Fri, 17 July 2009
I recently posted something on Twitter that seemed to strike a chord, judging from how many retweets it seemed to generate. I said, "Sorry for the generalization but, microphones are to audio engineers what shoes are to women." It's an analogy that seems to work on several levels. Well, you can say I have a mic fetish but, I say, "What good engineer doesn't?" I think I should start my own brand of esoteric, boutique mics called Fetish and the flagship model can be The Stiletto. (Shhh -- don't tell anyone. It'll be our exclusive little mic.) There are some mics you don't necessarily reach for all the time and there are the work horses. You've got your Manolos of the mic world like the Neumann U 47 and then you have your 9 Wests like the SM57, MD421 and fat Heads. So, in my search for the "black pump" of tube condensers, I happen to call Dae Bennett (Tony Bennett's son), owner of bennett Studios (http://www.bennettstudios.com/news.html) in Englewood, New Jersey. I had heard some good things about the Audio-technica AT 4047 and, specifically, that it was used on all of the vocals on Tony's "Duets" album. Now, I know it's not a tube mic, but I was considering buying it but simply had to confirm that this mic was used on all of the vocals on that album. I had my doubts because I know that some of the vocalists on that recording like Sting and Stevie Wonder happen to use the Sony C800G a lot of the time. Dae confirmed that the AT 4047 was, in fact, used on all of the vocals except one. Turns out, what I heard was true -- Bono always seems to use a Shure SM58 Beta in the studio. Anyway, during our conversation, Dae mentioned the Apex 460 (http://www.apexelectronics.com/products.asp?cat=21&type=1&id=74). I hadn't heard much about the mic so, when I learned that someone had modified a pair for him, I was intrigued and began researching the mic. I was amazed at the differences of opinion this mic caused. I wish I had known about RecordingHacks.com (http://www.recordinghacks.com) at that point. It probably would have saved me a lot of surfing time. Matthew McGlynn does an amazing job with his Microphone Database (http://recordinghacks.com/microphones). It has tremendously useful links to the manufacturers' web sites, spec sheets, owner's manuals, etc. At a certain point, I found Dan Richard's side-by-side comparison (http://www.studioreviews.com/m16-460.htm) of the R-F-T Telefunken M16 and the Apex 460 on StudioReviews.com (http://www.studioreviews.com). Turns out that, apart from three resistors, the mics are identical. Of course, the $1,400 price tag for the M16 seemed a little steep as compared with the $229 cost of the 460. Telefunken re-released the mic as the M16 Mark II with the same price tag but allegedly upgraded components. So, further research revealed that the Apex 460 was just a rebranded Alctron HST-11A (http://www.alctron-audio.com/encpShow.asp?id=70) which is a Chinese-made multi-pattern tube condenser that seemed to appear under many names including Nady and Carvin, among others. There seemed to be a number of modifications that some folks were doing like transformer swaps, changing the capsules, capacitors and tubes. There were some guys like Dave Thomas, whose company, Advanced Audio (http://www.aamicrophones.com), offered highly modified versions of the HST-11A and branded them with their own names like the CM12 (http://www.aamicrophones.com/tube_mics/cm_12.htm). In some cases, third party "mic moders" were using the Peluso CEK-12(http://www.pelusomicrophonelab.com/capsnmnts.html) as an upgrade from the stock capsule. Further, I discovered that Peluso themselves offered a similar mic known as the P12 (http://www.pelusomicrophonelab.com/P12.html). All of these mics were essentially based on the legendary AKG C 12. Not being in a position to justify the cost of a vintage C 12, I found the Apex 460 at Full Compass Systems (http://www.fullcompass.com/product/314911.