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The Bottle Rocket Stage One has Blue's classic lines.
The Bottle Rocket Stage One has Blue's classic lines.

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Blue Bottle Rocket Stage One
By Paul Vnuk Jr.
Date: February 2014

Blue's first mic, the Bottle, was released in 1996 and based upon the 1928 Neumann CMV3, also nicknamed "The Bottle". Aside from its large imposing size, what made the original unique was its system of removable M-series capsules that could be swapped out for different applications, a system used on Blue's Bottle as well. Note that both Blue's line of Bottle Caps and the original Neumann capsules can be used on either mic.

Eventually, after World War II the East German division of Neumann, what we now call Microtech Gefell, refined the idea further by shrinking the body into the CMV-563. Many years later, in 2005, Blue did the same thing when it released the Red Type A through the company's Vintage Microphones division.

When the Red line was discontinued in 2008, the Type A was rebranded into the Blue Bottle Rocket Stage Two, reviewed by Justin Peacock in our March 2010 issue. Compared to the $6000 Bottle, the $2500 Stage Two was a much more affordable option for entering the world of Blue's Bottle Caps.

Concurrent with the original tube-based Red Type A was the Solid State Red Type B, which also earned a new Blue designation in 2008 as the Blue Bottle Rocket Stage One and now sells for $1000 street. We'd missed reviewing it the first time around, but felt it was worth a hard listen now, especially since many of these capsules excel on vocals, this issue's focus.

The Bottle Rocket Stage One

The Stage One has a similar body to the Bluebird and of course the Stage Two. Unlike the Stage Two's glossy dark-blue exterior the Stage One features a rough texture. It is a bayonet-style mic, which means it has a large post on its top side where the lollipop-style Bottle Caps attach with a spring-loaded push and twist. A great feature of this mic is that -- as on the Stage Two -- the capsules are hot-swappable. They can be changed and auditioned while the mic is plugged in, even with phantom power engaged.

The Stage One comes with a foam-lined, slide-top hardwood box and a screw-on shock mount. This is an upgrade to earlier Bottle Rocket mounts, which used a vintage-style compression-clamp mount.

A few relevant specs: frequency response 20 Hz-20 kHz, sensitivity 27 mV/Pa (±10 mV depending on capsule) at 1 kHz (1 Pa = 94 dB SPL), noise level not more than 7.5 to 14 dBV depending on capsule, dynamic range 130 dB, and max SPL 138 dB.

Cap it!

None of the Bottle-style microphones offer pattern switching; when you desire a different polar pattern, swap a Cap. Currently there are 9 capsules in the series, each sold in its own hardwood foam-lined box. They are:

B0: a cardioid large-diaphragm capsule with a solid low end, a slight mid dip and a significant 8 kHz rise. Blue calls this "ultimate big vocal sound".

B1: a cardioid small-diaphragm capsule with a gentle low-end rolloff below 50 Hz, a flat, even mid section and slight peaking at 5 kHz and 10 kHz. This is Blue's "accuracy plus" capsule.

B2: a large-diaphragm figure-8 capsule with de-emphasized lows and low mids, with a smooth sloping peak up to 8 kHz and then a smooth high-end roll off; Blue calls it the "vintage" capsule.

B3: a mid-size diaphragm cardioid capsule that Blue calls the most neutral of the bunch. This capsule is smooth in the lows and low mids with a slight 2 kHz rise followed by the most subdued high end of any of the capsules.

B4: a Perspex Sphere small-diaphragm pressure omni. This capsule is based on the Neumann M50. This will find its most use on room miking and orchestral work, thanks to its smooth even sound. It is a favorite of classical engineers, and seemed to be reviewer Justin Peacock's favorite of the bunch in his Stage Two review.

B5: this is a large-diaphragm omni that Blue calls the presence omni. Unlike the B4, this omni is big and bold, with a nice low-end bump and the most open top end of the entire Bottle Cap family.

B6: a dual-backplate large-diaphragm cardioid capsule with a very nicely weighted smooth frequency response, with some slight midrange presence around 2-3 kHz followed by a forward 12 kHz peak. The company calls this "The Blue Standard", and this is the capsule that is recommended and usually ships with the full-size Bottle. This one is one of my favorites!

B7: a single-backplate large-diaphragm cardioid capsule that Blue calls the "vintage vocal" sound. This one is the most mid-forward around 3-4 kHz with a subdued low end and equally subdued highs. Essentially this is the capsule that Blue has been manufacturing for years as a drop-in replacement for when they refurbish Neumann U47 mics. Of course, without the rest of the electronics this does not sound exactly like a vintage U47, but it's in the ballpark with a very classic sound all its own.

B8: this large-diaphragm cardioid capsule is the same one used in the Bluebird. This one is the most open and modern, with ruler-flat mids, a round and slightly bumped low end, and a 5 kHz boost followed by a smooth and even rolloff. This is Blue's best "all round" capsule, and the one that they typically recommend as your first Bottle Cap.

2 microphones, 5 capsules

For this review Blue was kind enough to send me not only the Stage One Bottle Rocket, but also a Stage Two so I could compare the sonic differences of each body. They also let me choose 5 capsules to try and I chose the B1, B3, B6, B7 and B8.

Over a period of two months I used both mics and the capsules in front of a few drum kits, on electric guitar amps, acoustic guitar, percussion, male and female vocals, and even a string trio -- which made me wish I would have also chosen a B4 capsule.

Solid state or tube

The solid-state Stage One is easily more clear and open and less weighty. By contrast, the Stage Two is more filled out across the low mids, and has a nice soft dustiness on the top end. It's not overly smooth, muddy or rolled off, just less crisp-sounding than the Stage One. To simplify it into an old illustration, the Stage One is like video and the Stage Two is like film.

One is by no means better than the other, and -- like when choosing any microphone -- it comes down to context. What is your source? Where do you want it to sit in the mix? What capsule are you using?

Overall I found myself favoring the Stage Two tube body for things like lead vocals, acoustic guitar, and percussion that needed the filling out and the weight, but I preferred the solid-state Stage One body on electric guitar, the string trio, and backing vocals, where I wanted  a clarity that sat more in the mix. On drums it was a toss-up depending on how huge I wanted the front-of-kit/room mic  to sound in the mix.

Capsule choice

The first capsule I grabbed was the B7. I put it on the Stage Two body where it did a great job on female lead vocals. I had the opposite reaction with male lead vocals, preferring the natural openness of the Stage One body. The capsule kept the mid-forward push that 47-ish mics have a reputation for, but the Stage One had better clarity and the vocal took up less space in the song.

Moving to the B8 capsule, I have always been a Bluebird fan since I reviewed it years ago in our May 2004 issue. I find its natural width is great on acoustic instruments and vocals for folk and Americana music. The Stage One with the B8 capsule is of course very Bluebird-like, but what I liked even more was the slight presence boost that the Stage Two gives the B8 capsule. The lows fill out a touch and the highs seem to pull back a bit more.

It's easy to see why Blue recommends the B8 with either body as the best all-rounder. If you can only afford one mic and plan to use it on everything, I would agree that the B8 is the safest bet. I did some quick tests recording a verse and chorus of a song using cajon, hi-hat, two acoustic guitars, vocals, tambourine and shaker, taking turns with each mic and capsule on every source, just to see how each mic stacks on itself in a mix, and the B8 is the hands-down, all-around winner.

Second to the B8 for versatility was the B3 in my opinion. It is very neutral and offers an un-hyped naturalness. While the soundstage was not as wide or open as that of the B8, the B3 was smoother and very pleasant on the ears across the spectrum. This was the capsule I chose for use on the string trio (cello & 2 violins) and it did a great job of capturing a full and woody tone, but not highlighting too much string bite. I also found the B3 to be my favorite of the group on electric guitar cabinet about 3 feet back, where it added a nice depth, again without being bright or biting.

Next it was the B1's turn. As a small-diaphragm capsule the B1 excelled on sources needing a smooth, clear focus. It was my favored capsule for hand percussion, close-up string work, again violin and cello, acoustic guitar, and even up close in the grille of a guitar cabinet.

While I expected my favorite capsule to be the classic B7, which was awesome -- especially on vocals, I found myself enjoying and returning just as often to the B6. Although Blue calls it "modern", I think it nicely straddles the line of modern punch and vintage fullness. It offers the most overall presence of the collection, but it still stacks surprisingly well in an only-mic situation.

I liked its tone on male vocals a hair more than the B7 and also found it to be a nice front-of-drum-kit mic. It also did well on percussion and on acoustic guitar when I wanted a touch more character. This is the best descriptive word I can think of for this capsule: it takes a source and adds a hint of character. It's also easy to see why this one seems to be so loved, used and recommended for use with the Bottle, as it is quite full and distinct, especially with a tube body.

Whenever I see someone describe Blue's Cactus tube microphone or even the Bottle, I often see phrases like "it has the Blue sound". I think that thanks to the B6, I now know what they are talking about.

Wrap up

I know I have only scratched the surface of what these mics can do and what they are suited for, but reviewing this collection is a bit like reviewing 10 distinctly different microphones in a few months' time.

What they all have in common, from the Bottle Rockets to the Bottle Caps, is quality, from their build to their sound, even to their look and presentation. This is a system that lets you start small and grow over time to cover every sonic need that you may have.

If I was starting my collection today I would go with the versatility, clarity and price of the Stage One and I would choose a B6 or B8 capsule, as I think those cover the most ground. Then I would add a B7, then a B3, of course I still want to try the B4, and the B1 was nice...!

Prices: Bottle Rocket Stage One, $999 with B8 capsule; Bottle Rocket Stage Two, $2499.99 with B8 capsule; single Bottle Caps, $599.99 each

More from: Blue, www.bluemic.com

Paul Vnuk Jr. (vnuk@recordingmag.com) is a recording engineer/producer, musician, and live sound engineer, living and working in Milwaukee.

 

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