Alexander Mikhlin

“Sound Director” Information-Technical Magazine No.3/2010

Not long time ago Oktava provided the Audio Engineering Department of Gnesin Russian Academy of Music with practically the whole range of microphones – about 30 models, in particular microphones for various applications and tasks, to be tested in students’ records. Microphones were provided for recording, and students documented their impressions from them.

Let’s start with Oktava electret microphones. Two models – MKE-2 and MKE-204U were compared.

The manufacturer recommends MKE-2 for speech. It was tested with female vocal that sounded rather decently. Upper frequency range seemed to fail, but the middle was distinctive. Though speech was not very open in sounding, text sounded quite clear. Microphone could be effectively tested with instruments where high frequency elements have to be softened.

MKE-204U is a clip microphone with omnidirectional pattern. It was used at concert hall for vocal at sound amplification. Despite of required equalization, sounding was too bassy and the microphone sounded beautifully and round and it was resistant to binding. To our mind MKE-204U can be successfully applied during concerts.

Ribbon microphones Oktava ML-52-01, ML-52-02 and ML-53 were of great interest. They were tested at various sources of sound.

The main specific features of such microphones noted by testers – low sensitivity, what is inherent for ribbon microphones, and specific tone color: first sounds proved that it was not accurate transmittal of tone color, and all three models have strong colored sound. Their common feature is very soft and even dumb sounding due to excessive low middle and lack of high frequencies. In general, microphones are very specific. ML-52-01 has a strong drop at low frequencies, sounds brighter than other models and is less subject to blowout and low-frequency vibrations. ML-52-02 and ML-53 are similar in sounding, but ML-53 is straighter at high frequencies than ML-52-02, and has more stressed low middle. Ribbon microphones have been successfully used at recording baritone saxophone, when retro sounding was required. Besides, there is a successful experience of recording male vocal. Tone color of vocalist was too bright and shallow, and microphone ML-52-01 compensated for this sharpness, and the result was quite persuading.

Therefore, we can recommend Oktava ribbon microphones to create retro sounding or for sources of sound with specific tone features which could be compensated by such microphones.

Oktava tube microphones are probably the most widely used microphones. The department received MKL-100, MKL-319À, MKL-2500, MKL-3000, MKL-4000 and MKL-5000 models. Common features of such microphones noted by students are soft sounding, deep bottom, softened high frequencies and saturated middle. Whereas every microphone has its own individual colors.

Microphone MKL-2500 sounds softer and “covered”. It conceals “frog in the throat” of the vocalist and distinguishes chesty sounding. MKL-2500 has been successfully used for jazz vocal, where soft tone color was required; with the strings to get less rosin and make sounding of the instrument soft and deep. Flute sounded very beautiful via MKL-2500 – air whistle softened and useful components of instrument tone color were emphasized.

More “open” sound is ensured by MKL-100 and MKL-4000. These microphones tend to sound smoothly (especially MKL-4000) with less stress on the bottom part than MKL-2500, whereas soft top has been preserved. Both microphones have been actively used at double-bass (at the bottom of the instrument, close to its stand) producing very beautiful velvet double-bass. MKL-4000 was set on guitar combo with jazz guitar.

MKL-319À sounds more open compared to MKL-2500, less dimness at 400…500 Hz, low middle frequency of 200…250 Hz was preserved. Microphone worked efficiently at recording female pop vocal, adding a beautiful chesty sounding..

MKL-3000 differs from MKL-319À with lower LM density. It has been used to record strings, softening tops and transmitting natural tone color, but voice of vocalist became somewhat nasal.

The key impression from effective MKL-5000 is original design which cannot leave anyone indifferent. Besides, it is the only Oktava tube microphone with switched polar pattern: figure of eight, cardioid and omnidirectional. Microphone sounds similar to other tube microphones – sound is more open and clear, but it can be hardly called smooth: there are peaks and drops at the range of 700…4000 Hz that contribute specific colors to the sound. Increase up to 2,500 Hz is especially remarkable. MKL-5000 has been successfully used for double-bass, adding deep bottom and beautiful middle to it, thus instrument became very clear in a mix.

So, all tube microphones are individual and can be successfully used in modern studios.

Product range of condenser microphones comprises several series. Series 100 includes modular-type microphones. All models have the same pre-amp with different capsules screwed on it. Oktava condenser microphones are perfect as individual orchestra microphones. Due to their relatively uniform frequency-amplitude characteristics, they transmit tone color naturally.

Well-known MK-012 has three capsules: cardioid, hypercardioid and omnidirectional. MK-012 sounds goods in symphonic records as individual microphone for strings and wood wind, and it is often set on kettledrums and percussions. Grand piano and harp sound good and softly. M-102 stereo pair with omnidirectional capsule have been successfully used as remote microphones for chamber and orchestra records in halls.

Model MK-103 has medium-size diaphragm. It proved to be good with pop vocals – voice sounded soft, natural and balanced. Slightly emphasized LM distinguishes beauty of chesty register, whereas tops are transmitted quite naturally.

MK-101 and MK-104 are similar in design, but they absolutely different in sounding. MK-101 has softer tone color with softened top and emphasized middle and bottom. MK-104 is equipped with a new capsule, and it sounds open and bright, though there is a slight drop in LM.

MK-105 is referred to Series 100 formally. Microphone is not modular, but it has pre-amplifier taken from MK-012 and Series 100 microphones. MK-105 turned to be one of the most successful condenser microphones of Oktava in terms of many aspects. It has unusual form, looks quite modern and is pleasant in operation. Microphone housing has no resonance. Its tone color is open in the top, and vocal has “air”. Whereas increase in the field of 200…400 Hz ensuring warmth and softness persisted. In general microphone transmits tone color features of the sound source quite naturally and accurately.

MK-105 has been used in orchestra records, where it proved to be efficient as individual microphone for wood wind. Recording grand piano with the use of individual microphone produced bright and clear tone color. MK-105 stereo pair was also used as main ORTF pair at the concert of chamber ensembles and transmitted sound picture quite accurately.

In general, MK-105 is one of the best Oktava microphones, it can be recommended for multipurpose application, in particular as studio vocal microphone.

Condenser microphones with large diaphragm comprise MK-219, MK-319 and MK-220. Sounding of MK-219 does not stand out with open tops, but it is deep and somewhat “nasal”. Microphone has been primarily used as individual for orchestra groups and played its part quite decently.

MK-319 is a microphone with more uniform tone colors, as it doesn’t color the sound so much, and has fewer differences in terms of frequency characteristics. Tone color of the microphone can be characterized as soft and not sharp, though deep. Microphone is not bright in tops, though it is colored at 300…500 Hz, thus ensuring softening and volume. MK-319 has been used as individual microphone for grand piano and produced a beautiful soft tone color. These microphones have been actively and successfully used in orchestra records.

MK-220 is interesting and useful as it has switchable polar pattern, that is why stereo pair of such microphones can be used to create, for example, MS or Blumlein stereo systems. Despite of the fact, according to designers, that the microphone has been established on the basis of MK-319, MK-220 seemed to us different in sounding – it is deeper and more open in top middle. It is interesting that microphone is less sensitive, than MK-319. Besides, when pattern is switched to figure of eight, tone color becomes non-uniform and changes to “nasal”.

MK-220 stereo pair has been successfully used in Blumlein configuration for academic chorus in the concert hall – these stereo pair efficiently emphasized sounding and supplemented wide AB of remote microphones.

Let’s summarize impressions of students. It was useful and pleasure for the students to test microphones in a training studio – suffice to say that Oktava microphones have been used in all records by Gnesin students that took winning places at V. Babushkin Contest in 2009. Students noted “closed nature” and soft sounding of Oktava microphones. But it could not be taken as an absolute drawback – all microphones are individual and, knowing their specific features we can use them in certain studio circumstances. That is why we recommend paying attention to Oktava microphones – they are worth that.