JZ Microphones BT-201 Condenser Microphone
By Barry Rudolph
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The BT-201 is Latvian manufacturer JZ Microphones' take on a small-diaphragm pencil studio condenser mic. Its unique appearance is reminiscent of a '60s TV announcer's stick mic, with a slim black body tapering to a teardrop-shaped capsule. The 13-mm-diameter electret capsule offers a sensitivity rating of 11 mV/Pa and a max SPL handling of 140 dB without requiring a pad. Capsules are hot-swappable and come as cardioid, wide cardioid and omni (more on that later).
The head amp is a discrete Class-A circuit that uses an FET (Field Effect Transistor) and no output transformer. There are no pad or low-filter switches. The mic's body is made from a machined-brass alloy and measures 6.35 inches long and one inch in diameter. It will fit into most dynamic mic clips such as Shure's SM57, which is a good thing as no clips or shock-mounts are included. My review pair came with two optional JZI-7 shock-mounts made by Rycote that sell for $104 each.
The mic's body narrows down to a small "interference fit" gold-plated jack assembly that "mates" to the capsule for electrical connection. The capsule is held securely by magnets--no fine threads on the capsules to get wrong. Gently pulling on a capsule removes it making changing polar patterns easier than using a noise-prone pattern switch or fumbling with a remote power supply.
In The Studio
My first job for the BT-201 was recording a Martin D-15 mahogany acoustic guitar here at my Tones 4 $ Studios. I placed the mic about 16-inches away, aimed at the 12th fret and at about the player's chest height. I recorded with no equalization or compression, straight into Pro Tools HD at 24-bit/96kHz using 45 dB of gain from my RTZ 9762 mic preamp (based on the Neve 1272 design). I tried all three capsules.
The BT-201's hot-swappable feature is nice. I liked changing capsules on-the-fly; while in use, they stay solidly on the mic's body, but when changing them you do have to mute the mic's channel to avoid loud pops. The Rycote shock-mounts are a must, and I'd recommend a good pop filter for vocal recording.
Next at The Village Recorder in West L.A. (Thanks Jeff Greenberg) in Studio A using a vintage Neve 8028 console, the pair went to work as wide-spaced, cardioid drum overheads. Compared to the 30-plus-year-old AKG C 12As that they replaced, the JZs, with wide cardioid capsules, were a lot brighter, making them better for light traditional jazz drumming where you might desire the extra articulation. However, for this particular hard-rock session with a cymbal-bashing drummer, they didn't work out.
But at University Of The Pacific At Stockon's studio, the BT-201's bright sound worked well for a rock piano sound. I had them set to omni and placed just at the edge of the crook of a Steinway 6-foot grand. Using the school's Digidesign's C24 console mic preamps and no processing, I placed the mics facing directly across the harp and aimed at the hammers.
Compared to a pair of Audio-Technica AT4050s in the same location, the BT-201s were brighter--they gave me the brightness I wanted to cut through a dense track. To achieve this kind of percussively bright sound, I usually place mics right over the hammers. With the BT-201s placed farther away, I got a wider sound that captured more of the piano's total sound: the soundboard, harp, hammers and the recording space itself. It sounded less compressed than it usually does when close-miked.
The JZ BT-201 comes in a foam-lined wooden box in several variants: A single microphone with a single cardioid capsule is $515. You can also buy a single mic with cardioid, wide cardioid and omni capsule heads for $635; or $1,349 buys a matched stereo pair (reviewed here) where each mic has the three capsules. Extra capsules are $105, and there is also an optional wide cardioid capsule available with a built-in -20dB pad for $130. JZ recommends this capsule for miking loud sources such as snare drums when your mic pre-amp cannot handle the mic's high output level.
A matched pair of JZ BT-201s makes an excellent addition to any collection. These mics have a high output level and require little or no processing to capture great sound--particularly from pianos, acoustic guitars and quieter or more somber instruments. I liked all three capsules that come with the mics and found the quick-change, hot-swappable feature very useful and preferable to pattern switches.
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