“Reklamophon®” Sound Recording Studio, Kazan, 2012

Extract from http://www.zvukprofi.ru/

Testing comparison of new Oktava flagship: OktaLab MKL-111microphone

Tube flagships of microphone manufactures with world famous names as Neumann, MicrotechGefell, Telefunken, Brauner, etc. are a special caste, elite club, with no childish comparison of characteristic values, with no losers, where the difference is not quality, as quality is high for everyone, rather than character, tone and details.

Oktava Company from Tula with its tube microphone OktaLab MKL-111 applied for membership in this club. Due to its acquisition to the microphone fleet of “Reklamophon” Sound Recording Studio we had a good chance to perform a number of comparative tests and establish how good the flagship of Oktava microphone range is.

Having started writing this article I realized how quickly time passes in the world of scientific achievements. Just think of it: almost a century has passed since invention of a condenser microphone by scientist Wente in 1917! At first these were unique tube laboratory samples, then rare items produced in the same laboratory and only George Neumann, apostle of microphone building, developed this up to the level unseen before — industrial mass output of studio condenser microphones under Neumann brand and Telefunken under license.

Years passed, and Neumann made improvements in design and production technology as well. His achievements were distributed all over the world. New and new manufacturers, models and brands appeared. All-round tube in microphone cascade was replaced with a “transistor”, which is now installed in most microphones being sold.

Now any music forum people broke their spears in endless fight of “tube vs transistor” — even a separate article covers this topic at our site. Sounders from all over the world are dazzled from wide range and mottling pallet of offered microphones of budget and average price level — many spears have been broken in the field “worse/better”, just for a couple of burial mounts. And this is just, as far as the range of difference for budget and average cost manufacturers is great and contrasts of sound reproduction are striking.

Still one thing has remained unchanged: tube flagships of microphone manufacturers with world names – it is a special caste, elite club, with no childish comparison of characteristic values, with no losers, where difference is not quality, as quality is high for everyone, rather than character, tone and details.

The year of 2012 was remarkable for appearance of the new member of this privilege club. Oktava factory was famous for its microphones before and they were highly appreciated by famous world studios, whose microphone fleets count Oktava microphones as well. And recently world music public was presented with a new flagship under the new trade name: tube condenser microphone OktaLab MKL-111. The manufacturer makes a focus – this new microphone should take place in the line of the most decent models of world brands:

“Developing its range of tube microphones of high class, Oktava OJSC set a target to create a capsule close to the best classic models in sounding. A new microphone OktaLab MKL-111 was specially designed for such double diaphragm capsule with cast-in-one electrode. This is a tube microphone with a unique variable pattern. All electronics is installed inside a heavy brass body, excluding occurrence of internal resonance. Rare tubes EC 92 are used in pre-amplifier. High-quality transformer ensures minimum level of distortion and good overload capacity. Microphone pattern changes smoothly with the help of a regulator on power supply unit – from figure of eight to circle through cardioid. Sound director has a chance to set a pattern that suits the case most of all”.

Rare tubes ÅÑ 92 are used in pre-amplifier

Is it possible to see, based on mere figures, what a beast has settled in our sound recording studio? Just listen, compare and test! Microphone fleet of “Reklamophon” Sound Recording Studio counts a decent rival to Oktava MKL-111 — tube large diaphragm cardioid microphone Gefell M990. Tube microphones of MicrotechGefell Company are respected and generally admitted members of elite club of tube microphone flagships and MKL-111 has a serious colleague, rather than a rival in that meaning.

At the end of January 2012 “Reklamophon” Sound Recording Studio received an email from a sales manager of Oktava OJSC with an offer to consider procurement of microphones with bonus discount. This email was right about, as we were just about to procure 2 stereo pairs of MK-012 microphones to sound overheads at drum record, ribbon microphone ML52-01 and tube microphone MKL-5000. Oktava microphones are selected on purpose. The studio has had MK-101 and MK-519 microphones of this manufacturer already that always made us glad with a decent sound. Maybe, those who say that Oktava has rather variable quality of different products are right, and probably we were just lucky. But microphones available in the studio totally won respect to this brand. Discussing details of the order we found out that the factory had produced a tube flagship MKL-111. We thought of getting MKL-111 instead of MKL-5000 at once. But it turned to be not so easy: the factory made only 3 test items for exhibitions and testing at external studios (Mosfilm) and its own laboratories. Having cleared out all the details, “Reklamophon” Sound Record Studio was the first buyer of this microphone, as one of these three microphones became a commercial product, and this first-born is proud of silver plate (!) with serial No.001.

Delivery time of the microphone delayed by a serious, as we think, reason:

“Testing of your microphone discovered a defect of the purchased rare tube that does not allow microphone to reach desired quality of sounding. A new tube will arrive at the end of this week (Thursday or Friday). We realize that we have already postponed the delivery and cause you troubles. But still we ask you to wait a little more (delivery will be performed on the next Monday, February 20), as quality of sounding is the main thing in this microphone. I think you and we are equally interested in this. Once again take our apologies and hope for your understanding”

Right. A week term does not play a big role and quality is above all. I developed respect to the manufacturer for such shivery attitude to his reputation. We paid 57,600 rubles, including bonuses, for the microphone with declared cost of 72,000 rubles. Long week of waiting ended and the female voice in my telephone, on behalf of the transport company, notified that I could receive the delivery in Kazan. Inspired by musical enthusiasm, it took me an hour to get to the warehouse and back to the studio, hardly bearing invaluable package. Frankly speaking, I did not expect the case to be so heavy, surprisingly robust and reliable. Oktava ML-012 Quadro and tube microphone Oktava ML-52-01 were inside. Both sides of the case were carefully marked by an Oktava employee, warning transportation staff, who is not far from legendary post loaders in terms of its care and warmth to deliveries, about fragile delivery.

The case was upholstered with steel strap and nails and seemed to be indestructible (it’s good that Oktava rather than Ural Coach Building Plant produces microphones), so that I was standing in front of it and thinking, matching screwdrivers, scissors and a plastic ruler and could not get a reply to a thought in my mind: “Well, here we are to sing in the microphone… What am I gonna do with this safe now?” Thanks to skills of applied vandalism from spunky childhood in Kazan the microphones have been extracted.

The first impression: “what a huge and heavy mic, and the main thing – very solid, noble and high-bred”. I really did not expect for such appearance from post-Soviet defense factory. Microphone was really impressing with his dimensions. Here is the picture of it close to handset – you can estimate dimensions yourself. The manufacturer claims that nameplates have been produced from silver. Curious hands reached to test the nameplate material by correlation method according to the Mohs scale. It is complex, isn’t it? So, I scrubbed it with a fork:) No, really, I shouldn’t fetch an acid for an expensive microphone:) A slight scratch in the corner of nameplate brought me that it was really silver.

As far as this microphone was produced beyond commercial lot, company package (casing) was not included in the set. Microphone was accompanied with a spider shock mount, power supply unit with pattern regulation lever and cables. It was clear and easy to install the microphone in spider and stand. Having connected microphone and turned it on, I heard an awful noise and groaning in the channel. I heard the chorus in my head that was born when I saw the wooden box. I touched the cords and after some experiments I realized that the reason was in a “dirty socket” with network interference. I reconnected supply cord and the microphone sounded as it should.

The microphone path in “Reklamophon” Sound Recording Studio comprises the following devices:

LongStereochannel microphone pre-amplifier. This is device of domestic production as well, it is famous for its neutral and rather decent sound. Unfortunately, we couldn’t receive tube pre-amplifier that we had ordered for the studio and that was why microphone recording was ensured via “Long”.

TC ElectronicKonnekt 48 Studio was used as a converter/audio interface.

DSP arrangement on TC Electronic PowerCore FireWire was used in examples with arranged voice and mixes.

OktaLab MKL-111 and Gefell M990 microphones were installed as close as possible to each other for synchronous recording, but it was a difficult task with regard to such dimensions and weight, and we could hear in one of the tests that speaker reads straighter in one of the microphones compared to another. That is why different doubles were used in a number of tests at recording ensured from the same distance.

Now we can proceed with test records. All records were made at 96 kHz/24 bit and cardioids pattern (except for ML52-01 — only figure of eight is possible there due to the design). Provided samples were converted to 44.1 kHz/16 bit.

Male Baritone

The first test record was started with voiceover of calm information text of the speaker. Frankly speaking, I am not good at voice patterns, but I just called myself a baritone. Of course, a noble and charming one:)

It is rather a personal and ungrateful thing to make any conclusions from the recorded samples. Ideally I would like my colleagues not to read my opinion, rather make their own conclusions, but I suppose that review will be read by not so tempted and experienced beginning sound producers, and this opinion could help them to make up their mind somehow. One day I used to be the one:) That is why I shall express my opinion, not pretending for ultimate truth. It is crazy to make dogmatic conclusions in such an ephemeral world as sound (though, as in any other creative branch). All the below impressions are simply my personal taste favors.

Sound of MKL-111 seemed to me more detailed and clear, and voice in Ì990 sounds tougher at low middle. Despite of difference in sound, the first test showed how good MKL-111 is, not worse than Gefell.

It was clear at once that sound of microphones is recorded in opposite phase. Some microphones can turn the phase over. It is not a problem, as you can always turn the phase back, having pushed a button on host mixer:) Moreover, you might need it only in exotic conditions, like these tests. I can hardly imagine that someone could face it in reality. As it is useless to record in 2 microphones in mono, and it is a quite original solution to use 2 different microphones as a stereo pair.

To add marks in the sound, I’ve made test records in Oktava MK-519 and Oktava ML-52-01 microphones.

Compared to tube microphones the loud “ssss” is recognized with MK-519, though it does not damage the sound, it is just a remark. I was surprisingly pleased with sound of MK-519; it was rather good compared to older colleagues.

Sound of the ribbon microphone ML-52-01 should be commented individually. Ribbon microphones have rather specific sounding, at first it is frightening for those who work with them for the first time. Strong point of ribbon microphones is bass registers: male bass, cello and double bass. You can see how much “body and support” is in the sound, even when it is unarranged.

Every colleague reading this article can download original samples and try to know how recorded samples will sound when arranged or in their projects. But my examples with arranged voice might be interesting for those who are lazy or just beginners. All the examples provided were subject to dynamic processing (with compressors), no equalizers have been used (unless otherwise stated). Preset with aggressive settings was used to make it a big deal:).

Both Gefell and Oktava produced wonderful sound, and either of them is colored in his own way, but either is noble. ML52-01 comes out of the range. Preset was the same, and microphone was totally different. I should “lighten” his top with equalizer a bit.

Adding top, we are unavoidable from bringing noises and “ssss” out. A bit of denoiser and we can make it. Sound is specific, but as for me it is good:) Beef will suffice for a whole pan there. Ribbon microphone makes pleasant surprises.

Male Bass

The following aspect was recording male bass. Let’s listen how microphones will arrange bass of a special bass man stored in the basement of our sound recording studio:) By the way, advertising break: we made an example record of advertising text about chat16.ru, belonging to our studio. If you are interested, log in and we’ll talk, my nick is COMMAND.COM:)

Breakdown of sound is the same. As they say, stability is an attribute of craftsmanship.

And now you can listen to arranged voices.

As far as voice of a bass man is saturated with low frequencies, difference “on the low frequencies” between Grifell and Oktava was leveled. As for Oktava it is great here – bass rumbles and top is pleasant. Ribbon microphone showed itself in full, especially we could hear it work out the ending of phrases. It’s a pity Vingradov is not here, it would be a great fest of tough sound:)

Advertising Chants.

Historically my voice is recognized by “Trial-Sport” advertising and in most cases comments to my voice can be summarized in a phrase: “as in trial sport” :) Well, let’s try microphones in this area. Pressure, drive and, maybe, aggression.

MKL-111 has slightly lower middle, and generally is on the same level. Though it’s not surprising, losers are not allowed to flagship club, only specific features can occur.

Here are interesting samples to complete the impression (for lazy ones):

And now arranged sound:

You are free to make conclusions. And while you are doing that, it’s high time to see how microphones behave in ad mix. Nothing was touched (though de-esser is missing for sure). We used our track “Command.com - Time” as a background and made a similar ad. Music was intentionally louder for the microphone to fight for his readability and “place” in mix.

You are free to make conclusions again. But I am lost: either sound is good, though…peculiarities are always here.

Female Voice

Are you tired of reading? Please, be patient, dear colleagues, there’s not much left :)

Underground of the studio has a lot of interesting stuff and, apart from vacuum cleaner, drums and table game with an indecent name, we had a wonderful female voice carrier available.

It was just the case when speaker was talking in Gefell straighter than in OktaLab — one could hear non-uniform frequencies because source of the sound left cardioid field.

It is clearer in the arranged version.

Anyway, impressions are yours.

Male Vocal

The target of this test was to check operation at high acoustic pressure. Don’t be too strict to judge, I’m not Freddy Mercury, “I am just trying” :) I tried to scream out loud to estimate the vocal. Enclosed you will find an extract of chorus of our new track in the making:)

And arranged version:

Both microphones maintain frequency at high level, demonstrating great operation with pathetic low velvet of information overvoice and forced vocal.

You are free, dear colleagues, to listen all the samples, compare and estimate them. To my mind, new flagship of Oktava OJSC – tube microphone Oktalab MKL-111 was brilliant in tests provided in this article. I will dare to say that we have witness entrance of the microphone manufacturer under trade mark “Oktava”/“Oktalab” to elite club of tube microphones. Let’s wish further success and development in this field to the manufacturer. And more microphones – good and various:)

The only thing to add to the above: last time I’ve seen price for Gefell M990 in rubles it made 112,000 rubles/microphone.

Sincerely yours, Damir Command.com