Banjo Newsletter/Old Time Way review of the Bartlett Banjo Mic September 29 2016
For years (over 20 or more!) my go-to mic for banjo has been the Audio Technica Pro7 (or later equivalent Pro 7a) as the best sound for my on both banjo and fiddle. Well, that changed this year. I have tried other mics over the years but in most every case, I kept going back to my AT’s. The only mic that came close to that until now in sound and performance had been the Gold Tone ABS which I did use upon occasion. Sizewise it was a bit larger but sounded similar.
This year I saw a page on the Bartlett mics. I’m not sure if it was an advertisement or Facebook page – but it intrigued me enough because of its size that I wanted to try one. So, I contacted Bruce Bartlett to find out more. Hey, my mics were just getting older and the technology has come a long way. I know it is just for a banjo (lol) but inquiring minds and all of that. Well, as a surprise to me, Bartlett is not only was making a nice compact mic with at reasonable price ($179 as of this writing) and, like I implied, it was starting to seem like time to upgrade my mics BUT not without a sound comparison. So Bruce agreed to send me one to review both for myself and for you who read this magazine. Only one problem, one mic does not “fit” all. Seems Bruce decided to go the extra step and customize each mic for the instrument you intend to use it for.
After some discussion, and a look at the specifications, (AND because the review was for OTW) I chose to get the Banjo Mic and was I glad I did! This mic is awesome! One of the issues I find it that most mics don’t give me enough of the bottom end of the sound spectrum that make the bassier tones present and the instrument sound as full as I like. This is especially true for us old-time big pot open back players. Note too, that even with fiddle, I prefer a more mellow even to bassy tone as preferred to the bright high end-y sound of most mics intended for either instrument. SO, banjo it was. (Complete spec sheets can be downloaded from their website for you to compare.)
The mic came in a couple of days and I decided to try a couple of methods to listen and record it. First, you need to know that this mic (unlike the AT’s which have a battery pack on board) requires phantom power. That means that the power to run the microphone has to come from an outside source. There is no battery to power it and no power pack for it [but low-cost phantom power supplies are available.] So your soundboard MUST provide that 12-48V phantom source. That meant that I couldn’t just plug it into my little amp or directly into the computer, but had to go through my soundboard – a little Behrenger with the aforementioned phantom power. Not a problem but you do need to know and that means at gigs they will have to provide that power source [turn on phantom power on the mixer].
So I hooked it up through said board and into my acoustic amp, and WOW! I loved the sound. Next to go to the computer from the board and again, clean lovely sound. Full and powerful. Then I ran the AT Pro 7a into both places the same way. Kept the board in the mix. NO comparison. I couldn’t believe how much richer the new Bartlett sounded and how “thin” the AT sounded when put side by side. Just fyi, I did the same comparison on my fiddle and LOVED that enhanced bass and again, clean and rich sound of the Bartlett without that scratchy high end piercing “e” string that so many mics exhibit. Again, a win for the Bartlett. So without further ado, I sent Mr. Bartlett a check for the mic he sent me and will likely get another in the not too distant future.
The only complaint I have at the moment is going to be I need to address the mounting methods for banjo and fiddle. I prefer to mic the banjo from inside (head side) the dowel stick, mic pointed towards the heel a few inches down. AT had clips that would hold the mic which I Velcro-ed to the dowel and likewise for fiddle, a “unimount clip” that held the mic over the fiddle. The Bartletts come with [adhesive Velcro] for banjo [and a foam mount for fiddle] and recommend a flat type of mounting on [or near] the instrument itself. So far I have modified my current mounts to use (photos here) and will look for other options. I did notice a “mando clip” for the Mandolin Mic as well as one for the guitar so I may be able to modify that to serve my purposes. I’ll be in touch with them about it but don’t let that stop you from getting this mic. It’s AWESOME and the sound it what really matters after all.
[The Banjo Mic can be made to sound very different depending on where you mount it -- on the head to duplicate how the banjo sounds out front, or in the pot for a warm mellow sound. - BB]
I’ve posted the computer recorded versions for you to hear the difference. I think it will be obvious. The tune is Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss BUT not the one most folks know. This one is inspired by the Frank Blevins and his Tarheel Rattlers 1920’s recording. He played it in G but I like it better in C or D for the layout on the banjo. I recorded it here in double C.
SO, if you want to be heard and sound like your rich acoustic self, get these mics! You won’t be sorry. Contact them and see more at their website http://www.bartlettaudio.com/. Even their site is an incredible resource for info about mics, placement, tips on using them – even articles on polarity and preventing hum (that one for geeks and for non-geeks!)