Hands-On Review:A trio of affordable performers for your home studio
by E.A. Tennaway
At one time I went out of my way to avoid exploring high-end condenser mics. They were far beyond my grasp and I knew that once my ears became used to their capabilities, it would be hard to go back to the cheapies with which I made do in my simple four-track setup. It was something like taking a hot sports car for a test drive, then climbing back into your decades-old beater knowing that spiffy new model would have to remain a dream. So I continued trying to lay down sound with a pair of old dynamic stage mics.
Now that's all changed. Fiscally challenged home studio owners can begin building an inventory of condenser models that'll cover a wide range of recording needs without taking out a second mortgage. The three AKG models Musician's Friend asked me to evaluate are perfect examples of this phenomenon. They deliver a whole lot of performance for relatively few dollars.
The C1000 S: versatility defined
First out of the box was the C1000 S which AKG has tagged as their "Swiss Army Knife for Musicians." And that's not hype. Though it wasn't much use in getting a campfire going, the C1000 S's flexibility quickly made itself obvious as I put it through its paces.
Getting out my old acoustic flattop, I found the optimal mic positioning was about 10" from the strings and roughly midway between the soundhole and the neck. The mic produced a nicely balanced tone that tended towards the bright side with excellent string-to-string definition. Because my fingers are somewhat squeaky on the fretboard, eliminating string noise was a priority. I experimented with the included converter that changes the mic's pickup pattern from cardioid to hypercardioid and found it largely solved my squeak factor.
Vocals are also within the C1000 S's capabilities. It again produced a well-balanced sound with a slight emphasis in the mid and upper reaches. I found that the Presence Boost Adapter which adds an extra 5dB high-frequency peak in cardioid mode in the 5-9kHz range added brilliance that was useful with some voices, while creating brittleness with others. A bit of judicious tweaking of my pre-amp helped dial in the rounder, warmer sound I was looking for.
I didn't try the C1000 S as an overhead choral mic, but as I tried various positions on the boom stand, it became clear that this mic is not fussy about positioning and can capture sound from a significant distance.
At first glance, the C2000 B resembles its upmarket brother, the C4000 B, with its similar die-cast silver-gray body. It has two grille meshes, a fine pop filter inner screen and a coarser outer screen to protect the capsule. A 10dB pre-attenuation switch boosts SPL-handling capability and a 6dB/octave roll-off slope at 500Hz reduces low frequency noise and eliminates proximity effect when close miking.
In vocal tests it became apparent that an external filter was useful in controlling plosives when close-miked. The roll-off switch helped, but compromised the tonal depth I was seeking. Returning to the linear setting and experimenting with placement, I settled on a point about 10" above the singer which produced a rich, dynamic signal.
Though the C2000 B is capable of producing very satisfying vocal takes, I found it especially shined in handling bright and loud instrument output. It produced a forceful, gritty tenor sax sound that had plenty of bite and growl. With a broad and even off-axis response, it's well suited to horns and reeds. High-SPL capability coupled with a 2-3dB bump at around 10kHz also produced excellent capture of a snare, a hi-hat, and cymbals.
Sturdily built, it's admirably quiet and has a relatively flat frequency response with all the gain you'll ever need. Altogether it's a remarkable value.
C3000 B: big diaphragm; tiny price
It's a testament to the C3000 B's sonic fidelity that Roland has chosen it as the source for its COSM mic modeling software. Roland's engineers concluded that the C3000 B was an optimum model on which to base their technology. My evaluation of the mic served to confirm their positive take on it.
Although it resembles the older C3000 in both external appearance and name, this is an entirely new design. The B suffix indicates that it employs AKG's new back-electret technology.
I was surprised to find an AKG H100 spider suspension mount included. They're usually a pricey option. It proved highly effective in eliminating low-frequency vibrations and handling noise. My hardwood studio floor is quite resonant and the spider mount isolated that resonance easily when tracking.
On vocals the C3000 B had a very pleasant, spacious midrange sound with a transparent top end that never became brittle. Off-axis response was solid, allowing the vocalist to move without compromising the high-frequency response.
Close miking a Marshall cab with a distorted guitar produced effective results. String attack and stack roar were reproduced convincingly. Moving to the drum kit, the response was tight and consistent and though I tried some pretty serious thumping, I never found it necessary to employ the -10dB pad.
If you can only afford one or two quality mics, the C3000 B ought to be one of them for its flexibility and attractive sound.
Features & Specs:
|AKG C1000 S Condenser Mic||AKG C2000 B Condenser Microphone|
AKG C3000 B Recording Microphone