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Old 18th October 2011
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Gear interested
 

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Samar Audio Designs: MF65 Ribbon Mic Perfection?

Ribbons can take on vintage characteristics, while others seek to find a more modern open and honest sound. Not being super happy with the electric guitar sounds I was getting from the ol' SM57's, the Audix i5, or even some of the new ribbon mics on the market, I have been looking for a microphone that is able to be warm, honest, open, articulate with transients, and will make my job as engineer a little less painful on the ears. Having been very satisfied with the custom vocal condenser microphone I had hand made from Mark Fouxman at Samar Audio Designs, I was anxious when I heard of his production “artisan quality” ribbon microphone that was in development.

Samar Audio Design, based in Salt Lake City, UT has developed a new ribbon microphone, the MF65, that is able to capture all the subtleties of a sound source without the diminished top end common or emphasized low end common common to some ribbon microphones. Based on a recent $60,000 ribbon mic shootout on Recording Hacks.com, some considered the MF65 ribbon microphone to exhibit qualities found in both vintage and modern ribbon designs. In the pack of 30 microphones the MF65 was often singled out with praise. Such hype begs the question, “Is this the best ribbon microphone to date?” At a price point of $2,300 (US) the next thought might be, “Is it worth the money?” From my perspective, the answer is - “absolutely yes” to both questions.

So, what sets this microphone apart from other ribbon microphones? For starters, the MF65 from Samar Audio Design stands alone as the first production ribbon microphone (that I know of) to test above 25kHz. That is a top end not previously heard even on well respected ribbons like the r-121 from Royer (one of my favorites for the record). Normally top end like that is found in Earthworks microphones (which I also own and like). Such top end can, with certain pre-amps, come across harsh or even sibilant – not the MF65. Owner and product designer, Mark Fouxman, designs and hand installs custom transformers, custom ribbon motors, and custom ribbons in each MF65. This is not a modification, or even a take on a mass produced microphone using the same transformers you can find in a variety of microphones, or motors used by the several companies repackaging of the same microphone from China. In talking with Mark Fouxman, he is quick to tell you that the MF65 is the result of over eight years of research and development because he wanted to make it that unique. In a cluttered market ranging from low-end ribbon microphones, to well respected Royer and Coles ribbon mics, and everything in between, to break through the pack you need to do something drastically different – and better.

I was fortunate enough to do early testing on the prototype of the MF65. The one I tested is not housed in the same body as the current models, but features the same “guts” of the production models. I say production, but they are still hand made by Mark Fouxman himself -- A pleasure most may not be able to take advantage of when these mic's become sought after (as they are sure to become). In comparison to other models such as the shinny box and even a Samar Audio modified Apex 205, there is no comparison. The MF65 is in another class. While those mics have their place (and a significant price difference), the MF65 adds a three-dimensional element to the sound, as well as an unmistakable open top end not found in other ribbons. When compared to the Royer R-122V, or the Coles 4038, you begin to be in the same class of microphone, however, there is still something strikingly realistic, and pleasant in the MF65 that is not present or as pronounced in competitive microphones.

After hearing the first recordings with the early model MF65 I was instantly impressed. In my more than 11 years experience as an engineer and 20 years as a musician, few products stand out in my mind with such excellence as did the Samar Audio MF65 ribbon microphone. If you are not a fan of ribbon microphones now, give the MF65 a chance. This mic just might change your mind. Even more importantly, my clients have noticed a huge difference. I was told that the drums came through better, the bass seemed to fit in the mix better, one of them even said, “Now that is a world class guitar sound.” Never mind that being a back-handed attack on my previous guitar work, I am happy to now say that I am the proud owner of that MF65 prototype microphone. I fell in love with it, and what my clients were saying as a result of the MF65. The investment has been absolutely worth it.

I am not typically a microphone snob as I believe there is a great deal of preference when it comes to most microphones and I try not to judge a mic by its price. With the MF65, there is no denying we have entered into a new era in ribbon microphone design. If you want the best, the MF65 is the best ribbon microphone I have ever heard and used in my studio. There are probably those who will disagree and that is fine. I could be over-hyping the mic a little, but I don't think so as I like the mic that much. I am simply adding my two (maybe three) cents to the world on this new mic and would encourage engineers out there who want to separate themselves from the pack to give it a listen.

_______________________
Nick Galieti
Owner - Engineer
Independent Music Studios - Salt Lake City, UT.