The intraMic: Breaking Down the Revolutionary Wind Instrument Microphone
Although we live in a world of constant technological advancement, it is rare to find something that is revolutionary, something that represents true innovation. The intraMic represents such innovation. It is a game-changer. Never before has a microphone been constructed with such specific concern for the sonic, ergonomic, and practical realities of woodwinds (and brass soon to come).
Engineered, developed, and conceived by Victor EGEA of Viga Music Tools, the intraMic is the first internal microphone developed specifically for woodwinds. No, this is not a pickup like the Varitone or Piezo that requires drilling and semi-permanent installation (some would say mutilation of your instrument). This is actually a microphone that goes inside your horn. The following will elucidate the realities of using this microphone, first focused perspective of the traditional woodwind instrumentalist, and then focused on the realities of an effects user.
The intraMic is not set up like any other microphone out there. Its placement on the horn is the crux of its individuality and its brilliance. This tiny little microphone actually goes inside the neck/mouthpiece of your woodwind instrument. Its flat cable is then run along the cork before you put the mouthpiece directly over the cable. One would naturally fear for the integrity of their tone with a major blockage so early in the inner space of your horn, but somehow, tone is not compromised an appreciable amount and is in fact incredibly pristine and pure. From the microphone itself, you must connect to the preAmp. This can be done by plugging the flat cable directly into the preAmp, or by using the provided coupler to extend the flat cable and place the preAmp farther away.
On my horn, I place the preAmp directly on the neck and proceed from there to my wireless unit which I attach to the bell of my horn. Victor is incredibly accommodating and makes cables to fit whatever your setup requires. For example, I use the AMT wireless system and plug directly into the AMT transmitter from the intraMic preAmp. For those that do not have a wireless system, the intraMic comes with a long cable included that goes directly from the headphone jack (output of the preAmp) to a ¼” connector to allow for wired connection with a DI, pedal, or any other means of amplification.
The preAmp has a conveniently placed gain knob that allows you to tweak gain levels to perfection. That knob, as well as the preAmp’s two tone-shaping switches, are the main reason I keep my preAmp on my neck. Easy access to these controls is incredibly useful. The system comes with a wide array of elastic bands and fasteners to aid in keeping your various intraMic cables away from fingers, tone holes, and other moving parts. These little bands highlight the woodwind-specific engineering of this microphone. When setting it up or the first time, it truly feels like it was made with YOU in mind.
Simply put, this microphone sounds better. While I understand the obvious danger of using such a subjective term as “better”, I am blown away by the sound quality of this microphone. I have never heard a more honest and accurate reproduction of my sound from a microphone in a live setting. The first two or three uses were actually somewhat jarring, especially when using in-ears, because I was not used to my sound being reproduced so accurately and honestly. I have always struggled with the tonal imprint imposed on my sound by microphones such as the Shure SM-57, the industry standard for live wind instrument mics. The intraMic causes no such frustration. In fact, the intraMic’s preAmp boasts two seperate tonal controls, presence and brightness, that allow you to choose from a total of four different tonal settings to even further perfect the sound of the intraMic. Another aspect of the intraMic’s sound is consistency. Where some microphones are better suited for instruments with lower or higher registers (some microphones emphasize the lower frequencies while others emphasize higher, middle, or a mixture of frequencies for examples), the intramic seems to respond with remarkable consistency across the full frequency spectrum. The sound of the intraMic is just as full and clear on a baritone sax as it is on an alto sax.
Its sonic accuracy and consistency is not its only major advantage. Since the microphone actually goes inside your instrument (the new S-Type and C-Type cells for saxophones and clarinets is inside the mouthpiece at the boundary of the neck or barrel), there is an incredible amount of isolation that contributes to a studio-quality sound with unprecedented cleanliness and purity, something especially valuable in a live setting. A fun experiment to do with this setup is to hold your horn extremely close to the monitor or speaker, directly where the intraMic is housed, and marvel at the lack of feedback. This isolation creates the absolute cleanest sound I have ever heard from a live microphone. There is no ambient noise, no bleed. Of course, in extreme situations (and I do mean extreme), you may get some bleed from other sonic sources. The placement of the microphone also ensures significantly reduced key noise. Another major advantage is the evenness of volume all across the horn. For most wind instruments, one has to be mindful about blasting lower notes into microphone. The lower note on the horn, the more sound directly comes directly out of the bell, which can overload a microphone. Since the intraMic is just after the mouthpiece, all of the notes are even in volume. Now you can feel safe hammering a low Bb on a saxophone without blowing out the microphone or overloading the speakers. Its cleanliness and proximity to your mouthpiece does allow for the possibility that, at low playing volumes, more breath sounds will be audible than you are used to. However, this is not necessarily a negative. While playing a ballad or a softer tune, you can find ways to use those breathy sounds to your advantage. Ben Webster certainly took advantage of such sonic tools in his playing. The intraMic is a true pleasure and joy to use. Its extremely high quality sound allows you to hear the most honest and pure reproduction of your sound. This is the first microphone that I have used where I have found myself thinking and feeling that the sound produced truly sounds like ME.
The clips below showcase the sound of the intraMic at low volumes. The other two microphones are used at low volumes with the tenor to show how they handle low volumes in relation to the intraMic.
The clips below showcase the sound intraMic, both dry and with a little bit of reverb.
The clips below are made with two other microphones, the Shure Beta 57A and the AMT Q7. These examples are meant to show the difference in sound between various conventional microphones and the intraMic.
The clips below highlight the intraMic’s consistency of volume across the full range of the horn. The other two microphones are used as examples of how other microphones react in the same situations. In recording these examples, the notes were all played at the same acoustic volume to allow for the truest representations of how these different microphones react to different registers of the horn.
The clips below show the various tonal options of the intraMic using the two switches on the preAmp. All four possible configurations are shown on three different saxophones.
The intraMic In Use
The intraMic certainly has a different feel in a live setting than any other conventional clip-on or stand mic. From an ergonomic standpoint, it is both freeing and strange at the outset. No longer do you have to pay attention to the placement of a stand mic in relation your bell. While this is true of clip-on mics as well, the intraMic also takes away any bulky attachment on the bell itself. When the brass version is released, this will also be advantageous for trumpet and trombone players, as the clip on microphone, no matter how light, adds noticeable weight at the bell of the horn. One drawback to the upcoming brass version is that use of mutes will not translate through the microphone, because the intraMic will be placed in the horn, before the mute.
It is strange to play without concern for a stand mic, or that extra bit of gear on your bell. But that strangeness is accompanied by a sense of freedom. It feels as though there is no microphone at all after some use. This sense of freedom is at its ultimate when using the intraMic with a wireless system. In fact, from the right angle, wires or electronics can be completely hidden.
From a sonic standpoint, the first few uses can be a bit jarring, especially when using in-ears. You will have never heard yourself in this way before in a live setting. Such pristine and honest sound can seem “wrong” at first because of the extensive experience of previous microphones in bars, concert halls, and clubs. Such strangeness can be more apparent when you are pumping the sound directly into your head with in-ears. The isolation and unique tonal transparency is just different. This unnerving sensation quickly dissipates after a few uses. Once you become acclimated to the intraMic, it is extremely difficult to go back to a conventional microphone.
I have found that while there is no diminishing in my ability to blend with a horn section or band, my sound does cut through the mix just a bit more. This microphone sounds so pristine and clear, that your sound will become unmistakable and clearly audible to you and to the audience. The lack of sonic bleed, due to exceptional isolation, contributes to this clarity in the mix. In a live setting, feedback becomes a distant memory, as there is little chance for such problems with this microphone. The only time I have been able to get it to feed back, was with my pedals turned all the way up, gain set to the max.
The clips below showcase the sound of the intraMic in a live setting. Examples are provided for the other two microphones to compare.
The clips below showcase the isolation of the intraMic, with examples of the other two microphones to compare. In recording these examples, we made an effort to create as loud an environment as possible to mimic a real on-stage situation. Notice the significant difference in the volume of the track bleeding into the inraMic versus the other two microphones.
This isolation can also be an advantage in the studio. I have used the intraMic to record extensively, and have found that I can actually track with the speakers on and NO headphones on my ears. I have also come to love the ability to cleanly track in a studio in the same room as the drums or the rest of the band. The ability to be with others and interact during recording without the fear of sonic bleed will certainly create a more authentic and organic performance.
It is important to note that the intraMic, unlike other microphones, does require careful maintenance and cleaning. As with any other high performance electronic gear, it is essential to read the manual There are detailed instructions for intraMic care. If you endeavor to clean it regularly, remove it from your horn when you are not playing, store it appropriately, and treat it with more attention and care than you would a normal microphone, it will last a long time and work well, even through rough gigs and tours.
The intraMic With Effects
When Victor started developing this microphone, he did it with pedals in mind. That intention shows. When it comes to pedal or effects use, there simply is no better microphone. You get all of the benefit of a pickup (no feedback, clean signal into the pedals, etc.) but with near-perfect tonal reproduction. Using this system will eliminate the need for a preamp to convert your microphone’s signal, as it is designed with the appropriate amount of signal, and the correct connector to connect directly to your pedals.
All of the positives mentioned above are only amplified when using pedals with the intraMic. The virtual elimination of feedback is an immensely important innovation. Do you want to use heavy? That would cause unbearable and uncontrollable feedback in most cases. This mic can do that with virtually no issues in almost any situation. Envelope filters, drive pedals, fuzz pedals, and any other effects notorious for causing feedback with a standard mic simply do not suffer the same issues with the intraMic. The extreme isolation is an incredible advantage as well. The lack of bleed and external sonic artifacts can allow some pedals that were previously impossible to tame to become mainstays in your effects use and on your pedalboard. While the use of wah, drive, and distortion become much easier with the intraMic, the most significant change in usability is with synth pedals. Synth pedals are notoriously difficult to use with microphones because of their propensity to easily misinterpret those bleeding sounds. Many have considered them the hardest pedals to dial in and use meaningfully when playing through a traditional microphone. The pristine nature of the intraMic’s sound allows for a much more comfortable experience with these pedals. You can actually use Synth pedals with your horn freely on a loud stage!! This a major step in horn pedals use when it comes to competing sonically with guitars and keyboards, something becoming an ever-increasing need. Before the intraMic, I would have to be focused and aware whenever I was not playing, as there could (and usually would) be bleed from the vocalist or other instruments. It is not fun to get an evil look from a singer because their vocals are going through your octave pedal and creating some wild sounds in the mix. Now with the intraMic, I can focus on the next effect I am going to use or even more important, the music itself.
The clips below are mean to show how the intraMic can sound with effects as opposed to conventional microphones. The first set of examples is with a simple harmony setting. Note how clean, nimble, and punchy the harmony sounds with the intraMic.
The next set of examples is meant to show how the intraMic handles extreme amounts of gain and distortion. When recording these examples, we did the best to create feedback. The gain on the distortion pedal is turned all the way up during recording, as are the speakers. Note also how the tonal quality of each microphone produces different results in the distorted sound. PLEASE BE AWARE, THE BETA 57 AND AMT CLIPS CONTAIN FEEDBACK! LISTEN AT LOW VOLUME!!!
While the freedom to push your effects to the limit and worry less about sonic bleed issues is certainly a major plus, the most important advantage of the intraMic with effects is the sound itself. At HornFX, our philosophy centers around the idea that the most important, fundamental, and foundational element of your effects use is your tone, your sound. This should be the first building block when constructing your patches and effects, and with the intraMic, this crucial element is simply better represented. The cleanliness of the isolated sound and the purity of tone feed your pedals with a cleaner, more consistent, and more focused signal. The pedals will perform better. Your tone will be better represented in the foundations of these effects. The extensive list of positive attributes that define the intraMic all come together to create a simple reality: there is no better mic on the market for using effects with your woodwind. This is THE tool to maximize the potential of your pedals and effects for every musical situation.
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Written, recorded, and compiled by
Douglas Levin - October 2019