BLUE "Dragonfly" Microphones

BLUE "Dragonfly" Microphones
Awesome Sound from a Hip Condenser
Jim Merod
14 December 2000


Large diaphragm cardiod condenser @ 1 7/16" diameter;
Body dimensions: 7/8" × 7/8" × 6 1/2 ";
Elastic shockmount attached to swivel capsule housing;
40 volt (no DC/DC conversion needed) high-output;
Price: $1,199/each; matched pair: $2,800.

P.O. Box 910
Agoura Hills, Ca 91376

When microphone maestro Martins Salunsparens delivered a virtually matched pair of his new DRAGONFLY microphones to Casa BluePort, a moment’s glance inside their impressive cartons told the story. The unusual 40-volt powered BLUE [Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics] Dragonfly microphone is not only one of the most eye-catching microphones a recording engineer can throw in front of a band (and their ogling onlookers). It has a sound all its own . . . which, in this case, is fantastic. I will avoid verbal descriptions of the microphone’s classic, eccentric appearance. A photo or two is all it takes to show you a Radio Shack pipe bomb. The Dragonfly floats like a hummingbird and stings like a howitzer.

Because I am bored by equipment reviews that tease you into reading their whole span in order to get to a desired sonic bottom line, I’ll let you cross the review’s finish line right here.

The Dragonfly is an awesome microphone. It is not a panacea for all recording problems. Aside from the glorious DPA 4003 and its mystical kins, what microphone can solve every difficult task a recording person faces? But the littlest, least expensive of the microphones in the BLUE line-up carries a long sonic reach . . . and it packs a musical punch that is up to any well-chosen placement that a recording cat with good ears and astute experience can toss at it.

Let me start right there: "reach." Not enough is written or discussed about this most mysterious aspect of microphone pick up work. In a nutshell, some mics seem to extend themselves way out into space and "dial in" an off-axis or otherwise seemingly distant instrument. The unrivaled DPA 4003 [formerly B & K 4003] microphone, in its full omni glory (with its valuable nose cone adapter in place), is a perfect instance of "microphone reach." Any recordist who has concerns about the on-axis placement of a given instrument --or musician . . . this is especially a concern during live recordings – will find a brilliant "hedge" in his favor by using such a microphone. Recording engineers need all the hedges and back door benefits they can muster. There is no place better to start accumulating such recording-savers than with your choice of microphones.

My first on location use of the Dragonfly mics was a stern test of their mettle. I was brought up to the paradisiacal near ocean outback of San Juan Capistrano for a high-octane joyride with Alex Acuna’s Latin Jazz All Stars. These eight musicians are not laid back lounge loafers. You will never experience more musical fire and acoustic force full-in-the-chops than Acuna’s hilarious pandemonium throws at you.

Let me list the heart of this line up: Luis Eric (from Cuba), trumpet; Arturo Velasco, trombone; Pedro Eustache, sax and flute; Joe Rotundi, keyboards; Tiki Passilas, timbales and percussion; and, of course, perhaps the finest Latin percussionist of them all, Alex Acuna (a rhythmic dynamo, a lyrical fire engine).

The outdoor event took place in front of a beautiful fountain, inside a majestic courtyard with good acoustics, with a sold out crowd under the full Harvest moon. If you care about romance and the insistent erotic surge of Latin music, this was a night for the ages.

The band was spread across the entire span of a ninety foot wide stage. Despite such width, percussion instruments congested the stage front. My microphone placement for recording had to compete with the spatial congestion of instrument set up and with house microphones -- often a first priority for promoters, since their concert or music series depends upon keeping their subscription fan base happy with sound and uncluttered sight lines. An on location recording cat has to roll with a number of punches. Sometimes you can be rolled right out of the sweet spots you need.

I was fortunate on this occasion. The promoter is a very intelligent, well-educated man sympathetic to each part of his venue’s complex equation. The house soundman is hip and savvy. He was extremely helpful. I need to take these folks with me wherever I go.

My first challenge was to get the high SPL (sound pressure level) impact of Alex’s explosive drumkit and his low moaning "cajon" (that wonderful box, with a rear port, on which its player sits in order to bang and rub and bong its hollow cavity from the front and top). My next target was to capture Tiki Pasillas’s immense timbales power without losing its quick attack and wide dynamic range. Ditto the conga’s rhythmic authority. Alex Acuna’s band builds its music from the volcanic ground of such rhythmic eruptions. I chose the BLUE Dragonflies to record timbales and congas. I’d not yet used these hippest-looking of all mics, but I had high hopes that they would not only cooperate their first time out . . . but that they would excel.

The band’s three horn front line was under the recording witness of several Audio-Technica large diaphragm microphones. Over the years I have had extraordinarily good experiences with those pieces and I knew they would be challenged to the max by three high-powered musicians.

I was right. The evening was musically memorable in several ways. Not only was it stunning visually; not only was the throng eager and enthusiastic; but Alex Acuna’s madcap masters of Latin energy and beauty enchanted themselves into a perfect groove. From the opening song, all the way through a one-hour first set that lasted an hour and three-quarters, the eight musicians played at and off one another. When that spirit of playful abandon and lighthearted interaction takes place, you are in for a wild musical ride. We were. Luis Eric was a brilliant maniac on trumpet. Arturo Velasco tossed off more ideas than any ‘bone player since (maybe) Frank Rosolino. And provacateur extraordinaire Pedro Eustache goaded, growled, bleated, wailed, crooned and inspired his on stage colleagues. While such divine intoxication unfolded out front, back behind the ensemble (dead in the center of the action), percussion master Alex Acuna churned the whole boiling rumble into a perfect lather.

When I returned to my studio, I knew we had three hours of vital and memorable music. The second set’s one hour extended to an uproarious hour and a half. What I did not know was how the Dragonflies had executed their debut assignment.

I’d had no doubt about them. One long conversation with their designer, Martins Salunsparens, is enough to convince anyone in advance that this soulful man knows what music is . . . knows how to craft microphones that are "musical" and, in his own modest but tenacious way, is a recording engineer’s friend.

I was correct about all that. From the first high hat strike and conga thump at the outset of the opening number of the first set, I knew we were in a great sonic place. On playback, one hears sonic warts that are obscured by the high sound levels that swirl through live venues. When, on playback, I heard the authority of Tiki’s timbales – a clattering, manic sound of brilliant frenzy – I knew that the Dragonfly had done its job in spades. When the deep voiced boom of the conga and the high-pitched thwacks of its neighboring bongo all called out proudly and perfectly, I felt justified in pledging such important work to the newcomers in my microphone arsenal.

Seldom will one specific microphone define the sound of a recording since most recordings are a blend of many microphones. A crucial exception is a vocal recording in which the vocal "star" is placed front and center and given presence boost in order to shape an intimate, centrally-defined mood.

In such applications, the choice of vocal mic, and all of its ancillary equipment (tube mic preamp, compression, reverb, et. al.), becomes extremely important. I have yet to use the Dragonfly as a vocal microphone, but its uncanny ability to dial in the zip and sizzle of the percussion instruments it faced was more than impressive. This is, of course, precisely where the issue of "microphone reach" that I alluded to earlier takes place in earnest. Let me enumerate.

Reach, such as I have in mind, has everything to do with a mic’s ability to capture the fragile (potentially brittle) sonic range from 1K 50 or so up through 5K. In fact, the way in which a particular microphone that owns significant "reach" shapes that region – or is sensitive to some portion of it – defines the degree and the kind of "reach" that it has. I have not measured the Dragonfly but it is my sense that its "reach" is centered at about 2K 25 or so. It carries a fairly gentle (slowly building) peak, but the sonic "presence" that I hear from this mic is intriguing because it inscribes a somewhat dark instrumental proximity even as the center of its reach is well above a piano’s middle C. This may turn out to be the case with vocals, too.

The interesting thing about such sonic shaping is that, while a mic like this will tend to have a fairly broad reach away from its immediate "territory," and while it will (also) have a tendency toward useful off-axis signal shaping, it will create random opportunities (and difficulties) for its user. Such a reach sometimes invites useful (and unwanted) sonic "bleed." Because much of my recording work cannot avoid bleed, because I now depend on bleed as part of the sonic signature I strive for, the tendency of the Dragonfly to invite or attract bleed seems fortuitous.

This issue has another side as well. "Reach" brings with it sometimes unpredictable proximity effects. If you place a mic with awesome reach quite close to an instrument (or a vocalist) you may find troublesome sonic shadows or a boomy, boxy reinforcement at a specific spectral point. While I have not yet had an opportunity to scope out the variants of such proximity effects, and other related anomalies, I am certain that the Dragonfly is one hell of an interesting microphone. Its inherent sonic signature is, if not precisely "complex," nonetheless eccentric in just those ways that give a mic character.

The Dragonfly is certainly that: a permanent sonic friend with skads of character. This mic allows its user to experiment, adjust, maneuver and manipulate its placement in every imaginable way in search of just those off-axis and slight tilts or angles of approach that impart a sonic edge . . . that lend a recording its most musical results.

If you believe that I respect this mic, you are right. If you think that I love eccentric microphones that carry their own, perhaps mysterious, signature . . . right again. Let me reaffirm this microphone’s character. The Dragonfly is one of those special tools that on location recording engineers never have enough of tucked within their leather bags and plastic storage bins. I cannot enumerate the number of times that I would have been assisted with recording dilemmas if I had had this magnificent and flexible microphone with me.

While few microphones can be designated "classics" – and I have alluded already to one of those: the DPA 4003 – the Dragonfly mic belongs to another, no less crucial, rubric: Microphones that Sing.

Give me six songful microphones, like the pair I have to work with here, and I believe I can record any orchestra in the world just the way I want to hear it, if you give me enough time to hang and thrust them into the appropriate (sometimes counter-intuitive) positions . . . as long as the six songful instruments I have to work with are the two I’ve got already and another four Dragonfly monster slayers.

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