I'll be way blunt: the original CAD E-100 (Conneaut Audio Devices, www.cadmics.com ) occupies a mythic place in my own personal odyssey. First made in 1988, it became kind of the "insider's secret weapon" in the explosion of home studios like mine in the early 90's-- the first absolutely stellar mic for vocals, guitar, any kind of percussion, any anything bubba. Everybody knows this is something you just instinctively hear when you listen to a mic on a source: realism. The sound of something-- but then also the atmospherics surrounding the sound, the context and even in a way the "meaning" of the sound. The E-100 had it, and we heard it. It was only $200 and it rocketed you into the big time.
It was a heady big time-- the dissemination of digital recording gear throughout the land was making it possible to record pristine, state-of-the-art audio wherever you were... wherever you'd created your own reality! The phrase "radio ready" was a big seller because it summed up nicely in two words some new possibilities that were opening up. All the while the man in my mirror was telling me: iconoclastic misfits like you are never going to get anywhere in a world of "serious studios" with office hours and-- did I tell you about the time I was going to school at the University of California at Santa Barbara? I was editing in the film department, and as day turned into night I found myself abandoned in the building. I needed something from my apartment, so I taped the locks of the doors so they wouldn't shut-- kind of like the Watergate burglars did?-- and raced there and back. By the time I returned-- damn it, someone had undone the tape! And I would have to wait until morning! And there goes all the momentum of that creative moment, down the drain! So that's my metaphor for how it was for me trying to work from within at any organization-- hopeless, meet hopeless. That's why ADATs (standalone digital 8-track recorders) and wonders like the first E-100 were such a godsend. I could record, me myself and I, something that could air on the radio, and within three months I'd sent a DAT with Ferrilyn Sourdiffe singing "Wayfaring Stranger" that aired on WAMC's "Hudson River Sampler" Saturday evening folk music show. Her vocal is an E-100, and the rest, believe it or don't, is from a cassette portastudio. It's the year of our Lord 1994.
One wholly unintended consequence I found with finally opening a place was that it somehow removed an excuse that fellow-- I use the term with delicacy-- "wannabe" music guys had always fallen back on. Namely, that the fairly monstrous expense of "recording for real" was out of the question, but that their innate talent was quite obvious and that a following beckoned, insisted almost. Now that it was absolutely possible and darn near dirt cheap to do it, this really separated the ambitious from the merely dreamy. I do believe in one thing-- that the core of the most wrenching and difficult battles you'll ever have to face are standoffs between your highflown hopes and the exit ramps of your courage. No plainer way to say it. You'll never get further than you dare.
The front grille is a moonlight shade of silver, toned down from the brazen "I've just raided King Tut's tomb" gold of the original E-100. The null side grille and entire body is chimneysweep black. The grilles are also scooped outward just a touch, like they've been working out on an exercise machine, but the overall sleek flattish "pack of European cigarettes" styling, the "Star Trek accessory" look are intact. I remember at the time how loudly this "unlike any other microphone" design spoke. Now, looking at it, there's a quaint, innocent retro air about it. (I think these days you can get a mic with goldfish swimming around in it, if you want.)
The knob that loosens and tightens to change the angle of the mic has just the right amount of grinding-down-to-make-it-snug without either the finger-pinching-hellacious-effort-required or the slips-when-not-utterly-crunched. It's a smooth action that feels secure and yet undoable, easy. The shock mount is whisper thin while suspending the mic with elastic bands. Which you are given spares of. Can you dig it? This is a long term proposition, you and this mic.
CAD in general and the E-100 in particular have set the pace for a lot of innovations that today we take for granted-- meaning always having a pad, and a lowcut. The switches for these are intuitively oriented so "in" is the "normal" setting (0 dB attenuation, flat frequency response) and "outward" is the 10 dB pad and the 80 Hz roffoff. The preprinted frequency chart describes a razor flat response from 40 Hz on up, with a sweet presence bump from 5 - 10 kHz. In less than ideal venues, this provides that extra lift of definition-- if your venue is ideal, you can dip that back with EQ. What you end up with is lush, flowing, perfectly accurate, detailed and yet full-bodied sound. With nothing added. "With nothing added," that's like a trademarked phrase of some, what, some iced tea or something? Whatever-- you can drink the sound from this mic, it's so pure.
You get gear-- and you get music. Music is all about a fanciful flight from reality-- mood shifting, mood creating, mood alchemy, mood black magic. Gear is all metal compounds and wires. Music is emotion. Gear is the pharmacy where you mix up the medicine. Even after all this time, I still approach it all with a sense of devotion and mystery. I should be secretly terrified each time I set up to record a concert, or a new band begins tracking in the studio. There's always a sense of... how to put this... powerlessness about how it will all turn out. And yet-- consistently-- I see breath-taking performances unfold and experience transformative, almost nearly religious experiences. The power of a song to lift you off the floor-- who can explain it, who can tell you why?
I put the new E100S
to use during several projects over the last month, and I include links to the actual audio samples. Generally it was the spot mic in some kind of ensemble-y, multi-tracked project. Its supercardioid pattern is startling in its ability to reject sounds from the side and back. You can snap your fingers a few inches away from the null side, and all you will hear is the echoes bouncing off the wall on the side facing the mic. And it's staggeringly accurate on things under its merciless gaze. I do think this could easily become the Holy Grail for the footsoldiers of the Home Recording Revolution. If you basically are recording one thing at a time... or two things at a time (I got a second E-100 immediately!) for a perfect stereo capture (of anything), and you've got an infinite number of tracks in your DAW, you're going to start noticing that the self noise of this thing, at a wispy 3.7 dB (that's not even a flea sneezing, that's a flea sniffling), doesn't add any noise at all nohow. Your productions are pure sound. But with great sound comes great responsibility, and I'm warning you, the days of fudging or faking your room acoustics are officially over. This mic will faithfully deliver every trace of washiness and everything else bouncing off your bedroom walls and "polluting" your tracks. It's not much drama to attend to this-- if you draped up four sleeping bags, one on each wall and one covering the ceiling, you'd be better off than you are now, for simple acoustic guitar/vocal recordings anyway. If you haven't already-- seek treatment.
Tagging along with a friend of mine, I showed up ten minutes before the start of a fund raising cabaret show, a band and singers splayed out over a stage that was maybe 20' x 40'. I propped the E100S as an "overhead stage mic"-- it's a good twenty feet away from the nearest thing, the drumkit. (Part of the schtick of the show was introducing every song with a little story that ended with the phrase, "And that's when the fight started!")
Here the E100S is the solo mic for a violinist, who's about four feet away. You can hear the texture of the horsehair as it slides across the strings, you can maybe even tell the breed of the horse.
However unlikely on paper, this oddly affecting male a capella rendition of the old Gladys Knight and the Pips standard uses the E100S as the "front and center" stage mic in a magnificent concert hall on the campus of Williams College.
This new one from the Soul Miners is all E100S all the time: guitar track, two male vocals, one female vocal. I want you to listen to the fade at the end. The slowly vanishing guitar chord drops out at -57 dB down, then the sound of the player letting go of the strings bumps up to -47. Even down at these depths, you are still hearing guitar tone. That, and silence.
I managed to run electric power up to my tree house as a kid-- I ran an extension cord up from the weatherproof receptacle by the pool, opposite the diving board, where the iceplant grew down covering the hill. I had a portable record player, the kind where the whole platter mechanism "folded out" and down and the speakers stayed upright. It folded up kind of like a suitcase.
Its tone settings had two extremes-- muffled and clarity. I certainly associated cranking the dial as far to the right as it could go with maximum impact coming out of the tinny speakers.
Well, like with a lot of things, this has come full circle. If I could proffer a little advice to the next generation of recording engineers? I used to think that top end simply translated as "the best of what's good" about clearly intelligible music. Digital audio has backwardsified all that. What you need more than anything is a relief from all this rock candy harsh trebly tsunami of top end that digital delivers with a vengeance through no fault of its own. It used to be when you recorded something, you needed to struggle to "get it." Now the whole struggle is to "tone it down!" And lissen-- however deeply you must of necessity plunge into the in's, out's and sideway's of all this technology, never forget that it's all about gut feelings and satisfactions and grooving to the beat. That's one thing that will never change.
P.S. When I was 16, we moved. The new family had two girls, like 10 and 11, so I dismantled my fortress in the pepper tree and built instead an open-air deck with some nice railings and painted it all forest green. It had a roof, but it wasn't enclosed and much more appropos for kids of that age, I thought. Driving by a few months later-- it had been torn down.
P.P.S. I ended up giving my pair of vintage E100's to a friend on a messageboard-- he was looking for drum mics, and along with everything else, the E100's handled the sonic ballistics of a drumkit with ease and a superabundance of detail. I guess I left that messageboard one day... hard to say all the emotions that are conjured by the strange new world of the internet in all its fluctuations, interacting with people in such an intense yet detached way. It was a great board, all about the zings and one-upsmanship and sharing a comical irreverence about pretty much everything. There's a refreshing honesty in that, the witty reparte-- and then that lays the foundation for when it's time to reveal something, to be taken solemnly. Someday we'll have labels for how all this works, but for now, we're just pioneers in the cyber wilderness, on the road to Shambala.
CAD E100S Microphone
at Front End Audio