Stellar RM-3 Ribbon Mic Review
Though there is a slew of useful information around the net about this mic, mod's for simliar mics and thoughts about it right here on GS, I decided to give this mic an honest review geared towards the budget concious small project studio owner.
I bought this mic for right around $120.00 US, used from eBay so the price was definately right. It came with a cheap little wooden foam lined box and a generic chinese shockmount which does serve it's purpose as it should. It came to me in excellent condition, and upon receiving it plugged it right into my ART MPA gold (with NOS tubes) to run some tests. This model is the older offset ribbon design (royer clone) which has since been changed to symetrical.
For consideration, I am a Nashville based musician who has a slew of experience in high-end studios and with better gear, preamps and much higher end ribbon mics, especially the Royer 121 which this mic is modeled after.
However, my purposes in my home studio are to record good sounding demo's of my own material. I also do a lot of demo work for local songwriters and artists on a budget. My intent with the purchase of this mic was primarily to be used as an electric guitar cab mic.
My first impression was that the mic was very fat and robust, but just a tad dark (as compared to similar priced mic's I'd tried such as the Fathead/Fathead II and even the Nady RSM-3 which I had borrowed to try.)
I immediately removed the ribbon motor to find that the ribbon wasn't terribly slack, but could use a good retension. After a propper retension, I plugged the mic back in and it really opened up! The boominess was reduced, and the high-end was greatly improved. Overal clarity of the mic was improved by I would say at least 40% with a simple 5 minute procedure, and overall output went up about 10%.
The mic still suffers from typical low-output syndrome typical with a lot of ribbons, more so than the two afforementioned mics. Also, the mic's self noise will become an issue as it really needs to be cranked into high output terrirtory on the pre to get a useable sound on acoustic instruments.
I tried it on acoustic guitar, vocals, and finally my electric rig. Obviously where it really shines is on guitar amps. The output does not need to be cranked nearly as high to get a great sound on an amp, and the hiss is no longer an issue when at lower gain.
I paired this mic with my KSM 44 condensor a foot or so away, and properly blended, it's a REALLY nice tone that is very comparable to the Royer sound. The LDC captures a lot of the high end shimmer that's missing in this mic while the Stellar grabs the meat and chunk, absolutely awesome. I tried pairing it with an SM57 on the cab (as much as I have come to hate 57's on guitar cabs) it really pairs well with the Stellar.
On acoustic guitar, the output is far too low to get a useable sound, especially if you are doing multiple acoustic tracks. The hiss will really ruin your mix. However, the sound itself of the acoustic was fantastic, very open warm and real sounding. My next purchase will be a FETHEAD. I think the extra 20db gain will really make this a quite useable mic on various sources.
Moral of the story, when compared to the Fathead II (which was in the running with me) I'd say the mic holds it's own. The Fathead II i tried (stock) before purchasing the Stellar had a bit more output, and I would say might be tad brighter, but sonically I feel the Stellar holds it's own in the budget ribbon department (after propper ribbon tension.)
I think for any project studio owner who's looking to get away from the typical SM57 harshness on guitar cabs, this mic is a GREAT bang for the buck. Pair it with a LDC or good dynamic mic and it's even better. On electric guitar, I'd venture to say in a dense mix this mic will get you almost 80% of the sound a royer is going to get, but the Royer absolutely blows this mic away on other sources as it's way more articulate, especially in the upper mids and high-end. If you are debating between a Fathead and this mic, I'd say get this for the price. However, you can often times find a Fathead used for a simliar price, to me it's all subjective. I like the Fathead a lot too and will end up grabbing one of those to add to my options.
If on a scale of 1-10 using the Royer 121 as a basis for comparison where the Royer is a 10, I'd call this mic a 7 (after ribbon retension, probally better with mods.) Mostly because the price is what? 1/8 of what a Royer will cost you? In my opinion, you buy a 121 for it's uses all across the board, whether it be acoustic instruments, elec guitar, vocals, overheads etc. This mic is perfect if you are looking for a cheap alternative that will get you a fatter E. guitar tone. It's no Royer, but it's definately a great and dirt cheap mic to have in your locker!