Small diaphram mics are some of the least regarded but most important mics on earth. There is a tremendous variety of these puppies. There are tube ones, transistor ones, gold diaphram ones, metal diaphram ones, bigger ones, smaller ones, silver ones and black ones. They all have a purpose and a reason for being. The tube ones were the first ones. They were born in the mid '50's. Neumann had the KM-53, KM-54 and KM-56. Born in '53, '54 and '56 (ironically?!) They all had metal diaphrams - the KM-53 (omni) was designed around an aluminum diaphram; very nice, very thin (.8 microns!), very detailed sound. The KM-54 (cardioid) capsule is nickel - also very thin, very detailed and open sounding. The KM-56 is back-to-back KM-54 capsules that are switchable to 3 patterns; omni, cardioid and figure 8.

The "60" series; KM-63, KM-64, KM-65 and KM-66 are gold diaphram mics. They (Neumann) started with a thin plastic diaphram, then sputtered gold onto it as a conductor. The end result is a warm, smooth, clear, sweet sounding capsule. The 63 was omni; 64 cardioid, 65 low-end roll-off cardioid and 66 multi-pattern. There was also the U-64 - a 7586 Nuvistor version of the KM-64 - made for export, primarily to the US.

At roughly the same time - A.K.G. introduced a small diaphram "modular" mic called the C-28. They used 2 different capsules; both gold diaphrams. One, the CK-26 is omni, the other CK-28 is a cardioid capsule. They then made the C-60 and C-61 microphones around the same capsules. There are nuances between these 3 mics, but they sound very similar - differences really depending on the capsules used.

Also at a similar point in time, Dr. Schoeps was making microphones - all small diaphrams and I think, most were metal! Schoeps capsules were very different from A.K.G.'s and Neumann's designs - and I think that the result has been very interesting - warm, interesting captivating sound.

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10/16/2004

A couple of thoughts regarding small diaphram mics - they can be VERY nice on vocals. The microphone police will not come bust you if you use one on your favorite singer. I used to use them (KM-86, transistor back-to-back KM-84 capsules in a side address switchable pattern mic) in Paris. They sounded nice, big, fat and warm with plenty of presence and detail. Small diaphram mics do tend to pop easily, so break out a good pop screen.

For some reason, people seem to think that large diaphram mics have a monopoly on vocal recording. There's a nifty mic made by Neumann & Co, (the East German Neumann) an M-582 who's omni capsule has a riding response a bit like a C-12. There's an engineer here in Nashville who discovered this and uses his regularly for "blue light" kinda sounds.

I used to use 1 KM-56 over a drum kit with a foot mic and a fill mic for the floor tom. Worked well.

There's a bunch of stereo mics - also small diaphram - that have been many engineer's heros many times. The Neumann issues are the SM-2 and the SM-23. Both mics are functionally identicle. They differ in that the SM-2 has a common voltage to the heaters (filaments) of the tubes (2 AC-701's) and a common high voltage for the capsules and plates. The SM-23 is really 2 mics in one body. They were made so that German recording engineers could use them with 2 N-52 power supplies instead of a special PSU. Both of these mics use a rolled nickel capsule - like having 4 KM-54 or 2 KM-56 capsules in one mic. Both capsules are variable pick-up and the top capsule physically rotates 270 degrees. These are really supple mics - great for inside a piano for rhythm tracks. You could put one over a drum set for a nice overhead pick-up or use one on an acoustic guitar for a good "in your face" stereo pick-up. They also work quite well as room mics. You could put them in Blumline, XY, MS or whatever.

Enough blathering for the moment - stay tuned..............

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11/1/2004

So, speaking of stereo mics - Buck Rogers anyone? (http://home.earthlink.net/~joesarno/tvcomics/buck.htm) Wow - you'd use a stereo mic - for what??? Aren't you worried about phasing? Ho hum........

I was one of those doubting 1000's who thought (back in the steam-driven age of recording) that stereo mics were gimmicks that were designed simply to empty one's bank account and occupy 2 despirately needed inputs and tracks. Well, there's more. This might be a tool as interesting and important as the toaster oven or hydraulic jack.

Phasing - they're made for it. Two capsules in perfect physical alignment have predictable phase relationships. When you take 2 mics and put them where "they look OK!" they well may be wrong - and what's that funny, out-of-focus sound that I'm hearing anyway? Well, it may well be that errant "I'm not quite in phase" thing that 2 not perfectly placed mics do so well.

Who could possibly fault having 2 of their favorite mics in one body? C-24 anyone? SM-69 - perhaps? SM-2 or SM-23? What fabulous creations. Two of the most interesting capsules ever in one location. Overhead; piano; room; guitar; percussion......I think so. I used a C-24 on Joe Hendenson - he loved it, I loved it, the producer loved it!!! Body, tone, air - MOVEMENT! Wow!

There are new ribbon stereo mics by Royer ( and yes, I am a Royer dealer). They are exceptionally cool. Smooth, directionally interesting and very civilized.

There's a whole other dimension out there.

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5/2/2005

Welcome back - I've been sleeping - this chapter is called - "A Capsule By Any Other Name........"

So what makes a really good mic or a really bad mic or even something in between. I think that the first MOST important element is it's capsule. A bit like a heart to a runner or an engine to a race car - good capsule, potentially good mic. Crappy capsule - forget about it. The condenser capsule was first designed in the '20's (that's 1920's). Capsules up until the white plastic thing that A.K.G. makes and laughingly calls a CK-12 were all made by hand by experience, talented, concerned people. These capsules were made in places that were clean and proper, in towns that were joyful and full of smiling children........ I digress. "Modern capsules" are often made by machine and by people who couldn't care less and earn less than my dog. Their machines are as precise as.......my dog. But these mics are cheap!!!

Precision and good design are what one pays for in a quality microphone capsule. The sputtering of the gold onto a precision backing, mounted with exactly the right tension then married to a good solid backplate well designed and executed are crucial. The execution of a good capsule takes tremendous precision in milling, drilling and filling. "Modern mics" tend to try to rip off old technology. They, of course, try to do it in 10% of the time using inferior materials and machines that don't care. The edges are rough, the tolerances are broad and the results are poor.

Really hot mics (M-49s, C-12s, KM-56s etc.) are things of beauty inside and out. Meeting of great capsules and great electronics, you can't go wrong. Boy, do they sound good! Quality mics will change your day! I always found it a pleasure to have something like a great mic to make my life (and work) easier.

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9/4/2005

Here at The Mic Shop, we've had an interesting surge of new mics and "refurbished" tube mics in to repair. Beware world - the shiny covers hold questionable contents. Most of the new condenser mics are made of surface mounted components, no transformers and extremely cheap construction methods. Granted, we are used to quality, vintage mics around here, but the change in technology is NOT an improvement to anything but the bottom line of the manufacturing company. I've never seen or heard a microphone output transformer that I didn't like. I personally think that the only reason that mic companies are making transformerless mics is so that they can save the cost of a transformer!

Then, there's the "refurbished" tube mic. Wow - is that a surprise. I was in downtown Nashville at a studio that had 2 "U-47's." They said that there was a problem with one of them; would I take a look. I said that I would - they requested a critique as I went inside. Were WE in for a surprise. I looked at the mic - it had been re-finished. The finish was wrong from original - oh well. I looked at the pattern switch -something wrong here - it had a wrong sized cardioid symbol. Oh well. I took the grill/capsule off of the mic. Hmmm, the mating pins were not Neumann, the capsule mounting deck was not Neumann, the mating plate was not Neumann. OK, so the mic needed a few new parts, I say, to get a U-47 back on its feet, sometimes one needs to be innovative.

Well, I took off the body shell - Oh my - there was NOTHING inside that had been made by or even concieved of by Neumann. This is a "refurb???" The tube was an EF-86, a good and viable tube - but what is this transformer and circuitry??? Georg was rolling over in his grave at that very moment!

I then took the capsule out - definitely NOT Neumann. It was a cheap imitation of a K-47 capsule. What could be more important to a mic - its capsule, hands down.

So - does the nice box, heavy case and well painted power supply make up for not having a U-47? You'd have to make that judgement for yourself - but for $7,500 - give me a real Neumann U-47 every time.

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