Best Budget Mics - My Recommendations
Old 5th June 2009
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Best Budget Mics - My Recommendations

Pulled from a later post: A useful list on a mic modding forum

http://www.prodigy-pro.com/diy/index.php?topic=21266

Updated/Edited by Moderator May 2010

-

Just spent a few minutes doing my monthly 'budget mic search' over at Musician's Friend. Spotted some price drops on some of my favorites mics to recommned because they are better than just Ok right out of the box and because they make great low-cost mod'ing platforms for those of you with a DIY bent.

The NADY SCM-800 is now $40.95. Same '84-inspired capsule as the popular MCA SP-1. I actually like the SCM-800 more because it has a very small headbasket that can be hammered into an Oktava MK-219 shape for a little more lower midrange push. Keep the stock small diaphragm capsule in place or swap in an LDC. Now that the MCA SP-1 is up to $49.95 the SCM-800 is cheapest cardioid-only mod platform I know of.

The NADY CM-90 SDC is now $45.95. Same '84-inspired capsule as above. The least expensive pencil-type SDC with potential. Slotted capsule grille exacerbates sibilance unless mod'd though.

The MXL 990 is now $49.99. Guess what? yep, same '84-inspired capsule as above mics. Don't see the need to spend $10 more than the SCM-800 unless you need carrying case.

The MXL 990s is $69.99. Good value for a stereo mic using two of the '84-inspired capsules.

Away from MF while looking for LDC mics, I found the three-pattern CAD GXL3000 for $98 at a place called "Mary's Music Supply". Typically this is the lowest price three-pattern mic available and hovers around $119. Uses the typically bright K67-type capsule. This is my favorite FET / Transformer-coupled mic platform to upgrade because of the low initial cost.

There are a thousand low buget mics out there. But you won't find any better deals than these for mics that are 1.) more than just usable right out of the box and 2) can go the distance with you during a carreer with some TLC in the form of mods.
Old 5th June 2009
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You're such a nice guy Michael!


Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael_Joly View Post
Just spent a few minutes doing my monthly 'budget mic search' over at Musician's Friend. Spotted some price drops on some of my favorites mics to recommned because they are better than just Ok right out of the box and because they make great low-cost mod'ing platforms.

The NADY SCM-800 is now $40.95. Same '84-inspired capsule as the popular MCA SP-1. I actually like the SCM-800 more because it has a very small headbasket that can be hammered into an Oktava MK-219 shape for a little more lower midrange push. Keep the stock small diaphragm capsule in place or swap in an LDC. Now that the MCA SP-1 is up to $49.95 the SCM-800 is cheapest cardioid-only mod platform I know of.

The NADY CM-90 SDC is now $45.95. Same '84-inspired capsule as above. The least expensive pencil-type SDC with potential. Slotted capsule grille exacerbates sibilance unless mod'd though.

The MXL 990 is now $49.99. Guess what? yep, same '84-inspired capsule as above mics. Don't see the need to spend $10 more than the SCM-800 unless you need carrying case.

The MXL 990s is $69.99. Good value for a stereo mic using two of the '84-inspired capsules.

Away from MF while looking for LDC mics, I found the three-pattern CAD GXL3000 for $98 at a place called "Mary's Music Supply". Typically this is the lowest price three-pattern mic available and hovers around $119. Uses the typically bright K67-type capsule. This is my favorite FET / Transformer-coupled mic platform to upgrade because of the low initial cost.

There are a thousand low buget mics out there. But you won't find any better deals than these for mics that are 1.) more than just usable right out of the box and 2) can go the distance with you during a carreer with some TLC in the form of mods.
Old 5th June 2009
  #3
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Talking

This is VERY cool that you wold take the time to inform folks of wise budget choices!

BTW- I love my Apex 205's you worked on. I will send you a sample of a vocal group...the 205 was THE only mic we liked in my locker on the bass vocalist! It shocked the mess out me.

Thanks fr the tips!

Rob
Old 5th June 2009
  #4
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Michael, nice post and wrap-up.

Before I bought a Neumann TLM-193, mainly for voice-over, I bought just about every under $300 LDC: MXL, Luna, Samson, KSM27, V67G,
AT2020, etc...

Everytime I'd buy a new one, I'd do a shoot out with all the others.

Time and time again, my Studio Projects B1 would win, by a pretty good margin. It holds it's own against the Neumann (sigh)!
I know others who like them, as well.

Have you ever used one? It's pretty amazing for $99.

Bill
ASAP Audio
Old 5th June 2009
  #5
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Is the MCA SP1 and the NADY SCM-800 pretty much the same mic internally? Do you mod any of those mics?
Old 5th June 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by asap audio View Post
...Before I bought a Neumann TLM-193, mainly for voice-over, I bought just about every under $300 LDC: MXL, Luna, Samson, KSM27, V67G,
AT2020, etc...Everytime I'd buy a new one, I'd do a shoot out with all the others. Time and time again, my Studio Projects B1 would win, by a pretty good margin. It holds it's own against the Neumann (sigh)!
I know others who like them, as well. Have you ever used one? It's pretty amazing for $99.

ASAP Audio
You know, I'm totally remiss. I've never heard that mic and should get one just to have as a reference because it gets a lot of love. The TLM-193 is much nicer, and flatter mic than the TLM-103. Does the B1 have a top end that is about as flat as the '193?

Quote:
Originally Posted by FatBassPlayer View Post
Is the MCA SP1 and the NADY SCM-800 pretty much the same mic internally? Do you mod any of those mics?
Yes they are. Both use a ceramic disc capsule-to-FET coupling cap, typical 2SK170 FET and some electrolytic coupling caps in the Schoeps-like transformerless output circuit. I do work on these. The pic below shows how the SCM-800 stock headbasket (left) can be wacked into a shape (center) that more closely resembles the MK-219 (right).

The idea for this comes from the only difference between the MK-219 and MK-319 - the headbaskets. Both mics use the same capsule and electronics but the headbaskets are different. This gives the MK-219 a bit more lower-midrange push while the MK-319 is a tiny bit more open-sounding.
Attached Thumbnails
Best Budget Mics - My Recommendations-headbasket-mods.jpg  
Old 5th June 2009
  #7
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The TLM-193 is smoother and more natural from about 4K on up.
It requires no EQ or de-essing for voice-over work.
Works nice on most voice types.

The SP B1 sounds very good when used 30 degrees off axis.
Sibilant free.

Ther B1 seems to have a nice timbre in the 100-150 hz area that
gives the VO a very full, sound.

I must say I also liked the MXL2003. A little more essy than the B1.

Bill
ASAP Audio
Old 5th June 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by asap audio View Post
I must say I also liked the MXL2003. A little more essy than the B1.
ASAP Audio
Yeah, the 2003 is interesting because of its pedigree - Beijing 797 Audio fabrication instead of one of the usual Shanghai shops. Pretty decent sounding K67-type capsule (though still coupled to a flat-response circuit so it remains brighter than it should be). More solid mechanical construction than the later year, budget MXL or NADY mics. I just worked on one today so its informative to read your comment about it relative to the B1.
Old 6th June 2009
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Where did you get a silver mk219?
Old 6th June 2009
  #10
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You might say that he has "connections."

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Originally Posted by audiostout View Post
Where did you get a silver mk219?
Old 6th June 2009
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Is that true Michael? You are connected to people who have names like "fat tony", "joey two toes" and "mickey the vulture"? Is that who got you the silver 219?
Old 7th June 2009
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Nah, just a American client who is fluent in Russian and teaches English in Moscow half of the year. While there he prowls around the used shops for LOMO, Nevaton, Oktava and more obscure Russian tube and discrete component solid state gear.

In addition to the silver 219s he got me a couple of 3' long LOMO shotgun microphones that are totally bitchn - discrete circuits, transformer output - and talk about reach! These things are so long Rycote doesn't make a blimp for them!

The "Chromium Comrade" at left was how the MK-219 looked before the McKay brothers did their distribution deal with Oktava and the production shifted from cast aluminum / chrome to cast aluminum with black powder coat. Hugh Padgham used to call his the "Russian Razor" or something like that (with stock grille slats in place of course).
Old 7th June 2009
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After reading this post I pulled my old MCA SP1 out of the drawer where it sat unused for about a year, and it really surprised me. I'm using a better preamp than when I used it last, and with some eq I was able to get it to sound very flattering on my voice. It actually beats out some much more expensive (and much praised) mics I've used. I may send it out to get modded... pretty amazing for like $40 I think I paid.
Old 7th June 2009
  #14
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Yes they are. Both use a ceramic disc capsule-to-FET coupling cap, typical 2SK170 FET and some electrolytic coupling caps in the Schoeps-like transformerless output circuit.


the first thing I would do is get rid electrolytic coupling caps and disk caps and replace them with poly's and tants. and get rid of any carbon comp resistors. the only problem with tants is the largest working voltage I have seen is 50 VDC... I think polys smooth out the sound a bit


Bill
Old 7th June 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jaz49 View Post
After reading this post I pulled my old MCA SP1 out of the drawer where it sat unused for about a year, and it really surprised me. I'm using a better preamp than when I used it last, and with some eq I was able to get it to sound very flattering on my voice...
re: EQ - Your comments made me realize I've never posted a re-EQ recommendation for the mics that use this capsule. The following recommendation is more applicable to the pencil mics than the SP-1 which does not suffer from the HF peaking to as great an extent as the 603 etc.

The most glaring response anomaly in these mics is a 1/3 octave wide 7dB peak centered at 7.5kHz. So one could have a pre-set, re-EQ that could be inserted whenever these mic are used and get a flatter response as a result. Now that's not the same solution as correcting the acoustical issues that cause HF peaking in the capsule and capsule housing in the first place. Re-EQ would pull down the narrow band peak but also introduce some phase shift as well. But...corrective EQ might be preferable to doing nothing and letting that 7dB peak sail on through - it certainly would be cheaper than the alternative of mod'ing the mic

BTW - proper component ugprades can lower distortion, increase detail, tighten bass and improve transient response but they do not address the underlying acoustical issues that produce the 7.5kHz peak.
Old 7th June 2009
  #16
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Michael,
Thanks for the EQ suggestion. I just tried it on an acoustic guitar track and it worked out very well. Interestingly, I had already been EQing this mic by rolling off the highs starting at 7.5kHz, so I had already zeroed in on this frequency. But by using the 1/3 octave cut, that leaves more "air" in the guitar above that point.

So that reccomendation is a real winner. It even has me thinking about this mic as a drum overhead, whereas before I though it might be a little too bright on cymbals.
Old 7th June 2009
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael_Joly View Post
Just spent a few minutes doing my monthly 'budget mic search' over at Musician's Friend. Spotted some price drops on some of my favorites mics to recommned because they are better than just Ok right out of the box and because they make great low-cost mod'ing platforms for those of you with a DIY bent.

The NADY SCM-800 is now $40.95. Same '84-inspired capsule as the popular MCA SP-1. I actually like the SCM-800 more because it has a very small headbasket that can be hammered into an Oktava MK-219 shape for a little more lower midrange push. Keep the stock small diaphragm capsule in place or swap in an LDC. Now that the MCA SP-1 is up to $49.95 the SCM-800 is cheapest cardioid-only mod platform I know of.

The NADY CM-90 SDC is now $45.95. Same '84-inspired capsule as above. The least expensive pencil-type SDC with potential. Slotted capsule grille exacerbates sibilance unless mod'd though.

The MXL 990 is now $49.99. Guess what? yep, same '84-inspired capsule as above mics. Don't see the need to spend $10 more than the SCM-800 unless you need carrying case.

The MXL 990s is $69.99. Good value for a stereo mic using two of the '84-inspired capsules.

Away from MF while looking for LDC mics, I found the three-pattern CAD GXL3000 for $98 at a place called "Mary's Music Supply". Typically this is the lowest price three-pattern mic available and hovers around $119. Uses the typically bright K67-type capsule. This is my favorite FET / Transformer-coupled mic platform to upgrade because of the low initial cost.

There are a thousand low buget mics out there. But you won't find any better deals than these for mics that are 1.) more than just usable right out of the box and 2) can go the distance with you during a carreer with some TLC in the form of mods.
Forgive me in advance for this stupid question as I've never modded a mic - only built pedals and so forth:

If you have chinese capsules based on Neumann capsules, have you attempted to recreate the Neumann boards for those capsules (aka KM-84, not necessarily the old tube mics like the U-67?

Thanks in advance,

DY
Old 7th June 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DamnYankee View Post
...If you have chinese capsules based on Neumann capsules, have you attempted to recreate the Neumann boards for those capsules (aka KM-84, not necessarily the old tube mics like the U-67?
A couple points of clarification - This is not "my" capsule, but I have studied it quite a bit. 2nd, I refer to this capsule as being "KM 84-inspired".

The capsule used in the 603 (and about eight other mics) was intended to mimic the design of the KM 84 capsule. It was not implimented as originally intended by the capsule's designer (who is not me, just to make that clear) due to cost-saving decisions by the manufacturer. Despite the divergences from spec, it does remain a very useful and good-sounding capsule especially if the 7.5kHz peak is dealt with.

To your question - I have not attempted to recreate the Neumann boards or circuit used in the KM 84. This is not an impossible task assuming there is a large enough market to justify the expense of obtaining a good-sounding miniature transformer and PC board manufacture. As a retro-fit to a 603 I believe such a project would put the resulting modified mic beyond the point of diminishing returns where most folks would want to pay the price.

Related to your question, the MXL V67N is an interesting platform though - same capsule and body as the 603 but with a transformer-coupled output stage. The transformer is not driven very hard so there's not much in the way of core saturation and transformer "juicyness" going on. I suppose the stages prior to the transformer could be tweaked to whack the transformer a bit harder and gain some color but I haven't tried this yet.
Old 7th June 2009
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael_Joly View Post
A couple points of clarification - This is not "my" capsule, but I have studied it quite a bit. 2nd, I refer to this capsule as being "KM 84-inspired".

The capsule used in the 603 (and about eight other mics) was intended to mimic the design of the KM 84 capsule. It was not implimented as originally intended by the capsule's designer (who is not me, just to make that clear) due to cost-saving decisions by the manufacturer. Despite the divergences from spec, it does remain a very useful and good-sounding capsule especially if the 7.5kHz peak is dealt with.

To your question - I have not attempted to recreate the Neumann boards or circuit used in the KM 84. This is not an impossible task assuming there is a large enough market to justify the expense of obtaining a good-sounding miniature transformer and PC board manufacture. As a retro-fit to a 603 I believe such a project would put the resulting modified mic beyond the point of diminishing returns where most folks would want to pay the price.

Related to your question, the MXL V67N is an interesting platform though - same capsule and body as the 603 but with a transformer-coupled output stage. The transformer is not driven very hard so there's not much in the way of core saturation and transformer "juicyness" going on. I suppose the stages prior to the transformer could be tweaked to whack the transformer a bit harder and gain some color but I haven't tried this yet.
MJ,

Thank you for your response. And no, I wasn't implying the MXL capsules were yours...only in reference of "your" as in if you had your MXL 603 mic's capsule on your workbench. I'll bet a Neumann KM84 board hooked in to that capsule will sound pretty darn good...
Old 7th June 2009
  #20
How is your capsule by the way? You released it not long ago am I right?
Old 8th June 2009
  #21
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Really nice, but I'm biased The MJE-K47 Mod Suite became available on May 26' 09. Here's the details to support "really nice"...

The MJE-K47 uses the same size backplate, same hole drilling pattern, same blind / thru-hole sizing and same diaphragm-to-backplate spacing as a Neumann K47 capsule. So all those mechanicals are correct. The MJE-K47 however uses 3 micron thick Mylar diaphragm instead of the heavier Mylar used in the original Neumann K47 capsule. The lower mass of the 3 micron diaphragm provides a bit faster transient response than the original.

CNC machining provides very tight manufacturing tolerances - the MJE-K47 timbre response, as measured by long term FFT, is within +/- 1.5 dB of a Neumann K47 capsule. For vocals, this means K47-like timbre. For acoustic guitar, the 3 micron diaphragm means a bit more string "ping" when plucked. In addition, I'm only installing the MJE-K47 capsules in single-layer headbaskets so there will be greater transparency, less standing wave coloration and lower sibilance than an original K47 installed in a U 47 headbasket for example.
Old 8th June 2009
  #22
Well that's good to hear, everyone needs to get that capsule before Michael raises his prices
Old 8th June 2009
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael_Joly View Post
You know, I'm totally remiss. I've never heard that mic and should get one just to have as a reference because it gets a lot of love. The TLM-193 is much nicer, and flatter mic than the TLM-103. Does the B1 have a top end that is about as flat as the '193?



Yes they are. Both use a ceramic disc capsule-to-FET coupling cap, typical 2SK170 FET and some electrolytic coupling caps in the Schoeps-like transformerless output circuit. I do work on these. The pic below shows how the SCM-800 stock headbasket (left) can be wacked into a shape (center) that more closely resembles the MK-219 (right).

The idea for this comes from the only difference between the MK-219 and MK-319 - the headbaskets. Both mics use the same capsule and electronics but the headbaskets are different. This gives the MK-219 a bit more lower-midrange push while the MK-319 is a tiny bit more open-sounding.
from what it appeared internally and sounded like to my ears, the SP B1 (I owned a stereo pair for a while) IS the CAD m177 with a less high-end-sih body/grill design than the Cad. It appeared and sounded like the same capsule, I didn't check the circuit though. While really similar, the CAD "SEEMED" to be nicer to me, but it may have just been that I prefered it's build quality and it's spider mount/case.

Those SP B1s truly are excellent mics. As I believe the B3 is very similar to the m179 although without the continuously variable polar pattern.

Still, exactly the same or not, both are very very good mics.

cheers,
Don
Old 8th June 2009
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dkelley View Post
from what it appeared internally and sounded like to my ears, the SP B1 (I owned a stereo pair for a while) IS the CAD m177 with a less high-end-sih body/grill design than the Cad. It appeared and sounded like the same capsule, I didn't check the circuit though. While really similar, the CAD "SEEMED" to be nicer to me, but it may have just been that I prefered it's build quality and it's spider mount/case.

Those SP B1s truly are excellent mics. As I believe the B3 is very similar to the m179 although without the continuously variable polar pattern.

Still, exactly the same or not, both are very very good mics.

cheers,
Don
Just currious... compaired to what? Other $100 mics? Mic's in general? For the price?
Old 8th June 2009
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dkelley View Post
from what it appeared internally and sounded like to my ears, the SP B1 (I owned a stereo pair for a while) IS the CAD m177 with a less high-end-sih body/grill design than the Cad. It appeared and sounded like the same capsule, I didn't check the circuit though. While really similar, the CAD "SEEMED" to be nicer to me, but it may have just been that I prefered it's build quality and it's spider mount/case...
how 'bout that. In my pile of popular "reference" mics I've got a CAD M177. I've only listened to it for about 10 seconds to see if it worked, opened it up, saw surface mount components and lost interest in it.

Sounds like I should revisit this mic.
Old 8th June 2009
  #26
RTR
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael_Joly View Post
Just spent a few minutes doing my monthly 'budget mic search' over at Musician's Friend. Spotted some price drops on some of my favorites mics to recommned because they are better than just Ok right out of the box and because they make great low-cost mod'ing platforms for those of you with a DIY bent.

The NADY SCM-800 is now $40.95. Same '84-inspired capsule as the popular MCA SP-1. I actually like the SCM-800 more because it has a very small headbasket that can be hammered into an Oktava MK-219 shape for a little more lower midrange push. Keep the stock small diaphragm capsule in place or swap in an LDC. Now that the MCA SP-1 is up to $49.95 the SCM-800 is cheapest cardioid-only mod platform I know of.

The NADY CM-90 SDC is now $45.95. Same '84-inspired capsule as above. The least expensive pencil-type SDC with potential. Slotted capsule grille exacerbates sibilance unless mod'd though.

The MXL 990 is now $49.99. Guess what? yep, same '84-inspired capsule as above mics. Don't see the need to spend $10 more than the SCM-800 unless you need carrying case.

The MXL 990s is $69.99. Good value for a stereo mic using two of the '84-inspired capsules.

Away from MF while looking for LDC mics, I found the three-pattern CAD GXL3000 for $98 at a place called "Mary's Music Supply". Typically this is the lowest price three-pattern mic available and hovers around $119. Uses the typically bright K67-type capsule. This is my favorite FET / Transformer-coupled mic platform to upgrade because of the low initial cost.

There are a thousand low buget mics out there. But you won't find any better deals than these for mics that are 1.) more than just usable right out of the box and 2) can go the distance with you during a carreer with some TLC in the form of mods.
ANy good priced mic's that dont need moding?
Old 8th June 2009
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RTR View Post
ANy good priced mic's that dont need moding?
adk hamburg and vienna, kel hm-7u, at4047, sm7b. all under the $500 mark and just kill. my favorite in the $1000 range is the mojave audio ma-200. i'd love to compare it to a K2 or an adk TT mic, but after listening to that mic again...i have fallen head over heels in love with it all over.


rich
Old 8th June 2009
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RTR View Post
ANy good priced mic's that dont need moding?
Yes, all the mics I've recommended are good performers right out of the box. That's why I started this thread. These mics are excellent values. But because the initial cost is so low, and they have upgradable acoustical structures, topologies and components, they are excellent platforms for mods.

There are very few low cost mics that cannot be re-engineered to improve performance. Issues that are practically ubiquitous in low cost LDC mics:

* Restrictive & reflective headbaskets that cause standing wave coloration
* Rising HF response K67-type capsules feeding flat response circuits make mics too bright
* Ceramic disc coupling caps between capsule and FET input contribute to a harsh high end
* Common 2SK170 FET present less-than-ideal capacitive load on capsule and robs transient response and detail
* Polarized electrolytic coupling capacitors introduce various non-linearities

And in low cost ribbon mics:

* Restrictive & reflective headbaskets that cause standing wave coloration
* Mechanically resonant headbaskets ring when excited by vibration
* Sagging or improperly tensioned ribbons cause booming infrasonics and loss of level
* Poor electrical contact between clamps and ribbon raise noise
* Undersized wiring not nulled and secured for minimum AC hum field pick up
* Less than ideal transformers

Even the industry standard SM-57 gets mod'd upon occasion - to make it do something different that some people prefer to the stock form.

And witness the upward price migration of new mics from MXL, Cascade, 3 Zigma Audio etc. The higher prices reflect the R&D, manufacturing and QC costs incurred to bring out higher quality, better performing mics.
Old 8th June 2009
  #29
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I gotta agree with the B1 love, this mic is damned awesome. I use for my room mic and acoustic guitar quite a bit, sound amazingly good for the price. Both of the pro studios I've recorded in had B1s in their collection sitting next to their $5000 AKGs and Neumanns, figured that was a good sign.

Hey MJ...your capsule looks VERY interesting...are you selling it alone, or just in the mod? Would you say it's a more accurate representaion of the Neumann capsule than the Peluso?
Old 8th June 2009
  #30
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Ok, I'm convinced. I'm gonna get a B1!

re: MJE-K47 - I'm only going to build it into my own services and products. I regard this capsule as a key element in my new work and want it to be heard within the broader context of my systemic approach to microphone engineering.

re: Peluso P-K47 / MJE-K47 comparison. First off, the Peluso P-K47 is an excellent capsule and is an excellent choice for DIY'ers. When I listened to and analyzed simultaneous recordings made by these two capsule in identical microphones I noticed the following difference. The MJE-K47 has a slightly lower diaphragm resonant frequency tuning than the P-K47. This gives the MJE-K47 a bit more pronounced lower midrange while the P-K47 seems slightly thinner in this region. Coming from a long history of working with the rich lower midrange of the Oktava 219 / 319 capsule, my ears have a preference for the lower resonant tuning frequency of the MJE-K47 compared to the P-K47 (as fine a capsule as it is).

But its hard to answer your question "which is the more accurate representation?" because aging original K47 capsules impart subtle differences to the mics that use them. What is the target "sound" in other words? My goal was to insure the physical dimensions were accurately reproduced and select diaphragm criteria to adjust the final flavor to my liking. For example, the 3 micron diaphragm in the MJE-K47 is a faster transient response deviation away from the heavier Mylar used in an original K47 capsule. But for people who generally like the sound of what I do, this new capsule will be pleasing to them.
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