Hand-built Multipattern Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
By Phil O'Keefe
Recently I had the opportunity to review the Ear Trumpet Labs Louise, a visually distinctive, hand-built large diaphragm condenser microphone that is intended for live performance use, but that also impressed me as a studio mic too. Today we'll be taking a look at another new mic from Ear Trumpet Labs. Called the Mabel, it is definitely geared more towards use in the studio. It retains the unique vibe and ultra-cool visual appeal of the Louise, but with some new features and other differences that place it at the top of the Ear Trumpet Labs mic lineup.
What You Need To Know
- The Ear Trumpet Labs (ETL) Mabel is a dual medium-large capsule (26mm) multi-pattern condenser microphone. It is the top of the ETL line, and their first multi-pattern microphone. The Mabel was designed by Ear Trumpet Labs founder and "proprietor-bricoleur" Philip Graham, and is hand-built by him in his Portland Oregon USA workshop.
- Mabel is visually a very striking microphone. Ear Trumpet Labs builds their microphones a bit differently than most companies, and the materials they use in their hand-crafted creations are often "found" items that were originally intended for other purposes, such as bike sprockets and common hardware and plumbing materials including copper tubing, brass fittings, and so forth. The overall effect gives the microphones an old-school antique meets steampunk vibe that is rather unique, and quite attractive.
- There are two Chinese built, medium-large fixed cardioid electret condenser capsules in the Mabel. The capsules are carefully tested and selected by ETL for performance, with many rejected for not measuring up to their standards. The two capsules are enclosed inside a very heavy-duty brass mesh screen assembly that pivots within a roughly U-shaped stainless steel yoke. This pivoting head can be tightened down with the thumb screws on either side of the yoke, but you really don't need to mess with them. I found that the head basket is relatively easy to move, yet it tends to stay where positioned very well, with no muss or fuss. The design allows for quite a bit of flexibility in positioning and aiming the microphone, and you can place it in much tighter spots than you can a ETL Louise, which has the head basket suspended with springs in a much larger mounting ring.
- A copper ring with multiple screws surrounds the head basket assembly, and there is a three-position toggle switch mounted in it at the top for pattern selection. Omnidirectional, cardioid, and figure-8 polar patterns are provided. When facing the mic from the front (cardioid) side, the switch positions from left to right are omni, cardioid, and figure-8, and an "O" and an "8" are stamped into the copper ring to show the switch positions for the corresponding patterns.
- The body of the ETL Mabel is made out of one inch copper tubing, with brass accents. It is just the right size to fit into standard mic clips, and one is included with the microphone. Mabel is a little larger than I was expecting it to be. The head basket is 2.5" in diameter, and the overall length is 8.5", and it is 4.5" wide at its widest point, and about 1.75" deep. It is big enough to look impressive when sitting on a mic stand, and your clients are probably going to be inspired because they'll love the way it looks, while you'll appreciate the way it sounds. Everyone wins.
- Sorbothane is used within the head basket for shock and vibration dampening, and it works fairly well, although I did notice a bit more tendency for Mabel to pick up stand-borne vibration from a singer tapping their foot rather enthusiastically. The same stomping didn't seem to bother Louise - quite possibly due to the spring suspension of the head basket on the Louise. It's not excessive, and in fact, Mabel is better at rejecting such noise than most large diaphragm condenser microphones in my collection. While no shock mount is included with Mabel, or even offered as an extra-cost option by ETL, with the standard sized body diameter, it's easy enough to find units that will work with this microphone.
- Ear Trumpet Labs take a lot of care with the electronics side of the build, and use quality parts that are carefully tested, matched, and hand-soldered. Mabel has transformerless FET electronics, a balanced output, and requires 48V phantom power. The XLR connector is located at the bottom of the copper tube.
- A cool little 11" x 6" x 3" red "tool box" foam-lined case is supplied with the Mabel for microphone storage and transport.
- The Mabel has a fairly flat frequency response throughout much of the audible range, and a neutral tonality that works well with a variety of vocalists and instrumental sound sources. The lows are full and rich, the mids clear and slightly forward in the upper-midrange, and the top is smooth, with no sibilance issues. The mic has been deliberately EQed by Ear Trumpet Labs to keep the top end from sounding shrill or harsh, and the highs roll off gradually above about 14kHz. I'd characterize the overall sound as "honest", with good clarity and detail, which makes it suitable for a variety of studio duties.
- The directional polar patterns are tight and well-defined, which is one of the benefits of the dual fixed-cardioid capsule design. The near-total side rejection when using the bi-directional polar pattern is particularly notable - it's outstanding. I'd love to try a pair of Mabels in a Blumlein stereo pair sometime, but alas, I only had one here for the review. Still, I tried it on guitar amps, acoustic guitar, banjo, hand percussion, male and female vocalists, and even as a mono drum overhead, and it performed surprisingly well on all of them, although I did feel it favored male vocalists slightly more than female singers.
- Ear Trumpet Labs stands behind their products with a very cool warranty policy that you really should check out for yourself.
- There is no logo or any other "front" indicator on the microphone, and the two sides look very similar, so it's easy to get them confused occasionally. The easiest way I've found to determine which side is the front is to use the screw that holds the XLR jack in the body of the mic as a "back" indicator - the active side when using the cardioid pattern is on the opposite side of the microphone from this screw.
- There is no onboard pad or high pass filter on the mic. Since many mic preamps and audio interfaces have pads, that won't be a big concern for many users, and you can always filter things later, if you feel the need.
- No manual or technical documentation of any kind is provided with Mabel. You're going to have to use your ears, get to know her, and figure her out on your own.
- As with the Ear Trumpet Labs Louise, there are minor tooling nicks, metal discoloration, and other slight blemishes here and there on the Mabel that come across as patina and beauty marks. These add character to the mic, and aren't really flaws, but if you're expecting shiny cosmetic perfection from an ETL mic, you're missing the point, and Mabel's cosmetics may not appeal to you.
Once again, Ear Trumped Labs has made a very unique and distinctive looking microphone. In fact, due to the hand-built and tuned nature of the microphone, no two will be exactly the same. With a decidedly retro vibe and obvious visual appeal, it is bound to catch the audience's attention if used on stage, and the talent's attention when you use it in the studio. But good looks and a unique sense of style are not going to cut it on their own if the sound quality isn't up to expectations, and the Mabel doesn't disappoint. With three polar patterns, it's an excellent utility mic that can cover a lot of bases, with a clean and honest sound that eschews extremes in sonic character for the sake maximum utility and flexibility. Once again Ear Trumpet Labs has shown that they can make a boutique microphone that can stand toe to toe with some of the best sounding microphones out there, with unique, hand-built craftsmanship and gobs of visual appeal, but at a reasonable price point. I really dig their products, and if you're looking for something that's a little different and very cool, I highly recommend you check them out at your earliest opportunity.
Ear Trumpet Labs Mabel product web page ($1,000.00 MSRP, available direct from the manufacturer)
Ear Trumpet Labs website
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.