Knowledge Base and FAQ

Overview

Sphere™ technology consists of an extremely high precision dual channel microphone, which when paired with proprietary DSP algorithms can accurately model the response of a wide range of mics, including proximity effect and the three-dimensional polar response. In contrast, other microphone modeling technologies apply EQ to filter the sound from what is essentially a conventional microphone. This is fundamentally no different than using EQ to process a recorded track.

Instead the Sphere microphone captures the soundfield more completely, including directional and distance information, that is lost when using a conventional single channel microphone. With this additional information it becomes possible to reconstruct how different microphones respond to the soundfield.

This allows the user to record while using, say, an 87 set to cardioid and then for mixing switch to a 47 in omni mode. This is not simply EQing the recording to attempt to approximate the difference. Instead it actually changes the polar pattern and other characteristics of the microphone directly. Practically speaking this allows you to Re-Mic the audio, as long it was recorded with the Sphere microphone.

It also has many other great features that go beyond straight modeling that are not possible with other technologies. For example, it’s possible to directly adjust the amount of proximity effect of the mic, not with EQ, but by actually changing how the mic responds to different sources. Also, Off-Axis Correction allows the user to obtain a much more accurate polar pattern compared to other directional microphones, which can greatly reduce off-axis coloration.

It is also possible to make stereo recordings with a single microphone with a back to back cardioid configuration. You can even have different mic models on the left side and the right side, which is great for recording acoustic guitar where the soundhole side of the mic is typically extra boomy.

Other features include:

  1. Axis Shift - The user can virtually rotate the axis of the mic to give a more off-axis sound
  2. More Polar Patterns - It is possible to select polar patterns not available with the original microphone, because the modeling can synthesize intermediate patterns.
  3. Simultaneous Mic Models  - It’s possible to do phase coherent mixing of multiple virtual mic models from the same physical microphone.
  4. Flat From 20Hz to 20kHz - If the user so desires, it is possible to create a microphone with an essentially flat response.
  5. Polar Meter - The plug-in has a very cool Polar Pattern Meter, which dynamically displays the direction and level of sound being picked up by the microphone.
  6. Lower Noise - The microphone hardware has a self noise level which is well below most vintage microphones and comparable to many of the best modern microphones.
  7. High SPL Handling - The microphone can handle 140dB SPL

This only scratches the surface of what is possible. For more information see the Sphere Technology Whitepaper and the Sphere User Guide.

The Sphere system consists of a precision 2-channel microphone and a VST2, VST3, AAX Native, and AU plug-in which performs the DSP modeling. The UAD plug-in format is also supported, so you can process with ultra-low latency on an Apollo system.

Yes, all Sphere settings (except the pad switch on the mic) are adjustable during and after tracking.

Sphere processing uses beamforming technology to directly model the three-dimensional response of a wide range of microphones, so that the frequency dependent polar patterns and proximity effect are accurately captured. On the other hand, using EQ, or other filtering, with a conventional microphone has no effect on the directionality and proximity effect of the mic.

The Sphere microphone uses a large diaphragm condenser capsule, and is optimized to model large diaphragm mics most accurately. For vintage large diaphragm condenser microphones, in particular, our target is to meet or exceed the accuracy of currently available reissues, clones or other modern versions of the corresponding mic. In most cases we achieve or surpass that standard of accuracy.

For other types of microphones, such as dynamics, ribbons, and small diaphragm condensers, the models are generally accurate when used on-axis. Beyond 45 degrees off-axis the models may deviate substantially, but still maintain the overall polar pattern. Generally this means that close miking will be more accurate than distant miking. Keep in mind, when close miking a guitar amp, for example, the speaker is large compared to the mic, so much of the sound pickup is off-axis.

Handling noise, plosive sensitivity, electrical noise, and headroom are not directly modeled. The plosive sensitivity of the mic is comparable to a typical high quality side-address large diaphragm condenser microphones. At 60mm in diameter the Sphere L22 headbasket is relatively large (the same size as a U47), and all other things being equal will have less plosive sensitivity than a mic with a smaller headbasket. The microphone and modeling algorithms are designed to produce the lowest noise and highest headroom possible, even if the original microphone being modeled is noisier and has less headroom.

The Sphere microphone uses a capsule with very tight tolerances, so that the models will sound consistent no matter what mic hardware is used. Microphones, in general, have more variation from unit to unit than just about any other piece of equipment in the recording signal chain, so when comparing any two mics of the same type there will likely be some difference. Sphere models the specific microphones that we measured, so it will likely not exactly match similar mics in your collection.

Yes. Keep in mind, the Sphere plug-in requires material that was recorded with the Sphere microphone, so we have also provided some prerecorded audio to use when demoing the plug-in. You can download it here:

http://townsendlabs.com/support/downloads/

The Sphere microphone hardware has zero latency, just as any analog microphone does. The Sphere plug-in has 0.5 milliseconds of latency beyond the latency incurred by your DAW. Keep in mind, 0.5 milliseconds of latency is the same time it takes sound travel about six inches.

Using the UAD plug-in version on a Universal Audio Apollo in Console mode will generally incur the lowest total latency possible. At a 96kHz sample rate the Apollo has about 1.1 milliseconds of latency, so the total system latency, in this case, will be 1.6 milliseconds. When using the native version of the plug-in processing latencies will generally be higher, although that’s totally dependent on your DAW setup.

When processing audio that is already recorded to disk most DAWs will compensate for the latency of the plug-in so that effectively no latency occurs.

No, we don’t see it that way. We see it as a way to augment your existing collection. We’ll be quite happy if every studio in the world buys just one of these mics to add to their collection. Maybe some day microphones with this type of technology will become the standard, but right now we’re just focused on making the best product we can.

  1. Even the best mic collection has its limits. What if you want multiple U47s or U67s for different sources?  Unless you are Abbey Road, most studios are lucky to have one U47 or U67.
  2. Vintage mics of the same type can sound very different depending on age, condition, and original production. For example, there are a number of distinctly different sounding flavors of U47s, such as those with an M7 capsule, an original K47 capsule and a later production K47 capsule with plastic diaphragm mounting ring. With Sphere you can have them all.
  3. Auditioning and switching between mics can be tedious, and might tire a vocalist.
  4. Don’t risk trashing your vintage U47 by putting it on a guitar amp or kick drum
  5. Don’t risk blowing out a ribbon mic with a plosive or a loud source
  6. Adjust the polar pattern and mic type while tracking and after recording!
  7. You can actually adjust the amount of proximity effect of the microphone
  8. With Off-Axis Correction™ you can greatly reduce bleed from other instruments
  9. Use the mic in adverse acoustic environments, such as a hotel room. With Off-Axis Correction you can reduce the influence of poor acoustics.
  10. Take it with you on the road, and leave your irreplaceable vintage mics at home.
  11. When paired with an Apollo or Apollo Twin you have access to a complete world class vocal or instrument signal chain at your fingertips, all with ultra low latency processing.
  12. Has a substantially lower noise floor than virtually any vintage microphone, and most modern ones as well.
  13. Requires far less time and money for microphone maintenance (VF-14 tubes are expensive, if you can find one!)

Yes, just like any mic, position matters a lot. Nonetheless, the added flexibility can be helpful in many cases. For example, with Sphere technology you can directly adjust the amount of proximity effect of the mic, so you’ll never need to pull the mic back simply because there’s too much boominess from the mic. On the other hand, if there is too much boominess due to where the mic is positioned on the instrument then repositioning the mic might be the only solution.

First and foremost, both Erik and I have worked in the pro audio industry for over 15 years, and we love it. When I developed the Eleven amp modeling algorithms I started to become very familiar with the various new and vintage microphones used in the modeling. I wondered if it was possible to accurately model the complete response of the microphones, not just in a few fixed positions on a particular guitar amp.

Looking back over the past few decades I felt there was a major lack of innovation with studio microphones. Many new microphones were released, but they were all based on much older technology and had about the same feature set as mics you could buy in the 1950s. You might even say that there has been nothing new in studio microphones for more than 50 years.

My passion is creating cool, useful and innovative audio products, so I felt that the microphone category was a good place to focus my efforts.

The rest of the FAQ has quite a bit more, but you can also visit the Product page, Video page, and Blog page for more information.

Hardware

The Sphere microphone hardware is entirely analog. The Sphere modeling technology occurs in the digital domain using an audio software plug-in, which supports VST2, VST3, AU, AAX Native, and UAD. The UAD version can run on a Universal Audio Apollo with guaranteed low latency processing.

Yes, as long as it has 48V phantom power and two available channels; although we have some recommended guidelines which will generally produce the best results. We recommend using a preamp with precision-matched gain controls, to make setting levels super easy.

Audio recording interfaces with digitally controlled preamps, such as the Universal Audio Apollo series (excluding Apollo 16), RME Fireface UFX, and the Apogee Duet or Quartet, are a great choice for use with Sphere. With these interfaces the gain between two channels can be linked, so equal level will always be maintained.

Pure analog designs with stepped attenuators, such as a Neve 1073 or a Millennia HV-3D, can also work very well, as long as they are not overloaded and are instead used in their linear range.

If the preamp has adjustable input impedance, we generally recommend using the highest setting, which in some cases can provide slightly better gain matching between channels.

Visit the Recommended Preamps page for a list of over 250 preamps and audio interfaces that have precision matched inputs.

The modeling algorithms are designed to be robust to a mismatch in gain between channels. Although we recommend a 0.1dB gain matching for optimal performance, 1dB or so of mismatch usually works plenty well. A difference, if audible, tends to be most noticeable in the off-axis response. For example, with cardioid the rejection of sound coming from directly behind the microphone might not be quite as good if the gain is mismatched slightly.

Having a two-channel microphone makes it possible to capture directional and distance information from the soundfield, which allows the DSP algorithms to reconstruct the three-dimensional response of a wide range of microphones. The Sphere plug-in takes these two channels as input and outputs mono audio corresponding to the sound of the original (mono) microphone being modeled.

Conversely, some microphone modeling products apply various forms of filtering to attempt to “morph” a single-channel microphone into another. As any audio engineers can attest, no amount of EQ or filtering can make one microphone sound like another. This is largely because EQ doesn’t take into account proximity effect or the three-dimensional polar response of the microphone. The best you can do with EQ, or any other type of single channel processing, is model the on-axis response of the microphone at a single distance from the source.

A relevant example is the iconic U47 which, although nominally cardioid, actually has a pattern somewhere super-cardioid and hyper-cardioid (depending on frequency and the particular microphone). Compared to other cardioid microphones this more directional pattern helps give the U47 the more "present" and "intimate" sound that it's known for.

The dual-channel Sphere microphone allows us to accurately model these effects, even when the end result is mono.

It is also possible to record in stereo using the Sphere 180 plug-in with one microphone model on the front (or left) of the mic and another on the rear (or right). In this case, the plug-in output is stereo.

Absolutely! The Sphere microphone is a very high-quality mic in its own right. One output of the mic is a forward-facing cardioid and the other is a rear-facing cardioid. You can just connect the front output and use that as a conventional cardioid microphone, leaving the rear channel disconnected.

Beyond being a dual output “beamforming” microphone, the hardware is built to very exact tolerances, ensuring consistent modeling performance from one Sphere microphone to the next. The electronics in the microphone is designed to have extremely precise gain matching between channels. The gain matching is typically within 0.05dB. The gain tolerance is maintained no matter what microphone pad setting is selected.

The microphone capsule is manufactured with very high quality control and tight tolerances, so that the capsule in every Sphere microphone has an extremely high level of consistency in sound. This is particularly important for this application, so that the modeling closely matches the target microphones. Having this level of quality control on the capsule dramatically increases the cost of the microphone, because a higher percentage of capsules must be rejected to find the good ones.

The microphone electronics are also very low noise, with a specification of 7 dB-A SPL equivalent input noise level.

The included 10 foot cable has a 5-pin XLR female connector, which connects to the Sphere microphone, and a dual 3-pin XLR on the other side, which connects to your preamp. Equivalent cables are available from various other manufacturers. For more info click here.

 

Third Party Replacement Cables:

Rode NT4-DXLR - 5-Pin XLR to dual 3-Pin XLR 10 foot cable

Remote Audio 5-Pin Stereo XLR Female to Dual XLR Male Y-Cable - 25 foot

 

Third Party Extension Cables:

Cable Techniques CT-PX-510 Premium Stereo Microphone Cable - 10' (3.04m)

Remote Audio Starquad XLR 5-Pin (25-feet) (7.62m)

Ambient Recording MKS8 XLR-5 Female to XLR-5 Male Stereo Microphone Cable (26.24')

Cable Techniques CT-PX-550 Premium Stereo Microphone Cable - 50' (15.24m)

Make sure you do NOT buy a 5-pin cable that says it’s intended for use with DMX lighting systems. Usually, with those cables, not all five pins are wired.

 

Custom Made Cables

If you want to build a custom-made cable the Sphere microphone XLR pinout is as follows:

You can use virtually any converter you want. We just recommend using converters that are clean and transparent. Any semi-recent converter from Apogee, Universal Audio, Avid, MOTU and many other brands work well with Sphere.

No, this is normal. The Sphere microphone has front and rear capsules. When picking up sound from the front of the microphone the front output will be considerably louder than the rear. In this case, the rear output typically is 10 to 20dB lower than the front, although if the rear level is more than 30dB lower than the front this can indicate a problem with level calibration or some other issue.

When sound is coming directly from the sides of the microphone then the level between channels will be approximately equal. This can be used as a quick and approximate test that preamp gain is set equally on both channels and that the mic is working properly.

In addition to the microphone and preamp, there is a ten foot cable, shockmount, hardmount, aluminum case, and velvet mic cover.

The self noise (equivalent input noise) spec is 7 dB(A) SPL.

The max sound level that the mic can handle without clipping is 140dB SPL (1kHz at 1% THD, 2 Kohm) with the pad switch engaged.

No, the pad switch simply lowers the amplification of the mic without creating any change in frequency response or distortion. Sometimes pad switches get a bad rap for negatively affecting the sound, and sometimes this reputation is deserved, but not in this case. Really just think of the pad as a gain control.

The Sphere microphone uses precision op-amps for the signal path. The capsule front-end op-amp is a FET type. This provides a clean, low noise result, with extremely good gain matching between channels.

The Sphere microphone uses both through-hole and surface-mount. Through-hole is used on the input circuit board that connects directly to the capsule. The input circuit of condenser mics are extremely high impedance, and the capacitance and conductivity of the circuit board can become a problem. Unless special measures are taken, through-hole is generally better in this regard. The main circuit board uses surface-mount components, because the impedances of that part of the circuit are much lower.

But neither through-hole or surface-mount are inherently better than the other. Neumann and AKG use surface-mount for many, if not most, of their microphones, and achieve excellent results.

Yes, you can disable the Sphere L22 LED lights by removing a jumper on the inside of the microphone. Keep in mind, doing this will NOT invalidate your warranty coverage. Here is a video which shows step by step how to do this.

No, we do not. Generally, any two Sphere microphones are matched well enough that they can be used, with excellent results, as a stereo pair.

Yes, but, of course, you will need outboard mic preamps, since Apollo 16 only has line inputs. Ideally the outboard mic preamps should have precision matched gain between channels. For more information about recommended preamps read:  Can I use the Sphere microphone with any preamp I want to?

 

 

Software

While there is nothing stopping you from doing that, the results will most likely be extremely poor. The Sphere microphone is specifically designed and calibrated to work with the plug-in. There are very tight tolerances on frequency response and polar response of the Sphere L22 microphone, so that the modeling is consistent from mic to mic. But even more importantly, the microphone is dual-channel, which encodes the directional information for the plug-in which would be entirely lost with a single channel microphone.

The Sphere plug-in uses NO copy protection. This also means that if you want someone else to mix your recording, while still allowing control over mic type and pattern, they can use the plug-in even if they do not own a Sphere system.

We have no plans to charge for software updates for the bundled Sphere plug-in, but we are considering releasing other plug-ins as separate products.

No. The Sphere microphone is designed to have a very low amount of noise. Our approach is to provide the user with the lowest noise possible, even if that is substantially lower than the original mic being modeled.

Yes, it models the subtle harmonic characteristics of tube and FET mics, although it does NOT model the full overload characteristics. The Sphere microphone is designed to have a large amount of headroom and dynamic range, so it can handle very soft and very high sound pressure levels. Our approach provides maximum headroom even if the original microphone being modeled doesn’t have as much headroom. We believe this is a major benefit of the technology, since an overloaded microphone is rarely a desirable thing.

We have no definite plans, but we are seriously considering it. Pro Tools HDX users have the option of using AAX Native or UAD formats. With UAD on an Apollo interface it is possible to do ultra-low latency DSP processing. For more information on setting up Apollo with HDX visit: http://www.uaudio.com/blog/apollo-flex-routing/

The included Sphere Core plug-in has the following mic models:

  • LD-47K
  • LD-49K
  • LD-67
  • LD-67 NOS
  • LD-251
  • LD-800
  • LD-87
  • LD-87 TK
  • LD-414 Brass
  • LD-414 Nylon
  • LD-414 US
  • LD-414 T2
  • SD-451
  • RB-4038
  • RB-77DX Satin
  • RB-77DX Umber
  • DN-57
  • DN-7

 

The UAD Ocean Way Mic Collection plug-in, exclusively for UAD hardware and Apollo interfaces, expands the capabilities of the acclaimed Townsend Labs Sphere L22 microphone system with 12 ultra-precise emulations of the “best of the best” vintage mics from Allen Sides’ world-renowned mic locker.

  • OW-47 (based on Neumann U47)
  • OW-12 #1 (based on AKG C12)
  • OW-12 #2 (based on AKG C12)
  • OW-49 (based on Neumann M49)
  • OW-269 (based on Neumann M269)
  • OW-800 (based on Allen Sides’ prototype Sony C800G)
  • OW-50 (based on Neumann M50)
  • OW-K53 (based on Neumann KM53)
  • OW-K54 (based on Neumann KM54)
  • OW-55 (based on Sony C55P)
  • OW-K3A (based on RCA KU-3A)
  • OW-57U3 (based on Shure SM57 Unidyne III)

 

The UAD Bill Putnam Sr. Mic Collection plug-in, exclusively for UA Audio Interfaces and UAD hardware, adds nine vintage mic emulations — modeled from Bill Putnam Sr.’s renowned collection — to the Townsend Labs Sphere L22 microphone.

  • BP-251E (based on Telefunken Ela M 251E)
  • BP-251A (based on Telefunken Ela M 251)
  • BP-47M (based on Neumann U47)
  • BP-67 (based on Neumann U67)
  • BP-12a (based on AKG C12A)
  • BP-37A (based on Sony C37A)
  • BP-405 (based on Sennheiser 405)
  • BP-44BX (based on RCA 44)
  • BP-545 (based on Shure 545)

 

All modeled product names are trademarks of their respective owners, which are in no way associated or affiliated with Townsend Labs Inc. These product names and descriptions are provided for the sole purpose of identifying the specific products that were studied during Sphere’s sound model development.

Most definitely. Some are already under development.

The yellow line in the Polar Meter shows the approximate amplitude and direction that sound is arriving from. The blue line shows the currently selected microphone polar pattern. The Polar Meter can be particularly useful for determining the direction that bleed from other instrument is arriving from, and setting the polar pattern to best reduce the bleed.

Because the microphone has two capsules this allows the Polar Meter to determine approximately how far off-axis the sound. But there is not enough information to distinguish between say +45 degrees and -45 degrees, so the Polar Meter displays them as being equivalent and mirrors the image across the vertical axis of the meter.

In a highly reverberant environment the Polar Meter will be more circular showing that sound is coming equally from all directions.

See the Off-Axis Correction™ chapter in the Sphere User Guide for more information.

Because different microphones accentuate different frequency ranges, there is no level matching that will work perfectly for all program material. Great care was made to match levels as closely as possible for typical sources.

Preamp modeling is certainly something we are thinking about, but we want to make sure we deliver the highest quality microphone modeling, before embarking on new projects. In the mean time, you can use excellent preamp modeling products from other companies, such as Universal Audio. Here are some examples:

Universal Audio - Neve 1073
Universal Audio - SSL 4000 Channel Strip
Universal Audio - API Vision Channel Strip
Universal Audio - UA 610

URS - Saturation

Shattered Glass Audio - Code Red
Shattered Glass Audio - Code Red Free

Waves - Abbey Road REDD
Waves - Abbey Road TG12345
Waves - Scheps 73

Available for Sphere is the Ocean Way Mic Collection plug-in exclusively for the UAD platform, which models the best-of-the-best microphones from Allen Side's personal collection. The world-renowned collection has been used by many of the biggest names in the recording industry.

For Ocean Way Studios, Allen Sides acquired (and sold) more than 400 U47s over the years, which is all the more amazing given that only about 5000 U47s were produced. Allen critically listened to every tube mic that came through his studio, because with vintage mics there can be a lot of variation from mic to mic. Of course, he kept the best and sold the rest. The OW-47 model is based on one of his favorite 47s, serial number 2679, that he kept in his personal collection, which has a large condenser K47 capsule and a VF14 tube. In total Allen estimates that he bought (and sold) well over a thousand vintage tube mics.

It is possible to use the Sphere or Ocean Way Mic Collection plug-ins to produce stereo recordings as is done with the Sphere 180 plug-in type. This is done by creating two instances that are processing audio in parallel and engaging the "REV" (reverse) button on one instance. The instance with the "REV" button engaged will produce the right channel and the other instance will produce the left channel.

Now you might ask why would someone what to do this? One reason is that currently, the Ocean Way Mic Collection plug-in does not have a "180" type. The other reason is that two instances would give you a little more control, such as being able to blend mics, which is not possible with Sphere 180.

While we generally do not recommend editing there Sphere preferences file, there are some hidden options you can tweak if so inclined. The preferences file is found here:

Windows: C:\Users\<YOUR USERNAME>\AppData\Roaming\Townsend Labs\Townsend Labs Sphere.txt

OSX: Macintosh HD/Users/<YOUR USERNAME>/Library/Application Support/Townsend Labs/Townsend Labs Sphere.txt

Any new preference options should be added between the start tag <PROPERTIES> and end tag </PROPERTIES>.

  • To disable plug-in tooltips add the following line:
    <VALUE name="DisableTooltips" val="1"/>
  • To force plug-in view to always open in Dual Mode on instantiation add the following line:
    <VALUE name="ForceDualModeView" val="1"/>
  • To disable warning messages add the following line:
    <VALUE name="DisableWarningMessages" val="1"/>

 

 

There are two main reasons why this warning message occurs. It's important to keep in mind that Sphere plug-in is designed to only work on 2-channel audio recorded with the Sphere L22 microphone. If you are feeding mono audio tracks recorded with some other microphone, then the warning message is expected and designed to flag that an incorrect source is being used.Sphere L22-Calibration Switch Arrow Closeup

The other reason the message can occur is when the "CAL" switch is enabled on the Sphere microphone, which is used to calibrate your preamp levels. When in CAL mode the Sphere microphone outputs the identical signal on both channels. But once the preamp levels are adjusted to match then the switch should be moved from the "CAL" position back to the "ON" position, meaning that the microphone is in normal operating mode. If the microphone is left in the CAL position then the Sphere microphone modeling will not work properly.

The Import button in the Sphere plug-in allows the loading of Sphere presets that were saved when using other DAWs and plug-in formats. Once the preset has been imported then you can re-save the preset in the DAWs built-in plug-in preset format.

For example, if you've saved a Sphere preset in UAD Console application you can then open the same preset in the AAX or VST version of the plug-in by clicking on Import and loading the preset file from the Universal Audio preset folder.

There are a few cases, such as Presonus Studio One, where this doesn't work because the DAW saves the preset in a binary format that Sphere doesn't know how to read. If that happens, Sphere will return an error that the preset is unrecognisable.

All microphones have patterns that don't exactly match the manufacturer's stated response. In other words, there are no "cardioid" microphones with perfectly cardioid polar patterns, just as there are no omni or figure-8 microphones with perfect patterns. It's not possible to design and manufacture capsules with perfect patterns.

Also, polar patterns are always somewhat frequency dependent, which means the pattern is different at different frequencies. As a consequence, there is no single pattern that perfectly represents the microphone's response. And because of proximity effect, the pattern at low frequencies is also distance dependent.

The Sphere plug-in display the best approximation to the actual pattern at about 1kHz of the specific microphone we modeled, even if this is different from what the manufacturer states as the pattern. It should also be noted that in Off-Axis Correction mode the Sphere microphone can achieve polar patterns that are much more accurate across frequency than most microphones.
The Sphere Technology Whitepaper might shed a little more light on this.
http://townsendlabs.com/sphere-whitepaper/

For purely software preamp emulations we recommend placing the preamp plug-in after the Sphere plug-in.  If you are using Universal Audio Unison preamp modelling, see our FAQ which covers that.

In this case, it generally makes sense to use a clean and transparent hardware preamp, so that preamp coloration is only applied once. Nonetheless, if you like the sound of hardware preamp coloration combined with software preamp coloration then, by all means, use it that way.

There are many mic preamps which, for the purposes of Sphere, can be considered clean and transparent. Some of these include:

  • Universal Audio Apollo series interfaces (with Unison disabled and excluding Apollo 16)
  • Apogee interfaces, such as the Quartet, Ensemble and Symphony
  • MOTU interfaces, such as the 4pre, 1248 and 8M
  • RME interfaces, such as the Fireface UFX and Babyface
  • Presonus interfaces, such as the Studio 192 and Digimax DP88
  • Roland interfaces, such as the Quad-Capture and Octa-Capture
  • Avid PRE and HD Omni
  • Focusrite interfaces, such as the Forte and Red 4Pre  (with 'Air' mode disabled)
  • Antelope Audio interfaces, such as the Zen Studio and Orion Studio
  • Prism interfaces, such as the Atlas and Titan

Although subject to change, our preliminary numbers show less than 10% at 48kHz and less than 25% at 96kHz (on a SHARC 469).

The Sphere plug-in supports the following control surfaces:

  • DControl
  • DCommand
  • Pro Control
  • S3
  • S6
  • C24
  • 002/003
  • Command|8
  • HUI

and likely others

Having a two-channel microphone makes it possible to capture directional and distance information from the soundfield, which allows the DSP algorithms to reconstruct the three-dimensional response of a wide range of microphones. The Sphere plug-in takes these two channels as input and outputs mono audio corresponding to the sound of the original (mono) microphone being modeled.

Conversely, some microphone modeling products apply various forms of filtering to attempt to “morph” a single-channel microphone into another. As any audio engineers can attest, no amount of EQ or filtering can make one microphone sound like another. This is largely because EQ doesn’t take into account proximity effect or the three-dimensional polar response of the microphone. The best you can do with EQ, or any other type of single channel processing, is model the on-axis response of the microphone at a single distance from the source.

A relevant example is the iconic U47 which, although nominally cardioid, actually has a pattern somewhere super-cardioid and hyper-cardioid (depending on frequency and the particular microphone). Compared to other cardioid microphones this more directional pattern helps give the U47 the more "present" and "intimate" sound that it's known for.

The dual-channel Sphere microphone allows us to accurately model these effects, even when the end result is mono.

It is also possible to record in stereo using the Sphere 180 plug-in with one microphone model on the front (or left) of the mic and another on the rear (or right). In this case, the plug-in output is stereo.

Setup

Sphere L22-Calibration Switch Arrow CloseupTo achieve optimal modeling accuracy with the Sphere system, the microphone preamp gain should be set equally on both channels. Ideally, the gain should be within +-0.1dB, although the Sphere algorithms are designed to be relatively insensitive to mismatch. Generally, a mismatch of +-1.0dB is fine in most situations, if optimal accuracy is not required.

To calibrate the input channels on a fully analog mic preamp with continuous gain adjustment:

  1. Connect the microphone to the preamp as previously described and enable phantom power.
  2. Place the mic with the front pointing at your sound source.
  3. Create a stereo track in your DAW, and assign your preamp’s output channels as its inputs. The 1-Front and 2-Rear channels correspond to the front and rear capsules, respectively. When speaking into the front capsule and monitoring that track, you should hear significantly more level on the MIC 1 channel. If that is not the case, swap the inputs on the mic preamp.
  4. Set the preamp’s MIC 1 channel gain to an appropriate level for your intended sound source.
  5. Set the CAL/ON switch to the CAL position on the mic. The LEDs flash slowly in calibration mode, and the mic now outputs the same signal on both channels.
  6. Click the gear icon under Setup on the lower-left corner of the plug-in.
  7. Set the gain of the MIC 2 channel to match the gain of MIC 1 using the Level Calibration Meter. If it is not possible to match the levels within 0.1 dB, press the AUTO CAL button on the Setup page to better match the levels.
  8. When finished, set the CAL/ON switch to the ON position on the mic. The LEDs light solid to indicate it is configured for normal use.

See the Preamp Calibration section in the Installation and Configuration chapter in the Sphere Hardware and Software Guide for step by step information.

The “Auto Cal” button is designed to automatically match the gains between the two channels, by raising or lowering the gain of the rear channel in the plug-in. For this to work, first the microphone’s “Cal” switch should be turned on. Then set the preamp front gain level appropriately, and then set the rear gain to approximately the same level as the front. Then press the Auto Cal button to match the gain to compensate for any remaining discrepancies.

With two Sphere microphones you can record stereo using any standard miking technique, such as ORTF, XY, or spaced pair, just as you would with two conventional microphones. But it is also possible record a 180 degree coincident stereo arrangement from a single Sphere microphone. You can even have the front of the microphone have one model and the rear have a different mic model.

For more information see the Stereo Recording chapter in the Sphere Hardware and Software Guide.

The single circle on the front of the mic corresponds to the on-axis position. The diamonds are placed at 45 degree increments. The two overlapping circles becomes on-axis when recording in stereo.

Yes, absolutely, but we have a few guidelines. Although we generally recommend that the Sphere plug-in always comes first in the effects signal chain, good results can be achieved with the Unison plug-in placed ahead of Sphere and in a Unison insert slot, as long as exactly the same settings are applied to both channels and the preamp modeling is not being overloaded. On the other hand, if you want to use a preamp modeling plug-in to add obvious saturation then it's advisable to move the preamp plug-in out of the Unison insert to after the Sphere plug-in.

The microphone headbasket glows to indicate that phantom power is correctly applied to both channels. When calibration mode is enabled the light will slowly flash.

The included 10 foot cable has a 5-pin XLR female connector, which connects to the Sphere microphone, and a dual 3-pin XLR on the other side, which connects to your preamp. Equivalent cables are available from various other manufacturers. For more info click here.

 

The cable is color coded and labeled. For more information see the Installation and Configuration chapter in the Sphere Hardware and Software Guide.

Yes, as long as it has 48V phantom power and two available channels; although we have some recommended guidelines which will generally produce the best results. We recommend using a preamp with precision-matched gain controls, to make setting levels super easy.

Audio recording interfaces with digitally controlled preamps, such as the Universal Audio Apollo series (excluding Apollo 16), RME Fireface UFX, and the Apogee Duet or Quartet, are a great choice for use with Sphere. With these interfaces the gain between two channels can be linked, so equal level will always be maintained.

Pure analog designs with stepped attenuators, such as a Neve 1073 or a Millennia HV-3D, can also work very well, as long as they are not overloaded and are instead used in their linear range.

If the preamp has adjustable input impedance, we generally recommend using the highest setting, which in some cases can provide slightly better gain matching between channels.

Visit the Recommended Preamps page for a list of over 250 preamps and audio interfaces that have precision matched inputs.

Yes, but, of course, you will need outboard mic preamps, since Apollo 16 only has line inputs. Ideally the outboard mic preamps should have precision matched gain between channels. For more information about recommended preamps read:  Can I use the Sphere microphone with any preamp I want to?

 

 

It is possible to use the Sphere or Ocean Way Mic Collection plug-ins to produce stereo recordings as is done with the Sphere 180 plug-in type. This is done by creating two instances that are processing audio in parallel and engaging the "REV" (reverse) button on one instance. The instance with the "REV" button engaged will produce the right channel and the other instance will produce the left channel.

Now you might ask why would someone what to do this? One reason is that currently, the Ocean Way Mic Collection plug-in does not have a "180" type. The other reason is that two instances would give you a little more control, such as being able to blend mics, which is not possible with Sphere 180.

For low-latency realtime monitoring when using the native Sphere plug-in one option is to monitor through the plug-in by setting a low buffer size in your DAW. Keep in mind, with some DAWs working at low buffer sizes can be difficult for the DAW to handle without dropouts. Please note that for Avid HDX systems it is necessary to add an AAX DSP plug-in before a native plug-in to engage realtime monitoring through the native plug-in.

Another option is to just monitor the direct analog output of the front capsule, which can be done using any analog or digital monitor mixer. This option typically results in the lowest possible latency, although it is then not possible to hear the microphone modeling while monitoring.

The Sphere microphone hardware has zero latency, just as any analog microphone does. The Sphere plug-in has 0.5 milliseconds of latency beyond the latency incurred by your DAW, which in most use cases is negligible compared to any DAW processing delay.

See the "Monitoring Setups" section in Chapter 4 of the Sphere User Guide for more information on this topic.

Yes, you can but with a few caveats depending on your particular use case and workflow. Although we generally recommend that the Sphere plug-in always comes first in the effects signal chain, other effects can be used ahead of Sphere as long as exactly the same processing is applied to both channels and the processing is not obviously distorted or non-linear.

For analog processing, such as EQs and compressors, the matching between channels is not necessarily accurate enough when used before the Sphere plug-in, but it will depend on the particular equipment you have. For compression it is essential to enable channel linking. It is also advisable to test your equipment by passing through sine and noise signals and see if the levels remained matched. For outboard digital EQ and compression mismatch between channels is unlikely to be an issue as long as channel linking is enabled for compression.

Another option is to place outboard effects after the Sphere plug-in by creating an analog insert point in your DAW. This has the advantage the output of the Sphere plug-in is mono so channel matching is a non-issue (unless you're using Sphere 180). It also means you only need to use a single channel of processing of instead of two.

If you see this error when running the Sphere plug-in Mac installer:

Sphere-Installer-Cant-Be-Opened

 

You can fix this problem by going into the Security & Privacy settings in the System Preferences, and clicking on "Open Anyway" for the TownsendLabsSphere-MacSetup.pkg file.

Sphere-Installer-Was-Blocked

Miscellaneous

Third Party Replacement Cables:

Rode NT4-DXLR - 5-Pin XLR to dual 3-Pin XLR 10 foot cable

Remote Audio 5-Pin Stereo XLR Female to Dual XLR Male Y-Cable - 25 foot

 

Third Party Extension Cables:

Cable Techniques CT-PX-510 Premium Stereo Microphone Cable - 10' (3.04m)

Remote Audio Starquad XLR 5-Pin (25-feet) (7.62m)

Ambient Recording MKS8 XLR-5 Female to XLR-5 Male Stereo Microphone Cable (26.24')

Cable Techniques CT-PX-550 Premium Stereo Microphone Cable - 50' (15.24m)

Make sure you do NOT buy a 5-pin cable that says it’s intended for use with DMX lighting systems. Usually, with those cables, not all five pins are wired.

 

Custom Made Cables

If you want to build a custom-made cable the Sphere microphone XLR pinout is as follows:

The microphone is manufactured in China by a contract manufacturer that makes mics for many well known brands.

Depending on your desired workflow, pitch correction can be applied before or after the Sphere plug-in in the signal chain. In either case, it is recommended to use the mono output "Sphere" plug-in, not the stereo output "Sphere 180" plug-in.

Although in most cases we recommend that the Sphere plug-in comes first in the effects signal chain, excellent results can be achieved with pitch correction placed before Sphere by using a stereo instance. When using Auto-Tune the "pitch reference" should be set to the left channel.

Auto-Tune-Pitch-Ref

When pitch correction is applied after the Sphere plug-in then a mono instance can be used as is typically done.

Yes, we hope so.

No, and it’s a different spelling.

Yes, you can disable the Sphere L22 LED lights by removing a jumper on the inside of the microphone. Keep in mind, doing this will NOT invalidate your warranty coverage. Here is a video which shows step by step how to do this.

Yes, you can but with a few caveats depending on your particular use case and workflow. Although we generally recommend that the Sphere plug-in always comes first in the effects signal chain, other effects can be used ahead of Sphere as long as exactly the same processing is applied to both channels and the processing is not obviously distorted or non-linear.

For analog processing, such as EQs and compressors, the matching between channels is not necessarily accurate enough when used before the Sphere plug-in, but it will depend on the particular equipment you have. For compression it is essential to enable channel linking. It is also advisable to test your equipment by passing through sine and noise signals and see if the levels remained matched. For outboard digital EQ and compression mismatch between channels is unlikely to be an issue as long as channel linking is enabled for compression.

Another option is to place outboard effects after the Sphere plug-in by creating an analog insert point in your DAW. This has the advantage the output of the Sphere plug-in is mono so channel matching is a non-issue (unless you're using Sphere 180). It also means you only need to use a single channel of processing of instead of two.

All microphones have patterns that don't exactly match the manufacturer's stated response. In other words, there are no "cardioid" microphones with perfectly cardioid polar patterns, just as there are no omni or figure-8 microphones with perfect patterns. It's not possible to design and manufacture capsules with perfect patterns.

Also, polar patterns are always somewhat frequency dependent, which means the pattern is different at different frequencies. As a consequence, there is no single pattern that perfectly represents the microphone's response. And because of proximity effect, the pattern at low frequencies is also distance dependent.

The Sphere plug-in display the best approximation to the actual pattern at about 1kHz of the specific microphone we modeled, even if this is different from what the manufacturer states as the pattern. It should also be noted that in Off-Axis Correction mode the Sphere microphone can achieve polar patterns that are much more accurate across frequency than most microphones.
The Sphere Technology Whitepaper might shed a little more light on this.
http://townsendlabs.com/sphere-whitepaper/