sE GEMINI III LIMITED EDITION
It’s the third iteration of a mic that already had a split personality. Boasting nine polar patterns and classic valve circuitry the new Gemini III has more characters than a country footy team.
Text: James Wilkinson
If sE was hoping to produce a mic that defines the company in its tenth year, the Gemini III seems a good choice. The original Gemini dual tube microphone was a no-frills affair and its popularity (and, I’m guessing, feedback from users) subsequently yielded in the Gemini II: a lower noise design featuring an improved shock mount, –10dB pad and low-cut switches. The new ‘Limited Edition 10th Anniversary’ Gemini III incorporates all these changes, along with a matte-black finish, and something else devotees of the series will most likely be very excited about: a multi-pattern capsule.
The Gemini III offers the choice of nine polar patterns, including omni, cardioid and figure-of-eight via stepped selections from the power supply box. It’s the same Gemini capsule as featured in earlier models, but the two diaphragms have been placed back-to-back to provide the multiple polar pattern capacity.
There’s still the unique dual-tube transformerless design at its heart, with a 12AX7 tube on the input and a 12AU7 on the output (where normally you’d find the transformer). People talk about the ‘warmth’ valves bring to circuitry and there’s certainly a richness with the Gemini series that’s quite different to your regular capacitor-based large-diaphragm condenser. People also talk about tube-style microphones as being ‘vintage’ and with this comes a particular assumption of how they sound. What’s surprising about the Gemini III, however, is that it doesn’t sound like your typical valve microphone at all. There’s a very rich and vivid quality to its sound, with an accentuated top-end that has the combined effect of making the sound source large and characterful.
The Anniversary Edition Gemini III comes in a chunky silver flight case, which also houses the power supply (switchable between 220V and 110V), IEC power cable, elastic shockmount and multi-pin mic lead. This five-metre lead is long enough to use the microphone on a stand fully extended and secures at either end with a threaded connecter that screws together to prevent the cable coming loose. The components appear to be of good quality and the shockmount works by first placing the mic in its cradle and then screwing a fastener from below. Considering the weight and cost of the mic I’d also be using a heavy-duty stand and a sandbag to prevent gravity from ruining your day.
3 POLAR PATTERNS, 6 PERSONALITIES
First up, I used the Gemini III to record both male and female vocals: the female singer had a deep and complex voice, while the male voice was a middle aged actor… well spoken and very straight. The female vocalist sung and played her guitar at the same time during the session and here the variable polar pattern came in handy. To increase the mic’s rejection of the guitar I switched to figure-eight, and combined this with sE’s Reflexion Filter to prevent unwanted colouration from the room. The recording went well: the dual valves brought out the harmonics in her voice nicely, adding both warmth and richness to the material. By contrast, the following day the Gemini III (which had lent so much colour to the previous recording) seemed too exaggerated in the context of a radio play reading, and we eventually swapped it for a large-diaphragm solid-state mic. This is not a criticism of the Gemini III per se, just a matter of personal choice, and as any audio engineer will attest, it doesn’t matter how ‘good’ a mic is; if it doesn’t sound ‘right’ then try another. That said, the strength of the Gemini III lies in the tonal quality or timbre it brings to your recording. I can see a lot of musicians and engineers being drawn to its distinctive character, and others disliking it in equal measure for the reasons others enjoy – a neutral reference microphone it is not.
This is a contemporary sounding microphone, with presence, timbre and clarity that may infuse too much texture for those looking for a more neutral tone, but to my ears material that needs cut and presence, like pop vocals for example, seems a good match for the Gemini III. And with its new multiple polar patterns there’s now even greater scope for where it can be positioned and the roles it’s capable of performing. It works well as a spot microphone on acoustic instruments like strings, guitar and brass, and as a room mic for drum kits. With a maximum SPL of 135dB (0.5 THD @ 100Hz) it’s more than up to the challenge of capturing the loudest sound sources you care to place in front of it.
Visually the Gemini III has plenty of character too. Its large girth, stealth-inspired matte black finish and incarcerated glowing valves make the whole package very appealing, and appealing it needs to be. In my experience audio engineers generally have a bias towards certain marquee microphone manufacturers and equipment they know well, or have worked with before. Overcoming these prejudices in favour of an innovative Chinese company like sE is therefore difficult. And at the Gemini III’s price point, there are also umpteen enticing alternatives vying for your audio dollar, making the choice a difficult one.
SIX PERSONALITIES & COUNTING
In all I was really taken by the volumes of personality this microphone exudes, and although the top-end is hyped and not appropriate for every application, it’s also very welcome in the right context.
For the price – if you believe sE’s proclamations about attention to quality and hand-crafted assembly – it could be said you’re getting a high quality product here without the (comparatively speaking) high price tag of other valve microphones. That said, only your ears will be able to make a conclusive appraisal of the Gemini III’s abilities, but with only 12 making it to Australia from a total production run of 330 you’re going to have to be quick to secure one.