Mixdown’s Picks: Coles 4038

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Mixdown’s Picks: Coles 4038

For this installment, we’re diving deep into the world of studio microphones, exploring the massive range of ribbon, condenser and dynamic options on the market for savvy producers, engineers and project studio enthusiasts. 

Coles 4038

Category: Ribbon (Passive) | Pattern: Figure-of-eight


Key Features: Originally commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1951 to meet the rigorous technical demands of the burgeoning broadcast and TV industries, the iconic Coles 4038 is a microphone with a rich history and an even richer sonic signature.


For over 60 years, the 4038 has been as the passive ribbon de jour for the working studio set, providing natural, sonically pleasing capture across a whole range of open air applications, including (but not limited to) acoustic/electric guitar, brass, vocals and especially on the drum kit, where it absolutely excels as an overhead or room mic. 


With an exceptionally flat frequency response between 30Hz to 15KHz, coupled with the 4038’s incredibly tolerant on-axis/off-axis characteristics in both the horizontal and vertical planes the 4038 is one of those microphones that lends itself to quick and easy placement, garnering instantly useable results with a minimum amount of fuss – provided you don’t place it at 90 degrees to the source!


It’s this workability (coupled with the 4038’s iconic ‘hooflike’ aesthetic) that have seen it become one of the most recognisable and treasured icons in the broader recording space, with the British manufacturer still making the 4038 by hand, just as they did in 1951. That’s not to say that the 4038 is an overly ‘vintage’ sounding mic by modern standards. On the contrary, its buttery, era-appropriate smoothness and broad, sympathetic capture have seen it thrive in the era of home recording, and for many, a single 4038 over the kit is all that’s needed to minimise phase issues, downplay HF flutter and tame harsh transients all in the one fell swoop.  


Mixdown Says: A ‘pro’ sounding mic in the classic sense of the word, the 4038 is one of those rare studio acquisitions that has the ability to instantly improve the overall sonic quality of a project, simply by virtue of its frequency/transient profile. It’s detailed and rich enough to take centre stage on a lead vocal, but at the same time its naturally sympathetic voicing make it an incredibly adept ‘counterpoint mic’, expertly offsetting the kind of chirpy, high/mid build up that can plague a dynamic and condenser heavy session. 


Jack White is a big fan, as are legendary producers Steve Albini and Glyn Johns (the latter of whom employed the Coles 4038 to awesome effect as part of the ‘Glyn Johns Drum Technique’, responsible for the incredible depth and bombast of the Led Zeppelin recordings). Josh Homme and Mac Demarco have also fallen for the smooth, dulcet tones of the beloved British icon


Overall: A bonafide legend in the space (and still one of the best returns on investment of anything out there), the 4038 is one of those mics that are easy to fall for and impossible to part with. Worth every penny.