Review: ADK Hamburg II-AU and Vienna II-AU Mics

Oct 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Steve La Cerra

CUSTOM-SHOP MODELS WITH DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT FLAVORS

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ADK Hamburg II-AU

Both mics offer three-position pad and roll-off switches; each can handle 134dB SPL.

Over the past decade, ADK has carved a niche in the mid-level studio microphone market, offering successful products such as the A-51 and A-6. ADK later established a line of Custom-Shop products that includes the Hamburg II-AU and the Vienna II-AU (tested here). These side-address, cardioid condensers share a number of design traits. Both are based on a FET circuit that's designed to saturate gradually, and employ capsules created in Australia and transformers from the UK. A three-position pad is switchable between 0, -8 and -16 dB, enabling 134dB max SPL handling. A low-frequency roll-off can be switched between off, -3 dB at 100 Hz or -3 dB at 160 Hz.

Here's the Scoop

The ADK Hamburg II-AU and Vienna II-AU have a solid, hefty feel, so I was relieved to see that the included shock- and swivel mounts employ knurled rings that screw onto the bottom of the mic for a secure grip. The shock-mount provided better isolation from mechanical transmission via mic stand, but in either case the low-frequency roll-off switch can help reduce unwanted rumble.

For my first session with these mics, I recorded a male singer/acoustic guitar player and used the Vienna II-AU for his vocal. I turned the mic so that the mic stand was out of the way of the player's hands. This provided the opportunity to rotate the microphone body so that the null of the cardioid pattern was pointing down toward the guitar. The result was a clear, natural vocal sound that cut through the mix, but was a bit bright and not very flattering for this particular singer. When the vocalist moved to the side of the mic, the Vienna II-AU exhibited a drop in level and a change of timbre that was barely perceptible: There was a bit less low end, but the high-frequency response remained consistent to about 30 degrees off-axis. In this context, I was impressed by the Vienna II-AU's minimal leakage from the acoustic guitar. Recording a person who is singing while playing an acoustic guitar — using separate mics for each — typically opens up a Pandora's box of phasing issues due to leakage of the guitar into the vocal mic and vice versa. When I mixed the Vienna II-AU with the guitar mic, there was no perceptible phase cancellation — a tribute to the Vienna II-AU's pattern control and smooth off-axis response.

Next up for the Vienna II-AU was a jazz flute in a live quartet. The mic delivered a smooth, present tone despite the fact that the flute player was quite animated and did not maintain a consistent distance from the mic, varying from around 12 to 20 inches. The Vienna II-AU's roll-off switch was set to the first position, which helped reduce low-end leakage from drums, bass and piano. Once again, any leakage that did occur produced no harmful phase issues. In the mix, the flute sat perfectly upfront without sounding harsh and without needing equalization.

I also used the Vienna II-AU to close-mike an acoustic guitar. The mic captured a lot of detail and gave a clear sense of the space in which the instrument was being recorded. At this particular session, I doubled the acoustic guitar using the Hamburg II-AU, which revealed a lot about the personalities of the two mics. The Hamburg II-AU emphasized the woody-ness of the guitar body, while the Vienna II-AU provided the shimmer, emphasizing the pick against the strings. This proved to be an excellent combination: There was no frequency “build-up” as when layering tracks using the same mic/instrument combination, and the two performances did not step on each other sonically, even when summed to mono.

I then used the Hamburg II-AU to record acoustic upright bass with the mic placed about a foot-and-a-half in front of one of the f-holes, approximately 20 inches from the floor and pointing slightly downward. Upright bass can be difficult to record accurately because some mics overemphasize certain frequencies, causing the instrument to sound very loud on certain notes and soft when playing others. Not so with the Hamburg II-AU, which was smooth across the range of the instrument while conveying a sense of the instrument's size — even on the high notes — and providing just the right amount of pluck. The bassist requested a second mic on the fretboard, but I was happy with the result using only the Hamburg II-AU. The Hamburg-II AU also captured a few subtle, low-level noises made by this bass — cracking sounds that, the bassist informed me, were the result of the instrument responding to changes in humidity and temperature.

On female singer/songwriter Tracy Johanna, the Hamburg II-AU was nothing short of wonderful. The mic tamed the sibilance and peaky-ness that can sometimes plague a female vocal. When Johanna sang softly, the Hamburg II-AU yielded a great sense of intimacy, yet remained smooth when she was loud. When recording quiet passages, the Hamburg II-AU (and the Vienna II-AU) produced no audible self-noise, clearly reproducing the low-level background noise from the studio's air-conditioning system — something other mics may not have picked up at all.

I tried each mic as a mono drum overhead, placed six feet high, pointing straight down over the snare and into a Grace Design Model 201 preamp. The Hamburg II-AU produced a more “retro”-sounding tone, emphasizing the snare and providing a subtle low-midrange emphasis. The Vienna II-AU produced a very different flavor: brighter cymbals, a greater sense of space, and bumps in the bottom and the top end. Output of the Vienna II-AU was several dB hotter than the Hamburg II-AU.

And the Verdict?

On the downside, the Hamburg II-AU I received for review had a loose capsule that rattled inside the head grille. This may have resulted from rough shipping and was easily remedied by removal of the head grille and tightening the screws that hold the capsule to its yoke. Each Custom-Shop mic is assembled in the U.S. and ships in a well-padded briefcase with a swivel mount, shock-mount, a nylon pop screen, foam wind filter and a padded mic bag. ADK Custom-Shop mics feature a five-year, no-fault warranty for the original owner when purchased from an authorized dealer.

With the Hamburg II-AU and the Vienna II-AU, ADK has succeeded in producing two microphones that complement each other by offering distinctly different flavors. I preferred the Hamburg II-AU for the wonderful way in which it handled female vocals, but both have their place in the microphone spectrum. The Hamburg II-AU yields a subtle, warm response, while the Vienna II-AU has the edge and presence that you may need to get a lead vocal or other instrument to cut clearly through a mix. I recommend that you listen to both models and see which one complements your microphone locker most effectively.






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