Why is the sE8 not just another cheap mic?
The sE Electronics sE8 omni stereo set is built in the company’s own factory in Shanghai. “Own factory” means that sE Electronics does not outsource the production to any other major Chinese manufacturer such as 797 Audio, Alctron, Feilo, ShuaiYin, etc. These companies produce countless microphones for many manufacturers – and sE isn’t one of them.
At sE’s headquarters in Shanghai, the development, the assembly of the capsules and electronics, the measurements, and the metal processing are done under one roof, and the company is proud of that. On top of it, the critical issue of quality control, which sorts the wheat from the chaff in Chinese microphones, seems to be taken very seriously.
The new sE small diaphragm condenser series is designed as a modular system similar to the Schoeps Colette or Oktava Mk 012 series. The capsule can be unscrewed from the feed section and replaced as needed. Therefore, we can hope that sE Electronics will release more capsules in the future, like super-cardioid or figure-of-eight. The amplifier section of the sE8 omni is identical to the one in the cardioid version. Besides the sE8 omni stereo set and the single variant, the omni capsules can also be purchased separately. So, if you already own a sE8, it can be easily expanded with the omnidirectional capsules.
Unboxing the sE8 omni stereo set
The microphones are delivered in a practical aluminum case, with two solid mic clamps that include thread adapters. Two pop filters made of foam, a very sturdy 30 cm long stereo bar made of solid aluminum, a sticker, and a multilingual manual are also included. The capsule and the amplifier are already assembled, and you can start recording immediately.
The workmanship is top-notch, with paint and metalwork executed flawlessly. Thanks to its solid metal housing and weight of 144 grams, it definitely feels like a high-quality microphone. The capsule itself is protected by a very fine silver metal mesh. The sE8 has a 23 millimeters diameter and is 12 centimeters long. So it’s a tiny bit bigger than the small-diaphragm mics from Neumann, Schoeps, or Oktava.
According to sE Electronics, the capsules are built by hand, and to make a stereo set, two identical sounding capsules are selected from among thousands of pieces.
Each sE8 has a serial number located close to the XLR connector at the bottom. Microphones sold as a stereo pair come with the addition of A and B following this number. A second serial number is also visible inside the capsule once you unscrew it. It may be a small detail for some, but for me, assigning specific serial numbers shows how seriously a company treats its own microphones. There is quite a difference between microphones produced by the thousands without an identifier and a manufacturer who is conscientious about tracking series, year of production, etc.
Technical specifications of the sE8 omni mics
The sE8 omni is a small-diaphragm microphone with true condenser technology. Therefore, it requires 48 Volts of phantom power to work. According to the manufacturer, its frequency range is between 20 Hz – 20 kHz. In the official frequency diagram, the curve starts to rise slightly at 4 kHz and reaches its peak of +5 dB at 9 kHz. After that, the curve drops again and touches the 0 dB line again at about 17 kHz. This implies a significant boost in the higher frequency range, compensating for the treble losses when recording in a diffuse field. The sE8 omni should therefore be a perfect fit as a room microphone, delivering open-sounding results even in larger recording spaces.
The polar diagram shows a constant rise up to 4 kHz, which tapers off at higher frequencies, with sound arriving from 90 or 180 degrees. The attenuation of sound from the sides and back is about -15 dB at 16 kHz compared to the sound arriving at the capsule from the front.
The sensitivity of 20 mV/Pa is pretty high for a small-diaphragm condenser microphone. As a benefit of the high output, the sE8 takes some load off of the microphone preamp. According to the datasheet, the noise floor is also very good at 15 dB (A).
Besides, the transformerless design in Class-A technology should allow for distortion-free, high-resolution imaging of transients.
It’s interesting to note that the circuitry inside the sE8 does not use any integrated circuits.
To adapt to certain instruments and recording situations, the sE8 offers two switches on the preamp that can be operated using a small screwdriver. The upper switch has two positions and can lower the signal by -10 dB and -20 dB. The sE8 achieves a maximum SPL of 161 dB thanks to this pad! Even without a pad, the sE8 handles levels of 141 dB at 0.5% THD. These excellent values result in a dynamic range of up to 146 dB! That’s quite impressive, especially for a microphone in this price range.
The lower switch is responsible for the high-pass filter and can be set to 80 or 160 Hz. It introduces a slight reduction of 6 dB/Oct. The output impedance of the sE8 omni is 110 ohms, and an input impedance of the preamp of more than 1 kOhm is recommended. For mobile recording applications, it might be interesting to know that the power consumption is comparatively low at 2.7 mA, which will give a longer battery life when recording with mobile equipment.
Measuring the sE8 omni mics
For my comparison, I used the Neumann KM 83 omnidirectional microphones and a combination of Schoeps CMC 6 with MK2S capsule (thanks to the microphone rental service Echoschall for lending these high-end microphones!).
Before recording some instruments, the sE8 omni stereo pair had to undergo a few tests. Here you can see my own measurements of the two microphones in comparison. There is really nothing to complain about – quite the opposite. Especially considering the price range, this result is excellent. Minor irregularities in the high-frequency range are negligible since the measurement was not made under “clinical” circumstances in an anechoic chamber:
The noise values of the sE8 omni in the test are about 1-2 dB above those of the Schoeps CMC6 + Mk2S. So the stated 15 dB is quite realistic, and in real-life scenarios, noise does not play a role when using the sE8.
The sE8 is not very sensitive to mobile interference, but it is not on the same level as the CMC1, the absolute front-runner in this domain. However, you shouldn’t have any problems from a distance of 30 cm from the phone.
The included windscreen does its job surprisingly well, and its performance is similar to the WS 101 from Beyerdynamic.
Audio samples to the sE8 Omni microphones
Now let’s move on to the instruments. Here’s an acoustic guitar recorded at a distance of 20 centimeters at the 15th fret. The RME UFX is used as preamp for all three microphones:
The same guitar at the same distance sounds like this when it plays single notes:
For the next audio sample, I backed off a little but played the guitar with more attack. The distance of the mics is 40 centimeters in the following example:
The differences between the three test candidates are pretty obvious, and each of these microphones has a unique sonic signature. Let’s head over to the drums. For this example, I positioned the mics 2 meters away from the drum set. It’s quite interesting to hear how the three mics deal with room ambiance:
To check the bass response of the mics, I used an upright bass for comparison. The fact that omni mics don’t have any proximity effect is very useful when recording this kind of instrument:
It’s surprising to hear how well the sE8 performs, even next to some high-class microphones from Neumann or Schoeps. It has its own sound, but can work on many sources. If you would like to listen to high-quality samples, download our high-resolution audio files.