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Cascade Fathead Ribbon Mic Review – Al Unsworth, Freelance Engineer

Cascade Fathead Ribbon Mic - Stereo Pair

The Cascade Fathead is a ribbon microphone with a central positioned corrugated aluminium membrane (the ribbon) which therefore means it receives audio equally front and back (like most ribbons it is a fig 8 pick-up pattern). This is ideal for using a pair in Blumlein configuration for stereo recording. The Fathead stereo pair package comes with a stereo bar for such configuration, which is what I used for this review.

The stereo pair comes in a fitted aluminium brief case which also contains the stereo bar and mic mounts. First impressions of the actual build quality are very good, the finish is good and there were no imperfections on the machining on the body of the mic. The head grill also seems very well made. The supplied mic mounts are also of good quality, which they need to be to support the weight of the mic. The output impedance is 200 Ohm and the manufacture recommends a 1000 ohm load impedance on the mic pre-amp, although playing around with the pre-amps impedance, if the pre-amp allows, can alter the sound of ribbon mics for better or worse - always worth experimenting.  The ribbon mic feels very robust, however the actual ribbon is very delicate so care should be taken when handling (care should be taken handling any mic of course)! In Use The session I was booked to record was a prog rock band by the name of Mr So and So, exceptional musicians with quality instruments, I knew it was going to be a long session and no time to be messing about changing mic set ups, so the Fatheads had better perform! Being a avid ribbon mic user I had already worked out what they were going to be used on instrument wise - I rate ribbon mics very highly when tracking to digital medium and 95% of my work is to Pro-Tools.

Cascade Fathead Ribbon Mic on Drums

First up drums, with the Fatheads used as overheads. If I had more ribbons to hand I would have also used them on hats and ride, the fig 8 pattern works well with its side rejection, so reduces snare spill and captures hats very well.

The pre-amp I used was a custom made Neve with vintage Kelso modules fitted, very similar to the 1081. The pre-amp suited the Fatheads exactly (there is no 48v option on these so no danger of sending 48v to ribbon and causing damage) with the stereo imaging and detail also being great, pretty much what I hoped for. Next up was acoustic guitar. I generally wouldn't go for a ribbon on acoustic guitar particularly quiet picked guitar, but decided I would go for the Fathead (I also used condenser for safety and comparison). I positioned the Fathead around a foot and a half away - I generally like to have a bit of distance on acoustic to capture a bit of air movement. The pre-amp used for this was a Neve 4081 – NB please be aware when using the 4081, if the unit is switched to line the 48v is disabled. However, when switched to mic and 48v engaged previously, it stays engaged when switched back. Ribbons don't like 48v, unless it is a specific phantom powered ribbon.

Cascade Fathead Ribbon Mic on Acoustic Guitar

I really liked the sound of the Fathead on acoustic. I knew a bit of EQ would be required later but the overall smoothness compensated for this. Compared to the condenser, the Fathead had a fuller sound but lacked the top end that you generally would get from a condenser. In an AB comparison the condenser, although brighter, lacked the lower-end smoothness. In hindsight I wouldn't have used either mic and should have gone for a more trusted mic that I would have normally used. (See mix section).

Cascade Fathead Ribbon Mic on Guitar Cab

For distorted rock and roll guitars my first choice is always to use ribbons. The amp the guitarist used is probably one of the best I have heard, a custom Bogner Ecstasy. Using the Neve 4081 again, I also put up 3 other mics to compare. The Cascade Fatheads were quite clearly better than the rest and the reproduction of the amp was exactly what I wanted. Also impressive was the Fathead being able to handle the loud SPLs from the amp and not overloading. A lot of ribbons struggle to handle very loud SPLs, but not here.

In the mix Drum overheads - Sounded great. With ribbons they need a bit of top end lift which they got, no need to be shy about it either, ribbon mics seem to handle a fair amount of EQ without sounding bad. Acoustic guitars - I did like the sound of the Fatheads but the amount of gain needed to capture the guitars when played quietly introduced noise from the pre-amp. A lot of ribbons do need a fair amount of gain due to their low output, so a clean pre amp would be advisable on quiet sound sources. Distorted guitars - Sounded great, very little EQ needed, sat in the mix very well. Conclusion At £285 plus VAT for a matched stereo pair, it is a no brainer, buy some. I am. Al Unsworth is a professional international freelance recording, mixing & Pro-Tools engineer. With over 15 years experience his credits cover all genres of music. Past clients/projects include Kylie Minogue, Mariah Carey, 808 State & Yes. Studiocare is the European distributor of Cascade Microphones.