Sunday, October 19th, 2014 | by matthew mcglynn
Manufacturers at the recent AES convention in Los Angeles presented a wonderfully wide array of new microphones.
Neumann’s announcement of the reissued Fet 47 stole the show, which is a pity because many worthy new microphones didn’t get the attention they deserved.
Let’s rectify that now.
New Ribbon Microphones
AEA introduced the second ribbon mic in its “NUVO” series. This product line began with the N22, a “singer-songwriter ribbon mic” designed for close positioning. (Hear the N22 on numerous sources in this 7-part ribbon mic review.)
The AEA N8 uses the same body and grille as the N22, in a sleek-looking black finish. The N8 ribbon matches the N22 ribbon in length, composition, and corrugation, but is built into a slightly different motor, without the passive low-frequency attenuation found in the N22. The N8 will therefore likely have much fuller low-frequency response than the N22, as is hinted at by this comparison of frequency response charts.
The N8 also shares the N22’s active electronics, and as such will probably deliver outstanding noise performance — the N22 ranked top in our shootout of six sub-$1000 ribbons in a self-noise test.
The N8 was named one of four “Best in Show” microphones by PSN.
The remarkable thing about the 44-A is its clever output stage, based on the popular Cloudlifter gain circuit. The company’s designers have created a switchable high-pass filter within the gain stage, giving the 44-A the ability to be used for close-miking without concerns of bass overload.
If you’ve ever used ribbon microphones, you know that they can exhibit very strong proximity effect, which can make them thick and muddy if used close to a voice or instrument. The 44-A gives you the best of both worlds — a full ribbon-esque low end when switched to “Music” mode (HPF disabled), or a neutral-to-attenuated low end in “Voice” (filtered) mode. Click to see a frequency-response comparison of the two Cloud 44-A modes.
The Sandhill Audio 6011A is an active ribbon whose “nano-composite” ribbon appears to have no SPL limitations. The mic needs no blast filters or screens to protect the ribbon element, which, like the “Roswellite” ribbons in the Shure KSM313 and KSM353, is, for all reasonable audio applications, unbreakable.
The 6011A has active electronics, although all the gain comes from the ribbon itself and its high ratio step-up transformer — a topology pioneered in the Royer Labs R-122.
Handmade in New Hampshire, the Cliff Mics RM1 is inventor Cliff Henricksen’s take on a modernized RCA 44. It uses truly giant rare-earth magnets to increase sensitivity, and an active gain stage with in-circuit EQ to tailor the sound of the mic.
The mic has an integrated suspension mount and a curious non-metallic grille.
Telefunken M60 FET
Telefunken Elektroakustik introduced their first non-tube microphone, a small-diaphragm condenser, the M60 FET. It uses a single-stage JFET circuit like classic FET mics (think KM84), with a US-made output transformer.
The M60 will use the same family of interchangeable capsules as the Ela M 260 tube SDC (which you can hear in our 3-part Tube SDC Shootout).
The M60 was named one of four “Best in Show” microphones by PSN.
Audio-Technica’s new AT5045 is perhaps the most technically innovative SDC we’ve seen in a long time. If you recall the ground-breaking AT5040 (which you can hear in Adam Kagan’s AT5040 review as well as Randy Coppinger’s VO mic review starring Corey Burton and numerous other Hollywood voice actors), you’ll get a sense of the topology of the AT5045: a pencil-mic form factor with the largest single diaphragm in any SDC you’ve ever seen, with a simple and clean impedance conversion circuit.
The mic’s self-noise is 8dBA, which I believe is the lowest figure we’ve seen for a pencil mic. The AT5045 is arguably not a small-diaphragm mic, but if it can deliver the fast transient response of a small round capsule, I’d expect it to become a favorite for instrument miking due to its low self-noise.
This mic is one to watch. PSN included it in its Best of Show picks.
I was excited to see the new SU-011 SDC from Soyuz Microphones, a Russian company whose SU-017 LDC was the buzz of NAMM earlier this year. The FET mic they’d announced at that time, the SU-012, has been dropped in favor of this small-diaphragm tube microphone.
The SU-011 plan was made when the company uncovered a cache of “dead stock” subminiature tubes. The resulting mic will host the small-diaphragm Cardioid capsule built for the SU-12, the large-diaphragm SU-017 capsule, and a series of both large- and small-diaphragm Fig8 and Omni capsules that are in the works.
Large Diaphragm Condensers
Neumann U47 FET Collector’s Edition
Let’s get this 800-lb elephant out of the room: after a 24-year hiatus, the Neumann U47 fet is back in production!
It seems to me that Neumann, Sennheiser, and the entire microphone-buying public would far prefer that Neumann had re-released the original tube U47, rather than its solid-state spinoff — a microphone that, as far as I can tell, was really not that popular when it was first made. Sadly, though, it will take more than hopes and dreams to bring the Telefunken VF14 tube back to life, so the idea of a U 47 re-issue is off the table for the forseeable and presumably infinite future.
Anyway, let’s get into the new Fet 47. According to Jürgen Breitlow, Director of R&D at Neumann, the new Fet 47 is as accurate a recreation of the original mic as Neumann could make. They’ve located all the right parts, recreated the original transformer from blueprints, and delivered a mic that matches the performance as well as the appearance of the original.
An in-depth side-by-side comparison from Klaus Heyne shows the same circuit layout, the same point-to-point construction, and nearly identical mechanical construction as the original. Herr Breitlow told me at AES that the mic went through several revisions to its internal layout and construction; the reissue uses the 2nd generation (of, if I recall correctly, 5 total), combined with the 6th and latest revision to the circuit. (Fet 47 circuit photograph is copyright © 2014 Klaus Heyne)
For Slau and other mic aficionados who noticed that the new mic is billed as “Cardioid” rather than “Supercardioid” like the original, find clarification in our description of the K47 capsule: Neumann’s K47 capsule has a supercardioid pattern at 1kHz and above, according to Neumann’s Martin Schneider. The original Fet 47’s “supercardioid” designation seems to be the more accurate description, although the current release’s use of “Cardioid” wins points for being easier to understand.
Bock Audio 407
David Bock introduced his own take on the U47, called the Bock Audio 407. It uses a tube circuit based on the original U47’s, with a NOS Telefunken EF814 glass pentode tube and a custom output transformer made to Bock’s specifications.
The capsule in the 407 is a Bock’s version of the K47, manufactured in Germany. It is a true K47 style, with a single backplate.
The last mic in our large-diaphragm roundup is another modern reinterpretation of the U47 standard:Pearlman TM-47. The mic uses a NOS Telefunken EF12 steel tube, and a US-made K47 capsule. The power supply is made in the US as well.
The TM-47 gives a nod to its namesake through the use of an oversized, paper-in-oil capacitor. Vintage!
Innovation and Pricing
Nearly all of these microphones fall into what I consider the “premium” category, due to their prices. The Telefunken M60 FET is the bargain of the lot, at its MSRP of $595. It is one of only two mics on this page that will sell for under $1000.
I am always happy to see innovative new products at any price point. But I do look forward to when some of these ideas — like the unbreakable nano-composite ribbons, and the rectangular diaphragm condenser capsules — start to show up in the midpriced product category, where a much broader community of recording engineers has access to them.
Feedback on favorites?
I would love to know which of these mics you find most interesting, as that will help me decide which to bring into the studio for a closer look (and listen). Whether you were at the show or not, please leave a comment to say which of these is making you reconsider the next piece of gear you’re saving for.