Ear Trumpet Labs of Portland, Oregon, is a unique and boutique manufacturer of bricolage microphones. What is bricolage (bri-ko-lazh, from French "bricoler" = to tinker)? It is a fancy word that can describe art made from stuff that happens to be laying around, usually junk. I know this term well as my wife happens to be a professional bricolage artist; what I often call rusty old stuff, she calls art.
Every one of Bricoleur-in-Chief Philip Graham's seven current models features some sort of re-purposed industrial part, from copper piping used for bodies, springs, spokes and sprockets for head assemblies and more. His designs are, as you can imagine, uniquely beautiful to look at as well as having a sound of their own, and when our Editor sent me a link to his website, it took me mere seconds of staring before I was calling and asking to do a review!
For this review I was sent a pair of Edwina microphones. The Edwina, like most Ear Trumpet models, is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. The Edwina is a lollipop or bayonet-style mic. It has a 4" copper body with a 1 1/4" diameter. Its capsule assembly measures 3" in diameter, and from front to back it is roughly 2" across at its most bulbous point.
A triple layering of brass mesh, black silk, and thinner stainless-steel screening covers the capsule, and this whole assembly sits nested in a large swivel mount that allows the unit to function as a side-address or front-address microphone.
The internal capsule is a Chinese-sourced electret condenser, 1" wide and 6 microns thick, with a cardioid pattern; the electronics are a transformerless FET design. This is technically a large-diaphragm condenser, but I kept thinking as I used the Edwina that it "felt" more like a medium-diaphgram design to me, I'm not sure why.
This mic has a 20 Hz-16 kHz frequency response. Sonically it is fairly flat from 20 Hz up to 3 kHz. Then it gently rises up to a +5 dB 10 kHz peak that then drops off sharply. While the 10 kHz rise does give the mic an upper-end presence, its sharp drop-off makes it more forward and blunt rather than open, bright or harsh.
Further specs include a 150 ohm impedance and a 22 dBA self-noise figure, a trifle high for many modern large-diaphragm condensers but certainly not outrageous (many highly accurate small-diaphragm designs have self-noise in this range). As a condenser mic it needs +48V phantom power.
Out of the (tool) box
The Edwina units arrived in a pair of matching foam-lined red metal tool boxes that have been repurposed into mic cases, in keeping with the company's theme. The only accessory in the package is a third-party mic clip.
Upon unboxing them I was impressed by how solid and heavy the mics are. They may look like a cobbled-together steampunk experiment, but each mic was put together very well, and other than the natural differences in the patina of the bodies and the natural character of the metal work, each mic was consistent in look, feel and appearance, and more importantly in sound.
Drums -- live and studio
Sonically the Edwina is what I would call tight and forward, but it has a very old-school smoothness to it. Nothing about it is harsh in any way. On the downside its soundstage is narrower than most modern and bright condensers that we have grown accustomed to.
As such, I found the Edwinas a tad too narrow and sonically imposing for the task when I used the pair as stereo drum overheads for a couple of live sets, although I did appreciate the punch and oomph they brought to the kit.
On the flipside, I had the opposite results in the studio, where I really liked the Edwina as a liberally compressed mono front-of-kit mic. It added a nice in-your-face vibe that was again forward but not biting.
On toms, both rack and floor, the smooth forward focus was everything I look for in a tom mic. I think I may have just found my new favorite mics for that use, and I have been looking for a long time!
The Edwina also worked surprisingly well as a front kick-drum mic in combination with a good dynamic on the batter head. It is also a very worthy percussion mic.
Guitars -- acoustic and electric
On acoustic guitar in a full band mix -- be it folk, rock, or Americana -- the Edwina does a great job of capturing rhythmic strumming, and it brings acoustic lead work nicely front and center in the mix.
On overdriven electric guitar cabinet it is definitely brighter and more in your face compared to a standard SM57, but on axis, in combination with an Audix i5 off axis, it yielded an almost perfect Green Day-esque modern indie-punk tone that was really effective.
Vocals -- live and studio
According to the company's website, the Edwina was initially voiced as a live vocal mic. While most of us don't think of grabbing a large- or medium-diaphragm electret condenser for live vocal use, the Edwina excels in this area. Like a good dynamic mic, this is a microphone that a singer can get right up on with lips touching the grille. I was quite impressed with how this mic handled plosives and gain before feedback.
While I was thrilled with its live vocal performance, the Edwina also makes a great studio vocal mic that nicely pushes the voice tightly out of the mix. On the male voice it reminded me of the venerable Shure SM7... not that they sound alike, but the Edwina has characteristics like the SM7 that make it a go-to vocal mic when no other vocal mic seems to work, or when you just don't want to fuss about.
The only real negative thing I can say about the Edwina is that the third-party mic clips that I received with the mics were flimsy and loose. They were so loose, in fact, that they would not work for suspending the mic sideways over the drum kit, and even on a vocal stand they would creep down over time.
For my use I switched to a metal-reinforced clip from Shure that was originally created for Shure's stereo VP88 mic, and this clip held the mic firm and secure. When we mentioned this issue at fact check, we were informed by Mr. Graham that currently-shipping Edwinas now come with a stiffer clip that won't let them down (pun intended).
How do I sum up this mic?
If you are after a plain-vanilla mic with a clear and open signature, the Edwina is not it. My brain tells me that it is too nuanced and tonally specific to be a does-it-all workhorse mic, but on the other hand, I have yet to find a source that it sounds bad on.
Some things, like live drum overheads, may be a matter of taste, but all in all it makes a good vocal mic, tom mic, electric guitar mic, acoustic guitar mic and so on. Rather than calling it a workhorse mic, it's more like the dark horse mic!
Last and perhaps not least for some folks, few other microphones look this artsy and cool! My wife couldn't care less about its sound and function, but thinks the Edwina should be displayed as a sculptural piece on a shelf or mounted in a frame... Ah, artists!
More from: Ear Trumpet Labs, www.eartrumpetlabs.com