The reassuring clunk of a Mercedes/Audi/BMW car door closing, the burnished beauty of vintage Campagnolo bicycle parts, a brand new razor straight out of the package, a Brauner microphone. It’s fascinating to me how some products just seem to engender free association from the moment that you take them from their box. If we accept the premise that ours is a business based upon conveying shades of meaning through sound, is it not crucial that our tools should inspire us to inspire the artists we work with?
Now that I’m done with the stream of consciousness crap-ola above, let’s take a look at one of Dirk Brauner’s newest offerings, the Phanthera. In some respects this is a very easy product to review, unlike many of today’s microphones there are no pads, no high pass (or low pass), or pattern selection switches. Other than the fact that you need to have phantom power available setting up the Phanthera is no more difficult than using a Shure SM57.
Self-noise is a reasonable, if not stellar, 11 dB (A-weighted), frequency response is stated as 20 Hz – 22 kHz with no deviation stated and the sensitivity is given as (a hefty) 33mV/Pa. Maximum SPL is given at 142dB at .3% distortion. The diaphragms are six micron in thickness and the capsule is related to the one developed for the lauded Brauner VMA. Interestingly, for a modern solid state (FET) microphone, the Phanthera is transformer coupled.
The Phanthera comes in a nice aluminum “flight-lite” case and includes a cleverly designed shock mount and a super high quality 5 meter Vovox solid core cable. The shock mount is quite different than the traditional shock mount normally included with most microphones. Instead of the traditional basket type approach typically seen, the Brauner instead features two C-shaped rings that are machined perfectly to hold the microphone in place. While there are no adjustment (or securing) screws to retain the microphone, a vigorous shaking confirmed that none were required! As the shockmount has a lower profile than most, positioning the Phanthera in tight places was a snap.
The fit and finish of the microphone is quite literally beyond reproach, and it feels as though it will last indefinitely. Try as they like, I’m not convinced that any other nation can routinely manufacture products with the same levels of detail and precision as the Germans do.
While I’d hesitate to describe the Phanthera as a “vocal only” microphone, Brauner does say that the primary purpose of the Phanthera is for vocal usage. With that in mind, I made sure to try the Phanthera with a variety of vocalists in order to get an idea how it would fare in the “real world.”
First up was artist Sasha Notrestar a contralto with a smoky tone and subtle controlled dynamics. Through an API 512C preamp, the vocal nearly lept out of the monitors sounding three dimensional, to the extreme. In fact, it was almost too vivid for the minimalist arrangement we were working on. A quick switch to the DAV preamp (also solid state) seemed to balance things out a bit better. Compared to my default Gefell MT71 microphone, the Brauner was quite a bit hotter and it also reached much lower down in the frequency spectrum. This was a double edged sword, as it did provide a nice sense of warmth and size at the price of magnifying stand borne and other low frequency detritus. A touch of the Sonalksis TBK1 filter (which has a great high pass filter) took care of this, posthaste.
Next I tried the Phanthera on bassist/singer Robert Wesley Graham. Graham who is blessed/cursed with a large midrange presence peak in his voice, alternately sings and screams with a Banshee wail not unlike a combination of Axl Rose and Lemmy (from Motorhead). I’m pleased to report that the Phanthera held up to his assault, and had no problems handling his dynamics. The resultant track was ballsy and edgy…in a good way, and was able to cut through a dense mix requiring only a bit of compression to smooth out the transitions between the verses and choruses.
Last up was a Grammy nominated singer with a bright but slightly reedy voice. Normally I like to use a large diaphragm dynamic microphone on him, such as an EV RE20 if it’s a song that doesn’t require a hyper-detailed vocal track, since it tends to round off the rough edges. For tracks that require more detail, I’ve had good luck with the Audio Technica 4060 tube microphone. The Phanthera wasn’t the best fit in this application as it tended to magnify some of the less desirable harmonics in his vocal track. Additionally, the Phanthera exhibits quite a bit of proximity effect, so the singer had to move a little further back from the microphone than he was accustomed to.
On the other hand, the Phanthera sounded really great as a drum overhead microphone, placed about 5 feet off of the floor, and 3 feet in front of my Premier Jazz kit. Once again, the dynamic performance of the microphone was superb and the track was also very well balanced harmonically. There was none of the spitty (or swishy) sound that lesser microphones sometimes deliver when micing a full kit. A bit of mild compression quickly yielded a keeper track.
Moving the microphone further into the room indicated that the Phanthera is a champ when it comes to resolving the ambiance of a room. I wish that I had had a pair of Phantheras to be used as room microphones, but only received a single review unit. That said, I’d be shocked if a pair of Phantheras weren’t spectacular in this application!
I also had good luck with the Phanthera when I used it for recording a pair of congas. Though normally I like to track congas in stereo, for this particular track a slightly distant mono recording sounded great. Once again, it cut through the arrangement really well, and required no corrective equalization.
Placed 6 inches away from (and angled towards the bridge) of a Rainsong acoustic guitar the Brauner produced a realistic rendition of the instrument. Unfortunately, on this instrument (which tends to have a peaky treble range) the overall sound was a little bit on the strident side. In addition, finger and fret noise seemed a bit magnified. Before you get too concerned about this, realize that the guitar actually does exhibit these characteristics! I only mention this example to highlight the fact that the Phanthera isn’t a microphone that is voiced to be “polite.”
One of my favorite applications for the Phanthera was on the upright bass. On a Kay bass set up with Thomastic-Infeld strings, the Phanthera sounded expansive and exciting. The ratio of string slap, fundamental, and harmonic was perfect! Though I wouldn’t have expected it beforehand, the Phanthera was one of the very best microphones I’ve ever heard for capturing the sound of this particular upright bass.
If the Phanthera happens to work its magic on your source (be it voice, instrument, or room/ambiance), it’s without a question well worth the investment. Beautifully crafted, and with a strong resemblance (both visually and sonically) to some of Brauner’s more high end offerings, the Phanthera is a great way to add the Brauner sound to your microphone cabinet.
UREI 809, Fostex NF-1, and NX-6a monitors, Legacy Point One subwoofer; Pass Labs X250 amplifier; Audio Developments AD-146 console, API 512C preamp, DAV Broadhurst Gardens mic preamp; Magix Sequoia 10, Nuendo 4. Steinberg Wavelab 6. .
Product Points – CS5
Big modern sound
Impressive build quality
Great shock mount
Deluxe Brauner sound at a lower price point
Applications: Professional Studio, Project Studio
Key Features: Phanthera
Large Diaphragm condenser microphone, shock mount, high quality Vovox cable
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