Ever recorded a whole mix with bright condenser microphones? —and then battling treble and transients, and trying to “warm up” sounds for a week afterwards? You’re not alone!
The modern solid-state condenser’s older sibling—the tube condenser—is often associated with a smoother treble and more mid-range warmth. The number one benchmark for tube condensers have for years been the original Neumann U 47 Tube. When used up front in the mix on, lets say vocals; it tends to create a warm and pleasant nearness of the voice. When used further back in the mix on drums or layered textures it creates a less intrusive sound that fits better into the background of the mix.
In this post I’ll have a look at four tube condensers with contrasting sound. None of them will break the bank—at least not compared to a vintage Neumann!
AKG Perception 820
AKG Perception 820€ 545 currently at thomann.de, which is below originally intended marked price.
A few years back AKG released the Perception series to provide a low-cost alternative to some of their pricier models. With AKG’s high build-quality and this microphone’s sensible price it has the chance to be a modern classic in the lower price-range. Sound on Sound’s Paul White compared it to a Røde K2, but with a “more assertivepresence lift.” The microphone comes complete with a shockmount and a powersupply with selectable polar patterns and switches. This would be a great all-rounder especially for vocals, acoustic guitars and percussion. If you are considering buying one of these there are some interesting media you can check out. The first one is Sound on Sound’s audio-files where you can compare the same sources recorded with both the Perception 820 and the classic AKG C12VR. The other one is the attached promo video for the Perception range. You can hear the sources in isolation and the finished track is out on iTunes together withthe rest of the album.
the t.bone SCT 2000
A brand-name that makes you think of American food? ‘the t.bone’ is German online retailer Thomann’s own range of products. This microphone also comes with a shockmount and power supply, plus a wooden box to keep it in, and a suitcase for the whole set. Ingo Vauk wrotein a review in Sound on Sound that the SCT 2000 had a clear and transparent top end and a soft mid-range “— a useful set of attributes when it came to recording a male vocal that was a little edgy in high mid-range. The sound I originally captured with a Neumann KM84 was nice enough, but needed some mid-range taken out with the EQ. When I replaced it for the SCT2000 I got the sound without the EQ, giving a more natural result.” He also mentions how double-tracking and stacking up textures worked well with this microphone.
I think we’re on the track of a poor boys’ U 47 Tube substitute here. If the characteristics Ingo Vauk describes holds true for drums it would be a very exciting microphone to use for overheads.
Pearlman TM 1
|$ 1600 at vintageking.com|
If a U 47 is what you are looking for, this is currently one of the best value-for-money options you have. The Pearlman TM1 is designed and hand-made by Dave Pearlman. Like the microphones mentioned above this one also ships with shockmount, case, power supply and all you need to get started. If you are just starting up your own home-studio, this mic probably still costs a nice little sum of money. But if the classic U 47 sound is what you are looking for, this is really the price-point where the action gets started. Here is a little more information from Tape Op Magazine and here is an interview with Dave Pearlman about the microphone.
Cathedral Pipes Regensburg Dom
|$ 1800 at www.cathedralpipes.com|
The New Kid on the Block! This blog post was originally going to be limited to three microphones, but I just couldn’t leave this one out! If you forgive me for getting off topic for a moment, this is probably one of the funkiest looking microphones on the marked right now.
Cathedral Pipes is quite a new brand but definitely one to be reckoned with. It is the brainchild of musician and electrical engineer Chuck Dickinson who design and manufacture these microphones in the US. The Regensburg Dom is similarly priced to the Pearlman TM 1 and is a more modern (brighter and more bite) interpretation of the classics U 47 and U 67. The Regensburg Dom also ships with shock mount, power supply, cable and case. If you are considering buying one, Cathedral Pipes have put some vocal samples on their webpage along with some impressive endorsements. In fact, if you are into classic condenser and ribbon microphones, Cathedral Pipes is a manufacturer well worth a closer look!
Here is what Tape Op Magazine wrote about the Regensburg Dom and here is an interview with Chuck Dickinson explaining the microphone range.
The AKG combines a classic tube-sound with a more modern presence boost. The t.bone is as classic tube sound as you’ll get on a low budget. The Peralman is a modern version of the well-proven U 47 formula at a very attractive price. Finally, the Cathedral Pipes is a mix of two historic microphones and will give you classic valve sound with modern style presence.
When the SE Electronics 2200 Tube came out some years ago I had the chance to do a speech test through a Focusrite ISA One on it shortly after. I knew how everyone were raving on about the solid-state version of that microphone, but I never managed to fall for it. There was nothing wrong with it and I usually recorded through a Toft Audio ATB console which I quite liked, but there was never any love at first sight for me. The tube-version through the Focusrite however was a totally different story—I got the creamy Neve-ness combined with the mid-range warmth of the tube microphone. That combination was love at first sight!
If you are a project-studio owner and you have a few decent microphones but are lacking creaminess or warmth, maybe a really nice pre-amp would get you just as far as a new microphone. A good pre-amp can also add some really nice life to D.I. recordings of bass and guitar. If I plan to use a software amp-simulator I always try to record with a little extra gain through valves. You don’t need the most expensive pre-amp for D.I. recordings, but it could turn out to be the factor that takes a digital recording from flat to lifelike. For a high-quality classic valve-sound the Universal Audio 610 Solo comes well within the maximum budget of the most pricy mics above, and so does the Focusrite Isa One if you rather want to go down the solid state Neve-route. Both manufacturers offer mono, stereo and multitrack options for these pre-amps.
Another way entirely for a smooth classic sound, which I won’t be covering here, is a high-quality ribbon microphone. I have shared some thoughts on this in an earlier blog post.
A great couple of resource if you are interested in the sound of Neumann/ Telefunken U 47 are www.u47clones.com and www.u47lovers.com.
|Original U47 Tube. (Photo Credits)|