Review: 512 Audio Skylight Large Diaphragm Studio Condenser Microphone
27.10.2021

Review: 512 Audio Skylight Large Diaphragm Studio Condenser Microphone

512 Audio Skylight condenser microphone product shot with accessories
Words BY ERIKA FEDELE

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The times they are a changin’, or something like that. This rings especially true in the context of a relatively new field like Content Creation, who’s ascent to the top of pop cultural apex has been every bit as rapid as you would expect from an all digital, all hours medium. This can be seen everywhere, from the whopping multi-million dollar Spotify deals being inked by some of the biggest names in podcasts, through to the realisation that we actually lived to see YouTuber Logan Paul fight Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match. That actually happened. It wasn’t a fever dream or some kind of dystopian hallucination.

With the cultural zeitgeist having been well and truly shifted and the commercial ceiling raised higher than ever before, so too has the technical sophistication of the medium itself, developing with the same kind of accelerated evolution as other historically lucrative tech movements, like the printing press or the effect Beatlemania had on the broader Studio Industry.

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Far from the early days of grainy, Lo-fi Youtube and glitchy livestreams, the pro end of content creation has already matured into a full production in and of itself. Podcasters are routinely cracking the 3 hour mark, TikTok has become a legitimate occupation and Twitch has taken up the mantle as the ESPN of its generation. Running parallel to this increased professionalisation and commodification of DIY content is a subsequent leap in audience expectations regarding audio quality, something that has hit the content creation space faster than anyone could have ever anticipated and rest assured audio manufacturers are taking note.

Whereas early creators were traditionally made to rely on equipment primarily designed with the pro studio and broadcast industries in mind (with not much thought put into the unique concerns and economies of scale associated with this burgeoning new market), the modern content creator is now equipped with purpose built hardware and processing, designed to help them overcome one of the biggest barriers on their road to fame and glory-the annoying technical hurdle that is audio quality.

The last few years in particular have seen a host of new brands popping up in the content creation space, giving the traditional powerhouses some much-needed competition, with a host of creator specific features and design cues, and all at a much more civilian price point.

Of these new brands, few have as much instant street credibility as 512 Audio, an offshoot of Texas-based studio stalwart Warm Audio. For years, Warm Audio have been on a crusade to make the world of professional quality audio equipment accessible to the every-person and its this same spirit that carries through 512’s first generation of products, in particular the brands flagship large-diaphragm condenser, the Skylight.

If ever you were looking for a glimpse into how far content creation microphone has come in such a short period of time, the evidence is all there in the Skylight.

Firstly (and perhaps most importantly) it’s a balanced XLR microphone, eschewing the kind of entry level USB mics that have flooded the market since the early days of content creation.

This is significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly, a move to XLR implies a more discrete approach to the audio chain in general, one with its eye firmly on sound quality as opposed to mere convenience alone. XLR mics mean phantom power, outboard preamps/interfaces and a generally higher level of conversion quality, as well as also opening the door to a whole manner of potential topography and capsule options at the front end.

In the case of the Skylight, it’s a 34mm gold-plated large-diaphragm condenser capsule with a voice-tailored frequency response and cardioid pickup pattern.

On first impression, the Skylight offers a much smoother sound profile than what would normally come to mind when you think ‘affordable condenser’—with an extended low-end emphasis, offset with enough crisp definition in the highs to make it awesome asset for podcasts, streaming, vlogging or various other VO or spoken word applications.

Without knowing too much about what’s going on under the Skylight’s vertical grille, the impedance, unit weight and sonic character of the microphone immediately brings to mind some of the big-bodied classic FET mics of yesteryear, and if this is indeed the case, makes a tonne of sense in the context of a content creation microphone.

Also of note is the presence of some kind of metal absorption material under the Skylight’s unique vertical mesh grille, which one can only assume is designed to provide the diaphragm with further protection from plosives and sibilance. This is particularly important given the nature of content audio and how naked it leaves the voice, but also allows for useable results irrespective of mic technique, something that definitely bodes well with this particular market.

Sonically, the Skylight’s molasses like transient response and FET-esque tendency to fatten and flatten at close proximity, gives the microphone a timbre not unlike what we find in many of the premium large-diaphragm dynamic broadcast mics that have been so prevalent in this area, but with added high frequency response and the handy ability to be positioned off camera or slightly at distance, thus being less of a visual obstruction than many of it’s nearfield, moving-coil counterparts.

Custom-tuned with the human voice in mind (but with enough versatility to make it a handy addition to any mic closet, content or other), the Skylight has all the makings of an exceptionally well suited content microphone, particularly for off camera micing or for anything requiring a bit of distance between presenter and capsule.

With a flattering, natural proximity effect and high tolerance to plosives and sibilance (“ppp”, “fff”, and “sss” sounds) at various distances, the Skylight skilfully navigates some of the potentially problematic areas of the average creator setup, accentuating the more professional elements of your situation while de-emphasising some of the nastier sonic properties of your ‘probably less-than-pro’ acoustic environment.

The notch at 5k provides just the right amount of definition, without unnecessarily cranking any of the boxier, nasal frequencies of the vocal capture, while the switchable 50 Hz rolloff also helps tame some of the potential for mud and helps nullify some of the problematic ambient artefacts that come with using condenser mics in residential areas-the sub frequency rumble of traffic, washing machines, dirty power and the like.

Durability wise, the Skylight is built like a Sherman tank (weighing in at a massive 1kg), which when used with the equally solid professional shock mount and custom-fitted metal mesh pop filter, definitely requires a decent mic stand. 512’s own BBA desk mounted boom seems literally tailor made for the task and provides exactly the kind of peace of mind you seek when using a mic setup of this weight class. Almost like it was made for it!

I tested using both near-field and far-field mic placements (analysing the fullness and boost in low mids) and both provided fully usable and intelligible sound quality, maintaining a solid balance between definition and low-end reinforcement at differing distances. Perhaps the biggest takeaway was how well it handled extreme close micing of the voice, especially with the bundled pop filter attached. It’s ability to provide clean, distortion free detail, whilst also giving that radio announcer ‘voice of god’ close up vibe, that we don’t normally associate with large diaphragm condensers.

With a 130 degree pan, the Skylight allows for ample host movement with plenty of useable capture off axis. The fixed super-cardioid pattern works really well to offset screen reflections and CPU fan noise, something that can and often does build up in creator applications.

This slightly broader pan means that you may have to put a bit of extra forethought in regards to multi-mic setups or applications featuring multiple guests, just in order to minimise any chance of phase problems or overlapping pickup patterns, but given that this mic is clearly made with primarily the single source streamer/YouTuber/Twitcher/IG Live type in mind, you’d be hard pressed to find a large diaphragm condenser more suited to the task.

To put it simply, 512 Audio’s Skylight is a perfect example of what can be achieved through specialisation and setting out with a clear design brief in mind. Its peerless ability to tame plosives and diaphragm distortion along with it’s thick, broadband capture and detailed, delicate top end is sure to see it emerge as one of, if not the most well suited large diaphragm condenser for the modern content studio or home setup.

The unique combination of clever topography, shock proof architecture and the little details put into things like the mount and pop filter combine to make it an absolutely stellar application specific microphone for solo presentation and single source online video content.

Check out 512 Audio’s website for more information on the Skylight and for local enquiries, get in touch with Studio Connections.