For pro and project studios alike, no instrument is quite so vital as the microphone. From Nashville to Tokyo, London to New York, money is always well spent on better consoles, monitors, guitars and computers, but no one tool can change a voice or instrument's sound and personality quite like a great mic — whether a classic vintage or faithful modern tube condenser. Fortunately, if you're upgrading to your first really good condenser or adding to a well-stocked cabinet, there's no shortage of new tube mics to choose from.
This year's tide of tube mics offers up an exceptional parade of airy highs, earthy lows, transparent mids, satiny nickel finishes, gold-sputtered membranes, vintage re-creations and new approaches. We chose to focus on tube microphones released over the past year and came up with 19 interesting new products. Drooling over the accompanying photos is optional, though encouraged.
ADK AREA 51
ADK's (AudioDeutchKraft) new Commemorative Edition Area 51 Tube Transducer mic ($1,895) is signed by company co-founder Lawrence Villella. Debuting at this month's Summer NAMM show, 500 hand-selected vintage GE tubes made it into the Area 51 CEs, along with documents signed by the ADK “staff audiophile” who personally selects each mic. The top-of-the-line Area 51 is ADK's flagship mic and boasts dual 1-inch diaphragms and a multipattern design that can be switched between nine patterns.
The Cactus ($3,295) from B.L.U.E. (Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics) is a new multipattern tube condenser mic in the company's flora- and fauna-named mic line (Blueberry, Dragonfly, Mouse, etc.). Each Cactus mic includes a power supply, B.L.U.E.'s top shock-mount and pop filter assembly and a Kiwi Cable connector — all in a sturdy ATA flight case. The Cactus weighs 600 grams and lists a frequency range of 20-20k Hz, a maximum SPL of 130 dB for THD 0.5% and a 77dB dynamic range.
BRAUNER VM1 KLAUS HEYNE EDITION
Designed to take the performance of the Brauner VM1 to the ultimate level, the VM1 Klaus Heyne Edition ($7,000) is the result of a collaboration between Dirk Brauner and audio hot-rod specialist Klaus Heyne. Surrounded at the “waist” by an elastic-suspended shock-mount, the VM1 features a 79dBA signal-to-noise ratio and comes with a case for the mic, a control unit for remotely setting polar patterns, and a -10dB pad switch, cables and suspension mount. Using Telefunken AC 701 k or EF 806 S tubes, the VM1 features a handmade, gold-plated, large-diaphragm capsule.
CAD's new M9 ($499) is an affordable cardioid tube mic that features the same servo-valve technology used in the company's top-of-the-line VX2. A 12AX7 tube sits in the M9's head amp under a 1.1-inch, gold-sputtered capsule, and the mic's dual op-amp output stage sets the stage for longer cable lengths without loss of mic performance. Aimed at vocal and instrument recording, the M9 comes with a power supply, a 30-foot, 7-conductor cable with gold-plated connectors, and is finished in a blue housing with a satin nickel-plated screen assembly and black accents.
New from Carvin is a tube mic/preamp team-up that sells for $599 direct from the company's catalog. The dual-diaphragm, multipattern tube CM98ST features 20-20k Hz frequency response and 133dB dynamic range, 10dB pad and -6dB (@ 120 Hz) low-cut switches, and nine patterns to choose from. A power supply with polar-pattern switch, foam-lined flight case, 30-foot/7-pin cable, foam windscreen, shock-mount suspension assembly and a separate carry pouch for the CM98ST itself are all included.
CURTIS TECHNOLOGY AL-2
The AL-2 Stereo Tube Microphone System ($2,995) from Curtis Technology includes a matched pair of tube condenser microphones with shock-mounts, cables and a dual-rackmount power supply, all in a soft-padded carrying case. Designed with a type of elongated omnidirectional pattern intended to combine the spaciousness of an omni with the focus of a unidirectional, mics used in the balanced AL-2 employ a pair of handpicked 12AU7 tubes. Curtis also makes a transformerless, unbalanced version of the AL-2.
DPA MICROPHONES 3532-T SYSTEM
A new stereo tube microphone kit this year from DPA Microphones is the company's 3532-T ($8,000). Included with the 3532-T package is a 2-channel tube preamp, a 30-foot mic cable, two windscreens, a stereo boom with holders and a pair of DPA 4041 mics. The latter are large-diameter tube condensers designed for soloist recordings, particularly vocals, strings and wind instruments, and the mics, preamps and 1-inch omnidirectional cartridges all fit snugly into a foam-lined briefcase.
LAWSON MICROPHONES L251
The L251 ($2,495 direct) from Lawson Microphones is based on the vintage Telefunken ELAM 251, but employs a NASA-approved tube socket with gold-plated beryllium copper contacts and infinitely variable cardioid pattern control located on the power supply. A two-position, low-frequency contour control offers a “251” position, which reproduces the original ELAM 251's low-frequency response with its built-in 6dB/octave, 100Hz roll-off. Cardioid, omnidirectional, figure-8 and many variable patterns in between are selectable from the power supply, and the 1-inch, gold vacuum-deposited diaphragm is protected by an internal shock-mount system; a 30-foot Mogami cable with gold-plated Neutrik connectors is standard.
MARSHALL ELECTRONIC V69
Marshall Electronic's line of MXL mics includes the V69 Tube Condenser Microphone, finished in gold and black. This affordable ($379) large-diaphragm condenser mic with a set cardioid pattern uses selected 5718 tubes, is internally wired with Mogami Hi-Definition cable and features a 20-20k Hz frequency range, dedicated power supply and a shock-mount.
MICROTECH GEFELL M 990
Microtech Gefell's M 990 ($1,595) is a single-pattern (cardioid) condenser using an EF86 pentode tube operating as a triode, along with a separate power supply. The capsule uses a large, gold-sputtered diaphragm. The AC supply is switchable between 115 and 230 volts at 50 or 60 Hz, and the M 990 can drive cables longer than 50 meters. The system includes the M 990 mic in a wooden case, power supply, mic cable, an elastic suspension assembly and a dark bronze finish.
Now shipping, Neumann's M150 ($5,300, with power supply) incorporates many features from the company's M50, such as a sphere-mounted, omnidirectional capsule. Not just another reissue, the M150 uses a titanium diaphragm, the same transformerless tube electronics used in its popular M149, and boasts a low 15dBA self-noise for practically noise-free operation, with a low end that's only -3 dB at 16 Hz.
The latest from RØDE out of Australia is the NTK ($999), a 1-inch large-capsule model. Featuring a gold-plated membrane and low noise specs, the NTK sports hand-graded twin-triode tubes and comes with a power supply, 30-foot multicore cable and a standmount with thread adapter; options include an externally polarized, 1-inch, pressure-gradient condenser and a special-design shock-mount. This cardioid mic features a 147dBA dynamic range and a maximum SPL of 158 dB, and its external power supply has user-selectable settings.
RTT MLK100, 101, 102
RTT (Russian Transducer Technology) makes “vintage re-creations” with new parts from St. Petersburg, Tula and Moscow. The company's hand-built mics include the MKL101 Valve (Tube) Bottle Microphone ($1,499), the MKL100 ($829), and the MKL102 “Mini Brute” ($749). A re-creation based on Telefunken's 1949 EF12, the RTT MKL101 Bottle mic features a tube amp, cardioid polar pattern, 18dB self-noise, and a 40-16k Hz bandwidth. The MKL100 “Lens Head” tube mic has a large-diaphragm, cardioid capsule and a 30-18k Hz frequency range; RTT's MKL102 “Mini Brute” uses the miniature 6C6B military triode used in post war-era Russian mics. RTT provides downloadable MP3 samples of tracks recorded on RTT mics on its Website.
SCHOEPS M 222 DC
The M 222 DC Tube Microphone and power supply ($1,885 for body/power, plus one or more capsules from $570 to $1,400 each) from Schoeps offers 20 capsules in all, beginning with its MK4 classic cardioid version up to the $1,400 MK6 3-Pattern Capsule with omni, cardioid and figure-8 patterns. The M 222 DC's model number was named as a continuation of the company's M 221 B tube mic, with improved specs and performance, including the ability to use any of the company's Colette Series capsules. The M 222's power supply has a “tube direct” switch setting to eliminate all semiconductors from the signal path, and a “harmonics” switch to alter the tube's performance and emphasize more of the typical tube sound.
SOUNDELUX ELUX 251
Another dedicated — yet innovative — tribute to the Telefunken 251 is the Soundelux ELUX 251 ($5,000), which features a hand-built, hand-tuned European capsule and cardioid, omnidirectional and figure-8 polar patterns. Also sporting a 20-20k Hz frequency range, a 1-inch, dual-membrane condenser and a maximum SPL of 132 dB (0.5% THD @ 1 kHz), the ELUX 251 uses a 6072A vacuum tube and weighs just 1.5 pounds.
STUDIO PROJECTS T3
Studio Projects' T3 ($1,099) incorporates a special hand-selected 6072 “dual-triode” vacuum tube for improved consistency in matched pairs. The T3 is powered by a dedicated AC power supply with a completely variable polar pattern selector, and has a dual 1-inch mylar capsule that's designed for vocals and overhead choir, strings, piano and percussion recordings. A foam windscreen and elastic suspension shock-mount are included, as are a 7-pin interface cable and a combination-locked aluminum carrying case.
Yorkville's Apex450 Tube Condenser Microphone ($899) features nine selectable polar patterns, and its high-SPL handling capability (125 dB) makes it a good choice for live sound reinforcement or live recording, too. Other amenities include an aluminum flight case, windsock, a 7-pin XLR cable, external power supply, heavy-duty, “cat's cradle”-style shock-mount assembly, and a 1-inch, dual-diaphragm, gold-sputtered capsule.
Musician, engineer and writer Randy Alberts explores music and audio technology in a turn-of-the-century farm house with a built-in studio in Pacifica, Calif.
TUBE MICROPHONE CONTACTS
It should be noted that — unlike software and digital products — tube mics tend to stay in production for years, and there are many older models not included in this article (yet still in production) that are also excellent choices for the tube devotee. For more information about current offerings, here are some manufacturers of tube-based mics for studio applications.