier; Audio Developments AD-146 console, DAV Broadhurst Gardens mic preamp; Magix Sequoia, Steinberg Wavelab.
Matched to 1dB
Low Self Noise
Included ORTF microphone bar
Awful microphone clips
Limited resolution of ambiance
The M-Audio Pulsar II’s are a cut above the usual low cost small diaphragm microphone for a small increase in cost.
Applications: Project Studio, Live Sound
Key Features: Matched pair of small diaphragm condenser microphone, class A FET output, 10dB pad, high pass filter, ORTF microphone bar.
Price: $399 (list) $299 (street)
Contact: M-Audio USA 626-633-9055 www.m-audio.com