K&K Meridian Pro Microphone Review

AG 216 December 2010 Cover

by Doug Young

Sooner or later in any discussion about amplifying an acoustic guitar, someone will point out that the best way to achieve a truly natural sound is to use an external microphone. Unfortunately, many guitarists find that microphones have limitations in live performance situations. Besides their feedback potential, external mics require that you be locked in position in front of a mic stand. But recently, several manufacturers have introduced systems that clamp directly onto the guitar so the mic is outside the instrument where the sound is most natural; this allows the mic to move with the performer while reducing feedback due to the close mic placement. The latest contender is the Meridian microphone system from K&K Sound. K&K has been making acoustic guitar pickups and preamps, including the popular Pure Western Mini soundboard transducers and Trinity internal mic and pickup system, for many years. The Meridian comes in three forms. The Meridian Pro consists of a microphone and preamp with tone controls; the basic Meridian system includes the same microphone with a smaller, simpler preamp; and you can also purchase the mic by itself for use with the K&K Quantum Blender. We took a look at the Meridian Pro system.

Easily Attached and Adjusted

The heart of the Meridian system is a unidirectional condenser microphone covered by a tubular foam windscreen, about an inch long and a 1/2 inch in diameter, and mounted on the end of a six-inch-long, stiff rubber gooseneck, which is clamped to an L-shaped bracket. A second L-shaped bracket attaches to the first with a hook and loop fastener, forming an adjustable clamp that holds the mic. By moving the brackets closer or farther apart, the clamp can fit guitars as narrow as 21/4 inches and as deep as 41/2 inches. The powder-coated metal brackets are lined on the top and bottom with soft, protective foam rubber that grips the guitar. Although the attachment didn’t initially inspire confidence, in practice, it works very well. The bracket is easy to adjust for different guitars, and the rubber pads help grip the guitar firmly without needing to be too tight.

Once the clamp is positioned, it is easy to bend the gooseneck into numerous positions to fine-tune the sound. The mic works well over the area around the 12th to 14th frets—a traditional spot for miking an acoustic guitar—and I also got good results from a K&K-suggested arrangement where the mic is bent down almost touching the top, just above the fretboard. Playing style is an important consideration when using an externally mounted mic. If your style involves two-handed tapping, slapping, and body percussion, a guitar-mounted mic can easily get in the way. However, the Meridian’s flexible mounting mechanism allows many placement options.

The Meridian mic requires five to ten volts of phantom power, which is supplied by either of the Meridian preamps or the K&K Quantum Blender. It’s important to note that this is unbalanced phantom power, the type typically used by electret condensers, and you cannot power the Meridian mic itself with standard 48-volt phantom power. Some third-party preamps provide suitable unbalanced phantom power, and the Meridian mic worked well with the nine volts supplied by my Raven Labs PMB-I preamp, but it would be safest to stick with one of the K&K preamps. The K&K Meridian Pro preamp can be powered by standard 48-volt phantom power or an internal battery. The preamp provides both an unbalanced 1/4-inch output and a balanced XLR out and includes a gain control; volume; treble, mid, and bass tone controls; and a phase switch, which can help minimize feedback.

Acoustic Sound, Powerful Preamp

I tried the Meridian on several guitars, from a large-body Avalon to a small 00-size Claxton, and found it easy to adjust the mic to fit all instruments; the flexible gooseneck allows you to quickly experiment with mic positions to find the best sound. As with most microphone systems I have tried, the Meridian works best through a full-range PA. When using a small combo amp, an AER Acousticube II, I had to be much more careful about amplifier placement and keeping levels relatively low to avoid feedback. Feedback should not be an issue for a solo performer with a small amp at coffeehouse gigs as long as the mic is not too close to the amplifier, but guitarists in louder venues will likely have better results with a full-range PA system.

In live performance, the Meridian reproduces the natural sound you would expect from a microphone; you hear the sound of the guitar itself with no coloration. The Meridian sometimes has a slightly distant quality, and it can take some time to find the optimum mic position. Small changes in mic placement have a significant effect on the tone.

Playing live through a close-miked guitar can take a bit of getting used to, and perhaps require some adjustments to your technique. Percussive sounds, string squeaks, and the like tend to get picked up more clearly than with traditional pickups. Overall, I found that I got the most useful sound by blending the mic with the more direct tone of an onboard pickup system, but that’s a matter of individual taste.

The Meridian preamp offers an impressive amount of tone shaping and very high output, which can easily drive any amplifier or mixing board. The dual outputs allow you to send the XLR output to a house PA while running the 1/4-inch out to a tuner or onstage amplifier. The small size and light weight of the preamp—a three-inch by five-inch box with no belt clip—combined with the short (eight-foot) microphone cable, presents a potential challenge: guitarists who move about onstage might find themselves dragging the preamp with them. Having the mic clamped to the guitar eliminates the need to keep the guitar in front of a stationary mic, but the short cord and preamp design do limit mobility. As for guitarists who play seated, it would be nice to be able to mount the preamp on a stand for easy access to the controls, but there is no accommodation for a mount in the preamp’s design.

In part because of the stable positioning of the mic relative to the guitar, the Meridian has potential for recording, and you could conceivably use a pair for stereo recording. Recording my Martin OM with a single Meridian produced a very natural sound, and the close placement of the microphone can help minimize acoustic issues that many guitarists face when recording at home. There is a trade-off with any mic mounted on a guitar, however. Although you don’t have to worry as much about minor movements changing the sound while you’re recording, the mic is quite sensitive to noises from your body moving against the guitar. I also found the Meridian preamp to be somewhat noisy, at least compared to a typical studio preamp, although the sound of the guitar masked the noise when I was playing, and the noise wasn’t noticeable during live performance.

Affordable, Natural Sound

If you play at a modest volume or through a high-quality sound system, you may be able to achieve a more natural sound using an external mic, and the Meridian system offers a flexible and cost-effective solution that is well worth a look. The Meridian Pro system would be ideal for someone who needs a full-featured mixer with EQ, while the basic system would be a good choice if you plan to use the Meridian with a mixer that has EQ. For guitarists who use the K&K Pure Western pickups with the K&K Quantum blender, just adding the microphone would be an excellent way to add more realism to your sound.

SPECS: Unidirectional condenser mic. 30 Hz–18 kHz frequency response. Needs five to ten volts unbalanced phantom power (provided by K&K preamp). Eight-foot cable. Tension-mounted clamp with hook and loop fastener adjustment. Six-inch gooseneck. Preamp with XLR balanced out; unbalanced 100-ohm 1/4-inch output; bass, mid, and treble tone controls; gain; volume; and phase switch. Preamp is powered by an internal nine-volt battery or 12- to 48-volt phantom power. Padded carrying case.

PRICE: $420 list/$336 street (Meridian Pro); $299 list/$239 street (basic system); $199 list/$159 street (mic alone).

MAKER: K&K Sound: (800) 867-6863; kksound.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar December 2010

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