I’ve been using small-diaphragm condensers for a while now and decided it was time to step up to something a bit less entry-level. Don’t get me wrong, my Behringer B-5s are great but they have their limitations. I hope these notes will be useful to someone else who is looking to step up from entry-level condensers such as the Behringer C-2, C-4 or B-5. (If you’re not sure of the difference between these Behringer mics, see my article to explain the range).
I regularly use the omnidirectional capsule on the B-5s and this is something I need from a replacement set of microphones, and this narrows the choice a bit. In the end I chose a pair of Sontronics STC-1. This is a relatively little-known microphone. It’s a British brand but I don’t think it is readily available in the USA, so it tends to get relatively few mentions online. It’s the reverse of the Studio Projects microphones which are popular in the USA but hard to find in the UK. This article is partially a review of the STC-1 and partially a comparison with B-5 and a brief explanation of why you might want to upgrade.
On paper, the B-5 and STC-1 are remarkably similar in spec. You never can be quite sure how honest Behringer and other budget manufacturers are with their specs, while I expect more accurate specs from Sontronics. Figures marked with an asterisk* were not published by the manufacturer, but measured by me. Hopefully the STC-1 will give better clarity on choral recordings, which is something that can’t readily be quantified.
|Behringer B-5||Sontronics STC-1|
|20Hz – 20kHz||Frequency response||25Hz – 20kHz|
|140 dB||Max SPL||137 dB|
|16 dB||Self noise||16 dB|
On receiving the STC-1s, the quality is immediately noticeably higher. As the STC-1 manufacturer specs did not include size or weight, I was expecting something similar to the B-5. However the STC-1 is noticeably larger and heavier. It feels expensive in your hand. The wooden presentation box with laser etching is a nice touch, but I actually prefer the cheap plastic carry case supplied with the B-5 since it has a carry handle. The padded box has spaces for a hard mic clip and a foam wind shield. There is no extra space for separately-sold interchangeable capsules, but if you leave the mic clip permanently on the mic stand, there is easily room for two capsules.
One of the B-5’s weak points is the delicate thread for screwing the capsules on. It is very thin and soft, and if you cross the threads once you’ve probably ruined the microphone. I’ve read reports of people having to use sticky tape to keep the capsule on. The STC-1 has a coarser and stronger thread that seems less prone to damage – however I think it would still be easy to damage it if you were not careful. Moral of the story: be careful.
The B-5 comes with one cardioid and one omnidrectional capsule included. The STC-1 comes only with a cardioid capsule included, while omnidirectional and hypercardioid capsules are sold separately. Unfortunately the capsules are sold in flimsy cardboard boxes. You’ll want to store the capsules in a more rugged box.
I tried to do a basic and unscientific noise test by cranking up my preamp to full with each mic connected in turn to see what noise was recorded. However I wasn’t able to get my house quiet enough. I placed each mic inside its padded box to keep outside noise to a minimum but the mics were still able to pick up the whirring of my laptop and even the cat walking around in the next room (I wasn’t able to hear that with my own ears). Finally the police helicopter started hovering somewhere nearby so that was the end of that. Noise test: inconclusive.
On paper, the B-5 and STC-1 claim to have almost identical sensitivity. I don’t have a quantitative way of measuring the sensitivity but I can say for sure that the STC-1 is more sensitive. With the B-5, I always set the gain on my preamp to the same place and got the right levels in the raw recording data. I set the gain to the same amount for the STC-1 and got approximately 3dB more signal in the recording. I had to back the gain down a little bit to avoid peaking. I can only assume this discrepancy is due to some possibly optimistic specs from Behringer.
More sensitivity is always good when you’re doing choral work (the quiet passages can be very quiet). I think you would want to enable the -10dB pad for louder applications.
Real-world sound quality
There’s no other way of testing the real-world quality of a mic than using it for a real recording. I used my standard technique of spaced omnidirectional microphones to record evensong at St Mary’s, which I’ve used many times before. The STC-1s are spaced 40cm on a bracket which I only bought recently. The B-5s would have been a little bit further apart on two separate mic stands, thus giving a narrower stereo image.
As usual, I used the wind shields to prevent noise from convection currents in the air (that’s a real thing in large buildings like churches) and shock mounts to prevent unwanted foot noise on the suspended wooden floor. As you can see, the organ is at the back of the church and the choir are at the front, hence the omni capsules are needed.
The STC-1 seems to have better clarity on consonants. Listen to the first line of the prayer, especially the word art. The STC-1 picked up a lot more bass from the organ. So much so, in fact, that I had to EQ it out about -6dB below 100Hz or it sounded like a subwoofer gone mad. Next time, I will use the low-frequency roll off.
Sorry to anyone who is hoping for a review of these microphones on acoustic instruments or drum overheads. Some time soon I’m hoping to work with a guitarist or mandolinist so I will be sure to post samples then.
First impressions are very good. With microphones it can be hard to compare them and see clear differences. Often you pay 5x more and get a microphone that is 10% better. It’s up to you whether that price compromise is worth it. However the STC-1 is noticeably better than the B-5 in pretty much every way. I can’t really quantify, but it sounds crisper on the consonants and yet smoother too. It’s hard to get the balance right with choral music. It’s early days yet, but I am pleased with my purchase and no doubt with some practice I will start getting even better results with my pair of STC-1s.
I have no hesitation in recommending the Sontronics STC-1 to someone who is looking to upgrade their small diaphragm condenser microphone without breaking the bank. This is an excellent step up from any of the Behringer small diaphragm condensers.