Since I first got into engineering, Blue Microphones has been a name among names for top quality recording microphones. However, the lion’s share of their recent releases have been targeted at a broader audience. The Ball and subsequent Kick Ball and Eight Ball were the start of this trend, but they soon led to the more affordably-priced Bottle Rocket models, the USB line of the Snowball, Icicle and now Yeti, and even the odd releases of the Mikey, Eyeball and Snowflake.
All of these speak to the fact that Blue is trying to broaden its market share and reach out to a wider range of consumers. But with the enCORE 100 and enCORE 200, Blue is throwing its hat into the live sound ring historically dominated by the Shure SM58. Are they dooming themselves to a spot in the margins next to Sennheiser’s e835? Or could they possibly be the David to what is arguably one of the audio industry’s sturdiest Goliaths?
The first thing I noticed unboxing the pair was the weight. They weren’t heavy by any means, and moreover it actually brought a smile to my face to feel like I was hefting something of importance instead of some cheap plastic toy.
Also immediately noticeable was Blue’s typical flair for eye-catching design. The body style looks like it was borrowed from the Beta57, but with vast innovative improvements. The barrel has a machined in grip texture and a beautiful logo inlay. The screens are obviously heavy duty, with a bulletproof thickness and a significant solid bar at the equator for extra impact resistance. The 100 series is a polished silver screen with a gun-metal gray barrel, again reminiscent of its targeted competitor, while the 200 has a charcoal black barrel with a polished bronze screen, a combination that can only be described as ‘sexy’.
I have seen reviews of these mics that involved shooting them out in a studio, but I don’t see how that can help someone in the market actually purchase a mic like this. So I enlisted the help of my good friend and Public Assembly technical director Jesus Figueroa in order to test the mics in a true live sound environment.
The monthly concert series Trashbat was as perfect an arena as could be asked for since the night was planned to swing the gamut of sounds from quieter singer-songstresses to hard-riffing indie rock. Before doors opened we swept the mics across the newly rung out monitor setup. The dynamic capsule of the 100 gave us a great amount of gain and headroom and was completely silent when put to the monitors. The phantom-powered Active Dynamic capsule in the 200 was a lot louder (as to be expected) at lower gain, but also had a slight ringing that developed in the range around 4kHz. This high frequency bump was also evident when checking the mics against no background music in the empty room and is also supported by the frequency response chart. The highs on both models were really bright and crisp, almost to the point of being shrill, however, knowing the power of EQ and given the really wide open sounds space the mics produced, I was already starting to like what I was hearing.
According to Jesus, the real test for these bad boys was whether or not he could throw them down a flight of stairs and still cable them up for that night. I fully agreed, and after assuring him that I would not get upset, he gave the 100 a toss across the room and into the stage wall. It broke… the wall! We dusted drywall off the mic’s screen, plugged it back in and it sounded just as good as it did straight from the box. We banged it on the floor a few extra times to make sure, but all signs pointed to the mic being the tank it appeared to be.
We used both mics as the main vocals all night long. The Active Dynamic 200 model was the perfect performer for the quieter female act as it transferred all the nuance of her voice at top volumes and crystal clear clarity. The more aggressive vocals of the rock bands were a perfect match for the 100, and in the full mix of a performance, I had a decisive change of heart about the high frequency characteristics as they allowed the vocals to cut thru the mix with ease at more consistent volume levels.
By the end of the night I was convinced that these mics definitely have what it takes to be a top competitor in the live sound field and then some, and I wasn’t alone. Jesus was convinced too, and even tried to talk me out of my demo units. Sorry man, maybe next time.