Large-Diaphragm Studio Mics
Aug 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Randy Alberts
Researching some four dozen new large-diaphragm microphones that have recently come to market is the gearhead's version of a kid in a candy store. Do you really need another 1-inch diaphragm condenser mic for vocals, acoustic guitar, drum overheads, horns or piano? Depending on your studio's allowance, that's like asking a 10-year-old to explain the logic in buying another candy bar. The kids might not agree, but your next recording application stands to benefit far more from buying one of the following microphones than simply downing another Snicker's bar. Getting a new mic and a Snicker's is, of course, the best way to go.
In compiling this article, Mix talked to more than 40 microphone manufacturers and, based on the preponderance of new product offerings, the mic market appears to be healthy. Increasing competition and overseas manufacturing are making this a more difficult market for many. Fortunately, for studio owners, engineers, producers, musicians, voice-over specialists and anyone with at least $99 to spend on a new mic, it's a buyers market: The competition means better gear and more options. Considering the passionate devotion to excellence displayed by every mic manufacturer we spoke with, it's no wonder that, thanks to their pursuits, we all sound a lot better these days. So here — listed alphabetically by manufacturer — is what's new since January of 2002.
ADK Microphones (www.adkmic.com) added three new large-diaphragm offerings to its mic cabinet since 2002. The A-48 Vintage Valve ($1,295) is a Class-A, discrete tube condenser that features nine remotely variable polar patterns, and transverse-mounted 12AX7 valve and dual 5-micron, 1.07-inch diaphragms. A premium flight case and multipin cable are included. New from the Area 51 family is the ADK ST ($795), a switchable, tri-pattern, Class-A FET condenser design with -10dB pad and highpass filter controls; and the Model S “Vienna Edition” ($595), a high-SPL-handling, fixed cardioid condenser with -18dB pad and HP filter switches, a 1.07-inch diaphragm and totally upgraded “JP Mod” Class-A discrete electronics. The Vienna takes up to 135dB SPL, which makes it useful for live recording and studio applications, and will be followed by the company's “Hamburg Edition” this fall.
AKG's (www.akgusa.com) C 414 B-ULS/SE Special Stereo Set has a nickel finish like the original 1976-1986 C 414 EB, but pairs the classic CK12 capsules with modern UltraLinear Series electronics. The two-mic set with case, shock-mounts, stereo bar and windscreens is $2,100.
New from Apex Electronics (www.apexelectronics.com) is the Model 410 ($249, including cat's cradle shock-mount, windsock and flight case). This cardioid-pattern condenser features switchable -6dB, 100Hz low-frequency cut-off and a 1-inch diameter capsule. Frequency response is 40 to 19k Hz, maximum SPL is 135 dB (1 kHz @ 0.5% THD), input sensitivity is -37 dB @ 1 kHz, and signal-to-noise ratio is better than 73 dB. A -10dB output pad switch is included.
Reviewed in last month's Mix, Audio-Technica's (www.audiotechnica.com) $599 AT3060 is a tube condenser mic with a large coupling transformer for enhanced low-frequency linearity. The 3060, which works on 48-volt DC phantom power and captures a dynamic range of 50 to 16k Hz, features a shock-mounted tube assembly for dampening mechanically coupled vibrations and a precision-machined, nickel-plated brass body. Included are the AT8458 shock-mount and protective pouch.
The $799 SCX-25 from Audix (www.audixusa.com) is a large-diaphragm condenser incorporating a unique suspension system that's shock-mounted within a machined brass ring. Here, the capsule is completely isolated from the mic body and electronics. Frequency response is 20 to 20k Hz, dynamic range is 124 dB, and SPL handling is 138 dB; the mic's miniaturized preamp circuitry is housed in a svelte 4-inch body. A foam-lined wood carrying case and mic clip are standard accessories.
Behringer's (www.behringer.com) B-2 Pro Dual-Diaphragm Studio Condenser Microphone is an affordable ($189.99) studio mic with a 1-inch, gold-sputtered, dual-diaphragm capsule and 20 to 20k Hz frequency response (with a slight boost in the presence range). Selectable omnidirectional, figure-8 and cardioid patterns, switchable highpass filter and a -10dB pad switch are offered on the B-2 Pro, along with carry case, shock-mount and windscreen. Switchable LF roll-off and input attenuation are also included on this satin-nickel-finished mic.
The latest studio condenser from Blue (www.bluemic.com) is the distinctive silver and sparkly black-colored Baby Bottle. Billed as a smaller, more affordable version of the company's flagship multicapsule Tube Bottle, the Baby Bottle is quite different. The Baby Bottle is not a tube mic; instead, it uses solid-state, Class-A discrete circuitry with a transformerless output. The Baby Bottle has a cardioid, 6-micron condenser capsule and retails at $649; custom shock-mount and metal-mesh windscreen are optional.
Brauner's (dist. by Transamerica Audio Group, www.transaudiogroup.com) latest are the Phantom C ($1,750) and Valvet Voice ($2,800). The Phantom C is the company's first nontube (FET) large-diaphragm mic offering and retains the quality and look of the Brauner VM1. This fixed-cardioid pattern, phantom-powered mic has been re-tuned for vocal use where more proximity effect and less sibilance are required. The Phantom C sports 8dBa self-noise and 142dB max SPL, and includes carry case and shock-mount. The company's Valvet Voice, which offers cardioid polar response with selectable phase-invert, hard-ground, soft-ground or ground-lift controls, is another Brauner tube mic, also fine-tuned for vocal applications. Class-A amplifiers, custom-built Lundahl transformers and JAN tubes are included.
The second-generation Equitek
Carvin's (www.carvin.com) CM-87S — the company's latest studio condenser — is $299.95, with oxygen-free, 30-foot cable and custom aluminum flight case. The mic features a cardioid pattern, gold-sputtered 6-micron element, FET electronics, a -10dB pad switch and a low-cut switch to remove rumbling, all suspended within a machined casing. Specs include a high-SPL rating of 145 dB (with -10dB pad).
DPA Microphones' (www.dpamicrophones.com) 4041-T, 4041-S and 4041-SP ($2,990/each) are the company's latest large-diaphragm omni condensers based on the 4041 body. The 4041-S and phantom-powered 4041-SP are solid-state designs that offer the 4041 line's maximum flexibility in preamp options when miking vocals, strings or other acoustic instruments with large dynamics. The SP low self-noise is typically 8 dB (A). The 4041-S uses the company's MMP4000-S solid-state preamp, and, like the output stage of the 4041-T's tube preamp, the transistor output stage is driven as a Class-A, unity-gain impedance converter. The 4041-T (130V) uses the MMP4000-T preamp and incorporates a pentode vacuum-tube driven as a cathode follower in a Class-A, unity-gain output stage.
The vintage-inspired $699 GT Model 1b and $399 GT Model 1b-FET from Groove Tubes (www.groovetubes.com, dist. by M-Audio) are part of a full redesign of the original GT mics, although the company's 1.1-inch, 3-micron “Disk” diaphragm design is still implemented in each. More recent GT releases are the MD1b-FET ($399) and MD1b Tube ($699), both revamped versions of the company's original MD1 condensers that debuted 11 years ago. The Tube now sports the larger 1.1-inch diaphragm and includes a JAN spec tube, as well as hard-mount and shock-mount, power supply and cable. The MD1b-FET is a Class-A reissued version of the MD1.
Josephson Engineering's (www.josephson.com) top-of-the-line Series Seven family of variable polar-pattern mics use the company's ultrathin-diaphragm design and a multiple capsule system. The C700A ($4,500 with Fiberglas case) comes with a dual-diaphragm element and a smaller omnidirectional capsule. Fed to a mixer, both outputs allow engineers to select any directional pattern from omni to figure-8 at the console, or both signals can be recorded on different tracks and the pattern selection done in mixdown. A stereo version (C700S; $6,500) has two pressure-gradient capsules placed at right angles with an omni capsule in the middle so that any coincident-stereo pickup can be synthesized at the mixer.
Korby Audio Technologies' (www.korbyaudio.com) four-head mic system, the Model 10 ($3,200 with one cap; $6,000 with all four), is aptly referred to as The Convertible. The first available amplifier body in the series is the Model 10, which contains electronics based around a 5703 vacuum tube. Sold exclusively by Vintage King Audio, The Convertible is an interchangeable mic capsule system packaged in a powder-coated cylinder that's color-coded to designate model number and amplifier electronics. The capsule assembly units are housed in a sturdy, bright nickel plate and mesh-grille assembly. Four capsules — based on the Neumann U47, Elam 251, AKG C-12 and a custom-modified version of the Neumann U67 — are currently available, with other models in development.
The long-popular L47MP from Lawson Microphones (www.lawsonmicrophones.com) recently received some significant upgrades. Among several enhancements in the new L47MP Mark II ($1,995 factory direct) is the conversion to a dual-tube topology with a custom Lundahl audio transformer for lower noise and greater transparency. Also added is an externally switchable, cardioid-only function that is easily accessible without disassembling the mic. A cool, new blue LED inside the head indicates the L47MP Mark II is in Multipattern mode. Also new are an LF contour switch with a -6dB/octave roll-off starting at 100 Hz and a new -10dB pad. A black-platinum PVD finish is now available, and the power supply has a hard granite finish. Cardioid, omni, figure-8 and infinite intermediate patterns are selectable at the power supply.
The new MXL V69 Mogami Edition Tube Condenser Microphone ($379) from Marshall Electronics (www.mxlmics.com) features a 12AT7 tube and comes with a deluxe flight case, versatile shock-mount, dedicated power supply, windscreeen and Mogami wiring throughout, both internally and in the 7-pin and XLR microphone cables. A 25mm diaphragm, 20 to 20k Hz bandwidth, vintage cosmetics, and 24-carat, gold-plated grille round out the V69.
Microtech Gefell (www.gefell-mics.com), now distributed in North America by C-Tec, offers its M990 ($2,400) large-diaphragm, cardioid tube mic. The mic's low-noise tube design, large gold-evaporated M9 capsule and extended low-end response add punch and clarity. Housed on a “triangulated” pedestal that deflects sound refractions away from the capsule (helping reduce phase cancellation and comb-filtering), the M990 is housed in a slim-line tubular body with a dark bronze finish. Switching from 110V to 220V operation is as easy as rotating the unit's fuse housing.
Made in Germany, MBHO's (www.mbho.de) $1,499 MBNM 608 triple-patterned (omni, cardioid, figure-8) condenser uniquely couples its vintage “lollipop” dual-gold-sputtered capsule assembly to a modern FET body. The precision brass-backed diaphragm provides a 5 to 20k Hz bandwidth in Omni mode.
Nady's (www.nadywireless.com) TCM 1050 tube condenser mic ($369.95) features a gold-sputtered, ultrathin, 1-inch mylar dual-diaphragm and a 12AT7 tube preamp. A dedicated power supply with balanced XLR out is standard, as are nine different polar patterns remotely selectable on the PS. Also included are an aluminum flight case, elastic spider shock-mount, foam wind-screen, and 30-foot, 7-pin XLR cable.
New from Neumann (www.neumannusa.com) is the TLM 127 (price TBA), a new large-diaphragm, multipattern condenser mic with optional remote polar-pattern switching. The TLM 127 builds on the design specs of the legendary Neumann TLM 103 but with extensive switching options, including a choice of cardioid and omni patterns, plus a -14dB pad and highpass filter. A unique power supply option (available in 2004) lets users upgrade the TLM 127 to support a choice of five directional patterns, including hypercardioid, wide-angle cardioid and figure-8. Shipping for the past year is Neumann's Solution-D digital mic, which features a proprietary 28-bit A/D converter fed directly from the capsule (thus removing an analog electronics stage) and providing remote control of polar pattern, pre-attenuation, low-cut and preamplification. The mic connects directly to gear supporting the AES 42-2001 standard, or an available interface converts the format into a standard stereo AES/EBU signal.
Distributed by A&F McKay Audio, the Oktava (www.oktava.net) MKL-2500 features a gold-sputtered, 33mm capsule and 6C315-P tube, offering enough third-harmonic distortion to brighten and add warmth to any sound source. All engineers can now benefit from the tube sound without paying huge prices. The MKL2500 works as an all-around mic with a very low noise floor.
The latest from Sweden's Pearl Microphone Laboratory (dist. by Independent Audio, www.independentaudio.com) is the CO22 studio condenser microphone. Finished in black chromium (with a red LED that indicates when phantom power is active), this large-diaphragm omni boasts low self-noise and flat 40 to 25k Hz response, both on- and off-axis. The CO22 includes an aluminum case; shock-mount is optional.
Peavey's (www.peavey.com) Studio Pro M1 ($299.99) and Studio Pro M2 ($399.99) are recording mics with gold-plated membranes and low-noise ratings. The cardioid-only M1 has a switchable LF roll-off and -10dB pad. The Studio Pro M2 is a variable-pattern (omni, cardioid, figure-8) mic with gold-plated, double-membrane capsule. Both mics can handle up to 140dB SPL without distortion and a 30 to 20k Hz bandwidth. An optional $75 shock-mount is available for both mics.
The satin-nickel-finished NT-1A ($349) from RØDE Microphones (www.rodemicrophones.com) is an externally polarized, 1-inch diaphragm condenser using a JFET impedance converter with bipolar output. Featuring 20 to 20k Hz frequency response, 132dB dynamic range and 137dB max SPL, the new NT1-A “Anniversary Model” is a complete redesign of the popular RØDE NT1 studio mic. Surface-mounted electronics offer an impressive 5dBa self-noise spec.
The Samson (www.samsontech.com) C01 condenser mic has a 19mm diaphragm, gold-plated XLR connector, LED phantom power indicator and a cardioid pattern. Retail is $149.99; the optional SP01 shock-mount is $39.95.
SE Electronics' (www.seelectronics.com) newest mics include the Z-5600 Studio Tube ($699), Z-3300 ($375) and SE 2200 Cardioid FET ($199). The latter is a FET condenser mic featuring a 1-inch, gold-sputtered/6-micron diaphragm, 25 to 20k Hz response, -10dB pad and 100Hz low-cut filter. The Z-3300 adds omni and figure-8 polar patterns, extended frequency response and an additional 1.07-inch diaphragm to its FET Class-A design. The tube-based Z-5600 ups the ante with nine-way polar-pattern selection, a 12AX7 tube and upgraded specs. Cables, a suspension shock-mount and deluxe case round out the Z-5600 package.
Sennheiser's (www.sennheiserusa.com) MKH-800 ($2,950) is a redesign of the company's MKH80 classic studio condenser. The new MKH800 — boast-ing a frequency response up to 50 kHz, a dynamic range of 126 dB and a self-noise of only 10 dBa — uses a single-wideband transducer operating on the push-pull principle for low distortion, capturing an extended frequency range of 30 to 50k Hz.
The KSM27 ($575 with rubber-isolated external shock-mount and velveteen pouch) from Shure (www.shure.com) is a side-address condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. The mic's low self-noise, switchable -15dB pad, three-position switchable LF filter and extended frequency response are tailored for vocal tracking and instrument recording
New from Soundelux (www.soundeluxmics.com) are the E47 ($3,950) and ifet7 ($2,100). The latter, a departure from the company's previous models built to re-create the sound of one vintage mic model, re-creates the essential sounds of two classic vintage FET mics: the fet47 and 87fet. Incorporating all of the standard features of these popular '60s microphones, the ifet7 features “V” (vocal) and “I” (instrument) modes that represent the two completely different sets of internal mic amplifiers used in attaining the fet47 or 87fet sound. The E47 is intended primarily for close-up male or female vocals, but also does well to capture drums. The E47's polar patterns are variable from omni through cardioid and figure-8 with fixed-cardioid option.
Sound Performance Labs' (www.spl-usa.com) Nugget studio condenser is built to company specs by Audio-Technica and based on A-T's popular 40 Series. The mic features a 1-inch diameter cardioid capsule, fully transformerless circuitry, high-SPL capacity, switchable 50Hz low-cut filter, 10dB pad and a distinctive gold finish. Retail is $428, including shock-mount.
Studio Projects (www.pmiaudio.com) released its B1 ($99.99), a new affordable mic with 1-inch, 3-micron, gold-sputtered large diaphragm, housed in a pressure-gradient transducer capsule. The B1 features a frequency response of 20 to 20k Hz; a foam windscreen, zippered bag and mic clip are included. The B3 ($199.99) is a multipattern large-diaphragm condenser mic that adds three pattern positions (cardioid, omnidirectional and figure-8), pad switch and highpass filter cut-off to the B1's offerings.
Unveiled at last year's AES was Telefunken USA's (www.telefunkenusa.com) reissue of the classic tube Ela-M 251 studio mic. Each $10,125 unit is meticulously hand-built in the USA to original German specs, with the same methods used to make the originals 40 years ago. Telefunken USA also offers replacement parts for all Ela-M and U47/48 mics, cables, power supplies and CK-12 capsules, and can restore most vintage Telefunkens.
Rounding out this year's class of large-diaphragm studio microphones is the modular KR Series from T.H.E. Audio (Taylor Hohendahl Engineering, www.theaudio.com). The KA-04 body ($398) is a modular preamp assembly that accepts a wide range of various application-oriented capsules, including the new KR-25A ($568) and KR-33A ($633). The latter, a 33mm-diameter capsule, offers slightly more sensitivity and maximum-SPL handling than the KR-25A. The newly redesigned KR Series also incorporates a new compound membrane, housing and mic mounting in what the company calls its most complete recording tool.
Randy Alberts is an audio/music journalist, author and close-miked guitarist in search of the lost chord. Tascam: 30 Years of Recording Evolution is available from Hal Leonard Publishing.