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One of the funnest elements of recording instruments in the open air is experimenting with over-compression, mic selection, room ambience, and the kinds of interesting flavours this kind of processing can yield. When you actually stop and consider what’s actually going on when acoustic pressure travels and hits a compressed mic and the kind of radical sonic reshuffling of emphasis within the sonic envelope, it makes a tonne of sense that compression and room ambience are destined to forever be soulmates.
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Even in the traditional, comparatively conservative world of pristine tube mics and high end preamps, microphones have routinely been driven for the purpose of eliciting excitable compression and saturation effects and anyone who has ever played around with room miking drum kits has quickly been made aware of the kinds of sonic bombast and ‘vibe’ that can exist when ambience and heavy compression meet.
The Periscope by Finnish manufacturer Scope Labs takes this premise to its logical extreme, combining a high quality omni condenser circuit with an onboard compressor (and not the limp-wristed kind), to achieve maximum ambience and maximum compression at the mic position, which in turn results in a voicing that is both extremely singular and surprisingly apt.
Before we go any further, it’s probably important to address the elephant in the room here – The Periscope’s unique and utterly inimitable aesthetic, which is no doubt one of its defining characteristics.
Looking like the exact middle ground between Pirates of the Caribbean and a WW2 pipe bomb and shipping in what can only be described as a miniature treasure chest (complete with blunderbuss style clasps and lined in swashbuckling rose velvet, of course), the aesthetic here is equal parts salty buccaneer and retrofuturist steampunk. While this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is undoubtedly a sense of fun that bubbles underneath the surface of The Periscope, something that doesn’t always happen in the tense environment that is the recording studio. It also brings up some very important questions regarding mic design and marketing in general in the pro audio space. Why…so…serious?
There is method to the madness though, the copper pipe aesthetic reportedly ensures 100 per cent shielding and grounding from interferences, something which is no doubt extremely useful when you consider the heavy handedness of the compression circuit and its potential to amplify any artefacts in the signal chain. The onboard analogue compressor is conveniently powered using the same phantom power source as the condenser capsule itself, in turn meaning no requirement for any kind of bulky extraneous box or anything like that. The long pipe-like design also ensures that all compressor components can be neatly tucked away inside The Periscope’s uniquely shaped chassis.
It’s little things like this that really allow The Periscope to bring you into its world and after plugging it in and experiencing the quality of it’s pleasantly rekt capture, the superficial novelty quickly takes a backseat to its usefulness as a studio tool.
The compressor unit itself is reminiscent of the quick clamping, hard attenuating FET units of yore – think a slammed 1176 or 1178 set to all buttons in mode, while the nature of the small diaphragm omni capsule makes it incredibly responsive to collecting transient material and detailing the subtle differences in room ambience and reflected elements in the acoustic space, before the compressor does its thing.
Whereas one might think that this may only be suitable in certain contexts, you’d be surprised how often its pumping, tweaked out capture is absolutely the perfect antidote for an anaemic sounding track or source.
The convenience of it’s ‘set and forget’ topography makes it an incredibly good wildcard mic, perfect for chucking up as an ambient drum mic, mono overhead or room mic for live full band tracking or any other application requiring ample colour and a bit of distance from the sound source. Personally, I found its ability to be placed in front of the kit and gently brought in as a kind of ‘real world parallel compression mic’ to be one of its strong suits, really glueing the kit together and giving it a unique edge.
With the parameters themselves decidedly fixed and with the kind of slammed compression this microphone is capable of providing, the very nature of The Periscope itself, pushes you to think about placement and distance as a form of a threshold control, and you will find yourself approaching these concepts in a new and incredibly nuanced way.
For close miked sources like vocals or guitar, you would probably want to be going in with a specific game plan in mind to make best use of its unique capture, but I could definitely see situations where it would be appropriate, like ragged blues vocals or as a way to ‘electrify’ acoustic guitars.
‘Vibe’ is a pretty elusive and cerebral concept within the context of recorded music but most can probably agree that it tends to generally fall under two distinct categories, Ambient or Electro-Acoustic. The beauty of The Periscope is that it really emphasises both the uniqueness of it’s internal circuit and the details of the acoustic environment around it, the combination of which is a perfect storm of characterful sounds and left-of-centre sonic heft. You’ll find yourself chucking it in front of random sound sources, just to see what happens and in terms of broader creativity and workflow, anything that can elicit that kind of response is definitely worth the cost of entry, even just as a hail Mary if nothing else seems to be working.
Perfect for providing glue over the kit or creating some explosive industrial vibes up close, The Periscope is sure to pique the interest of anyone with even a passing interest in electro-acoustics or sound design in the open air.
Already highly touted by a murderers row of recording royalty including Butch Vig (Nirvana, Garbage, The Foo Fighters), The Chemical Brothers and Joe Barresi (Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Kyuss), Scope Labs ‘The Periscope’ is undoubtably one of the most interesting and exciting things happening in mic land at the moment.
For more information, head to Scope Labs.