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Cascade Fathead II ribbon microphone

4.05 4.05 (6 Reviews)
An affordable and decent sounding entry into the warm world of ribbons
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Published by edva on 27th February 2012
User Review
Sound Quality
3 out of 5
3
Ease of use
4 out of 5
4
Features
4 out of 5
4
Bang for buck
4 out of 5
4
Overall: 3.75 3.75
Cascade Fathead II ribbon microphone

The somewhat amusingly named Fathead II is a ribbon mic assembled in the USA by Cascade Microphones of "off shore components". Thus, the build quality and quality control are very good, better than what one might expect at the price. And the low price is one of the selling points of this mic, along with the aforementioned generally good quality; as well as decent sound.
The mic is sold singly or in pairs, and usually comes in a nice case, either wood or metal, with a very substantial shockmount; and in some iterations, a very "heavy duty" stereo bar, which is very useful for Blumlein positioning and that sort of thing. A couple of color options are offered. Materially, the Fathead II and its accessories are good value for the money.
Sonically, the mic certainly exhibits the instantly recognizable ribbon tone, with huge, warm lows, relatively clear mids, and very attenuated highs. My pair has only the stock transformer, and reportedly the upgraded one sounds somewhat clearer. There is a certain color to the Fathead's sound however that I imagine is wedded to the basic design and componentry of the mic, with either transformer. On some sources this can be a good thing, whilst on most others it can be less than ideal. This can best be heard by A/B'ing the mic with another model, for example a more expensive ribbon mic. Usually the mid frequency coloration of the better mic will be more pleasant, and far preferable, to that of the Fathead.
However, I have had good results using the Fatheads in a M-S array on jazz drums, and as a single overhead mic on "fiddle" (not violin), where it really, really took the edge off any potential stridency. But generally I have found that there are much better sounding ribbon mics available, albeit usually more expensive.
As a possible first foray into the warm, natural sound of ribbon mics, one could do a lot worse than the Fathead II. A low-ender, admittedly, but good value for the price.
  #1  
By estebanco on 28th February 2012
User review
Sound Quality
4 out of 5
4
Ease of use
4 out of 5
4
Features
4 out of 5
4
Bang for buck
4 out of 5
4
Overall: 4 4
Cascade Fathead II Ribbon Microphone

I bought a pair of these as my first ribbon mics. Having only recorded guitar amps with dynamics and LDCs, I really liked the beef this added to my guitar sounds. It's really dark sounding, but I love blending it with an RE20 to find the perfect tone. It's usually pretty low in the mix, but it does add some nice warmth. If you turn the mic around backwards, it's a little brighter.

The case and accessories are great, shockmounts are super sturdy and holds the mic with elastic (really strong, unlike the BLUE shockmounts), so nothing to twist or crank or get stuck. I haven't had a chance to use the blumlein bar yet, but I'm sure it's great.

I bought a pair thinking I would use them as another option for drum overheads... not so exciting for me though. Smooth, but waaaay to dark for my liking. Put them up in the room and liked them better, but I think they'll stay on guitar cabs for me.

Cascade claims that they can handle phantom power with no damage... I can attest to that... on a few occasions. I'll learn to be more careful when I get my Royer...
  #2  
By Bill Hambone on 3rd March 2012
User review
Sound Quality
4 out of 5
4
Ease of use
4 out of 5
4
Features
4 out of 5
4
Bang for buck
5 out of 5
5
Overall: 4.25 4.25
Cascade Fathead II

This mic is a great value. I had borrowed a stock Fathead I from a friend few years ago. I was really impressed after using it to track a nylon string guitar and a vintage Fender amp. I recently bought a used Fathead II with the Lundhal transformer upgrade from a fellow on Gearslutz. I love it! It gives every source I've used it on a nice, smooth, warm and "woody" sound. It sounds great on strings, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and voice. It also comes with a nice padded wooden box, and a sturdy metal carrying case.

The only thing I don't like about this mic is the shockmount. It's a little hard to get the mic in and out, and the tightening screw tends to come loose. I also wish the it had a low cut switch as it has quite a huge proximity effect.

Cascade's customer service is also very good. When my ribbon became damaged and started buzzing, I called Cascade and they replaced it for me quickly and cheaply. They are a cool company making cool mics. I wish I had held out to buy that new copper colored Knucklehead ribbon they just released. That thing is beautiful!
  #3  
By elfen on 28th March 2012
User review
Sound Quality
4 out of 5
4
Ease of use
4 out of 5
4
Features
4 out of 5
4
Bang for buck
4 out of 5
4
Overall: 4 4
Fat Head II

I borrowed the Cascade Fat Head II from a friend before purchasing my own. The one I borrowed was a standard FatHead II with no transformer upgrade. It make me discover ribbon mics and since then I use it on almost all recordings as another texture alongside my cardioids.

You have to purchase it online as no local store has it. The purchase and delivery was easy, secure and fast.

I purchased one with the Cinemag transformer upgrade and did some comparative testings with the standard one. The upgraded one is a bit more cleaner and upfront. Feel a bit more professional for lack of better word.

The sound is darker than all the mics I used to date, it got a creamy texture that adds a lot of character to a recording. I use it for vocals, guitars, flutes percussions, drums. It smooth out the transients and gives a roundness that other kind of microphones did not. I used it combined with a cardioid on a cello and violin and the combination gives a perfect match of smooth tone and precision.

It come in a steel case and the mic is placed in a wooden box. It has a great protection casing. Like the other reviewer said, the shockmount is a bit tricky to use. The suspension elastics gets unhooked a bit too easily from the shockmount frame.

The price is great for this quality, it's not an all-rounded mic for sure but a great mic to have in your sonic palette.
  #4  
By soundmark on 2nd April 2012
User review
Sound Quality
4 out of 5
4
Ease of use
4 out of 5
4
Features
2 out of 5
2
Bang for buck
5 out of 5
5
Overall: 3.75 3.75
Fathead Ribbon

I have owned both Fathead and Fathhead II (didnt hear a difference, personally). I think they are solid e guitar mics and would throw one up with the same confidence (maybe more) than a 57. In fact, a 57 and a fathead side by side on a nice tube combo amp sounds like a good day of e guit tracking.
Sucks on vocals, interesting on percussion, sucks on viola, interesting in Blumlein room.
  #5  
By ejbragg on 22nd February 2014
User review
Sound Quality
5 out of 5
5
Ease of use
4 out of 5
4
Features
4 out of 5
4
Bang for buck
5 out of 5
5
Overall: 4.5 4.5
An Alternate Focus on a Great Microphone

Many people have already written reviews and opinions on how this microphone performs. I'd like to focus on some areas that seem to have been left out: namely, some nuances of this ribbon mic, and the rest is about workmanship.

First of all, I want to explain a little about why I bought a pair of these microphones. I used to record choral, orchestral, and jazz in Indianapolis, quite often live shows. One of our prize microphones was Royer's SF-12. The $2700 microphone was used for many things, but it's fame was as a primary stereo pair for the choral performances. The words "rich texture" have become a cliche', but the description fits. The microphone was not mine, and when I moved away, I missed it dearly!

I spent many hours reading reviews and opinions, and listening to shootouts on ribbon mics. There really isn't any one mic that is better than all the others for all sources. But there are some very impressive mics these days, for much less money than a few years ago. The Fat Head first caught my eye when it was recommended to me from someone here on GearSlutz. I am quite grateful.

I did actually want a replacement mic for my Royer, in the beginning. But as I researched further, I decided to think hard about my options. The Royer mics do advertise an extended frequency response in the upper and lower spectrum, according to the charts; however my ears tell me the upper end of the spectrum is not as flat as they claim. The SF-12 also has a bold midsection that often needs taming. But we all know ribbons have their own personality. When I had, at one point, decided I might try one of the long ribbon mics, in an effort to provide me the extended upper frequency range, I later changed my mind, heading back toward the short ribbons, merely due to the fact that the roll-off is a cool characteristic common in the shorter diaphragm. Because I already have a wide range of condensers and dynamics, I really wanted something with its own personality. In the end, I decided to buy a matched pair of the Fathead II, with the Lundahl transformer upgrade.

I am pretty darned happy with these things, and I must say, I'm having a difficult time understanding how the company can afford to sell these things at this price for profit. Besides the fact that in a blind test, they are nearly impossible to discern from much more expensive ribbons, I found that I preferred the Cascade in the "$60,000 Ribbon Microphone Shootout over many much more expensive microphones. By the way, I did not, in fact, choose it over the upper-end Royers, but I did prefer it over the R101, hands down, at twice the price, on every source. For those doubters, I challenge you to "play the game" on that shootout without cheating (looking at which mics are which), rating the sound of each from 1-10 on your own piece of paper. before looking

But as I said, instead of getting into the area that has already been beaten to death, there are some things I'd like to bring to light for those who are considering purchasing a pair (or one) of these mics...

First of all, they do not feel cheap! They are big and heavy. Mine weighed in at roughly 1.4 pounds each! That's right! I said 1.4 POUNDS! (That's 0.64 kg for you civilized folks.) Mine came with a blumlein bar that weighs roughly a little more than half what the mic weighs (I didn't actually weigh the bar), which also seems quite substantial.

Now the pair I bought were from Cascade's B-stock; the case had a chipped corner, and the mics were an older model, with the basket being flat on the front, round on the back. I asked the seller to describe the difference in sound, front-to-back, due to the basket shape difference. He suggested the basket did not change the sound. I had my doubts, and when they arrived, I did find a noticeable difference between front and back; now whether it was from the cage shape or not, I don't really know. But this was my experience...

Using a True Systems Precision 8 preamp, I had a very clean signal path for testing. With the mics side by side, the front of both facing me, I could not hear any difference between the two mics at all. They seemed matched quite nicely. When I turned one around backward, I could most definitely hear the difference. Comparatively, the front of the mic seems to accentuate the low end (~150 Hz), whereas the rear seems to accentuate the low mids (~350 Hz). At first, I thought the high end was also affected, but after continuing to listen, I have decided that the difference in the upper range was not noticeably affected. I have not measured these responses, so don't take those frequency points as accurate, but my in-ear test seems to point toward this ballpark difference. I would assume the newer models, using flat faces on both sides of the basket, would provide a closer audio match, front to rear.

Something else I noticed. I didn't think I'd care for these mics on vocals, due to the frequency roll-off that starts around 7K (rolling off fairly gently). Also, I found the mic does not like to be enclosed, when I tried to mic a grand piano under the hood. When I pulled it out and 3-4 ft away from the piano, it sounded beautiful; an attestment to the proximity effect ribbons are famous for. Contrary to this fact, I found that up close, the mic sounds pretty darned good on my (male) vocals, when I inserted a 100 Hz roll-off filter (no other E.Q. applied). The proximity effect seems to affect both low and high freqs. At a distance, my voice sounded round in the mid frequencies. At about 5 inches away (pop filter included for safety), the high end became much more prominent. So did the bass, of course, thus the filter. Perhaps not enough high end for in-your-face rock, but certainly capable for many projects in this manner. In a pinch, I'll bet one could tweak with E.Q. and have a pretty nice (soft) top end.

The shock mounts: These seem fairly decently made. The outer ring is metal. The inner piece is plastic, but appropriate for the use. The bands seem hefty enough. I don't care for the tightener. It's plastic and feels a bit under-designed for hanging these heavy microphones. They'll probably last a while, as long as I'm careful with them, but they do make me a bit nervous.

The last item: the case. If anyone was wondering where this company must have cut corners, it's the case. First off, the handle looks like metal, but it's plastic! How anyone could feel safe, toting around 5 pounds' worth of delicate microphones & accessories with a thin, plastic handle would be beyond me! The plastic handle is held in place by a couple of thin hinges. I cannot tell if the hinges are also metal-coated plastic, or just thin, cheap metal, but they definitely lack heft. These hinges are riveted to the case with small, chintsy rivets. The walls of the case are metal, but thin, and I'm not sure what's behind them to keep it's shape. Only time would tell if it would hold together, but I think I'm not going to chance it, personally. I will have to buy a more rugged case, especially if I have to do any traveling with this mic. Nevertheless, it may be okay for studio-only use; and it's still far better than a cardboard box.

In the end, most people are most interested in what's inside the case. My opinion: the contents seem very well-made. For this price, we can all afford to go buy a decent case for these fine instruments. Perhaps one day, the company will offer a nicer case for a bit more money.
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