The Oktava MK-319 is a large diaphragm, cardioid condenser mic with somewhat of a checkered past, made in Russia. Or, at least many of the good ones are made in Russia, as there were a rash of them made in China (and perhaps still are), but they weren't "fakes" in the usual sense of the word, as they were commissioned by the mic's western importer themselves! Quite an underhanded piece of business, IMHO. There are articles on the 'net as to how to spot the Chinese versions, and I won't go into that here. Suffice it to say that an original, Russian-made one is preferred, and what is on review here.
The 319 is a derivative of the Oktava MK-219, which was one of the ugliest mics ever made. But, it did sound good, and the same circuitry is essentially what is used in the 319, including a nice, large gold coated diaphragm, FET electronics, and a rather good sounding output transformer.
The mic is usually supplied with a bare-bones, small metal clip, and has both hi-pass and pad switches.
The sound of the mic is generally very warm, smooth, and full-bodied. The "good ones" in particular are quiet as well. The general first impression is of a very pleasant, good sounding mic with no real drawbacks. There is a small "resonator" disc mounted over the diaphragm which adds a little "peakiness" in the upper-mids, but the mic is rarely too bright, harsh, or sibilant. Generally usable on almost any source, it can give good to very good results on most.
There are a couple of very intriguing sidelights to the 319. First, and foremost, through the years at various times I have seen it being sold for as little as $100. Especially if it is a good, original one in nice shape, this is a tremendous bargain. I will in fact state that under those circumstances, it may be the best bang for the buck microphone deal in history!
Secondly, there is a well established modification procedure that can be done on these mics, which accentuates all of their good sonic qualities, and attenuates the not so good, like noise and slight peakiness; and, when properly done to an existing "good" specimen, this can result in a truly (some would say "nearly") "world class" sound for pennies on the dollar in total cost.
Anyone with "champagne tastes" (and good ears) on a "beer budget" should absolutely try to obtain a good sounding MK-319, and consider having it modded. In my own experience for example, I bought three, kept the one I liked the best, and had it modded. I love the mic, very smooth and buttery warm. Great as a room mic on drums, very good on some vocals, usable on everything else with no complaints. If you can get past the inconsistencies in its provenance, and find a good one, you will enjoy the sound of this mic.
I own several Oktava Mics. My 319, a modded 219 and a stock 219. Of the three, I prefer the stock 319. It just seems a bit silkier and smoother than both of the 219's I own. Its a bit odd I suppose as the 219 and 319 are supposed to be very similar sonically, but it just goes to show that individual mics just like guitars can have that something special about them.
I have considered sending the 319 in for a mod to see if it would actually be improved, but I am hesitant as I already prefer it to my modded 219. I have tried it on several different sources, but find it works best on certain vocals. The fact that it is a darker mic than many lower priced chinese made microphones can definately help elliminate harshness in the higher frequncy range for more sibilant vocalists, especially when making digital recordings.
I think for those working on budget looking for a good first all around mic, this mic would be an excellent choice. I do have a bit of a mic locker now, and don't really use the mic often, but every once in a while I am pleasantly suprised that it can outshine more expensive mics on certain voices.
The best thing about this mic is that it isnt like every other cheap microphone claiming to sound like a U87, or some other high end model. It is and of itself a unique microphone, it is nothing like the other low budget microphones tying to mimic the sound of a classic on a budget. Probably the best reasn to buy an Oktava 319 is that if you buy it, you won't have to sell it to get something better, you will want to keep it because it does have a rather interesting character and sound all of its own.
I suggest looking for a used one, you will have a very usable mic with a unique sound at an incredible price.
I've been using this mic for about seven years, on just about everything. I also have two matched pairs of 012's, and the difference in respose between those two pairs is so significant, I've deduced there may be pretty different sounding 319's around as well.
Keeping that in mind, the one I got wasn't so great in stock form. The body and the inner grille basket were made of very ringy materials, I found the microphone to be quite dark, somewhat boomy with a generally unpleasant midrange and no separation in the highs. After removing the inner grille, damping the body, changing the cheap condencers and removing the pad and HPF switches completely from the circuit, it's a different story.
I didn't think the modifications would make this much of a difference, but after doing them, I would use pretty much the opposite description of the sound than previously. Dark it may still be, but not at all boomy, the mids especially for male vocals are flattering, and the overall sound is warm and airy. I don't like the term 'good value' in sound, in stock form this particular mic was not good for any price. After the modifications it is a very useful tool.
It has its shortfalls, but in my opinion its the best microphone in that price range for vocals. Completely un-hyped and natural sounding, warm, full and gooey-smooth. Capable of producing professional sounding tracks, it's a no brainer for home recordists and studios alike. Its a refreshing change to the harsh chinese mics that have flooded the market.
I not only use it on vocals, but occasionally on drums and acoustic, where I have to say it performs perfectly. For the price, I can't really think of anything else I'd rather have. If it was lost or stolen, I would buy another one in a half a heartbeat.
I modded mine, and I would recommend anyone buying one to do the same. I peeled the first layer of mesh screening off and filled the body with caulking to stop the resonance issue. I chose not to remove the resonator disk (as I liked the extended high end) or the switches on the back, but a lot of people do these extra mods too.
Having said that, the microphone is far from unusable in its stock form - but it becomes twice the microphone it was with the simple modifications.
I would recommend this microphone to anyone, beginner or otherwise. It is just so much better than other microphones available in that price range, and for £200 you can't really go wrong. If you're looking for an upgrade to your first starter-condenser microphone, this is the perfect mic to get you onto that semi-pro rung.