The great thing about the opening up of China is that all the products they previously kept for their own internal consumption are now becoming increasingly available in the West. OK, maybe an earlier generation of Chinese products didn't exactly meet with western expectations, but they are fast learners, they have the production facilities, and – most importantly – they know how to build a product to a good price!
So now, to complement the excellent ranges of microphones we have from Germany, Austria and the USA, we have a wonderful selection of Chinese mics to play with, one prominent brand being SE Electronics.
SE Electronics, unlike some other Chinese mic manufacturers, badge products with their own name. Some other mics you can find have familiar sounding western brand names, but come out of an anonymous factory somewhere in China. I would have thought that any company with a great product would be proud to put their own brand on it, and SE Electronics are.
The SE Electronics Z5600 is a tube capacitor (condenser) microphone with an amazingly low price tag. It comes with a suspension mount and an external power supply. (Some of those high-end European manufacturers make you pay extra for the suspension mount – as much as a good mic sometimes!). Tube microphones generally do need external power supplies; those that can run from phantom power are rare. However, this type of mic will most likely only ever be used in a studio, rather than for live work or location recording, so it doesn't really matter.
One interesting feature is that even though this mic is quite low in cost, it offers multiple patterns all the way from omnidirectional to figure-of-eight with more intermediate stages than you would expect. These are selected on the power supply rather than on the microphone.
As a tube mic, you would expect a more 'present' sound than a transistor microphone. Combined with the large diaphragm, this will give an upfront, quite in-your-face sound quality. You should also expect a little more noise, but as the typical usage would be close to the sound source you should not find this a problem.
One point of 'cut-priceness' is that there is no pad. So if you intended using the SE Electronics Z5600 close up to an opera singer, you might be out of luck. Expect distortion. However, with normal vocal levels this should be perfectly fine, and both voice and acoustic instruments will benefit from the tube 'sparkle'.