If there was ever a large diaphragm mic designed to be an affordable entry-level mic that holds up to the daily rigors of studio use, it would, with apologies to several other manufacturers, be the Behringer B-1. For the same price as a Shure SM-58, the go-to vocal mic in so many live situations, you can get your hands on the shimmering mojo of the condenser world. That is one heck of a change from a generation ago. The large cap classics from 25+ years ago are still around, and they are still expensive. Without working in a studio or taking an audio engineering course back then, you didn’t see large capsule condensers. The home recording world was built around dynamic mics, often cheap ones picked up at Radio Shack, with a permanently wired cable that ended in a ¼-inch plug. Fine for punk and garage rock sensibilities, but impossible to match professional production values.
When Behringer started making a splash in the early 2000s, many users, including me, cast a wary eye. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is, right? And the Behringer bang for the buck quotient did seem too good to be true. Now, fifteen-odd years later, I can turn my head to the right and see Behringer graphic equalizers, headphone amps, patch bays and preamps. Behind me are several Behringer mics and to my left a couple pairs of Behringer headphones. I have a couple little Behringer mixers somewhere too. This stuff may not be top of the line, but neither is it at the bottom. It works and it’s affordable. In the case of the B-1, it works well.
DO I STILL HAVE AN EXCUSE TO AVOID OWNING A LARGE CAP CONDENSER MIC? DEPARTMENT: No. No you don’t.
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Setup and Usability
The B-1 is a Neumann U87 cousin in looks, rounded across the top where the U87 is more square. Otherwise, it’s a standard, side-address large cap mic. The XLR connector boasts gold plated pins for solid electrical connections, and the B-1 has a -10 dB attenuation switch and a low-cut filter that kicks in at 75 Hz and cuts 6 dB per octave, a typical slope that reduces rumble and breath noise.
Polar pattern is cardioid, or heart-shaped, and the mic has the typical proximity effect. Get closer to the mic’s grille and the low frequencies of your voice will be accented. The low-cut filter helps a little, but only at the very bottom of most voice ranges, so it doesn’t help very much. No surprises there.
Again, no surprises in the need for some sort of pop filter, be it a screen or foam cover. That and the need for 48V phantom power are both standard for this type of condenser mic, whether you pay $100 for a B-1 or $3,200 for a U87.
Where a mic makes it is the sound. Condenser mics with large diaphragms – one inch in the case of the B-1 – have a quality that sounds big, different and professional. Each brand has its own peculiarities, and no single mic matches every voice. The really good mics, and I mean the U87 here, give a pretty good result on any sound you throw at them. When you find a match, results can be sublime, the sound of liquid gold, which later gets pressed into albums for presentations to musicians and songwriters.
While it would be silly to look at $3,100 price difference and expect a B-1 to perform well against a U87, here’s a surprise: It does not embarrass itself.
The B-1 probably is made in the same Chinese factories that produce many of the other inexpensive condenser mics. Whatever it is in the Behringer design and monitoring, there is a notch that the B-1 stands above many of those others. It does have the Chinese brightness, but without the harsh high frequency blasts of the worst offenders. Mic to mic, the B-1 seems more consistent than many of its cousins. Compared to the top of the line mics costing thousands, that brightness does sound a bit cheaper. There’s a richness that’s missing from the B-1. However, that’s when we’re talking straight mic signals. Add a little bit of EQ here and there, and hey look, there’s the bit that’s missing! Tame the top end, and things click into place. If a Neumann U87 or AKG C414 is downtown, the Behringer B-1 is definitely on the same side of the tracks. What will you do with all the money you save?
But Behringer, when it comes to shock mounts, we need to talk.
The design is not unusual for this type of mic, but it’s wholly inadequate. Also, I should point out that I suspect that the included shock mount is this season’s best buy. I’ve seen (I think) three different shock mount designs with the B-1, and none of them looked like the one currently pictured on Behringer’s site. Odder still, there’s a photo of a woman singing into a B-1 mounted in yet ANOTHER model of spider-style shock mount. It’s possible that the problem has been addressed, however in my experience, here are, in no particular order, the problems I’ve experienced:
- A rotation lock key that’s not up to holding the weight of the mic
- Under engineered elastic shock material
- Shock elastics that continually slip out of the mount
- A clamp mechanism that is prone to dropping the mic when you want to adjust it
I haven’t wanted to drop the mic, so I don’t know if it’s prone to adjusting when you want to drop it, but it has the feel that it will do whatever you don’t want it to at any given point.
Seriously, I would have looked at a 9 or 10 rating for this mic, if it weren’t for the cheesy shock mount. It’s probably one reason the mic is as affordable as it is. However, the mic outperforms its price point and I guess I expect the shock mount to do the same.
Here’s a Pro User Tip for budget shock mounts: Hit the hair care section of your local drug store and find hair elastics of the right size to replace lightweight or stretched shock elastics. In every case I’ve encountered, hair elastics are an upgrade to the original part.
I admit I was surprised when I looked at the user reviews. I fully expected a splash of misplaced testosterone dissing the B-1 because it’s a Behringer. There’s plenty of snobbishness in the audio world. My favourite is the guy who sings the praises of equipment he’s never been in the same room with. I was certain he and his buddies would be all over the B-1 reviews.
Nope. The lowest review I found was comedic. First of all, it was a 3-star review. One 3-star out of over 50 total. Nothing lower. Right there it says a lot about the B-1. But this guy hadn’t even heard the mic yet. It didn’t come with a mic cable, therefore it hasn’t been used yet. Um, what? I suspect if he were to get a mic cable, then he’d realize he had nothing to plug the other end into, and he’d dock an additional star for that. Sigh. Humans.
The B-1 might not be a mic that bowls over experienced engineers. It is a mic that experienced engineers will use, however. Large cap condensers have a lot of uses, and budgets being what they are, there are never enough of the really expensive mics to go around. That might sound like people “settle” on the B-1. I understand that, but I have a hard time thinking of it as settling when a B-1 costs $100. I’m not made of money. Few of us are. The B-1 represents value in spades. You might even argue it has more value than a U87, because it drives you to the ballpark and walks you to your seat. Sure, the U87 will get you peanuts and a hot dog, but at that price it should. If all you’ve used is an SM58 and you move to a B-1, you WILL be bowled over. At $100, you shouldn’t wait, if you’d never heard your voice through a large diaphragm. The B-1 has the goods.
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