Sandhill Audio 6019A by Arthur Stone
Introducing the Sandhill 6019A ribbon microphone – a high-end, indestructible microphone with a figure-of-8 polar pattern. The 6019A features active circuitry and high-quality Lundahl step-up transformers to create low output impedance and ensure compatibility with a wide range of preamps.
The review will find that the 6019A is an exceptional mic in terms of design, component and build-quality, offering a first-class sound at a good price-performance point.
The Sandhill Story: Sandhill is a Finnish company, started in 2008, by Riku Pasanen (mechanical design and fabrication), Petteri Taponen (electronics R&D, design, and fabrication), and Sammy Roiha (R&D, product design, and knowledge/experience, measurements and tests).
The goal was to create “an original beautiful sounding ribbon microphone that has no limitations in its use or application, completely free from the common problems that are associated with all the ribbon microphones of the past” and “...finished without compromise.”
A 3-year process of design, testing, and prototype upgrades through trial and error and user feedback, led to the first product – the Sandhill 6011A Ribbon Microphone, and then the 6019A.
Currently Sandhill offer two microphones: the 6019A (reviewed here) and the 6011A (@2,250 Euros)
Why do ribbon mics sound so good? Three things: the figure-of-8 pattern which receives sound from the front (source) and rear (natural room ambience and source reflections) and nulls the sides; the bass profile adds fullness and body; and the high-frequency roll-off which tames harshness.
It's said that the ribbon mic's sound capture is closest to how the ear hears than other types. The same is said about tape too. To my ears, digital recordings made using the 6019A did have a tape-like quality – not just the frequency profile but also the dynamics relative to frequency and the timbre or texture which adds an 'in-the-same-room' density to playback.
Comparing an equal-loudness contour chart to the 6019A (charts attached at bottom of page) I wondered if the increased bass pick-up compensated for the ears loss of bass detail at lower sound levels. Many ribbon mic charts show the same bass 'hump' as this is what is expected given that the figure-of-8 ribbon has the strongest bass proximity effect of any mic design.
Rather than hyping the bass response through tuning the response, the 6019A seems more sensitive to the dynamics of bass sounds including the low level detail that different mic designs and polar patterns might miss. Quiet bass sounds are given more prominence.
Another observation from the charts is that the 6019A's high frequency dip is above 10kHz and extends to the upper limit of hearing (natural roll-off) whereas the ear dips around 3kHz and increases in sensitivity up to 10kHz. The 6019A's curve is strong in this dip in hearing and gently rolls off as the ear's sensitivity returns at higher frequencies.
Quality comes from attitude: So Sandhill set out to build the “best ribbon microphone possible.” Traditionally the weaknesses associated with ribbon microphone in use have been: fragility from environment (e.g. wind damage, gravity); handling damage (mic drop) and damage to the ribbon from loud, high-SPL sources like amps or brass instruments. There are also sonic deficits e.g. self-noise ; power-hungry design requiring customised gain/impedance circuitry; and restricted frequency capture (in comparison to modern designs).
Another consideration in fixing the issues above is to not lose the unique, pleasing character of the ribbon design which is often described as being 'close to sound as the ear hears it.'
For Sandhill this means consistency in quality control (QC): QC is a specialized engineering skill and the aim is to ensure the final product meets the design specification. QC can be applied throughout the manufacturing process: initial material supplies and hardware manufacture; components, audio tests, and final presentation of product. Problems can be fixed quickly at source saving time, money and ensuring a perfect, as-intended mic for the customer along with detailed performance data for each individual unit.
It certainly felt that way when I first opened the Sandhill case.
Price: 1,450 Euros (ex VAT) supplied in birch-ply wooden case (HPRC/hard plastic case with custom foam insert sold separately; comes with a standard mic stand adapter.
Shockmount: 185 Euros extra A Blumlein adapter is also available.
Available to buy from the Sandhill website as: single, pair, or matched-pair.
The plastic case is extremely well-built (with seals) and with the foam inserts there is confidence that the contents survive anything. Nice lightweight package for mobile rigs.
The Sandhill mics are well-positioned on the price-performance curve. Currently there are around 30 models of ribbon mic from a dozen manufacturers with prices ranging from $100 to $5800.
The Sandhill 6019A requires +48 volt phantom-power. To get the best from a premium-sounding mic the phantom-power should be spot on. Some entry-level interfaces especially bus-powered (and also some more expensive products) do not deliver true 48 volts/amperage; mics will still work but not at their best; however Sandhill have conformed that the 6019A will operate at lower voltage also.
This video shows the hand-assembly of the 6019A and this the machining of the aluminum frame.
First Impressions: I got a buzz unboxing the review 6019A and Bingo! A stereo pair.
Solid and substantial in the hand; reasonable size for fitting almost anywhere a mic stand will place it; definitely an object of desire. The design is neat, functional and...sexy, in a Gearspace way.
The aesthetic is part industrial and functional, combined with stylistic beauty and exemplary finish; the product imagined by our three Finnish protagonists - Riku, Petteri and Sammy - who overcame the obstacles and challenges to bring the 6019A to market. The first impression is of a high-quality product that is bespoke for purpose and crafted by humans using machines.
Looking at the specs I noticed a frequency response of 20Hz to 15 kHz; I'm thinking nice full bass with a tape-like (or ribbon-like) roll-off of the higher frequencies. The EIN (or self-noise) is relatively high at 22 dB but this is a general characteristic of the ribbon design. Sandhill's design has improved distribution of the magnetic field along the length of the ribbon and better phase linearity creating improved high frequency response and definition in comparison the the classic ribbon design which can often have a duller, low-mid heavy tone.
Whatever the specs suggest, in practise the 72dB signal-to-noise ratio and max SPL of 154dB supports a 130dB dynamic range, which is exceptional. Even when the 6019A encounters loud sources e.g. guitar amps, drums, it remains unstressed and within a comfortable, distortion-free operating window.
In Use: The 6019A feels solid on a mic stand – not as easy to tip over as some mid-heavy mics. Relatively easy to position. The mic adjustment is amongst the best mic holder and suspension I've used. The mic weight has a low center-of-gravity in the suspension and there is a clever universal ball joint and tightening latch (as on upmarket photo tripods) which makes positioning and locking easy. In general, great robust hardware.
I hooked one mic into a BAE1073mpf preamp using a Klotz Starquad cable and recorded some guitar (Taylor 414ce).
The sound was beautiful beyond words – very faithful and life-like capture. I mic'd too close to the guitars soundhole and remedied it with some EQ cuts. Whilst the sound was darker than the DI I also recorded it was very clear and no detail was lacking in the 15 kHz frequency roll-off. However, the DI (which was high-pass filtered) did add some nice bright air and my preference would be to add some in to help fit the 6019A into a busy mix for practical workflow reasons but with some patience and experimentation the DI isn't at all necessary to capture a stunning recording.
The DI lacked innumerable qualities that the 6019A brought out of the source: warmth, solidity, detail, texture, plausibility. The DI was just some icing on the cake. In fact, the DI was of such lesser quality that I just send a little to a plate reverb and that added brightness with compromising the purity of the 6019A's take.
I decided to re-track the same music again, changing the original end-of-fretboard/sound hole positioning to further up the neck at the 12th fret and also moved the close mic away to around 12” rather than the original 6” and this produced a more balanced sound with the guitar body clear but not boomy.
In general, with bass rich sources, the 6019A needs some distance to reduce bass-proximity and let the instruments output form into a coherent sound picture. I can only imagine how wonderful it would sound recording a choir or orchestra; from a mid-demographic Gearspace studio perspective the 6019A offers the user a unique distinct sound with a beautiful sweet spot (within the relatively-high noise-floor and high max SPL) but requires some position-testing to get there.
Adapting to the 'ribbon sound': This first use taught me that I needed to adapt to the mic capability and keep mic/room/source in the operational sweet-spots. This mic-centered approach is a little different from the freedom and flexibility of regular multi-pattern large-diaphragm condensers often with onboard tweaks like pads and high-pass filters.
Another insight was that the mic pick-up was at a lower level than regular mics and I needed another 5 – 10 dB of gain especially if I was moving the mic further away which also meant I needed to keep the room very quiet so as not to raise the noise-floor.
It's not as if the 6019A is lacking anything; rather it captures a lot more detail in the bass and mids than a non-ribbon mic and the balance is perceived as being more weighted towards the bass frequencies. The low end of the acoustic guitar is densely-textured, smooth, and well-defined and the rolled-off treble is now heard in that context.
Second take came to close to the EQ'd first version. So positioning is important with the 6019A.
Next I tilted the mic up – same position and gain – to record a vocal and guitar with the one mic. Surprisingly good coverage with the figure-of-8 pick-up and with the extra DI track on the guitar I had some flexibility in the DAW mix.
As a broad stroke brush it captures the sonic scene beautifully but it also accepts contributions from other sources: the guitar DI adding air into the reverb; the Sennheiser MD 445 adding depth to the djembe. The full bass capture takes EQ cuts well and this is useful in situations where compression would attenuate bass; equally the highs can be pushed with EQ and a cut darkens rather than removing treble detail.
The strong point of the 6019A sound is in the ability to bring out low-frequency detail and this is particularly beneficial when mic'ing guitar amps. Thud and oomph. This sense of instrument 'body' or physicality came to the fore with hand percussion too; in fact every source I tried was enriched by plausibility and lack of faintness.
Audio examples: A variety of recordings with some ITB processing e.g. EQ/compression/reverb. Acoustic guitar is a Taylor 414ce (DI also used to feed reverb); electric guitar is a Tele FMT HH into a Blackstar HT1R amp; and Ibanez SR500 bass into a BOSS GT1000 Core into Fender Acoustasonic amp. Percussion: djembe/bongos (stereo-mic'ed). Cheap bamboo flute. The vocal and guitar mix is a single mic.
Audio files also available as playlist at bottom of page).
Conclusion: The figure-of-8 polar pattern, relatively high self-noise and characteristic frequency response of ribbon mics requires a different mindset and approach to recording: the benefit is a natural sound that is pleasing to the ear.
The broad brush strokes are perfect for capturing the scene in it's entirety. In addition to the big picture capability the 6019A can focus too and function admirably as a close mic.
Undoubtedly, Sandhill have achieved their goal: to create “an original beautiful sounding ribbon microphone that has no limitations in its use or application, completely free from the common problems that are associated with all the ribbon microphones of the past” and “...finished without compromise.”
Ultimately the 6019A is a microphone for everyone: for professionals it is a 'super-ribbon' with capabilities that exceed the norm and solve the traditional ribbon weaknesses; additionally I would recommend this as the perfect microphone for a developing artist or engineer as it can do everything needed to create recordings that stand-out from the crowd and please the ear; bringing life from source to digital recording.
Sound quality 5/5: Undeniable classic ribbon sound but with a clear, non-harsh treble response. Adds timbre to digital recordings. Takes processing well, if required.
Ease of use 4/5: Learning curve. Needs careful positioning and gain structure.
Features 5/5: The active circuitry enables the mic. The mount is great. No filter but high max SPL is a sink for headroom. The null sides of the f8 polar pattern add utility as does the bass proximity gradient.
Bang-for-buck 5/5: Quality costs and the custom-made 6019A offers professional sound at an affordable price. A great investment for a collection or as an inspiring single mic or stereo-pair.
Links and Credits:
RCA "44-BX" ribbon microphone from 1940. (right) RCA 44-type With the cover off. The magnet is visible at center, and the narrow aluminum ribbon is suspended between the triangular pole pieces By Unknown author - Retrieved April 9, 2014 from Radio Engineering magazine, Bryan Davis Publishing Co., New York, Vol. 12, No. 9, September 1932, p. 15 on American Radio History website, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/inde...curid=32213529
Di derivative work: Nick84 (talk)Lindos1.svg: Lindosland - Lindos1.svg, Pubblico dominio, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4865959