Chameleon Labs TS-2 by asenna
This mic is extremely difficult to review because of its seemingly endless configurations and potential for tonal exploration. There is simply no way that I could have used it in every configuration because the options and flexibility it provides are very unique.
Overview, Build & Features
I will start at the beginning with technical specs and move towards my own personal experience using this extremely useful, unique and unbelievably affordable microphone. First of all, as I have mentioned this is a large diaphragm condenser with a 1 inch capsule, 3 microns thick and gold sputtered. It is powered by a high frequency twin triode 12AT7 tube. It is able to handle fairly high SPL at 126dB and is extremely hefty in size and scale. One of the first things anyone notices about this mic when they pick it up is how heavy it is. For a lot of folks this means going out and buying a mic stand with some heft itself to keep the thing from toppling over.
The TS-2's power supply is perhaps the most unique aspect of the mic. While a great deal of selectable pattern condensers have a stepped switch located on the power supply, the TS-2 has a sweepable and tiny pattern pot on the mic itself. In operation this tends to be an aberration as it can be hard to adjust once it is fitted into the really solid shock mount. The shock mount is very strong and it's ability to hold this really heavy mic at angles is impressive. On the power supply there is pot labeled "Heater Voltage." This does what one thinks it ought to which is it supplies more or less voltage to the 12AT7 tube in the mic and changes the character of the source - and in no subtle way either. The resultant effect of which I will get into later. It comes calibrated to the optimal Heater Voltage and has a convenient 2 position switch that allows you to go between the "calibrated" voltage and a custom setting, set by a pot. A handy VU-like meter shows you the level of heating so recalling settings is fairly easily done. As one might expect setting the tube to a higher voltage does shorten the life of the tube as is noted in the documentation. Perhaps to offset this potential a handy standby switch is available to keep your tube warm but not at full power as to extend the tube's life.
The mic comes in a sturdy lockable aluminum case with the aforementioned shock mount, power supply, power cable, 7 pin XLR, foam windscreen and extra rubber bands in case the bands on the shock mount break. I wrap the mic itself in plastic with a dessicant as recommended in the documentation to protect the capsule from humidity changes.
Now to recap, because all these possibilities are hard to wrap one's mind around at first (the continuously variable pattern selection and Heater Voltage, not to mention the -10 and -20 pad) I am going to review some of my personal results using the mic.
Being a vocalist who stacks lots of harmonies, an acoustic and electric guitar player, a mandolin player among other things, I have a specific need for a kind of "many tricks pony" in a large diaphragm condenser. I need vocals to stack well, I need guitar cabs to sound enormous and be able to capture the "curiosities" and character of my vintage guitar amp. I also have the benefit of knowing the mics principle circuit designer (Terry Setter, hence the "TS).
On vocals: this mic, with its pattern selector and Heater Voltage serves up many different flavors. With the tube heated at the max, vocals become gravy-like, thick, saturated and harmonically thicker as one would expect. Now this isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea on some songs or some voices, but for others, where a little proximity effect (of which this mic has a touch too much, in my opinion) can make your voice sound very dense. With the heater dialed back, there is a thinner, more delicate and almost fragile tonal quality to my voice. Again, both are pleasing but really depend on the song and the singer. This is what makes this mic a "musical" mic rather than just a clear lens with which to capture whatever source. I find myself having to de-ess my vocals quite a bit with this mic, though, and in general the sibilance is one thing this mic hasn't completely tamed in my voice. Other vocalists may have more pleasing results in that regard.
On acoustic guitars: I have mic-ed my 3/4 Gibson LG0 from 1964, my luthier made giant lower bout tone monster and my semi hollow body ES120 with this thing. It isn't my favorite. It doesn't temper these very characteristic instruments like some SDCs in my collection that tame the boominess inherent in my large acoustics. The highs do tend to be brash but are quick and accurate to a degree. I could never track an acoustic with brand new strings because of this, however... and honestly, I don't like hearing new strings on an acoustic guitar anyways, they need to be broken in! Now I said this mic is musical but it is finicky. Getting the placement right is very difficult for acoustic guitars and it does tend to be pretty unforgiving in the boominess department. In omni in a live room? It sounds incredible on an acoustic guitar. I think this may be a consequence of the cardioid's really apparent proximity effect. It feels like you just can't get away from it sometimes.
On guitar cabs: Everytime I put this thing on a guitar amp I don't worry. I know my '54 Fender Princeton and '63 (I think) Gibson Falcon pretty well. I know what those cones sound like up close. It is one of those intuitions that for a particular tone, especially very close mic-ed, I just know where to throw this mic. The Falcon tends to be a darker amp, so the TS-2 compensates with it's presence peak beautifully, the Princeton is just a disgusting tone monster and the mic catches all the nuanced low end that little cone throws out. Really, it isn't even a second thought to put the TS-2 on a guitar cab. Add to that the heater voltage and pickup options and you have almost literally unlimited tonal options.
The End... Finally
OK, so that was a lot to read but this mic deserves it. You can find these on eBay for ludicrously low prices now but there are only so many out there. At the sub $1000 range, you really can't find this functionality, feature set, build quality and source capturing integrity in other large diaphragm tube mics for this price. But for some, this mic will be a disappointment. For my vocals it was something I really wanted to like. I still use it from time to time on vocals but in a more limited capacity. My voice simply isn't flattered by it's presence peak, lack of perceived mid scoop (like some other famous vintage tube LDCs I drool over but could never afford) and it's odd seemingly over emphasized proximity effect. On the other hand, maybe I just haven't dialed in the "right" polar pattern, in the "right" room, with the "right" heater voltage... in the end, if I have to consider all that to track my own voice I would just move on to another mic.