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Technology Feature: Studio Microphones 2018

Some Classics, Some Innovations, and a Nod to the Future

It’s 2018, so you’ve surely heard the “paintbrushes” metaphor for microphones by now. And though cliché, it remains the simplest way to describe the qualities of various studio microphones as applied in the recording process. The differences in what one microphone may deliver over another can be explained as “texture,” a way of describing what are essentially varying specifications—including frequency response and range and responsiveness, as well as other subjective qualities—that make one choice ideal on this, serviceable on that, and maybe not so great on another.

Below are the latest offerings in studio microphones from some of the best, most interesting and innovative manufacturers in professional audio today. This is by no means a comprehensive list, as there are dozens of other laudable mics out there. These are simply some noteworthy recent models that caught our eye.

Aesthetically best known for its tumbled solid stainless-steel chassis, Aston Microphones boasts bold, unique looks in its roster, as well as a number of interesting technologies. The company’s latest, the Starlight, is touted as “the first ever laser targeting pencil microphone,” designed for careful placements and quick recalls. Other features of the cardioid condenser with 20mm capsule include useful parameters and filters onboard and—most strikingly—its sintered head, in which small metal spheres are heated to form a “near perfect” porous yet ruggedly solid windscreen.

At January 2018’s NAMM Show, Apogee unveiled its updated digital MiC, which originally debuted in 2011, as the MiC Plus. Made in the USA, the MiC Plus features “an entirely new design” and boasts improved sound quality, expanded dynamic range and a built-in headphone output for latency-free monitoring while recording. It is interface-flexible, shipping with three cables for Lightning/iOS, USB-C or USB connectivity.

Meanwhile, German manufacturer Beyerdynamic debuted its FOX, a cardioid 24-bit/96kHz LDC mic with built-in Cirrus Logic conversion and USB port. Also built-in is a mute button and latency-free headphone monitoring capabilities. Best of all, it’s priced affordably and promises the build quality and reliability that Beyerdynamic has become known for.

Blue Microphones’ SL Series is a relatively affordable collection comprising the company’s best-selling condensers: the Baby Bottle SL, Bluebird SL and Spark SL. Blue assures its Essential Series customers of thorough quality control with a three-part inspection card—detailing frequency response, noise specification and fit/finish standards met—in every package. My colleague Rob Tavaglione notes, “I can recommend the Baby Bottle SL over most similarly priced condensers for its wider versatility, smoother than most top-end and an overall purity, with low self-noise and low distortion.”

Best known for its designation as “the only company in the world authorized to develop, manufacture and market the ‘official equipment of EMI/Abbey Road Studios,’” Chandler Limited rocked the pro audio world in January 2017 with its unveiling of the REDD Microphone. The unique U47-style tube LDC includes its “REDD.47 Mic Amplifier circuit directly coupled to a handmade premium platinum membrane capsule.” As such, the microphone can be used with or without an external preamp.

Of Electro-Voice’s ND Series, the ND66—a distinctive small-diaphragm condenser—is a must-consider standout. The cardioid ND66 is clearly built for wide-ranging studio or live applications with a 50 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response, 146 dB max SPL and 126 dB dynamic range. Uniquely, the ND66 offers a locking rotating head, or hinged elbow, approximately two inches from its diaphragm-end tip. As such, the ND66 can go from straight to a 90-degree bend, with five positions in between. Squeezing SDC mics into tight positions—especially on drum set—is often a challenge; this is where the ND66 may be a first-choice application.

I recently had the opportunity to audition the three-microphone Series Black by Lauten Audio. A typically “higher-end” and all-original design-centric manufacturer, Lauten delivers a significant value in tonality in the Series Black; it’s far from the typical “budget” microphones I have used in the past. While “no frills,” Series Black mics are thoughtfully equipped with what many modern (e.g., primarily residential) audio engineers will need; filter frequency points were chosen specifically by Lauten’s owner/designer, Brian Loudenslager, to better serve those sheetrock-rich customers. Somewhat like Henry Ford’s first factory-built cars, these mics are comparably affordable, relatively well constructed, useful to most users, free of accouterments, and, well, black. The series includes the flagship LA-320 tube LDC, LA-220 solid-state LDC, and—my favorite bargain of the lot—the LA-120 solid-state small diaphragm condenser stereo pair package.

Lewitt Audio’s latest, the LCT 441 FLEX, is a 1-inch multipattern studio mic touted by the company as similar to its cardioid LCT 440 PURE. The LCT 441 FLEX provides eight polar patterns, including three reverse polar patterns “intended to provide flexibility without moving the mic.” The package ships with shock mount and magnetic pop filter.

Miktek’s ProCast Mio is an LDC USB studio condenser microphone (Windows or MacOS) that incorporates a built-in headphone output and a twist: it also provides a standard 3-pin XLR output. As such, the ProCast may be built for podcasting or recording direct to CPU, yet it can employed virtually anywhere.

Mojave Audio’s MA-1000 large-diaphragm multipattern tube condenser is the first in the company’s new Signature Series line, featuring a new old-stock 5840 tube, 251-style capsule and a custom-designed transformer built by Coast Magnetics. It also features a remotely controlled, continuously variable polar pattern selector located on the mic’s power supply, a switchable 15dB pad and a low-frequency rolloff.

In the world of studio microphones, the Neumann U67 tube condenser is a fawned-over legend. As such, the company seized the moment at NAMM 2018 to unveil its meticulous reissue, reportedly built to original specs to be “sonically identical to the original 1960 version.” Key features include three switchable polar patterns, all-tube circuitry, low-cut filter, pad and Neumann’s K67 capsule. The U67 reissue will ship with a NU 67 V power supply, power cable, connection cable, and shock mount in a handmade vintage case.

Royer Labs’ hand-built R-10 ribbon microphone features a 2.5-micron ribbon element—reportedly identical to the company’s R-121—and a David Royer custom-designed transformer. Its ribbon transducer is wired for humbucking for low-noise performance, and impressively handles SPLs of up to 160 dB at 1 kHz. As such, it’s among the most durable ribbon microphones on the market; it’s “next to impossible to overload the microphone,” touts the company.

Once again pairing up with Rupert Neve Designs, sE Electronics offers its RNT, a 9-pattern LDC with built-in tube circuit, separate “Floor Box” power supply with Class A amplifier circuit from Rupert’s 5088 console, dual Rupert transformers, and more. The Floor Box provides three gain settings and two HPFs. sE also recently debuted its sE8 SDC stereo pair, featuring gold-sputtered capsules, dual HPFs and two pads, packaged with windscreens and a stereo bar in a rugged metal case.

Not necessarily for studio use, Sennheiser’s Ambeo VR mic uses four pre-polarized KE14 condenser capsules in a tetrahedral array, making all of nature, not to mention all degrees of coverage, the soundfield. When processed with Sennheiser’s own ambisonic software and third-party downmix software, Ambeo VR’s signals can be decoded to stereo, surround sound or a fully spherical 360-degree soundfield, contained in four channels of B-format ambisonic audio as used in VR standards. Immersive music is coming!

Before January’s NAMM Show, my colleague, Rich Tozzoli, was beaming with the news that Sony would be unveiling a new microphone inspired by the C-800G that, despite its super-high list price, remains on perpetual backorder to this day. Sony’s new offering, the C100, is a dual-capsule, transformerless, multipattern design with front-switchable omni, cardioid and figure-eight patterns; it also provides a 10 dB pad and low cut rolloff. Its 25mm diaphragm covers 20 Hz up to 25 kHz, and the 17mm capsule covers 25 kHz up to 50 kHz. What does that mean? It’s ideal for “high-resolution capture.” Most importantly, the C-100 streets around $1,399 (rather than the C-800G’s over-$10K).

I first heard about Soyuz, the Russian boutique microphone manufacturer, from Tozzoli after he had auditioned the SU-017 tube LDC and its small cousin, the SU-011, at Clubhouse Studios in Rhinebeck, New York, referring to them as “absolutely ridiculous”—and in a good way. Soyuz’s latest is the SU-019 LDC, which uses a custom-made capsule based on the Neumann K67 design. Like its predecessors, it promises impeccable, beautiful build quality.

Late last year, Sterling Audio—a brand of Guitar Center—announced a new series of high-value studio recording microphones. The line includes six individual microphones, a two-microphone package, and two new shock mounts. Most notable, Sterling’s ST169 Multi-Pattern Tube Condenser Microphone includes selectable cardioid, omni, and figure-8 polar patterns, switchable HPF and attenuation pad. Handling up to 142 dB SPL, the mic comes with the SM8 premium metal, band-suspension shock mount, aluminum carry case, and low-noise power supply.

Vanguard Audio Labs’ V44S is a stereo large-diaphragm triple-pattern FET condenser microphone featuring a pair of coincident twin custom made multipattern capsules. As such, it can be configured for X/Y, Mid-Side, Blumlein, and other less conventional stereo techniques.

Warm Audio is now shipping its new WA-47 tube LDC microphone, inspired by the Neumann U47. An all-vacuum tube mic, the WA-47 offers nine patterns, utilizes a custom reproduction of the vintage 47-style capsule, and is designed with the same hole pattern and frequency response as the original. The WA-47 also features a Slovak Republic JJ 5751 vacuum tube; an American-made TAB-Funkenwerk (AMI) USA transformer with large core-imported German laminations; and Swiss Gotham Cable for its 7-pin GAC-7 cable.

Strother Bullins is a pro audio technologist and educator.