AKG D321 Microphone
Austrian mike supremos AKG have earned an enviable reputation over the years - although it's possibly still true to say that their products are more commonly found in recording and broadcast studios than on the road. Their new lead vocal mike, the AKG D321, sets out very much to rectify that however, as we found when testing it, this model certainly has definite applications for recording purposes too.
The D321 is a very sturdily made, low impedance dynamic mike with a 'hyper-cardioid' pickup pattern. This means that its area of sensitivity to incoming sounds is restricted to a very tight 'head-on' area roughly resembling a confined heart shape. The idea here is to reduce unwanted pick-up of other vocalists, backline amp sounds, foldback monitors and audience noise, with only the individual mike user's voice being being reproduced.
Physically, the D321 is a tough-looking, sturdy mike. The die-cast zinc body comes with a grey/bronze metallic enamel crackle-finish with the letters 'AKG D321' writ large down its body, which measures approx. 7 1/3" from tip to toe. The conical (foam rubber lined) dulled-mesh grille unscrews to reveal the easily 'field replaceable' magnetic cartridge within - no reliability problems should be experienced with this unit and any damage should be repairable very quickly indeed. No on/off switch is fitted to this model and connection is via the usual XLR 3-way type. No lead was provided with the review sample, but an AKG SA 41/1 screw-on adaptor was supplied, along with the foam-lined plastic carrying case. The D321, being well suited for professional use, should be wired to take account of its balanced output and needs an amp or mixer impedance of at least 600 Ohms.
Visually, the AKG looks distinctive, partly due to the avoidance of the usual bright chrome ball head; and its substantial body (with a weight of around 11 3/4oz.) makes it feel a particularly comfortable, well-balanced mike for hand held uses. Technically speaking, AKG claim a frequency response ranging from 40-20,000Hz. for the D321. In practice, however, the sound rolls-off quite steeply at 15kHz, which is just as well - what vocalist sings up to 20kHz! In fact, the frequency response chart in the excellent handbook which accompanies this mike shows this roll-off effect clearly, as well as the optimum response pattern which (assuming it is reached with individual samples, which seems a reasonable enough proposition given AKG's reputation) shows a fast rising response from -11 to 0dB occurring between 75 and 150Hz, creating a sensible and useful bass roll-off effect which should help to eliminate boominess and unwanted bass resonance, particularly that which comes up the mike stand through hollow stage floors and causes chaos in your sound.
Apart from the quality of the mike itself one thing we really must congratulate AKG on is the superb User Instruction Guide which comes with this mike. It not only explains, in commendably clear and concise English, exactly what the mike is supposed to do and how to get the best from if but also contains sections on the 'proximity effect' (the tendency all dynamic mikes have to increase their bass response the closer you sing into them), feedback avoidance (with a special reference to the problems caused by floor monitors), room reverb, Eq. on the mixer (how best to set it), how to use the mike with two singers, using the D321 with flute, sax, harmonica, acoustic guitar, wiring-up and so on. This really is an object lesson in the type of information which all mike makers should give with their products, and we take our hats off to AKG for having done such a thorough job!
One of the first things to check with any mike intended for lead vocal use is handling noise. We found this a definite plus factor in the AKG's favour - it was very capable of coping with even quite aggressive handling without reproducing any noticeable handling noise to speak of. Again, this will come in very useful with a good P.A. and a lively singer.
The D321 has an internally fitted foam windshield, but we did feel that a really over the top Rock singer could find a conventional external windshield a useful addition - and maybe AKG agree, as they offer two as optional extras? For the more restrained vocalist however, the 'blast resistance" would be fine.
'Intelligibility" (another major factor with vocal mikes) was of an excellent order with the D321. The mike has that welcome sign of a well-developed lead vocal dynamic; an upper-mid boost which not only gives the AKG a good 'attack' but helped make spoken announcements between songs more clear. Equally, songs where lyrics were important also sounded clear and crisp with no unwanted boom, unless, of course, the vocalist was too close to the mike, in which case the D321, like nearly all dynamics, will emphasise the bass response. Rejection of unwanted audience noises and even the general backline din were well contained, as was any tendency towards feedback. Unfortunately, we weren't able to test the D321 with either sax or flute (two instruments which AKG say the D321 is suited for) but we did try acoustic guitar in a home studio set-up, along with vocals. Again, the response was crisp and clear, the marked presence peak rendering our test Manson Sandpiper very faithfully.
There's no doubting that AKG have produced a very fine mike with this newcomer. It seems to be extremely truthful in its vocal reproduction, without being 'flat' - not a quality which most singers would want on stage. It also has a usefully wide frequency response, which suits it to instrument miking as well. The D321 is certainly one of the best lead vocal mikes we've tried and would be ideal on stage. Happily, it will also double for home recording where its aptitude for acoustic guitars and vocals could be stretched further, we suspect, to include even more instruments than AKG's recommended sax, vocals and harp. Extremely well made, with a great sound, the AKG D321 is a thoroughly professional mike which we would recommend wholeheartedly.
RRP £113.85 Inc. VAT
Details of AKG products from AKG Acoustics Ltd., (Contact Details).
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