We reviewed the new Pinnacle Microphones Fat Top II Ribbon Microphone in our studio Noise Machines. It’s got that vintage sound with a vintage design.
Do you feel like your recordings are too harsh? Are you sick of digital cleanliness? Have you ever tried a ribbon microphone? Hailing from Washington State, USA, Pinnacle Microphones — with their collection of ribbon microphones — have just the cure for your recording ailment.
Pinnacle Microphones have taken over where Cascade Microphones left off. A small company with a cult following, we sadly report that the owner of Cascade Microphones Michael Chiriac passed away in early 2022.
Rumoured to have been taken over by the family, Pinnacle Microphones have basically the same design, sound, look and feel that ribbon enthusiasts loved about Cascade.
With just a small selection of ribbon microphones at the moment from varying types of short and long ribbons, transformers, and internal preamps, they’ve just released the Fat Top II: an update to their original Fat Top — also known as the Fat Head from the Cascade days. We got our hands on this for review.
Ribbon microphones are not the usual choice for recording, and using one comes with the need for some education (you can blow some of them up if you send phantom power/48 volts to them!), However, you’ll often find seasoned engineers use ribbon microphones on various sources for reasons like null point rejection and softening the extreme highs of say a guitar amp or the breaths of a saxophone player.
Their original Fat Top is a short ribbon passive microphone and features a bobblehead design that really helps lean into that vintage feel that the sound of a ribbon microphone produces. The Fat Top series has a few different variations: upgrade to an LL2912 Lundahl Transformer or get the ‘Brown’ version that has a brown body and a gold bobblehead, as opposed to the black body and silver grill.
The new Fat Top II, however, is a whole new thing. Using the same short ribbon design, all Fat Top II’s come shipped with a Lundahl Transformer and you can get a standard case and mic clip, or upgrade to the deluxe which has a shock mount and solid silver hard case. There’s also a Fat Top II Active/Passive that allows you to boost 20dB of gain — activated by a switch and phantom power.
Fun fact regarding phantom power, on the Pinnacle Microphones certificate it says “This product is phantom power safe.” So thank you very much Pinnacle Microphones for that! No more assistants and interns destroying the fragile ribbons.
Although, Pinnacle Microphones have all of their parts for sale from the short ribbons inside the Fat Top series, the long ribbons inside their Vinnie microphones, the bobbleheads — which they can fit for you — and even the Lundahl transformers. So don’t be too hard on yourself or someone if they do break one!
We tested out the Fat Top II Black w/Lundahl Deluxe while reviewing a piece of outboard, and you can hear what it sounds like in our Engineering the Sound video on the Chandler Limited RS600 compressor. Our engineer Owen used it on mono drums, electric bass and guitar amps.
The choice of a ribbon microphone is always a stylistic one, on drums as a single mono overhead the Fat Top II gave a fantastic full picture of the drum kit. In the right spot — about 80cm above the kick/bass drum rim in the centre of the drums, there was enough low end for the kick/bass drum to have weight while not being too ‘clicky’ from the beater.
The snare was really well-rounded, and full-bodied, and didn’t ‘crack’ too much, as the natural frequency response (30Hz to 15kHz) softened the tops. The hi-hats and the ride cymbal were also softened in the same way and really benefited from the high-frequency curve.
The electric bass guitar was surprisingly warm — maybe the figure 8 polar pattern picked up some room — and again you didn’t hear those unwanted high frequencies that don’t do much for the overall bass tone.
The electric guitar by nature can be a hard instrument to mic up. There’s millions of combinations of microphones and techniques that people use, but one thing you always see is that a ribbon microphone on a guitar amp replicates what our ears generally hear. Maybe because we never have our ear right next to the speaker.
Rolling off the high frequencies on an electric guitar usually helps with perceived warmth, and the Fat Top II did just that. Stretching out your thumb and pinky is generally a good distance to start with on a moderately loud guitar amp, and this mic — as the only sound source — gave a well-rounded sound without having to EQ out the brittle highs.
The sound, feel, accessories, build and design are brilliant on the Fat Top II. I’d really love to hear their Active/Passive model and am eager to see what else they come out with.
The Fat Top II we reviewed comes in at $599 USD. For more information on this microphone and their other products, head over to Pinnaclemicrophones.com