The Samson C01 is an old-timer in the new field of affordable condenser mics. The C01 has been around for a while now and it is a proven performer at the entry level range of home recording workhorse mics. It does what it does in utilitarian fashion and in some cases it may be the ideal mic. I have a bit of a problem with if for mostly marketing reasons. First of all, I don’t consider a 19mm diaphragm as large. Yes, there are those who consider 19mm the cusp of “large” in terms of diaphragm size, and so Samson will never be convicted of false advertising, but I’m not fussy on the performance of this capsule in this body. Next, it is billed as a hypercardioid polar pattern. It’s true that it has the signature lobe of sensitivity behind the capsule that identifies a hypercardioid. However, the front of the mic bears very little of the squished heart shape of a true, highly directional cardioid. Since this is due to the dual layer diaphragm, I have to wonder what’s been gained except that sensitivity from behind.
Okay, end of rant, because the C01 is not only a decent mic, it should be on your short list if you’re buying your first condenser mic. It may not be the most accurately billed mic, but at $80, it’s not only an excellent entry-level mic, it’s worth having a few handy in a well-equipped studio.
SEVENTY BUCKS, THAT’S ALL? DEPARTMENT: Yep, it is. Search your sofa for loose change and try one out, if you’re so inclined. It’s a great mic to a lot of people.
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Setup and Usability
The C01 is a side-address condenser, connecting via a standard XLR cable and requiring 48V phantom power to charge its capsule. There’s an LED on the mic to indicate when phantom power is present. Note that there is a USB version of this mic also, the Samson C01u or C01u Pro. It is a USB-only version, no XLR connector, so if you don’t have an audio interface for your computer yet, this might be an option. Since it’s the same mic except for the A/D converters and connections, I’ll continue to talk about the C01 in its XLR iteration.
This is a mic to try on vocals, particularly if you’re not liking what you’re hearing on other mics. I find the C01 is a fit for fewer voices than most side address condensers, but that’s very much a place where your mileage may vary. Acoustic guitars and drum overheads are excellent applications. While I haven’t personally tried the C01 on sax or brass instruments, I have a feeling this would do a great job there too.
It’s only a quarter of an inch between 19mm and 25.4mm. That does make a difference you can hear, at least in my opinion. The full 1-inch, or 25.4mm, diaphragm adds the quality I keep calling larger than life. Nor am I alone in that. Large capsule condensers are usually the go-to vocal mic in any studio situation. Medium and small capsules are noted for their fidelity and all-over great response. The C01 is somewhere in between. It’s very flat in terms of response for a mic package shaped like a large diaphragm condenser, but it’s high-frequency boost is modest. Unlike other inexpensive mics, there’s no sense of shrill or brittle highs, but somehow the mic isn’t delivering fully in the mids and lows to really feel warm either. It isn’t a bad mic voicing and certainly sound sources that aren’t cooperating with more typical sounding mics may just slide right into the C01’s range.
I’m not really sure what’s up with the hypercardioid thing. Even Samson’s polar pattern chart shows what I hear, that the front of the mic is a very nice, wide hemisphere of response in the front. There’s not much loss in volume to the sides and little coloration. The C01 outperforms the average large diaphragm mic in that regard. Those tend to get a bit muddy or otherwise colored as you move around the side. If you have a singer who moves a lot, the C01 is forgiving. That’s another very valid point in its favor. There’s the typical bass proximity effect if you get up close, but it’s not overly annoying. You can change the effect with a change in mic placement quite nicely. A trick I use is to place the pop filter about where I want the singer and have them get tight with that. You can change the relative position of the pop filter without changing the singer’s comfort spot. The integral filter behind the mic’s grille does a good job. You could use the C01 without a pop screen in a pinch with careful placement.
I like the feel of the Samson package. It’s been around enough that I recognize it as an affordable mic, but the word “cheap” doesn’t enter my mind. The $20 SP01 spider shock mount is a reasonable investment. I haven’t been around any one C01 for a long period of time, so I turned to user reviews to get an idea of the mic’s longevity. There are a number of reviews talking about C01s that have 10 years use on them, and nothing contrary indicating a pattern of early failure.
A few reviews speak of the C01 being noisy. I didn’t find that at all, but it’s mentioned enough to raise an eyebrow. If you decide to go ahead with buying a C01, check it when it arrives and if you hear any hum, buzz or noise, start the returns or exchange process.
Otherwise, running through over 60 user reviews, there’s a lot of love for this mic, a combined 4.4 out of 5 stars. That’s a bit more enthusiastic than I feel about the C01, however, any single review should be held up to the light and questioned if your ears tell you something different, even mine. While I don’t find the C01 works with that many voices, there are also voices I never tried it on. Who is to say I didn’t skip using it where it would have been a perfect match?
I am looking toward both the user reviews and the relative success I’ve had with the C01. On my own, I might have rated it somewhat lower, but I really can’t say the C01 ever let me down, even if it never got me really excited. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of very good mics, and the C01 is not the best one I’ve encountered. But it sells for $70, and it could be the best mic YOU’VE encountered, so it’s worth a chance.
I’d really love to hear from some C01 owners if you’re out there, particularly if you’re thrilled with yours. Drop a comment below. And while you’re at it, sign up for Hear the Music, delivered to your Inbox. We will keep you current without the use of spam or other artificial by-products.