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Why do I want a tube mic?
Old 10th November 2010
  #1
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bash's Avatar
 

Why do I want a tube mic?

Seriously, I've got it on my "must get" list to flesh out my mic collection but I'm recently wondering why, and can't answer the question myself since I've never used one. What makes a tube mic more desirable than a modern well-designed and well-made LDC?

Also, assuming I should get one to obtain a tone I can't from anything else, what price point (or model) is the crossover where low-end rises to must-have, one that is useful, has that "Wow" factor and will retain it's resale value?

I don't like chasing the low-end, incremental quality game (I recently bought an AEA R84 instead of opting for the FotM cheap ribbons flooding the market, if that gives you an idea of my mindset. I want build quality and resale value) and would prefer to save my pennies for a few more months and get a remarkable tube mic if it really is going to be significantly better than a discounted Chinese tube mic. But if ppl feel a $300 MXL tube mic will get me 90% of the way there I sure as hell don't want to toss $1,300 at a Miktek CV4 (the current object of my lust). I'm a (poor!) casual, vanity-press sort that only records his own stuff (but wants to hear it with as professional a sheen as I can achieve). Are tube mics more hype and nostalgia than actual unique contributors in this modern age?

School me! What do tube mics bring to the party?
Old 10th November 2010
  #2


Technically, the tube mics really don't bring anything to the game that you can't get with a transformer coupled FET mic - unless you start overloading the mic or have an old tube that's getting funky.



-tINY

Old 10th November 2010
  #3
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mikeg09's Avatar
Tube mics are warmer and people like them because of that. But it really doesnt matter. You could get a tube preamp instead if you wanted. Depending on the mic, the tube that is inside of it varys and some people like a certain sound of a tube so they get a mic that has one.

If you are on the cheaper side of things i would just get a mic in the $600-$700 range. Your music will still sound good.
Old 10th November 2010
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bash View Post
Seriously, I've got it on my "must get" list to flesh out my mic collection but I'm recently wondering why, and can't answer the question myself since I've never used one.
Sounds the result of chatter and/or hype on sites such as GS, or a general attraction to anything with a tube in it (again, possibly as a result of hype). Please forgive me if I'm being presumptuous.

I suggest you re-think that list of yours until you've tried a few tube and non-tube mics and gained a bit of experience with them.
Old 10th November 2010
  #5
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Quote:
Tube mics are warmer
Myth. Crappy tube mics can be as nasty and brittle as any crappy solid state mic.. good solid state mics can be as warm as any good tube mic. Just different types of circuits, no inherent quality.
Old 10th November 2010
  #6
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hehEvery microphone is unique and different obviously---- and not all tube microphones sound the same, they too are all quite unique and different. Some tube microphones have a dark tone while others are very rich and smooooooth. Likewise there are some that are fairly clean sounding. What a tube really does is take the edge off the transient. For example think about tube guitar amps v/s solid state---a tube amp doesn't necessarily mean it's this larger than life rich sound, but that it's not going to rip your ears off! Of course, it could be both too. Like any microphone, it comes down to what kind of sound you want, why you want it, and what you're already using. There's a time and place for tube mics over solid-state, just like there's a time for ribbons v/s dynamics v/s condensers.

Personally, I do prefer tube microphones on vocals--but a good solid-state mic is fine too. I'm a big fan of the KIWI from BLUe which is a solid-state microphone that has the low-end characteristic of a tube microphone, but very clean and detailed. Combine this with something like a Universal Audio LA610 and you have yourself one seriously high-end signal chain without spending a tone of money.

As to the CV4 v/s the cheapo stuff goodness yes there is a HUGE difference! While the CV4 is produced in China, it's not a cheaply made microphone. I'm a big fan of this model and strongly advise it, that is if it's right for your needs. The only real way to sort that out is speak with someone who really knows the ins and outs heh

With that said---the R84 you have is wonderful, what pre are you using and why do you want a tube microphone? I think it makes sense to have a decent selection of mics because again, a ribbon isn't going to be ideal on everything just like a tube microphone isn't ideal on everything.
Old 10th November 2010
  #7
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kidvybes's Avatar
 

...part of the allure of tube based gear is the ability to "roll" tubes (swap out the stock tubes for an array of vintage NOS audio tubes which may bring an ever-so-slightly different "vibe" to the gear)...

...I have had a broad selection of tube LDC mics and swapped out the tubes in most of them with rewarding results...
Old 10th November 2010
  #8
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uncle duncan's Avatar
 

They say there is some compression going on in the tube circuit, but it's subtle. The also say you get a similar affect with a transformer-coupled mic. The bigger question for the OP is, what would you change with the vocal sound you're getting now? Do you want more highs (essier S's), more midrange, more low end? These questions should point the OP in the direction of which mic to get. The Miktek does look nice, judging by the published frequency response curve, and the audio clips JohnKenn has posted do sound fabulous, but the MXL Genesis has a similar response curve, and it's less than half the price. Both of these mics could be considered neutral - sort of U87-ish - but without the harsh high end.

Another option would be to consult with JJ Audio. They can take a $150 POS tube mic and mod it into whatever type of mic you want, with different options for replacement capsules and circuit designs. For example, they can drop in a ADK capsule for $100, or a Peluso capsule for a little more. Compare this with spending $1200 on a new Peluso mic and you see the value of going for a custom mod designed specifically for your needs.
Old 10th November 2010
  #9
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BOWIE's Avatar
There's a lot of misunderstanding about what they actually do because most tube gear is colorful (sometimes by intention, sometimes not), making people think that tubes sound a certain way. There are many poor quality pieces of tube gear which have not taken advantage of a tube in a good way. This leads people to believe that tubes are extremely colorful, thick, or gritty. They really aren't, though they seem that way because of the type of circuit they are usually used in. If you use some of the Millennia gear ("straight wire with tubes") you can hear how surprisingly "clean" they can be, even with 4 tubes in a single preamp channel. Yes, there is a bit of compression, softening, thichening, etc that goes on. Also, certain types bring out harmonic overtones which can be really nice (big reason why I am a tube enthusiast). But they should not be thought of as a type of sound and they aren't "better" than solid state. It's just that they have a musical quality that works well in many applications.
Most of my favorite mics are actually solid state mics and I like to run them into tube preamps (so that I can control how hard the tube is being driven, thereby enhancing the harmonic overtones.). However, there is a certain expectation that one has when they think of a "tube mic" and, if that's what you're going for, then you should persue that kind of sound, regardless of a tube.
Unless you like to roll tubes (which is a whole subculture and another topic entirely), I suggest that you not buy gear based on whether it has a tube in. Buy a piece based on it's sound.
Old 10th November 2010
  #10
I've gotten rid of all the phantom powered condensors over the years and now have only tube condensors, dynamics, and ribbons. I like what they do to the source but I haven't just bought mics because they have a tube in them. I've gotten them because I love their particular sound, U67, M30, M11, CMV563, the only newish ones in the bunch are the Chameleon labs TS1 and TS2, very nice designs.

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Old 10th November 2010
  #11
Why do I want a tube mic?

Get a Mic that fit your voice (or the sound you have in mind).

I have tried many mics and use all non-tube mics except the charteroak sa538. Don't know. it just happend.

Please don't think too long about changing tubes and stuff. Just get a mic you like.
Old 10th November 2010
  #12
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bash's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chrisc_o View Post
I suggest you re-think that list of yours until you've tried a few tube and non-tube mics and gained a bit of experience with them.
Well, yes, that's the point of this query; I don't know what I don't know, and only working with one extensively will reveal it's value. Chicken and egg. I need to interact with a thing to learn about that thing. I'm trying to avoid that education wasting either time or money, or both, if I choose wrong. If a $300 tube mic is not going to be indicative of the potential of a great tube mic, what's the point of buying one? Therein lies the self-interrogation at the heart of this thread. Do I need a high-end tube mic to fully appreciate what tubes have to offer? Is this a technology category I need to possess or not, or will my ribbon (or a workhorse $500 LDC) get me near enough the tone I wish to hear on playback.

I want my music to have vibrancy, depth and contrast. There's a reason tones are referred to as colors. I'm a believer that more colors is better until you reach the point where the shades are too close to make a noticeable difference in the big picture. I don't want to record everything with the same great mic, hence my somewhat uneducated shopping list containing one ribbon, one LDC, two SDC, two dynamics and one tube. But I only want to add to my mics as long as each type contributes significantly to my color palette. I never questioned before why I wanted a tube, just sort of jumped into the herd and took it for granted I needed one to have a complete selection of colors. Now that I have to put my money where my mouth is I want to know I'm not just walking along with the zombies. Tubes, good! Fire, bad! :p
Old 11th November 2010
  #13
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uncle duncan's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bash View Post
....I want my music to have vibrancy, depth and contrast. There's a reason tones are referred to as colors. I'm a believer that more colors is better until you reach the point where the shades are too close to make a noticeable difference in the big picture....
A tube mic is not another color. Another color is defined by the frequency response curve of the particular mic. There are bright tube mics, dark tube mics, and everything in between, just like there are bright FET mics, dark FET mics, and everything in between.

In my studio, I choose the mic based on how the EQ curve of the mic is going to change the sound of the source, not based on whether or not it's got a tube in it. If I have a bright, harsh source, I choose a neutral or dark mic. If I have a dark source, I choose a brighter mic. If I have a neutral source, I pick a mic that's going to flatter the source in the context of the finished mix - pre-EQ'ing the source with mic choice. Whether or not the mic has a tube in it is not the determining factor.

I'd suggest a visit to the KEL website, where they have sound samples and frequency response curves for all of their mics. You can hear the same male or female vocal on each mic, and notice how the sound changes depending on the response characteristics of the particular mic. Then you can apply that knowledge to your current recording situation, choosing mics based on how they sound, not on whether or not there's a tube in the circuit.
Old 11th November 2010
  #14
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want to experiment with tubes for little money? buy an old tube reel-to-reel such as a Roberts (same as an Akai) whose motor is broken. That will save you some money. Then buy a cheepo samson phantom power unit. Presto! You got yourself a tube mic pre!
Old 11th November 2010
  #15
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rob61's Avatar
 

While I have several old vintage tube mics, and they do have a wonderful quality to them, you could do the next best thing...

Take a quality modern condenser mic, and plug it into a tube mic pre. I do this sometimes when I don't want to use one of my vintage tube mics for protective reasons.

I have the TubeTech MP1A, and taking something like an AKG 414 or Neumann U87 into it will help flavor it in tube warmth.

There is also the Hamptone tube pre that you can build if you are so inclinded. I haven't used it, but it gets rave reviews, and it is very reasonable.
Old 11th November 2010
  #16
Gear Maniac
 

At the end of the day.. get the mic that YOU think sounds best. Tube mics can add some nice coloration but you may not want the extra coloration. Do your research and see what mic sounds best for you. You don't need tubes to make a record.
Old 11th November 2010
  #17
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danly's Avatar
 

+1 for modded chinese tube mics.
also +1 for the blue Kiwi - a good drum overhead as well
or those modded apex 460's make good overheads also.

Personally I only have experience with chinese tube mics. (yet)
However, I'll say that a tube mic vs. fet condenser is not at all like a tube guitar amp vs. ss.
What I mean by that is it's kind of a subtle difference.
Just get something that inspires you to sing into.
A beyer m88 or a shure green bullet even.
or a u47 clone.
Old 11th November 2010
  #18
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uncle duncan's Avatar
 

I forgot to mention that you need to warm up a tube mic for an hour before it will produce consistent sound. Ten minutes will do in a pinch, but don't expect a punch in from an hour later to sound the same. While it's on, you're not supposed to jar it, which could damage the tube. Likewise, when you turn it off, you're supposed to wait a while before putting it away. It's a good idea to cover a tube mic as soon as you turn it off, so the capsule doesn't attract dust.

In other words, tube mics are a hassle. I've had three tube mics crap out on me in the middle of sessions. In all three cases, it was the 7-pin cable, not the mic. So, if you don't have a spare cable, and your mic starts spitting and hissing in the middle of a magic take, what do you do?

One of the benefits of a tube mic is the multiple patterns (unless your mic is cardioid only.) Changing the patterns can change the response curve significantly. (They say switching from cardioid to fig 8 gives you a 6db boost in the low end.) You can achieve similar results with multi-pattern FET mics, but a tube mic with 9 patterns can provide you with more subtle changes by going only one or two clicks towards fig 8 or omni.
Old 11th November 2010
  #19
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I had been bumping slong happily with non-tubed mics until I got a great deal on a used Rode Classic.

Changed my vocal sound to something I actually LIKE instead of something good enough.

But as with everything, YMMV.
I had previously recorded with a vintage AKG C12 in a great pro room and had fallen in love with that sound.
The Rode doesn`t come close but it IS heading in that direction with MY voice at a price I could afford.

And I haven`t tried different valves/tubes yet!

My only negative observation so far is that I tried using it with my TLA Indigo compressor, which I use the heck out of and really like. NOT a good combination.

But as we always say on here, go try some out on YOUR voice.
Old 11th November 2010
  #20
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Marik's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeg09 View Post
Tube mics are warmer...
Quote:
Originally Posted by biggator6 View Post
Myth...
No, it is not a myth! The tubes have heater and can get pretty hot. These heat will warm up the mic body. Ever tried to touch a tube mic? heh

Best, M
Old 11th November 2010
  #21
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Nighthawk77's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tINY View Post


Technically, the tube mics really don't bring anything to the game that you can't get with a transformer coupled FET mic - unless you start overloading the mic or have an old tube that's getting funky.



-tINY

Also not all tube microphones sound good.
There are plenty of tube designs that just don't sound good.
BUT it is hard to beat the good ones.
Old 11th November 2010
  #22
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Unclenny's Avatar
As far as my experience goes.......

.....I went from a KSM32 to a Peluso 22 251. I have found that I can get more dimension out of my singing now from that subtle compression factor that has been mentioned as well as the availability of more polar patterns.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bash View Post
Do I need a high-end tube mic to fully appreciate what tubes have to offer?
As in most things, you tend to get what you pay for. I believe that you need to think about spending $1K to get into a tube mic that makes a difference.
Old 11th November 2010
  #23
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noah330's Avatar
You want one because you read this forum.

Do you need one or will it improve your recordings? Maybe maybe not.

Old 11th November 2010
  #24
Quote:
Originally Posted by George Necola View Post
Get a Mic that fit your voice (or the sound you have in mind).
This is fantastic advice! The more mics you can try, the better. Musiciansfriend allows you to return mics / pres, so aside from return shipping, you can try most things before you buy. This is handy if you hate going into music stores as much as I do.

I have tube pres and Neve solid state pres. For me, the tube sound is a necessity with guitars but not with vocals.
Old 11th November 2010
  #25
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illacov's Avatar
 

Talking

Quote:
Originally Posted by tINY View Post


Technically, the tube mics really don't bring anything to the game that you can't get with a transformer coupled FET mic - unless you start overloading the mic or have an old tube that's getting funky.



-tINY

This is technically based on what?

This reads more like an opinion my friend.

A U87 and a U67 aside from the filtering employed are VERY different beasts.

The Innertube mod for the U87 pops into consideration immediately.

As far as overloading mics in order to get a sound, the fact remains a transistorized FET and Triode or Pentode tube and the corresponding head amplifier circuits are not the same. Hence the reason why you still see tube mics in production from companies like JJ Audio etc...

I use some pretty incredible mics daily, I would never sit around for an hour with a U67 inspired tube mic warming up if it wasn't worth it. There are just some things that both types of mics are exceptionally good at, you really need to have both at your disposal.

Not because it will make me any money, but because my job as a recording engineer is use the best tools available.

On some level you are correct though. A FET mic and a Tube mic will BOTH record a sound.

Peace
Illumination
Old 11th November 2010
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bash View Post
I want my music to have vibrancy, depth and contrast. There's a reason tones are referred to as colors. I'm a believer that more colors is better until you reach the point where the shades are too close to make a noticeable difference in the big picture. I don't want to record everything with the same great mic, hence my somewhat uneducated shopping list containing one ribbon, one LDC, two SDC, two dynamics and one tube. But I only want to add to my mics as long as each type contributes significantly to my color palette.
Ah, now we're at the heart of the matter.

Color and variety of tones can be obtained by so many elements along the signal chain that it is difficult to make any suggestions without knowing what we are dealing with.

On that note, I request that you post a clip of one of your mixes that demonstrates the lack of vibrancy and variety in tones that you are talking about.

Is it possible that you are recording everything in a room that is coloring all sources recorded within it? Room tone making its way into every track can certainly be a major factor in having everything sounding the same (i.e. lack of variety).
Old 11th November 2010
  #27
Amazon.com: Apex Electronics 460 Tube Microphone: Musical Instruments

I've had bad luck with cheap Chinese mics, but I have a friend with great gear and taste that swears the Apex tube 460 is good. Worth checking out.
Old 11th November 2010
  #28
Nah, I'm not missing out. I've used all those and all the other usual suspects, owned 'em, rented 'em, etc over the years. The ones I have now just happen to be tube mics, I didn't set out to end up with only tube type condensors (along with ribbons and dynamics) but that's what happened. Because they had the sound I liked. My u67 and CMV's are specifically awesome sounding and were purchased because those particular mics (not those particular models mind you but those actual specific mics) had the right sound. I've got nothing against a nice U87 or AKG414, I've just got no need for them with what I have in the closet now. If I could just find that magic pair of c12's in someone's garage sale... I actually never liked the UMT70s as much as a nice KM86, I know different diaphragms but I always used them the same way. A super fantastic budget tube mic is the Chameleon TS1. I don't think there's another budget new manufacture tube or non-tube SDC that can touch it, it's just a good design and has little to do with the 'tubeness' in my opinion. A great solid state mic that I hardly ever see is the Milab DC96b, I'd take a pair of those over U87's for most applications, and I actually really like U87's. Just not as much as U67's.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Peacock View Post
Man you are missing out on some really great mics. I too love my Coles ribbons and my tube condensors and my dynamics.

However, I love my non tube condensors equally well (DPA 4006's, and schoeps MK21, and my lovely sounding gefell UMT 70s and AKG 426) and use them on almost every project.

These along with many other condensor mics are great mics that can give a sound that no tube condensor, ribbon or dynamic can.

And they add a predictably different coloration to the sound than the dynamic, tube and ribbon mics do.
Old 11th November 2010
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marik View Post
No, it is not a myth! The tubes have heater and can get pretty hot. These heat will warm up the mic body. Ever tried to touch a tube mic? heh

Best, M
Touche!
"-)
Old 11th November 2010
  #30
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Marik's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tINY View Post


Technically, the tube mics really don't bring anything to the game that you can't get with a transformer coupled FET mic - unless you start overloading the mic or have an old tube that's getting funky.



-tINY

Quote:
Originally Posted by illacov View Post

This reads more like an opinion my friend.
It is not. tINY is correct.

Quote:
Originally Posted by illacov View Post
A U87 and a U67 aside from the filtering employed are VERY different beasts.
They are, but the fact that one is a tube and another is a FET is not the reason.

Quote:
Originally Posted by illacov View Post
The Innertube mod for the U87 pops into consideration immediately.
... and destroying a perfectly fine tool on its own merit, putting down its resale value?

Quote:
Originally Posted by illacov View Post
As far as overloading mics in order to get a sound, the fact remains a transistorized FET and Triode or Pentode tube and the corresponding head amplifier circuits are not the same.
Not sure what you mean by "transistorized FET", but as far as I am concerned, while the tube transfer is different (esp. in the cut off region), with low signals (as presented in microphones) I am yet to see getting into any problems with FETs terribly often.

Quote:
Originally Posted by illacov View Post
...I would never sit around for an hour with a U67 inspired tube mic warming up if it wasn't worth it.
Sorry, but THIS ONE is an opinion, my friend. I don't quite see what is worth it--it is bulky, expensive, noisy, not even closely as reliable, while there is nothing tubes can do what FETs cannot.

Quote:
Originally Posted by illacov View Post
... because my job as a recording engineer is use the best tools available.
While this statement is correct, I don't see how it concerns discussion between tubes and FETs.

Quote:
Originally Posted by illacov View Post
On some level you are correct though. A FET mic and a Tube mic will BOTH record a sound.
A recorder will also record (!!!) a sound, which means mic=recorder heh

Best, M
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