Fender P1, D1 & M1.
The name Fender on a product has always been regarded as a sure sign of quality, so the launch of a range of microphones bearing the Fender logo is certain to be of interest. There are three groupings within the range; the 'D series' of cardioid dynamics, mainly intended for hand-held vocal use, the 'P series' of versatile, permanently charged condensers, and the innovative miniature microphone system, the 'M series'. The three mics that form the basis of this review are designated D1, P1 and M1.
The D1 is a ruggedly constructed dynamic 'performance mic' that conforms to the traditional shape of the hand-held vocal mic, with a tough wire mesh spherical head and a tapered body housing an XLR connector. The body is finished, like the P1, in a non-reflective dark grey, described by Fender as 'satin gunmetal', which is complemented by an anodised ring just below the head, engraved with the Fender logo and model designation. The mic is nicely weighted and sits comfortably in the hand, giving a substantial feel to complement its rugged looks.
The D1 exhibits the usual cardioid proximity effect, which causes the bass response to rise as the mic is moved closer to the source, eventually reaching a +10 dB peak at about 100 Hz. This is a desirable feature in a vocal mic as it can add warmth and body to the sound of a voice. The response is tailored to give a complementary rise in the presence region, between 2 kHz and 5 kHz, giving extra clarity and assisting vocals to cut through on stage. Importantly for this type of mic, the directional characteristics are tightly controlled and consequently resistance to feedback is very good. The off-axis response exhibits none of the frequency response aberrations that can aggravate feedback and spill problems under the high level conditions encountered in stage use. The consistency of the off-axis sound results in a reasonably large working area, making the mic more comfortable to work with for the vocalist with a degree of mic technique. The wire mesh and foam ball-end exhibited good resistance to 'popping' and handling noise was not obtrusive, indicating effective shock mounting.
Subjectively the sound of the D1 is well balanced and while it could not be said to be without colouration, it certainly offers the characteristic enhancement of vocal sounds that is one of the most important requirements of a stage vocal mic.
The Fender 'P series' microphones are described as 'permanently charged condensers'. During manufacture, the capacitor element has been exposed to a very strong DC electrostatic field, producing a fixed charge and so eliminating the need for an external polarising voltage to be applied. Some power is still needed however, to operate the mic's internal pre-amp, which is essential to achieve the necessary low impedance output. The P1 can be powered either from an internal 6V battery, with a specified life of 4500 hours, or from external phantom.
Rather than provide a battery ON/OFF switch, which could be left ON accidentally, the designer has cleverly incorporated a battery switch into the XLR connector. When the plug is inserted a microswitch is depressed, supplying power to the pre-amp; with no plug connected, the circuit is broken and so the possibility of unnecessary battery drain is eliminated.
The condenser mic has always been favoured in recording applications for its freedom from colouration and more open, transparent sound, but the careful handling necessitated by the delicacy of the diaphragm and the internal pre-amp electronics has usually prevented consideration for stage use. In recent years however, manufacturers have developed a type of condenser, like the P1, that is as rugged as a dynamic and able to withstand the very high levels and possible physical abuse of live performance use. The P1 has the necessary 'pop' filter and effective shock mounting needed for use as a hand-held vocal mic and yet has an overall performance that makes it also suited to recording applications.
A small recessed panel just below the head, houses two switches which can be used in combination to generate four different response curves. One switch gives a lift to the presence region and the other introduces bass roll-off (12dB/oct @80Hz) to counteract the natural proximity effect if a flatter close-up response is needed. With these contour controls set 'flat', the P1 is a useful, though rather insensitive, general purpose cardioid condenser with an uncoloured sound that makes it well suited to the recording of acoustic instruments and other applications where a 'natural' sound is required.
With the addition of presence lift the P1 offers the more 'exciting' sound associated with a stage vocal mic, although it still manages to retain some of the refinement of the sound of a condenser. Directivity is well controlled and off-axis colouration is low, resulting in good resistance to feedback; handling noise is also well down in level although it seems to have rather more HF content than an equivalent dynamic. The overall sound quality and ruggedness, combined with the ability to effectively tailor the response, makes the P1 a versatile and useful mic.
Miniature 'tie-clip' microphones have been around for some time but have seldom had the performance or headroom for most serious music recording applications. The Fender M1 consists of a small, high performance condenser mic capsule, half an inch in diameter and just over an inch long, which connects via a thin lead, fixed at the microphone end, to a pocket sized pre-amp and power unit. The pre-amp, which incorporates a belt clip and XLR output connector, is powered either by a 9V battery or from external phantom, switching to the appropriate supply being automatic.
Bearing in mind the wide variety of potential applications for this mic, the manufacturer has sensibly provided a degree of response control and the M1 pre-amp offers a bass roll-off switch and a very useful notch filter which can be used to take out a resonant 'hotspot' in the response that can often occur when using very close mic placements. The filter is tuneable over two and a half octaves, between 50 Hz and 320 Hz, and actually works very well; the control being recessed to prevent accidental alteration of the setting. However a notch filter is generally 'tuned' by ear until the best result is achieved and I feel that this control is rather too stiff and inaccessible to be adjusted easily.
The small physical size and extremely light weight of the M1 capsule often facilitates direct attachment to an instrument and a whole range of other innovative mic techniques; placement in the sound hole of an acoustic guitar or the bell of a saxophone both work well, the notch filter proving particularly useful in these situations. I had to improvise mountings using the tie-clip adapter supplied, but special mounting accessories are available for a number of different applications, including one for semi-permanent mounting inside the speaker frame of a guitar amp.
The very high maximum SPL, which is in excess of 150 dB, and the flexibility of mounting offered by the M1 system, suggests that it would be ideal for close-miked drum kit use. In fact, using the special adapters available, it should be possible to individually mic all the elements of a kit, including cymbals and bass drum, without needing a single conventional mic stand!
I was initially rather sceptical about using a mic with such a small diaphragm on bass drum, but I found in practice that it did a surprisingly good job, with a tight, reasonably extended bottom-end and not too much EQ needed to achieve 'punch' in the Mid area.
I was particularly interested in the performance of the M1 on snare drum as the placement of a snare drum mic and stand invariably involves a degree of compromise to avoid impeding the drummer's natural technique; but with the M1 no such problem arises. It is able to handle the heavy transient of close-range snare with no sign of overload in the pre-amp, and with correct tuning and damping, will produce an excellent, crisp, powerful snare sound; the close proximity to the head that can be achieved, resulting in very good discrimination against crosstalk from hi-hat and other drums.
I experienced no feedback problems, other than the 'boomi-ness' that inevitably occurs with a very resonant instrument like an acoustic guitar, but the on-board notch filter and bass roll-off can solve this problem, without the need to resort to heavy EQ.
In live performance, the freedom of movement on stage offered by direct mounting of the M1 onto the instrument, would be welcomed by brass players and others who are used to being tied to one mic position, while from an engineering point of view, it would be very nice to have a consistent level guaranteed by the musicians being unable to go off-mic.
With a mic that will almost invariably be used for very close-up work, the precise sensitivity and polar response becomes rather less relevant; perhaps the most important characteristic of the M1 is its ability to handle any SPL that you are likely to encounter in music recording and always produce a clean, uncoloured sound.
The Fender mics are an interesting and varied range. They are well presented in a foam-lined protective case with stand adapter included, although no lead is supplied.
The D1 performs its principal intended function well and seems to offer good value for money, while the P1 is perhaps rather more ambitious and, although it performs well, it should be assessed against some of the many other excellent mics in its price range; it does however have the advantage of being one of only a few condensers that can seriously be considered for use as a front line rock vocalist's mic.
Finally, the innovative Fender M1 system would be a most useful addition to any mic collection, for PA or recording purposes. The quality of the condenser capsule and the unique mounting possibilities should certainly ensure the popularity of this unit.
Fender D1 £67.38 inc VAT (D2 and D3 also available)
Fender P1 £184.49 inc VAT (P2 available)
Fender M1 £147.97 inc VAT
Further details from CBS/Fender, (Contact Details).
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Review by Dave Lockwood
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