Sontronics STC-80 Handheld Dynamic Microphone
Available from: www.sontronics.co.uk
Please note that this is an entirely independent review – the manufacturer has supplied an example product for test (returnable) and has not paid to influence my thoughts.
What is it?
The Sontronics STC-80 is a handheld, dynamic microphone, designed for live vocals, but which can also be used on guitar cabs, snares, toms and other assorted instruments. It has been claimed by the manufacturer and various other reviewers to be a “58 Killer”. This review is based on my personal thoughts about the mic, and tests to ascertain my opinion were carried out “Blind”.
Unboxing and first impressions:
When my STC-80 was delivered, it was nicely packaged. Upon opening the postage wrapping, the first thing that I saw, was a sticker which says “Made in China” – that was unfortunate really, as there is a degree of stigma associated with Chinese kit, and the marketing had me believing that the mic was designed, built and packaged in England.
Once I removed the box, things really looked up though. The STC-80 was housed in a nice Aluminium carry case, with a nice plaque on the front – given the price point of this mic, I was expecting a cardboard box with a bit of foam and a mic inside, so a protective case which has the feel of a premium item, was a pleasant surprise. The mic also comes with a suitable clip for attaching the mic to your favourite stand.
Look, feel and ergonomics:
The mic feels solid and reasonably shaped for my hand – as a Sennheiser SKM2000 wireless user, the STC-80 has a familiar, weighty feel – maybe a little too much in some respects – especially when seated on a cheaper mic stand – My standard, cheapo mic stands, didn’t support it very well, although it was no challenge for the Quiklok stand which I use on stage. The casing on this microphone is fairly standard, and whilst fatter than a standard SM58, you would quickly adapt to using it. The only minor criticism I could level at it, is the access point to the casing, is quite intrusive and uncomfortable in the area between my thumb and my first finger.
On my example, there is a minor mis-engineer – in that I can see the wires within the microphone underneath the sticker which says “Dynamic”. Whether this is the same on all of the mics, I’m not sure – but that was a little bit of a concern – however, when I unscrewed the pop grill, to expose the capsule, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the build quality of the capsule. Having used Sennheiser and Shure mic heads for most of my career, I’ve grown used to these being delicate items. This is not the case with the STC-80, which has a capsule which feels secure, solid and dependable, without exposed coils and areas which can go wrong.
So when I managed to get an XLR into the socket, I was able to do some basic tests, and compare them to some other stalwarts of my collection.
On first inspection, I found the mic to be thin and a little lifeless. Yes, despite all the warnings given to me by the manufacturer, I’d managed to plug my example into a channel that was full of EQ for a different mic (SM58). User incompetence knows no bounds sometimes!
Having corrected my incompetence, and flattened the EQ, the true sound of the mic started to come through, and was more than a pleasant surprise.
I’ve always felt that the SM58, whilst a stalwart of the industry, is a microphone which does everything in a reasonable fashion, but not quite as well as a dedicated microphone for the purpose. I liken it to buying a mobile phone vs an SLR camera – you can take photos with a mobile phone, sometimes, good photos too, but if you want consistent, high quality shots, you need an item dedicated to taking photos! I’ve always believed that the SM58 had these flaws because it was designed to do everything reasonably well, and nothing brilliantly. So imagine my surprise when the STC-80 from Sontronics, sounded significantly better on everything on which I tested it – and really broke my conceived wisdom. Yes, there are extremely high end mics, which can sound better, but that is a diminishing return, and the STC-80 really does get very close – proving that you don’t have to throw silly money at mics, to get a great result.
The mic picked up the rasp in my voice pretty well, and appears to have a double pop filter (one on top of the capsule, and one in the traditional grill) – this does a great job of cutting out plosives, even without a Low Pass Filter – in that respect it was actually better than my Sennheiser e935, and a country mile better than the SM58. The mic continued to sound very natural throughout my vocal range, and did a fine job of bringing out the qualities of my personal voice without EQ. Once fiddled with I found a small cut at 1khz stopped any natural speaker honking nastiness, but I suspect that pre-dominately comes from my slightly mid range heavy monitors.
Don’t get me wrong, I still marginally prefer my Sennheiser E935 head, on my personal vocal, but this was much more of a competitor than I suspected it would be – and at this price point, is an outstanding performer.
This mic continues to impress, on guitar cabinets, and whilst I also wanted to test a HALO, the manufacturer advised that the capsule is remarkably similar between the two mics, and that the differences were mainly cosmetic.
The sound of the microphone was was relatively true to the sound of the cab in many ways – indeed, it brought out some nice details which some other mics don’t. Overall I found it slightly lacking in the mid-range, and slightly bright in the top end, but nothing which couldn’t be EQ’d out to my personal taste, and it stood up well to a Charter Oak S600 – a mic costing nearly ten times the amount of an STC-80. Additionally, some further tweaking with mic placement may well have brought out a better result.
Overall I found this microphone to be a good quality performer, at a great price. Whilst it doesn’t quite have the presence that I find with a Sennheiser 935 on my particular voice, it does compete extremely well in the budget category which includes tough competition from Shure (with their industry stalwart SM58), Sennheisers e835, Prodipe’s TT Lanen, as well as offerings from Audio Technica and AKG.
The other thing which can’t be valued enough, is on the ground, British support. Boutique microphone makers, are able to respond far more rapidly to a British user, than manufacturers from elsewhere. Given that Sontronics is a family type business, you can guarantee that their attention to every customer, is going to be great.
Overall, given the choice between an SM58/57 and an STC-80, I’d most definitely take the STC-80, and whilst there are better mics out there for specific applications, if you have budgetary constraints and need a “Go to” microphone, I daresay you won’t find anything much better sounding for your money. It does clearly stand up to its label as the “58 Killer”