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Cross-pollination can be a good thing!

by Matthew Mann

 

[Editor's note: All of us at Harmony Central love the Neat mics, but given that we're both owned by the same parent company, doing a gushing review might appear self-serving...but not covering them would be doing a disservice to those who are curious about the mics. Fortunately we found an in-depth review, obviously written by someone who spent a lot of time with the mics, that nails what they're all about. So, big ups to Matthew Mann for kindly giving us permission to reprint his review from Studio One Expert.]

 

Blue Microphones has garnered a reputation as a strong player in the mic industry. Gibson has a firm foothold in the world of musical instruments. What would happen if these two companies had a love child? Bees! Yep, I said it. Actually Neat bees!

 

Neat Microphones

Neat Microphones is a new company formed by Skipper Wise and Martins Saulespurens (co-founders of Blue Microphones), Ken Niles (former Creative Director for Blue) and Marty Wolf (former Vice President Operations for Blue). Under the Gibson Brands umbrella, they're reaching in new directions with this new line of microphones. And they have some very interesting things in the works.

 

I received the King Bee and the Worker Bee, the first two microphones from Neat, to review. I want to mention that when I requested the mics to review via email, I was met with a personal response from none other than Gibson Brands' Executive Vice President, music icon Craig Anderton. Anyone who has not been hiding under a rock for the past 30 years or so will know that name (I used to read his articles in Keyboard magazine back in the 80s). That was quite a pleasant surprise for me. Well, Craig was kind enough to oblige and, within a week, I had two very interesting mics arrive at my doorstep.

 

Okay. I've been around for a minute or two and been a musician for longer than I care to admit, so I've seen some pretty (interesting) instruments over the years. From the Roland Axis keytar and Tenori-On to the Skoog USB controller — there have been some fairly unusual-looking instruments over the years. But Neat microphones are, by far, the cutest I've ever seen.

 

First Impressions

Let's start with the packaging and "Wow Factor." Neat microphones come shipped in a brown cardboard box, but it's what's inside the cardboard box that really intrigued me (and my kids). The actual microphone box is made of recycled plastic and cardboard in a yellow and black color scheme. There's an outer plastic frame shaped like a honeycomb that protects the printed cardboard carton. It struck me as pretty cool that they chose to use 100% recycled materials, so they're eco-conscious. That's cool...and everyone in my household loved the bee color scheme and honeycomb design. They even have a different bee keeper on each box so you can tell at a glance which mic is which.
 
Each mic comes with a honeycomb-shaped manual, and when you put the included Honeycomb pop filter on and mount the mics in their included Beekeeper shock mount, they actually look like bees. They also come with an interesting little bee toy that, while serving no musical purpose, is a great conversation piece and collectible. Oh, and each bee toy has a unique serial number which the company plans to use in the future for giveaways and such...so don't throw them in a drawer and forget about them!

 

The King Bee

First up: the King Bee, a large-diaphragm (34mm), side-address condenser microphone with a cardioid pickup pattern and audio output transformer. Neat claims a signal response from 16Hz — 20kHz with a maximum SPL of 140 dB. As mentioned before, it comes with the Honeycomb pop filter and Beekeeper shockmount. This mic is built like a tank! It's very solid and could really do some damage to a drummer if chucked at him. I was concerned about the capsule itself because of the smallish neck that holds it on the body, but the whole thing seems to be very solidly built.

 

 

I like the Honeycomb pop filter that comes with the mic. It pops on the capsule part of the microphone and negates the need for a standalone filter. Neat's design begs the question "Why didn't I think of that?" The legacy from Blue carries on here. The Beekeeper shockmount is robust enough for daily use and is very simple to mount the mic to. There are two thumbscrews on the underside that screw directly into threaded holes on the mic itself and there's a recess in the base of the shockmount to guide you. A different design? Yes, but one that appears to be effective.

 

 

I tried the King Bee on lead vocals, backing vocals, spoken vocals, acoustic guitar, Melodica, hand claps, an electric guitar re-amped through an old Crate amp, and even a tambourine. It worked fine for everything. There seemed to be a little bit of a lift between 4 —10kHz. It wasn't too much, it just sounded like there was a little bit more oomph in your face. There's also a drop in response after 10kHz, so you may need a little EQ to get that shimmer on vocals, but was perfect for keeping certain brighter sounds from sounding brittle. It sounded smooth as silk on the acoustic guitar and really helped the electric guitar cut through a fairly dense funk mix.

 

Off-axis rejection was okay, but would certainly be helped by creative placement and barriers (like foam) on both sides of the mic. Overall, I was very happy with this microphone and would be glad to use it for most applications. Again, the little bit of lift between 4 - 10kHz gave it a bit more presence without sounding too hyped. I'm thinking I'm going to have to add one or two of these to my collection.

 

 

The Worker Bee

The Worker Bee is the smaller companion to the King Bee.  It's also a side-address, cardioid condenser microphone, but is about half the height of the King Bee and features a medium-sized (25mm) diaphragm. It also has a slightly different frequency response to the King Bee, which I thought was interesting. Where the King Bee has a little bump around 10kHz, the Worker Bee has a little bit of a dip. There's also a dip at around 2kHz. The result of this difference is that the mics complement each other...to a degree. For example, if you use the King Bee to record an acoustic guitar and the Worker Bee to record an electric, they don't blend quite as much as you would expect. The overall effect is a little more separation in the tones. It isn't a lot — in fact it's very subtle — but I noticed it required less EQ to get them to sit together. They actually play nicely together.

 

The Worker Bee also has a higher tolerance for volume than the King Bee. It’s rated at 145dB and, as such, should work fine on louder sources like drums. I, unfortunately, didn’t have access to a full drum kit when reviewing this mic. I did, however, borrow a snare from a former band mate in my neighborhood and try it in several positions above and below the snare. It was okay, but not my first choice for a snare mic as it seems a bit dark. If that’s what you’re going for, then it might be fine.

 

 

I was concerned that there’s no pad on this mic, so I was afraid to put too much in front of it, but I did try a couple of experiments. I ran a previously recorded clean guitar out of my UA Apollo and through a new plug-in amp emulator. This was run out to my rather dull sounding Crate keyboard amp. I then recorded the sound of the re-amped guitar through the Worker Bee. This, by far, was my favorite sound. It sounded really good…and with a little adjustment to its position, the sound was (as the great James Ivey over on PTE likes to say) A-MAYUH-ZIN! My Crate amp never sounded so good! 

 

This mic also sounds pretty decent through a variety of studio instruments I have on hand (as mentioned above). I wish that I’d had a chance to set it up over a real drum kit, but I did the next best thing. Remember that old Crate keyboard amp I mentioned before? Well, I ran some pretty serious grooves through Slate’s SSD4 Platinum and Air Instruments’ Strike and through that same Crate amp.

 

Dude!

 

I’m going to be trying that again in the future! I was surprised at the quality (and realism) I was able to achieve using this setup and the Worker Bee. I know…I know…drum purists are cursing my name right now, but I’m not a drummer; so, sometimes I have to come up with a Hughes (that’s my word for a workaround).  :) Anyway, the Worker Bee was punchy. And that dullness I perceived earlier actually made the cymbals less brittle and more pleasant. Remember: I only had one Worker Bee, so this was a mono, one-mic setup…but placed about 2 – 4 feet from the kit, it sounded great! Of course, I had to get the balance of the drums right in the DAW first, but the results were excellent. 

 

One little thing of note: The two screws on the shockmount for these mics work well, but you have to take care when threading them. I accidentally started threading one just a little off. Fortunately, I realized it in time and didn’t ruin the threading on the mic or the shockmount. It’s just something to be aware of. I also wonder how long these screws will last in every-day recording service. They feel pretty solid, but only time will tell.

 

The Bottom Line

I’d like to say that I was surprised at the quality of these mics, but I can’t. With a heritage that brought us Dragonflies, Woodpeckers, Cactuses and Blueberries….I’d expect nothing less. And, while these are certainly aimed at a more budget-conscious market, they would do fine for almost any recording situation. I still think they sound a little darker than some of the mics in my collection, but this might be the difference between Chinese off-the-shelf mics (of which I have one or two), which sound a bit brittle and harsh - and Neat’s proprietary capsule design, which seems to be more accurate and smoother. Overall, I was very happy with both mics and could certainly see adding a pair or Worker Bees for overhead work and a King Bee for lots of other instrumentation…and even vocals. And the best part of all, the price is so good. The King Bee sells for around $349 and the Worker Bee for around $199. At these prices, how could you go wrong? Oh, and they’re hitting stores now! 

 

I can’t wait to check out the other products from Neat including the:

  • BUMBLEBEE – USB mic with headphones control, mic gain and boom arm.
  • BEECASTER – USB podcasting/voiceover microphone with switchable sound pickup patterns.
  • BEESTRO – USB mic for music recording and podcast and features built-in speakers.
  • BEEHIVE – Tube headphone amplifier.
  • BEELINE – Quad conductor microphone cable for wide frequency response and increased dynamic range. 

 

I just wanna know one thing: When do we get to see the Queen Bee, guys?

 

Buy King Bee or Worker Bee at B&H

 

________________________________________ 

For more information, check them out at www.neatmic.com

________________________________________ 

Matthew Mann (Editor, Studio-One Expert) graduated Berklee College of Music with a Master Certificate, Music Production. Matt has been in bands and run studios for over a decade. He had a 3 year stint as a Sales Associate at GC Pro and has more recently been working in technical writing. As the picture shows, Matt rarely takes himself too seriously.

 

 

 

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