Friday, July 1, 2011

Empirical Labs Mike-e Review

So I’ve had my Mike-e for about 5 months now and I’m ready to write a review. To start, when the mike-e says its a mic pre amp with new tricks, its not lying. This has been my go to pre since first using it, defeating my previous favorite pre, the Avalon 737. First off, when I got my mike-e hooked up for the first time I could not get the phantom power to work. After extensive troubleshooting I contacted Empirical Labs. Dave Derr quickly responded and sent me a new mike-e. When I got the new mike-e, I couldn’t get phantom power to work either. WTF! Took to it to another studio and phantom power worked fine. At this point I’m going crazy trying to figure out why I can't get phantom to work. Well Dave ends up sending me an email telling me to make sure I don’t have the mic and line input connected at the same time. Well sure enough I did. So basically if you have a mic and line input connected at the same time it will cancel out the phantom power. This is no problem for me because I just mix in my studio, I don’t record, so I leave the line input connected. For a recording studio this could be tricky since both can’t be connected at the same time. The mike-e to me is parts of all empirical labs products rolled into one, excluding the lil freQ. You get a very clean mic pre with saturation borrowed from the fatso, and a compressor borrowed from the famous distressor. In tracking hip-hop vocals I found the mike-e to sound bigger than the Avalon 737, way bigger than my Joemeek TwinQ, and a tad bigger then Great River 500 series pre. It makes vocals sound huge with the comp/sat section. Between hitting the mic pre hard and really driving the saturation circuit, you can get a lot of different tones from this channel strip. I’ve been running lead vocals for almost every mix I do through it with great results. It really brings the vocal forward and in your face in a mix. I also tracked bass with it through the DI adding a little saturation and compression. The bass player was very pleased with the sound. One of my favorite features about the mike-e is that when you power it off it saves your setting. So lets say you or your assistant forgot to fill out the recall sheet for the session, or you want to run the signal through the same setting you recorded it with when its time to mix. Well when you power it back it on all your setting that are digital like attack, release, etc, will be maintained. Pretty cool! Since I thought I had a bad unit and ELI sent me another, for a few weeks I had 2 mike-e in my possession. What to do with two mike-e’s? Put them on mix buss of course! I normally use a chameleon labs 7720 on mix buss. I used the mike-e’s with its slowest attack and fastest release will driving the saturation hitting the toasty light on the peaks with no more than 3db gain reduction. I don’t know how much was the mike-e and how much was my mixing skills but having it on mix buss gave me what I think is one of my top 3 mixes ever. I love the distressor on drum buss so its not surprising that two mike-e’s on drum buss worked very well. The mike-e has a wet/dry knob for parallel compression on the unit. No need to blend in your parallel compression with your DAW fader. As I said before, this is now my go to pre for tracking vocals. Empirical Labs customer support was great. I hated to send back the second unit but I didn’t have an extra $1600 laying around in my account. But after a few more purchases I will definitely be picking up a second mike-e. There is a insert mod available and a transformer output mod will be available soon. Not crazy about the insert mod but the transformer mod will be mandatory for me once it becomes available.


  1. Thank you very much for this review, would you say the saturation part is subtle or can be quite visible ? When you say bigger than great river does it mean for you "more low frequencies ?" I know it s difficult to describe in words as everyone has an other definition & perception -;) I appreciate your support !

  2. The saturation does make the signal louder and I feel it adds a little thickness. Right now I'd say its subtle but noticeable. I've never really ran it without any saturation to compare. Compared to the great river the mike-e sounded slightly fuller. Not just lows but everything.