Dec 22, 2009

When you pay a lot for a brand name mic (that is, if you even have the money in the first place) you are paying for a quality design, build and components, right? For the most part that’s true. But it is frustrating to know that you are also paying more simply for the brand name and in some cases the vintage of the mic, which implies a certain quality. Conversely, you may save money on a cheap mic, but it’s even more frustrating to hear the poor sounding results. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just take your cheap mic to a mic guru and have him soup it up into a super high-quality, boutique mic? Well, that’s exactly what Michael Joly of OktavaMod in Springfield, MA does. This boutique service from OktavaMod is the biggest step forward for home recordists in a long time. In fact, this aftermarket modifying and upgrading service is part of a bigger trend in audio products that I believe will become a huge part of the market in the next few years.

OktavaMod offers an array of awesome mods for Chinese and Russian-made condenser and ribbon microphones, as well as selling new modified mics. The newest product available is the first one to be offered under the Michael Joly Editions brand – the MJE-K47H large diaphragm capsule head for popular 22 mm small diaphragm condenser mics (a.k.a. pencil condensers) like the MXL 603, the Nady CM95, etc. Michael Joly, President and founder of OktavaMod, sent me one to check out and it was totally amazing. The first thing I noticed about it was an extraordinarily clear, balanced signal. It was notably true-to-life. Working at a major studio I have access to many of the greatest mics ever made, and we’re especially strong in classic condensers. I put the MJE-K47H up against some of our more modern classic large diaphragm condensers – like the Neumann U 87 and the AKG 414 – and it was every bit as rich in the bottom and even more open and clear in the top end. In the time that I borrowed the MJE-K47H it became one of my favorite mics and certainly my go-to for all non-tube condenser tasks. If you’re looking for a smooth, velvety vocal mic I would generally go for a tube condenser. But when you need something crisp and accurate I would go for a more modern condenser design, and the MJE-K47H is my new favorite amongst some very tough competition in this realm.
OktavaMod employs a K47-type capsule in the MJE-K47H, which is modeled after the capsule used in the venerable Neumann U 47. It mimics the original K47 characteristics extremely closely – rich bottom, accurate mid-range, slight presence peak and an open top end. In fact, it tracks the original K47 capsule +/-1.5db across the operating frequency spectrum. Michael Joly carefully sought out a capsule manufacturer who could produce a K47-style capsule that would meet his performance, quality control and price specifications.

The first thing I used the MJE-K47H on was some hand percussion objects (triangle, shaker, wood and metal guiros), which are harmonically complex sounds can be surprisingly difficult to capture in a recording accurately. I often find that hand percussion can sound thin or dull even with decent mics. Or you can sometimes get that weird low frequency thump sound. But the MJE-K47H delivers a beautiful sound and avoids these problems entirely.

I learned from Michael Joly that the low-frequency thump you can hear in recording complex sounds is caused by what’s called intermodulation distortion. Intermodulation distortion (IM) is unlike harmonic distortion, which you hear in overdriven guitar amps. Harmonic distortion emphasizes harmonics present in the signal that are higher than the fundamental frequency, whereas IM is the sum and difference of two different frequencies that are present in the signal.
For example, if the sound of keys jingling simultaneously produces a tone at 1,000Hz as well as 1,200Hz the IM will be 200Hz, which is the difference of the two tones. By summing the two tones you emphasize the difference. So in this example, you can be recording a high frequency sound and the intermodulation distortion emphasizes a lower frequency that isn’t present in the actual sound.
That’s why using a mic with a lesser quality design, particularly when recording complex sounds like metal hand percussion, can cause an unpleasant low-frequency thump that is not true-to-life. IM occurs to a lesser extent when recording voice, for example, because voice is a less harmonically complex sound that doesn’t contain as many frequencies that are so close together. But if your mic is subjected to high IM it can make for a lower quality sound. The extremely low IM in the MJE-K47H speaks to the high quality of its capsule and makes it appropriate to record anything. I loved it on voice, acoustic guitar, piano, as a drum overhead, etc. In fact, I haven’t found anything that it doesn’t perform well on.

Another contributor to the MJE-K47H’s open sound is the single-layer headbasket. Most microphone headbaskets use three wire mesh grill layers, which creates standing wave coloration within the headbasket itself. This is totally avoided with the single-layer headbasket. The reduced screening does open you up to plosives when using it on vocals (from the singers breath), but that’s easily remedied with a pop filter.

It’s great that you have the option of buying either the Mono Kit (aluminum case, one MJE-K47H capsule head, one shock mount and space for user-supplied SDC and two capsules), Stereo Kit (aluminum case, two MJE-K47 capsule heads, two shock mounts and spaces for two user supplied SDCs and four capsules) or just the head alone to use with any 22 mm SDC body. I was truly blown away by this mic and it’s a tremendous value. Find more information at , take advantage of the pre-order discount and check out all of their other great mods! –

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