Four Tube Condenser Microphones Tested
by Gary Powell
Marty Lester (young guy on the right), audio engineer from the Austin production studio, Tequila Mockingbird, helped me compare four cardioid tube microphones;
As pictured – Top left: Mojave MA200 $1k (Mojave Audio) / Top right: Rode NTV $1k / Bottom Left: Manley Reference $2.7k / Bottom Right: AT-4060 $1.4k (Audio Technica)
This quest started when I heard an Austin CD engineered by Marty Lester back in 1999 for artist Robert Kraft. I thought this was maybe the best vocal sound I had ever heard recorded, so I called Marty to find out how he did it. The microphone was a Manley Reference recorded through an Avalon mic-pre.
I know the Rode NTV very well and have used it for years, so it was my standard by which to compare the three new contenders. The Mojave and NTV were run through the Drawmer 1960 mic pre. The Manley and the AT-4060 were run through the Peavey VMP2.
I’ll let Marty share his opinions in the comments, but I think we were in agreement. These are all tube microphones with a single cardioid pick-up pattern. Let me say first that each of these mics could be the perfect microphone for any particular singer. That said, without price being a factor, the newly released Mojave MA200 designed by David Royer was the clear winner.
Mojave MA200 – This was like going to your local Ear, Nose and Throat specialist and having your ear wax removed and feeling like your ears hadn’t been in the studio for 30 years!
Rode NTV – A little boxy in the middle, but I’ve always loved it on “airy” singers prone to sibilance problems.
Manley Reference – That famous “grain” sound up top is wonderful, but I thought the mids were a little overpowered by it.
AT-4060 – Smooth through all the frequencies, but a little dark on the top. I should own this mic just for that one singer who would sound great on it.
Also, I compared the Neumann TLM103 against my AKG-414 ULS. After routing them both through the Drawmer 1960, I found them so similar that there was no discernable reason to purchase the Neumann as much as I liked it.
My special thanks to Marty Lester in bringing Tequila’s Manley and his excellent ears over to my studio. Also, thank you Jeffrey Green my Sweetwater sales engineer, for suggesting the Mojave and sending out so many mics.