This versatile Russian-made pensil condenser punches well above its weight class.
Review by Alex Hawley
From humble beginnings to becoming one of Russia's leading microphone manufacturers, Oktava originally opened in 1927 as a mechanical workshop producing radio parts. Based in Tula, Oktava now produces a wide range of products, including studio microphones, telephone capsules, aviation headsets, hearing aids, and more.
Will the real MK-012 please stand up?
The Oktava MK-012 has an interesting story. It was originally designed in the late 80s at the order of Gosteleradio, then the main broadcasting organization of the USSR. It didn't become readily available in the West until 1992, when Oktava began exporting the mic through A & F McKay Audio Limited, a UK distibutor. At the request of A & F, the MK-012 was renamed to MC-012 for the western market. MK stands for "Микрофон Конденсаторный", which translates to "Microphone Condenser". The Oktava MC-012 quickly became popular as a reliable option for drum overheads and acoustic guitar without breaking the bank. The sound quality was comparable to more expensive microphones, even though it was not uncommon to find them for less than $100 in 1990s money. In the early 2000s, A & F began operating under the name Oktava Limited. It outsourced MC-012 manufacturing to China and signed a distibution deal with Guitar Center in the US. When Guitar Center caught wind of the changes, the inventory was taken off the shelves for good. By many reports, the Chinese 012 models sound comparable even though they're not genuine Russian-made Oktava microphones (Andy McKay of A & F made claims about the rights to the microphone design, but this is another topic). In 2002, OAO Oktava dissolved the McKay brothers agreement and reverted the mic to its original MK-012 name and country of origin. Not to be unexpected, the price has also steadily climbed since 2005.
The microphone itself has gone through a few minor iterations over the years. The early capsules used glued diaphragms, but the factory switched to screwed diaphragms in the mid-90s. The PCB and circuit design were updated in 1992, and has remained the same ever since. In 2007, Oktava released a ‘film edition’, which is a hypercardioid capsule with the same preamp body.
The Oktava MK-012 is a transformerless FET pencil condenser that consists of a head amplifier and a series of detachable capsules. The base model comes with a cardioid capsule, metal mic clip, and a screw-on -10dB pad that goes in between the preamp and capsule. Omni and hypercardioid capsules are also available, as well as an assortment of compatible small, medium, and large diaphragm capsules that all use the same preamp. The swappable capsules make this microphone extremely versatile. The frequency response (cardioid capsule) is 20Hz-20kHz, with a maximum SPL of 130dB, self noise of 18dBA, and a sensitivity rating of 10 mV/Pa. The frequency response is flat (+/- 2dB) from 100Hz to 15kHz, with a gentle roll-off above 15kHz. As previously mentioned, acoustic guitar and drum overheads are among the most common applications. However, its transparent and fast response makes it suitable for a wide range of material, especially when the additional capsules come into play.
I tried the MK-012 with the cardioid capsule on a variety of material. Surprisingly, I like it best on percussion instruments. lt has a very tight and fast response and doesn’t sound nearly as bright as many other pencil condensers that I’ve used. Used as overheads, they provide fullness without sounding too bright or harsh. Thanks to its affordable price tag, it won't induce any heart attacks when used as a close mic on snare or toms. I like pairing it with an SM57 on snare tops and blending the two sounds. I found myself carving out some midrange when using it as a tom mic—my own personal taste. Just make sure to keep that -10dB pad screwed on when close miking drums! I typically record my Yamaha FG-423S with ribbon mics, as it’s pretty bright for an acoustic guitar, but the MK-012 paired nicely with it. It provided a smooth and detailed midrange, with a slightly rounded top end. Using the cardioid capsules in an X/Y pair, I had to play with the distance a bit before finding the right balance without too much proximity. That's partially why I preferred using the omni capsule for acoustic guitar—the MK-012 with the omni capsule sounds beautifully natural, and a touch more open than the cardioid capsule. As with all omni mics, there's no proximity effect, so I could mic it slightly closer while maintaining a balanced sound. The chart for the omni capsule shows a flat line from 30Hz - 5kHz, with a 4dB bump in the top octaves, which helps it sound a bit airier than its cardioid sibling. The hypercardioid capsule is mostly marketed for the production audio world, but it has uses in the studio as well. In addition to tighter directionality, it also has a slightly more sculpted frequency response—a flat line (+/- 2dB) from roughly 200Hz - 8kHz, and then transparent 3dB/per octave roll-off beyond those points. Depending on the genre, this can help soften cymbals when used as drum overheads, but you'll be sacrificing some room sound (if you don’t like the way your room sounds, this should play in your favor).
Given its price, there’s a lot to love here. The versatility of swappable capsules dramatically expands on its possiblу uses, while providing natural and detailed sound. Oktava now sells direct and has a US website for shipping overseas. The Oktava MK-012 would be a great addition to any mic locker, and even with its increase in price over the years, it still performs well above its pay grade.