Top Tip: Microphone Shakedown

I have been begging, stealing, borrowing and even buying a variety of mics to use on recent recording sessions and before my sieve-y memory let me down here are some observations.

MK 101

Oktava MK 101 (condenser)

This is the body of their 012 pencil condenser with a large capsule in a peculiar shaped head grill.  It looks like an overgrown commentator’s mic but there is no arguing with the sound; big warm and open.  Good off-axis response so this could do duty as a drum overhead, even in mono.  Flattering on vocals or acoustic and useful just about anywhere you want a smooth treble response and plump low end.  The capsule is a descendant of the well-regarded MK 319 and I really liked it’s character.  The Russian company has historically suffered from QC failures but have made strides forward lately in the face of intense Chinese competition.  Nonetheless if you do purchase one and hear something you should not, send it back for replacement.


Sennheiser MD441 (dynamic)

The cousin of the venerable 421 this has similarly idiosyncratic looks, a sleek silver space age hulk that would fit right in on Thunderbirds.  It is brighter than the 421 and with a hotter output, and the design incorporates a humbucking coil which gives it a unique sonic fingerprint.  Particularly biting on snare drum but I have used a pair for the whole kit, wonderful on guitar amps and bass and it has fans as a vocal mike, Tom Petty for example.  The higher price of these dynamics tells in the faintly coloured sound which adds subtle emphasis only where it is pleasing to the ear.


Avantone CK12 (condenser)

I’m not a fan of tube mics, they are slow, heavy, cumbersome and temperamental.  While it is possible to deliver a great condenser design to a budget, tube mics are expensive if you want a reliable result.  The harmonic distortion of the valve is a hit and miss affair and needs the right electronics behind it to produce an exceptional result.  The daddy of course is the C12 but the reputation of AKG’s monster is inflated by snobbery, the kind of warm valve glow of self satisfaction you get from parting with £5000 for a microphone.  Tube mics don’t offer very good bang for the buck but if you must own one the c£400 CK12 is clean, clear and sweet.  Heavy proximity effect of course, but sturdily made and close enough to the vintage lightbulb sound as to make no odds.  Very pretty but bordering on treacly – a little like it’s most famous endorser Taylor Swift.

Red5 RV85

Red5 Audio RV85 (condenser)

And so to a little gem that cost less than £40.  Scotland-based Red5 do a range of affordable mics of a surprisingly high quality.  This is a very petite back-electret condenser on an adjustable boom arm with a compact power supply.  Very quiet and ruler flat response.    At this price it is a steal for sound reinforcement on larger sound sources like choirs or instrumental ensembles.  Red5 do a range of affordable mics which have gained favourable testimony, I can also vouch for their kick drum dynamic.


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