Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009 | by matthew mcglynn
I went to the 2009 Winter NAMM show with one particular piece of music gear in mind: microphones. (What, like that’s a surprise?)
I saw a lot. In fact, I saw too many. I wasn’t sure that was possible, but yes, I speak from personal experience: for a couple hours there, I didn’t want to know about any more microphones.
Before hitting the wall, I saw some really exciting new products. Here is a tour, ordered by lust value (most to least). For technical specs and insider information on each mic, click the little mic pictures.
Stereo Tube Mics:
Mojave Audio MA-202ST, Telefunken USA RFT M216 Matrix
David Royer was showing off what was probably the first production sample of a new stereo tube condenser. He calls it the MA-202ST. It is, more or less, a stereo version of the company’s MA-200 large-diaphragm tube mic.
The cool thing about it (well, besides the fact that it was designed by David Royer) is that both capsules are dual-diaphragm and provide multiple polar patterns, which means the mic can do traditional coincident-pair/XY stereo, mid-side stereo, or Blumlein. Yes, I want to hear one of these on top of my drum kit.
Telefunken USA’s RFT M216 Matrix isn’t new for NAMM, but it’s a similar concept, and equally worth checking out. Like the Mojave mic, it has twin, stacked, K67-style large-diaphragm multipattern capsules and a pair of tube amp circuits. Unlike the Mojave mic, it has a single 6072 twin-triode tube, in place of the MA-202ST’s pair of subminiature 5840 pentodes.
The M216 also offers a mid-side decoder built into the power supply, plus a second pair of XLR outputs that can output the signals from the rear diaphragm of both capsules, out-of-phase. It’s quadraphonic!
Neither of these mics is actually available for sale today. Mojave Audio’s MA-202ST won’t ship before AES in New York (October, 2009). The Telefunken USA M216 is still described as being “under development.”
If you can’t wait, there is one other stereo tube mic on the market, dating way back to 1999: Dirk Brauner’s VM1S, a $12,000 device that we don’t expect to be getting a review sample of any time soon (sigh). However, I predict that by Winter NAMM 2010, we’ll see at least one new contender in this market niche below $1000.
Hybrid Mics: Avant BK-2, 3 Zigma CHI
I love the idea of interchangeable capsules. The Oktava MK-012 was my first decent microphone, chosen in part because the available of multiple capsules promises a degree of versatility that’s harder, or at least a lot more expensive, to achieve by simply buying more microphones.
There are about 10 different capsules available for the MK-012 FET amplifier body, covering a full spectrum of types and sizes, from 17mm to 34mm in a variety of orientations and polar patterns. (See Michael Joly’s Oktava MK-012 Capsule Review for a complete report.)
I believe Oktava’s MK-012-10 and MK-012-20 kits were the first “hybrid” mic packages to combine small- and large-diaphragm interchangeable capsules with a single mic body. Now there are two more on the market:
Avant’s CK-2 is a classy stereo package with two FET head amps and 12 capsules. It’s a complete kit, with metal-mesh pop filters, Gotham cables, and a stereo bar, all fitted into a tweed-style suitcase. It’s beautiful.
The other new hybrid kit is from ADK founder Larry Villella’s new partnership, branded 3 Zigma. The kit is called CHI, for Capsule/Head-amp Integration, and is set up as a mix-and-match system with 4 SDCs and 4 LDCs.
What’s really exciting about CHI is that the large-diaphragm capsules are engineered to evoke familiar vintage voices — the AKG C12, the Neumann U-47, U-67, and the Telefunken Ela M 251. Purists will argue that a transformerless FET amp can never emulate a vintage tube circuit, and Villella will agree that the CHI system is not an attempt to clone classic mics. But the idea of pairing a colored LDC capsule with a neutral amplifier is a great one, especially if there are multiple colors to choose from. Using familiar classics as a reference point for these colors is smart. And I’ll say that what I’ve heard from ADK’s “Custom Shop” mics, which share LDC capsules with the CHI, leads me to believe the CHI will be well worth checking out. (We’ll be reviewing them here soon.)
Large-diaphragm tube mics: MXL Genesis, Avant BV-1
Witness the large-diaphragm tube mic, executed in two different ways: the flashy MXL Genesis in red and gold, and the understated, retro-styled bottle mic, Avant Electronics’ CV-1.
The NAMM show floor is a terrible place to demo a microphone, and without doubt the worst place on earth to attempt comparative-listening tests when the two mics are separated by 200 yards of PA systems, wannabe drummers, and Victor Wooten concerts. Considering the mind-numbing wash of ambient noise that is the NAMM experience, the only thing my listening tests revealed is that both can transduce sound. Seriously, that’s about all you’ll get from the NAMM show floor, unless you’re standing inside ADK’s iso booth. I’ll have to get one of each of these mics in hand for additional tests.
The MXL Genesis is a fixed-cardioid mic built around a NOS Mullard 12AT7 tube and a 32mm capsule. It’s been shipping since mid-2008, but the sight of the naked circuit board at the MXL booth caught my eye. It’s the company’s flagship tube microphone, and is priced accordingly (about $600 street). New or not, I’m intrigued, and looking forward to hearing this microphone.
Despite its subdued styling, Avant’s BV-1 demands attention. It’s a multipattern mic, providing 9 pickup patterns (switched via the power supply). The tube is a Russian 6072a, and the transformer was designed specifically by Cinemag to complement the BV-1 capsule and circuit. It is Avant’s highest-end and most-expensive product to date, yet it still comes in at under $1000. Given the praise earned by Avant’s previous designs, I think the BV-1 could make some waves.
The new ribbons: sE/Neve RNR1, Royer SF-24V
Is it a statement of the relative fragility of a ribbon microphone, or simply their high-end price tags that caused these two mics to be so guarded? Neither were plugged in. The RNR1 was never out of reach of a company rep. The Royer was locked in a glass cabinet.
But there was a definite buzz around NAMM regarding this ribbon mic, designed in a collaboration between Rupert Neve and sE Electronics’ Siwei Zou. There was exactly one RNR1 on the NAMM show floor, splitting time between the sE booth and the Neve booth; its scarcity only increased its appeal.
Rupert Neve’s audio circuitry design chops make this a very interesting ribbon microphone: there are two Neve-designed transformers, one on the input and another on the output. The combination is said to produce a high-end response that is unusual in traditional ribbon designs.
We can’t really talk about ribbons without mention of David Royer, who was showing off a new ribbon of his own. The SF-24V is a tube version of his SF-24 stereo ribbon mic. The mic body houses a pair of 5840 tubes, in two separate amplifier circuits. This is a premium microphone with a matching price of about $6000.
Fortunately, because it’s a stereo mic, you can probably get away with just buying one of them.
MXL Gold 35, JZ BT201
Another flashy mic from MXL, the Gold 35 is a gold-plated, 35mm large-diaphragm FET condenser, designed specifically as a vocal mic. It was launched as a limited-production mic just this month, having been originally intended as a one-off for producer Benjamin Wright.
When I spoke to Mr. Wright about it, he was beyond pleased with the mic. “It kicked the 87’s ass” were in fact the words he used. Like the Genesis, the Gold 35 seems like a departure from the market niche MXL is best-known for, namely “great mics for the money.” These are going for a higher-end niche: “great mics,” period.
Latvian mic designer Juris Zarins was on hand to show off his new firm’s entry into the pencil-condenser market, the BT201. The mic’s primary contribution to the genre appears to be its magnetic capsule attachment mechanism, which eliminates the fear of cross-threading an expensive capsule or head amp forever. Needless to say, the BT301 retains the strong sense of visual design found in all of JZ and Violet’s microphones.
Who did I miss?
The booth I most regret missing belonged to Lauten Audio. They’re a relatively new player, but they’re bringing some innovative thinking to the industry: new circuit designs, new capsule designs, a lot of outsourced manufacturing, and exhaustive testing.
For example, check out the LT-381 Oceanus, a large-diaphragm tube mic. There’s a lot of intrigue in this microphone, such as the new edge-fed 31mm capsule, the use of a second tube in place of an output transformer, and the location of both tubes in a sealed, heat-sinked compartment on the back of the microphone body. I’m looking forward to hearing this mic.
What else did I miss? What mics should I have included here? (Bob Heil, I want to hear from you!
If you went to the NAMM show, tell me what caught your attention and inspired your GAS. Leave a comment below!
My thanks and appreciation go to all the people who helped me profile these mics — David Royer, Larry Villella, Benjamin Wright, Roy Harper, Brian Loudenslager, Ken Avant, and Bob Reardon. You all make this job a lot more rewarding! Thank you.
The RecordingHacks Microphone Database profiles for all these new mics will be updated as more information becomes available. Bookmark and reload for the latest news and reviews!