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Observations: Coles 4038 vs Royer 121 on guitars
Old 29th May 2015
Observations: Coles 4038 vs Royer 121 on guitars

I've used Royer 121's on guitars for years on end. Now I've finally gotten a pair of Coles 4038's. I thought I'd share some experiences after a few sessions with these two through 1073's.


Royer: you can put it right up on the grill of a blazing 4x12 without a care in the world. SPL city. Point blank. Let 'er rip. Ride it like you stole it. And since it's right up on the grill, feel free to use it in crowded tracking rooms. I certainly have, and it sounds fantastic.

Coles: 3 feet seems to be the minimum distance for even moderately loud amps or you get some sort of weird top-end fizz that just sounds like the mic is stressing out (which, I'm told, it is). So move it back to three feet and - CRAZINESS! - it sounds like it's as close as the Royer when that far away. It's positively uncanny. But based on the 3-feet "rule", I wouldn't think to reach for the Coles on an amp when live tracking in tight spaces. I could be wrong, but based on my observations it wouldn't be practical.


Royer: any mic stand will do. I've even put them in 57 clips in a pinch.

Coles: it had better be a heavy duty stand or at least something with some weight to it. And - to put it mildly - a 57 clip ain't going to cut it.


Royer: that THING in the midrange. That buttery midrange liquid goodness. Nothing seems to do that the way Royers do. It takes EQ very well - you can boost by a lot and have it still sound fairly natural. I think of it this way: everything is there - it exists - but a good EQ can draw attention to various frequencies or downplay others. This is really how EQ is supposed to work, and Royers do this well.

Coles: ....but the 4038 does it better. I can grab any knob on any frequency, boost it by +12 and have the mic sound like it was designed that way at the factory. The Royer takes EQ well. The Coles takes it REALLY well. It's uncanny how flexible a good EQ can make this mic. However, the Coles doesn't have that same "Royer midrange thing" that a 121 has straight out of the box. The mids are buttery smooth but in a different way. (I'd say they're less "liquid" but that's a pretty subjective way to put it.)

Care and feeding:

Royer: don't drop it. But if you do drop it (like I did once) you'll probably be OK. Phantom power won't hurt it either, given a mic cable wired like it's supposed to be. Basically, there's a lot of room for error.

Coles: Don't drop it. Don't close the case without a bag on the mic. Triple check that there's no phantom power. Don't drop it. Mount it securely. Don't FREAKING drop it. Pop screen. Pop Screen. POP SCREEN. (Okay, Blast Pad!) Pretend you're mounting a newborn human child on a mic stand. (And even if that's not true, best to be on the safe side.)

Other (beyond electric guitars):

- I've never liked the 121 on vocals but the Coles sounds fan-freaking-tastic for a natural-but-not-aggressive vocal sound. It saved a recent session where nothing else seemed to work. The song was very confessional and intimate so the Coles really helped us out there. And being able to be that flexible with EQ on a vocal is a real treat!

- I haven't had any drum sessions since I got the Coles pair but if the rumors about them are true.... Anyway, I never liked 121's on drums all that much. Not bad but not terribly exciting either.

If I Had to Choose Only One:

Coles. A Royer 121 on a screaming guitar cab is a mighty thing, but the Coles is more flexible on other instruments and (wow!) vocals.
Old 29th May 2015
Gear Nut

Spot on!

I happen to think that either mic is excellent out in front of a drum kit, mono, right about drummer's eye level. As for overheads, the Royers never quite did it for me, but, to put it lightly ... you're going to poop yourself when you put the 4038s up.
Old 29th May 2015
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vincentvangogo's Avatar

Coles can also be nice on bass. On another tack, has anyone tried putting a wedge of foam on the back of a Coles to make the pattern more cardioid, or will it cause problems?
Old 29th May 2015
Sounds like owning both is the way to go.
Old 29th May 2015
Gear Addict
a.beck's Avatar

One of my 4038s got dropped, sort of (the stand it was on fell over), fairly soon after I got it, but oddly it still sounds and measures fine and they still sound like a matched pair several years later. Go figure.
Old 29th May 2015
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Joao B.'s Avatar

I agreed completely with the OP!

(But 4038 wont fry with phantom power)
Old 29th May 2015
Jai guru deva om
warhead's Avatar

Very much agreed on your 4038 on cabs thing, you can't just shove it on there and it does react poorly to high SPL in that situation.

Those ribbons are fragile, probably one of the more fragile designs on the market today.

Old 29th May 2015
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dandeurloo's Avatar
Agree with the OP.

BTW, Your gonna dig them on Drums.
Old 29th May 2015
Gear Guru
Drumsound's Avatar
I really a pair of Coles, they ain't cheap though. A friend has 4 and he records some beautiful piano sounds with two (and sometimes a center mic).
Old 30th May 2015
Yeah this is pretty much my exact impression.

Try throwing the Coles up as a mono overhead, run it through a Pultec, and give it some smack with a 2254 or the like.
Old 30th May 2015
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Marcocet's Avatar
Why do people seem to think Coles are so delicate? I mean, they're ribbon mics, it's possible to blow a ribbon (I've done it all of once when a drummer sneezed right in to one from about 6 inches away), but they're essentially tanks. I feel like they could handle artillery, dropping them certainly isn't the end of the world. And having sent phantom to mine dozens of times I can assure you that it won't destroy them unless there's something seriously wrong with your cabling as well.
Old 30th May 2015
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Blaine Misner's Avatar

i own a pair of both. they are fantastic mics. the coles do something really special, but so do the royers. i love using the coles for my glynn johns!!! Beefy!
Old 31st May 2015
Gear Addict
a.beck's Avatar

The phantom power (non)issue is mainly if your mic lines run through a patch bay, and you plug/unplug/crosspatch a ribbon into (or out of) a preamp with phantom on. It can short the 48v DC through the ribbon, which is Very Bad™ for the mic, but normal (XLR, etc.) interconnects generally won't do this.

Apparently phantom just being on can damage some ribbon mics (Royer Microphones - Preamplifier Considerations) but I've never come across one like this.
Old 31st May 2015
Originally Posted by a.beck View Post
The phantom power (non)issue is mainly if your mic lines run through a patch bay, and you plug/unplug/crosspatch a ribbon into (or out of) a preamp with phantom on. It can short the 48v DC through the ribbon, which is Very Bad™ for the mic, but normal (XLR, etc.) interconnects generally won't do this.
Which I do. Everything I own comes up on TT bays so I have to check that phantom is off before patching. That's why I put that in my original post. A lot of rooms I've worked at have the same setup so I try to treat them with kid gloves no matter where I am. Best to make a habit of safety!
Old 31st May 2015
Yeah, I work pretty regularly on an old Neve and the phantom is on globally, all the time. You gotta wire the patch bay before you run XLR cables.

BTW - Wes Dooley told me that technically, phantom can also damage dynamic mics too. Can't remember the specifics (that dude is way smarter than me and half of what he said went over my head anyway) but I think it had something to do with creating a charge that magnetized the capsule and caused it to come out of alignment. Or something. I dunno.

Anywho, I've hot-patched a million ribbon mics and not yet had a problem (knock on wood) but like Wes told me, why risk it.

Last edited by bgrotto; 31st May 2015 at 02:40 PM..
Old 31st May 2015
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Joao B.'s Avatar

All of our mic level lines are on XLR panels, TT for everything else.

Our tracking sessions are usually complex and fast paced, so although it takes a lot of space it's safer this way. Everybody (specially new interns) make mistakes and it's easy enough to forget that the phantom power was left on.
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