From Russia with love...
Three-capsule Russian condenser mic
Deep inside a former 'closed city' south of Moscow lies a factory specialising in making parts for Kalashnikov rifles. Chris Kempster discovers that luckily for music fans, it also makes the Oktava MK012, a capacitor microphone with three alternative capsules and one hell of a low price. So what's the catch?
The first Russian microphone to set foot (or should that be socket?) on British shores was the Oktava MK219. It impressed the staff of one of this magazine's predecessors, Home & Studio Recording, with its warm, large-diaphragm sound and ridiculously low price-tag, if not for its build quality and aesthetic appearance.
Luckily, the worldwide distributors of the Oktava range of mics, A S McKay, have exerted a certain amount of influence in improving the quality of products coming from Oktava's factory. This can be dramatically seen by comparing a 1994 vintage MK219 with the 1992 model Home & Studio had for review. Whereas the latter was roughly finished in unpromising white metal, the more recent version is smoother all-round and benefits from the option of a studio-chic matt black finish.
And what is true of the MK219 is also true of the MK012, a high-quality capacitor mic with interchangeable capsules. In fact, packed in its little wooden presentation box, along with its three capsules, the MK012 looks more like a product from the range of one of the more prestigious Western microphone manufacturers than one made in the former USSR.
It's hard to believe that this package weighs in (if that's the phrase) at only £350. For that you get the mic body, three capsules, mic clip, and presentation box. The only thing missing is a pop shield.
The main body of the MK012 is only about three inches long and has an attractive brushed alloy finish. A -10dB pad screws onto the top of the main body, and one of the three capsules can in turn be screwed onto the pad, or if you don't want the pad, straight onto the body. The screw-on pad saves the need for a switch and, while the latter would have been more convenient, there's less to go wrong by keeping the design as simple as it is. I would, however, have liked to have seen a bass roll-off switch - it might not get used every day, but there are certain situations when it comes in handy.
The clip that comes with the mic is a really clever design - its clamp consists of two overlapping sections which hold the mic firmly when required, but give up their charge easily when pushed together. The inside of the clip is lined with leather which, as well as ensuring that the mic is held in position, also emphasises the aura of quality that surrounds this product.
Wood and leather - it sounds as if I'm talking about an expensive British car, not a Russian microphone. Let's see if the Oktava is better than a Jag at getting a decent sound onto tape...
The MK012 comes with cardioid, hypercardioid, and omnidirectional capsules - enough to ensure that it is versatile enough to be used in a wide range of applications. The frequency response is quoted at 20Hz-20kHz, which is a fair bit better at the top end than the aforementioned MK219.
This shows up straight away when recording acoustic guitar, where the higher transients seem a lot clearer than anything the MK219 could produce. Using the hypercardioid capsule, the Oktava gets right in on the action, giving a pick's-eye (or ear?) view of the sound at the guitarist's fingers. As you might expect, the omni capsule gives a softer and more ambient representation.
"Using the hypercardioid capsule, the Oktava gets right in on the action"
That's the beauty of a modular mic, though: you can change its character almost instantly, and experiment until you're happy with the sound you're getting. However, it must be stressed that this mic is a totally different kettle of fish to the MK219, which gives a warm, large-diaphragm sound, perfect for use on vocals. By comparison, the MK012 doesn't give the same kind of character to either male or female voice. It is useable as a vocal mic - but you'll definitely need to get a pop-shield.
On the noise side, the Oktava proves equal to the challenge laid down by digital recorders. Playing back music recorded onto a Fostex RD8 (ADAT) revealed very little residual noise emanating from the mic.
The Russians are carving out their own niche in a particularly competitive market by providing high-quality mics at very attractive prices, and the MK012 is the perfect example of this. The build quality and presentation are impressive, and with an experienced and well-resourced distributor now behind them, there seems little cause to worry about long-term reliability and back-up.
Being as versatile as it is, this particular mic looks a very attractive prospect for personal studios, but I can also see it being picked up by professionals who will warm to its accurate sound, robust construction, and compact size. A couple of MK012s would do nicely for recording orchestral music and acoustic ensembles: either as a crossed pair with the cardioid capsule screwed on, or as a spaced pair with the omni capsules to give a more spacious sound...
Apologies if I seem to be getting a bit carried away. The point is, you get a lot of mic for your money when you buy Oktava, and the MK012 is no exception. With yet more mics soon to come from this and other former-Soviet stables, I have a feeling it's a name we'll be hearing a lot more from.
Price inc VAT: £352
More from: A S McKay, (Contact Details)
Gear in this article:
Review by Chris Kempster
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