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Placid Audio Copperphone
By Justin Peacock
Date: September 2009

When I first saw a picture of the Copperphone, I had no idea what to think other than I had to try it. In true home-brew-tinkerer fashion, Mark Pirro makes the Copperphone by hand, one at a time, in his garage. And the result is stunning.

What is it?

The Copperphone is a dynamic microphone manufactured with vintage communication components and telephone parts. This is instant lo-fi audio in the most classy and fabulous sense—just point it at your source and enjoy.

The Copperphone is a piece of copper pipe with a brilliantly simple stand mount. It weighs a ton, and must be rather well damped inside. Aside from that, there’s little else to know. Frequency response is limited to basically all midrange, and the polar pattern seems pretty omnidirectional, but that’s just my personal observation.

Where from?

I held my first Copperphone—a very used and abused sample, I might add—following one of the most incredible live concerts I’ve ever seen. You see, the father of the Copperphone is also the bass player for the Polyphonic Spree, a 23-member symphonic rock band of epic proportions. Lead singer Tim DeLaughter uses the Copperphone on certain tunes, and it was fantastic to hear the mic in a live setting.

“As the bass player for The Polyphonic Spree I have watched Tim DeLaughter, (lead) singer in the band, search sonically for the perfect nostalgic “telephone” effect for his voice,” says Mark Pirro. Filling a pretty unique niche, Mark thought it would be great to have a microphone that could create DeLaughter’s phone effect live, rather than deal with effects and switching in the live setting. And, following lots of tinkering and tweaking, the Copperphone was born.

Getting sounds

The most likely place to start was vocals. Since the voice is the most familiar of instruments to us all, you can really hear the Copperphone’s unique sound here. It is not boxy or even totally telephone-like. Instead, the limited bandwidth has a great lo-fi sound that’s not too thin. There’s enough low-mid information that the sound can really blend into a mix. Or, filtered and pushed up, it can stick out as a more apparent radio effect.

Over time we tried the Copperphone on everything else imaginable. Its natural compression makes it sound great as a funky drum-room mic. In concert with a more normal microphone on electric guitar, I used it to add just a bit of edge and depth. It transports you straight to the ’40s on piano, and makes stringed acoustic instruments sound especially old. I really liked the Copperphone with my Chandler Germanium preamp, which can sound quite thick and warm. It mellowed and fattened the Copperphone, making for a nice combination.

You should note that the Copperphone is remarkably quiet. While you get this crazy lo-fi sound, it works great on quiet sources. On the first verse of a vibey and quiet ballad, we tracked the singer’s lead vocal with the Copperphone. Sitting on top of only a pad and some string tracks, the vocal was eerie and lo-fi, with no notable noise or hiss to distract from the performance.

Final thoughts

Something about the Copperphone inspires creativity, perhaps because it just looks cool. Many musicians asked about it while up at the studio, wondering what was up with this crazy mic. Gear is a tool and not the source of great music. But a cool instrument—or in this case, a cool mic—can certainly inspire creativity, and the Copperphone delivers big in this department.

When talking about vibe and sonic funk, the Copperphone is king. Its utility is really only limited by your creativity and commitment to experimentation. Just as I was writing this review, I realized it would be cool to try the Copperphone as mid mic in an M/S array, with a ribbon as the side. I don’t know if it will work, but it will create otherwise impossible sound. 

Yes, this is a one-trick pony, but when you need the trick, you might as well get the pony.

Price: $249.99

More from: Placid Audio, www.placidaudio.com.

Justin Peacock is a producer/engineer/mixer based in Denver, Colorado, and is the Web Editor of Recording Magazine. You can check out his website at www.thehookfactory.com

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