01 September 2007

Remember, Shop Smart...Shop "S" Mart.

When I sat down to begin this review of the new Rycote "S" Series Microphone Suspension System, I found myself tempted to pile on the puns (you know: "Don't let me keep you in suspense; Gee, you know what I'm a big fan of? Suspension bridges...", et cetera...).

Instead, I decided to be serious (One: no one reads equipment reviews for comedy, and B: suspension jokes aren't funny to anyone but me). So after taking off my "arrow-through-the-head" prop and emptying my squirting lapel flower, I put fingers to keys.

The "S' Series feels like a mid line product, bridging the gap between the entry-level Softie, and the full modular suspension system, and features a new design philosophy for Rycote. Most modular wind screen systems follow more or less the same concept of a mounting bracket fitted with two shock-absorbing clips to hold the mic; a fabric-lined, zeppelin-shaped plastic windscreen that slides onto the bracket; and a furry slip-on cover for even heavier wind reduction.

The "S" utilizes a central ring into which the two "pods" lock, forming a complete zeppelin-style cover. The pods themselves are fully integrated windscreens with permanent fur, albeit shorter fur than most slip-on covers. The end-caps are unique, in that they are formed from coarse open-celled foam, rather than a continuation of the plastic frame. One the one hand, you can say goodbye to dented zepps (common occurrence), but the foam comes with its own caveats (discussed later).






On the mounting bracket itself, the "S" comes with two flexible plastic clips, as well as two wire dress clips. The clips can be moved along the bracket quite easily to fit most mic sizes, requiring only a pinch on the mounting tabs to release them.




It also comes with Rycote's new re-designed pistol grip, now standard to every model in their line. Touted to be 40% lighter than previous models, it's lined with a rubberized grip, and includes a space for an XLR connector.


Get a grip. (Get it? Oh, how do I do it...)

Mounting

The mic clips can accept mics anywhere from 3/4" to 1" in diameter. This can be advantageous to folks on a budget, as you can get one set-up to use with multiple mics, and not have to worry about clip sizing. The clips are said to be "unaffected by temperature and all-but unbreakable", according to the website. While whipping the mic about in my living room, I heard a bit of mechanical handling noise. In practice, however, I never heard a thing under fairly normal production conditions, from a film on location to run'n'gun gigs, indoors and out.

Another issue I found was that while they fared well with short shotguns (indeed, the choice of the intended market), they struggled a bit with the Audio Technica AT-835B, a longer, heavier mic. The clips' unique architecture seemed to work against them here, as the inner armature bottomed out against the outer armature with quick cuing. After some experimentation, I ended up lining the arm of the clip with a bit of Moleskin, ameliorating most of the noise (and again, this never came up in real-world conditions, just my torture-tests). I found them to be very good, but not quite as flexible and shock-absorbing as rubber-band style mounts. But as you may well know, rubber bands have their own issues, such as sensitivity to temperature and "dry rot" over time, necessitating replacement.

An additional concern is mic length. Most mics will mount cleanly (Rycote has an in-depth mic size guide for the line), but the aforementioned foam end caps may be problematic for longer mics. The foam takes up more room than the end of a standard plastic frame (about 1-1.5"), so while the pod may appear long enough externally, you lose some internal clearance, Clarence. This forces you to shift the mic further back along the axis of the suspension, in a bit of a "T" configuration. While there's nothing really wrong with this per se, the weight of the mic has been shifted from its traditional position of capsule-heavy to connector-heavy, requiring an extra bit of grip to keep the mic pointed downwards when booming from above.

Booming

In addition to film-style, I used the "S" on some run'n'gun shoots, essentially in lieu of a Softie-type set-up. Moving from outside to indoors was easy, as it took just seconds to twist and detach the pods and use the suspension bare (with a foam windscreen over the capsule, natch). While I could stuff the pods into the side pockets of my gear back pack, it wasn't the most elegant of solutions, making things a bit awkward with elevator ingress/egress, for example. If you have a place to stage your gear, however, it's a non-issue.




Without the pods, the pistol grip and suspension are very light, and easily boomable with one hand. While the main bracket ring is detachable, I prefer to leave it mounted, as a physical mic shield.

Pros: perfect for short shotguns, the mainstay of the target market; quick change from indoors to outdoors; more affordable than full modular kits; offers plenty of wind protection in most circumstances; light enough for one-handed booming; clip system offers versatile mounting options .

Cons: clips tended to bottom out with heavier mics; longer mics may not have enough clearance with the pods; a bit unwieldy to carry pods after taking them off; heaviest gusts will exceed wind protection; "T" orientation makes the unit back heavy with longer mics, requiring a grip to keep it pointed.


The "S" Series strikes me as the perfect compromise among cost, performance and features. It will accept numerous mics (assuming you have the appropriately-sized pods), is light and versatile enough for ENG, but offers enough wind protection and noise insulation to be suitable for most film work.


Creed Spencer, booming during rehearsals for the movie Trainmaster with the "S" suspension.

As I need the gear in my kit to skirt both the ENG and indie film worlds and not break the bank, the "S" made the most sense for me.


Rycote "S" Series Microphone Suspension System
MSRP:$350-$380

www.rycote.com
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