Vintage mics are just plain cool. Both legacy and newbie mic builders continue to study at the altar of past designs of diaphragms, backplates, housings, electronics and capsules, while breaking new ground with emulations and innovations. The majority of that infatuation has been tube- and large-diaphragm-based, but a nice crop of fresh, new small-condenser mics have popped up over the past year.
Nothing improves your tone like adding a new mic (or three) to record silkier overheads, transparent toms, and incredibly present guitars, pianos, vocals, strings, hand percussion and more. Defining a large-diaphragm as 1-inch and above and a small-condenser as everything under 20 mm (¾-inch), Mix looks at the latest offerings in condenser mics of the small variety.
From ADK's Audiophile Series-FET comes the new A-51sc Small-Capsule Condenser High-SPL Version mic ($399). Introduced at Winter NAMM 2002, the A-51sc is a true condenser design with a 20mm diaphragm, fixed-cardioid polar pattern and 20 to 20k Hz frequency range. ADK suggests its latest mic — which weighs a mere 4.2 ounces — for pianos, snares, strings, overheads and that sweet spot at the twelth fret of an acoustic guitar. A -10dB pad has been added to the A-51sc, making it a good kick drum mic, as well. Included are a mic clip, vinyl pouch and small flight case.
Next up is the C 451B ($549) from AKG (see Mix review April 2002). Dedicated to the company's classic 1969 CMS Series mic with interchangeable capsules (namely, the C 451 EB plus CK 1), the new mic boasts improved specs while faithfully reproducing the original's acoustical behavior. Features include a switchable highpass filter (75 or 150 Hz), switchable pre-attenuation pad, and a flat, on-axis frequency response from 20 to 20k Hz. The mic also provides excellent RF interference protection.
Audio-Technica's new 30 Series includes the AT3031 cardioid and AT3032 omnidirectional small-diaphragm, fixed-charge backplate, permanently polarized condensers. Both models have a frequency response of 30 to 20,000 Hz, a conservatively rated self-noise of 16 dBA, high-SPL-handling capability (148 dB, or 158 dB with the -10dB pad switched in), and an 80Hz, 12dB/octave, low-frequency, roll-off switch. The mics are priced at $259 each, with stand clamp, foam windscreen and protective pouch.
As we went to press, we heard about the new M-Series miniature condenser mics from Audix. Its 12mm capsule is housed in a compact, 90mm-long body, with internal FET electronics based around the company's popular SCX-1 preamp. Optional interchangeable capsules offer users the choice of cardioid, hypercardioid or omni patterns. The mic (with one capsule) retails at $399; a version with pad and LF roll-off switches is $499.
Unveiled at AES Munich 2002, Beyerdynamic's cardioid MC 930 condenser is optimized for piano, percussion, brass and overheads, and offers high-end performance at a low price. Intended for either studio or live applications, the MC 930 is a true condenser design featuring a cardioid pickup pattern, a nonreflective black finish, recessed switches for -15dB pad and a -6dB/octave bass roll-off at 200 Hz. Specs include a 30 to 20,000Hz frequency response and a signal-to-noise ratio of 71 dB.
CAD's GXL1200 cardioid instrument mic ($99) is a compact, rugged omnidirectional condenser model. Frequency response is 30 to 20k Hz in this 5.33-inch, 4-ounce mic that operates on either 24-volt or 48V phantom sources.
Now distributed by Midiman, the Groove Tubes line of true condenser mics includes two end-address models with 0.75-inch capsules and 6-micron, gold-evaporated diaphragms. The GT33 studio cardioid is based on solid-state, phantom-powered, Class-A FET electronics and retails at $599, including hardmount, shockmount and hard mic case. The cardioid GT44 (with optional interchangeable omni and hypercardioid capsules) features Class-A electronics using a GT6205 vacuum tube. The GT44's $999 retail includes a PSM1 power supply, multipin 25-foot soft audio cable, hardmount, shockmount, AC power cable and mic case. All Groove Tubes mics measure within ±1 dB of a standard reference mic, so matched pairs are available at no additional cost.
The MXL 603 Instrument Micro- phone ($99) from Marshall Electronics is a new 20mm, 6-micron, gold-diaphragm condenser mic. Intended primarily for drum, ambient and orchestral miking applications, the supercardioid MXL 603 is internally wired with high-quality Mogami cable throughout and is externally finished in classic silver. Specs include a 20 to 25k Hz frequency range and 137dB maximum SPL, and its transformerless design provides a solid bottom and open top end. It's also offered bundled with Marshall's large-diaphragm MXL 2001-P as the $199 Recording Package.
Two new small condenser mics from Germany-based MBHO have been released since last year's New York AES convention. The cardioid MBNM 440 CL ($369, with a surcharge for matched pairs) has a 4-inch body in a nonreflective, matte black finish. The MBP 603 ($639 with body and modular KA-200 capsule; $699 in special Nextel finish) is a transformerless mic body that accommodates a number of MBHO capsule cartridges. Omnidirectional, cardioid, hypercardioid, figure-8 and other capsules are offered.
Known for its wireless systems, Nady Systems also offers wired condensers, including the SPC-15, a multipurpose vocal/instrument mic with a 50 to 18k Hz frequency response and a mid-high presence boost. This supercardioid, back electret condenser handles up to 136dB SPLs and retails at $119.95.
Added last year to the MK012 condenser line, Oktava's MK012a ($129) is a single-capsule cardioid mic based on the company's interchangeable MK012. Like the MK012's body, the MK012a has a frequency response of 20 to 20k Hz and can be specially ordered in matched pairs. The MK012 Multi-Capsule package comes with three interchangeable condenser capsules (omni, hypercardioid and cardioid) and includes a 10dB pad for high-SPL situations.
RØDE Microphones debuted its NT4 and NT5 mics at Winter NAMM 2002. The stereo NT4 ($899) is a cardioid true condenser with two ½-inch capsules mounted in a 90° X-Y arrangement. Suited for studio or location recording, the NT4 includes XLR and mini jack cables, and it can operate on phantom power or a single 9V battery. Specs include a 20 to 20k Hz response, 128dB dynamic range, 143dB SPL handling and 78dB signal-to-noise ratio. RØDE's NT5 ($599) is a matched pair of cardioid condensers offering stereo recording at a more affordable price. The NT5 is sold as a set with two matched mics, a custom-molded carry case, two stand adapters and a pair of foam screens — all weighing just four pounds complete. Each of the two NT5s included has specs identical to the two-headed NT4.
Two new versions of the U.S. Edition Stereo Set were announced in April of this year by Schoeps. The CMC64 ST ($1,845) features a pair of stereo-matched cardioid mics in a custom wood box complete with two elastic suspensions and pop screens. The ST system has a frequency range of 40 to 20k Hz, 132dB maximum SPL, 12 to 48V phantom power and comes in a soft-gray matte finish. The CMC64 ($875) is identical in specs and performance, but comes as a single MK4 cardioid capsule with a custom wood box and without the elastic suspension. U.S. Edition Stereo Sets offer six configurations for coincident, near-coincident and A/B arrays. Each CMC64 set features two sequential serial-numbered Schoeps CMC6 amplifiers and a pair of capsules factory-matched for frequency response and sensitivity.
Randy Alberts is a California-based audio/music journalist. His first book, Tascam: 25 Years of Recording Evolution, is expected to ship later this summer.
This article focuses on new small-diaphragm condenser mics; however, there are numerous existing products available from other manufacturers, so the following list includes companies not mentioned in the text. Here are some Websites to check out for further information.
Applied Microphone Technology
Benson Audio Labs