In the late 1950’s Electro-Voice ceased production of both ribbon and condenser microphones. In an article in his series ‘MICROPHONE FACTS for the operating engineer’ Electro-Voice founder Lou Burroughs explained the decision and presented reasons why dynamic microphones were, in every way, superior. The feeling at Electro-Voice was that ribbons and condensers were too fragile and prone to failure and that dynamics were solid and reliable and sounded better. Towards the end of the article (referring to dynamics) Burroughs declares that ‘These are the microphones of the future’.
Today, although dynamic mics are still revered for their robustness and ability to handle high SPLs they are not generally considered to be sonically superior to all other microphones! Indeed, I can’t imagine many engineers taking a pair of dynamics out to record an orchestral concert of classical music instead of their usual selection of condensers and ribbons.
Compared to condensers Burroughs claimed that dynamics have a ‘smoother high frequency response’ and so, here (by way of an experiment) are a couple of clips from an orchestral concert I recorded recently using a pair of Soviet Era, Russian, Oktava MD186 dynamics! I was simply curious to see if Lou Burroughs maybe had a point?
CLICK HERE for End of Beethoven’s Fifth
CLICK HERE for Mozart Piano Concerto
A Rare Find! Still wrapped up in it’s original box!
According to the yellowing Russian leaflet pictured above, the Oktava MD-66a is a ‘Dynamic coil microphone meant for sound amplification of speech and air traffic/transport controllers/officials communications. One direction microphone.’ (literal translation)
Although the Oktava MD-66a doesn’t look anything like an AKG D58 it is clear from the 2 frequency response graphs above that the design intention of both mics is fairly similar, with a steep cut from the mid-range downwards and a considerable boost to the frequencies which affect the intelligibility of speech. N.B. The dotted line on the AKG graph shows how the low-end frequency response is restored to flat when the sound source is very close to the mic (bass proximity effect). Low frequency sound emanating from further away, however, will be greatly attenuated thereby improving the clarity of the close mic’d sound.
The polar plot also shows a narrowing of the high frequency response on axis. High frequency sound arriving off axis will therefore be considerably reduced.
Although I don’t have any ‘air traffic’ or ‘transport’ to control or ‘officials communications’ to make, it does occur to me that this neat little noise-cancelling dynamic might have many other uses.
CLICK HERE for Acoustic Guitar & Harmonica.
P.S. Having taken the MD-66a out on a number of live gigs recently it is currently my favourite mic on snare. It delivers a crisp, fat, punchy sound whilst picking up very little of the bass drum.
It is quite a few years since AKG stopped manufacturing the remarkable D224 cardioid dynamic. There are still some appearing on eBay but the supply of ones in good working order is dwindling. I was therefore very curious when I spotted a Russian microphone which I had never seen, or heard of before, that looked somewhat reminiscent of the D224. It had a similar twin capsule design with separate elements for treble and bass, which means that like the 224 it would not exhibit proximity effect. It also appeared that the frequency response was not dissimilar (30Hz – 18kHz). It even had an almost identical-looking stepped roll-off filter at 50Hz. So to satisfy my curiosity I bought 2!
When the mics arrived I was immediately reminded of a well-known brand of margarine which has the slogan ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter!’ However, unlike the margarine that wouldn’t fool anyone, these Russian microphones look and sound very similar to their Austrian counterparts. Even the nickel plating appears to be as good as anything found on an AKG. It rapidly became clear that the Oktava MD-186 is not simply a cheap ‘knock off’. It is a very solid, well-engineered, high quality, professional microphone.
Oktava MD186 Frequency Response Graph
So does it really sound anything like the classic AKG D224 ?
Below are links to 3 very different sample recordings:-
CLICK HERE for Voice recording comparing an AKGD224 and the Oktava MD-186.
CLICK HERE for Clarinet recorded on the MD-186
CLICK HERE for Live recording of Guitar and Cajon on MD-186 x2
My two MD-186s are from the tail end of the Soviet era (1989 & 1990) when Oktava was still wholly owned by the Russian State. Although manufactured around a year apart they sound identical to one another. So much so that I would not hesitate to use them as a stereo pair.
Looking on Oktava’s Russian website I was excited to find that the MD-186 appears to be still in production!
However, upon further investigation I can find no retail outlet actually selling them! It has been suggested to me that maybe they are only on sale to Russian TV and Radio Stations. Or it could be that they are no longer manufactured and Oktava simply haven’t updated this web page on their Russian site! Whatever the explanation it seems a great pity that these classic dual element dynamic microphones are no longer available from Oktava………… or AKG !
Some years ago a colleague of mine was given a useful piece of advice by an elderly ex- BBC engineer…….. When preparing to record an orchestral concert, if setup time is in short supply, the simplest and safest choice of microphone assembly is an ORTF pair, which can be guaranteed to give good results in almost any situation.
Recently I have had cause to test this theory, with only a 15 minute ‘window’ in which to set up mics and no proper sound check!!
Viewed upside down,Oktava MK012 cardioids set as ORTF pair ready to go on a tall stand behind the conductor, angled downwards to point towards the woodwind.
And so……………. was our old chum from the BBC right?
Here is a clip from the concert.