Sontronics Microphones - An Interview with the founder, Trevor Coley, Part 2 / by Tom Sands

Here is Part 2 of our interview with the brains behind Sontronics Microphones, Trevor Coley. We hope you learn something from his extensive knowledge!

Daisy: So, I have a question which may seem a bit random, but as somebody who does a lot of this day to day in my job I wanted to ask if you had any plans to make microphones that you can attach to DSLR cameras?

Trevor: Sometimes we have to be a little candid about some of the things that we reveal, so I’ll give a politician's answer to that. There’s no reason why we wouldn't be looking into other market areas and other sectors of industries which microphones are used in and looking to do the best we can to improve upon or augment what's available out there already. 

Sontronics ‘Corona’ Dynamic Microphone (source: Sontronics Microphones)

Sontronics ‘Corona’ Dynamic Microphone (source: Sontronics Microphones)

Sontronics STC-1S matched pair (source: Sontronics Microphones)

Sontronics STC-1S matched pair (source: Sontronics Microphones)

Tom: So I'm somebody who is brand new to the world of of recording, and it’s something I'm really fascinated by. And as somebody who's striving to build some of the best guitars in the world, it's really important that I can record those instruments in a high fidelity way. So, I’d love to talk a little bit about recording instruments - specifically recording guitars - and the different ways that you can do that. What do you recommend for people out there who are wanting to record their acoustic guitar?

I wanted to anthropomorphize my products - as something becomes somebody, it becomes something you care for and and that’s what I wanted.

Trevor: That’s a nice question, but it's such a huge question - and a huge answer because what you're looking at is an infinite number of variables. What's the room environment you're in, what is the instrument, the skill level, the budget? So many different possible questions and answers. But let's look at it simply and try and break it down. Let's assume somebody is fortunate enough to own one of your guitars - or fortunate enough to own a £90 fender or Yamaha starter acoustic - both are guitars, right? So lets say you’ve got your first Yamaha acoustic guitar and you're getting pretty good, and you're strumming some songs and you want put those down on record. First, most people will reach these days for something that connects to a computer. It's simpler, right? Some might grab a USB mic. We don’t make those funnily enough which is because I have yet to find the quality that matches the price point that people are prepared to spend. So, the first step would be to look at something like a dynamic microphone. Those are usually the least expensive to get someone in order. And we have two microphones that would suit the guitar player; there’s a dynamic mic which is the Solo. And we also have a Halo which I designed for electric guitar. Either of those microphones will give you a very reasonable reproduction of your guitar no matter what price your guitar is, no matter which model it is.

Then there’s the STC microphones. They are a good representation of what we can use that will give you a great representation of what you're hearing and what you're playing. Those are condenser microphones. They work by being pointed at the source and essentially give you a full frequency on the current across 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz the entire human range of perception - and what is important is that the mics give very detailed responses. So if you’re finger picking, for example, you get all of that definition in the attack of the energy from your fingers straight into your recording device. And this is the thing with a condensed mic - there is so much more sensitivity than a dynamic mic. However, they do require extra equipment to make them function. So in this case, as I mentioned earlier, the phantom power is the 48 volt DC power source which effectively just gives electricity to the microphone circuit and that fires the thing up and makes it ready for action. The next step up is a large diaphragm condenser. The next model up from there that we do is the Orpheus - and that is the one I designed specifically for acoustic guitar at the time. It has a spherical head and it just absorbs every little bit of audio there is that comes out from the guitar. But this is one thing I like to point out. Take your mind to your guitar and go together into the middle of a field somewhere. It would sound nothing like you intended it to. It would sound very much like a piece of wood, and that's it. Very dull very dead. And the reason for that is simply that when you play an acoustic guitar there is also a reliance on the reflections of the room that you're in. In a field, that signal, that output is just disappearing off into the air. So all of those beautiful words, that part of your craft, are not heard. However, if you're gonna stretch your budget to an Orpheus I would say that you probably won’t be over the moon if you’re planning on recording in a field - but it can be done. Use your phone for that, though.

The human brain can counteract (phasing). Microphones can’t

Tom: Right now I'm using a setup that was recommended to me by Will McNicol which is two of your STC-1S microphones - a matched pair. And when we position them in certain ways we get different responses. If you do so you can get a different sound just by moving the mics. I thought perhaps maybe you could talk us through using two condenser mics to record an acoustic guitar, like we do. 

Trevor: This is one of the things that everyone gets flustered about when it comes to record history.  ‘Where do I put my microphones’, ‘are there any rules’. I mean, yes, there are some rules, you’re using more than one mic. One has to be aware of what's called ‘phasing’. If you've got two microphones picking up the sound from a single device, unless those two microphones are absolutely coincident it the same place then they will be receiving data at different times because all of this is about timing. So essentially if you turn your head away from the source you know if you're looking at a stereo source in front of you - or if you turn your head slightly you're going to get a signal to your one ear quicker than you are to the other. And there will be some inconsistencies in your head. The human brain can counteract that. Microphones can't. 

Daisy: Okay. So when recording with two condensers, for say an acoustic guitar, they should be exactly the same distance from the instrument?

SHOP SESSION with Esme Bridie, recorded on a Sontronics Corona Dynamic Microphone and a STC-1S matched pair

Trevor: It’s reasonably easy to set up and in fact with that set of STC-1S’s there is a stereo bar that enables you to mount those two microphones in line and you can adjust the clips just to make sure they're in the right place. Now when it comes to the positioning where do I point the mics, a lot of people again ask what the rules are. I've done it myself with an acoustic guitar. They think the sound hole of course is the odd obvious way to put it. And it’s not. That is where the most amount of energy is coming from. And it's coming out in blasts. If I played a loud strumming tune on my guitar it’s an incredible amount of energy that comes out of that sound hole towards a diaphragm condenser. It can overload the diaphragm and overload the sensitive circuit. So, just a little bit to the right of the sound hole near to the top of the fingerboard is pretty spot on. 

Tom: I think one one last question I was really interested in are the naming conventions and this, kind of, retro futuristic aesthetic that you've got going.

Trevor: That's a big question and it has again a simple answer. I grew up, as I said, studying Latin. 

Not only that but my family, particularly my mum and my grandfather did too. And so I was very interested in history - Ancient history, Egyptian history, Roman history, Greek history - and I wanted to look at naming my products as much as possible in terms of these interests of mine. I wanted to anthropomorphize my products - as something becomes somebody, it becomes something you care for and and that's what I wanted. But they're not just any old names. The names themselves have a relationship to what the product is doing. So let's take Apollo for example - Apollo is the God of Music. Pretty self-evident. Aria the vocal microphone speaks for itself. Orpheus - well, Orpheus was a Greek God that could change his shape -  he was a poet but he had the ability to change his shape to suit his audience, and that's a multi-patterned microphone.

Daisy: Love it. It’s got a reason and a meaning behind it - it’s not just random names without context thrown at a product.

Tom: Well Trevor, thank you so much for being here with us today. 

Trevor: Thank you! Great chat. 

Daisy: Speak soon, and thanks so much again.