The U 47 fet reissue from Neumann is a faithful recreation of the solid-state version of the U 47 manufactured from 1972 to 1986. It has a fixed cardioid polar pattern and employs a K 47 capsule and the same head grill and nickel finish as the original U 47 fet, as well as the classic Neumann badge on the front of the mic.
The original U 47 fet was intended to recreate the sound of the tube-based U 47 in a solid-state model, but initially, it was not nearly as popular a mic. Many did find, however, that it worked beautifully in front of a kick drum, an acoustic bass, and later electric bass cabinets. This is how I had come to know and love this mic's ability to capture the full picture of sources heavy in low-frequencies. Great studios around the world likely have at least one vintage U 47 fet in their mic locker, and with good reason.
Out of the box, the reissue product says quality. Even the outer cardboard packaging has a slick, faux leather finish. The mic comes in a cherry wood box with dense foam lining for a snug fit. A swivel mount is fixed on one side of the mic, and the XLR connector sits at the bottom of the mic body. On the back of the mic, there are switches for attenuation (-10 dB) and low-cut filter (40 or 140 Hz). On the bottom is an output level switch (-6 dB).
Recording bottom-heavy sources was my first stop. Not surprisingly, the U 47 fet delivered a big, fat truckload of goodness to kick drum, and it made life easy when planted in front of an Ampeg B-15 cabinet as well as my acoustic bass — full bodied and extended, with nice clarity on all of the above. It was easy and fuss-free to get to a great sound and tone. I looked around the studio to see what else I could throw at it. Timpani? Wurlitzer through the Kustom? Killing. This reissue delivered the sound this mic is "known" for. Like an Oxford-educated playboy Paul Bunyon in a Jil Sander suit — tough, articulate, well-toned, immaculately presented, and smooth. But what else can it do? $4000 is a lot of bread for mid-level studios and weekend warriors who need their mics to excel in more than one application.
In addition to recorded music, I do a fair amount of audio for film and video. The U 47 fet had just arrived, and although it's not the normal choice for a location recording, I thought I'd put it into service in a non-traditional way. We had to record an on-camera interview with a female subject. The mic had to be out of the shot, away from her mouth, and I needed some meat on the bone in terms of tone. It delivered a nicely balanced warm tone without any hype and was extremely quiet. It would make for an excellent broadcast mic (although you'd better be doing one hell of a podcast to justify the cost).
Each year I get roped into doing the audio, sound effects, and music for my daughter's school play. I typically end up recording many of the sound effects myself rather than downloading them from iTunes. The sound of "magic" was required for the stage production, and Hazel handed me her baby chime/rattle that she thought would fit the bill. She was right. This particular item sounds like fairies on helium — perfect. Now, let's get the mic that the world uses for massive meaty kick drums and record some magic fairies. Well, it captured this tone with incredible realism — very smooth, warm, and pleasing to the ear. Although not a "known" go-to for high-frequency and detail recording, I liked what the U 47 fet did to smooth the top end. For the sake of hearing it, I took a few whacks at some different cymbals. Again, I liked the warmth and smoothness.
Recording a strummed Gibson Dove flattop steel-string acoustic guitar with the U 47 fet pointed at the twelfth fret resulted in a balanced tone with a nice, mellow top end. What I really liked was that it didn't have a hyped sound that many modern mics impart. There was no clicky, plinky-plonky nonsense — just a nice representation of the instrument. It was robust, with nice full-bodied low end, without being boomy. The recorded track took EQ well to sculpt it into a dense mix, but sounded lovely left alone and paired with a vocal.
I expected this mic to sound solid on electric guitar, and it did not disappoint. I put it up in front of my Vox AC30, plugged in a Telecaster, and cranked it up. All the shimmer and shine was there, stewed gloriously with the grit and meat. What a treat — it sounded just like the amp in the room. I would go to this mic for guitars all the time. It captured a realism that is missing from the typical SM57 setup. The SM57 is absolutely a great choice in many situations, but the U 47 fet simply had more life. And, for the price tag, it should!
I also thought it was a great choice for female vocals that were a tad harsh or peaky. It smoothed them out and lessened the need for EQ and frequency-dependent compression. On male rock vocals, I found that its slight rise in the 2 kHz and up range helped it cut through nicely, but without any brashness. Because of its high SPL-handling capabilities, it was good in front of a loud rock vocal and didn't collapse like some condensers do when used in this way. As is the case across the board, you can find a combination of mic/preamp/singer that meets your needs. For male vocals, I liked this mic paired with a Daking (Trident A-Range style) preamp (Tape Op #45 & #71). The Daking complemented the mic's warm bottom end by adding some clarity and shine. The same rang true for any source I used this mic on. With a proper pairing of mic/preamp/source, I was able to get great, solid, useable tones on pretty much everything. (If you only have one type of mic preamp, and this was your only mic choice, you might find yourself reaching for an EQ to create the space you need for each element in your mix.)
The more I used the U 47 fet, the more I liked the cumulative effect it had when used on many elements of a mix. It reminded me of some of Ethan Johns' recent work, like his solo album The Reckoning and Laura Marling's Once I Was an Eagle. These recording have a nice easy-on-the-ears quality that is likely the result of great mics, preamps, tape, and superb performances — in contrast to so many contemporary productions that are so insanely bright that they are fatiguing even over short listening periods. Point being, that when left alone, I liked the character of the upper-midrange and high-frequency response of the U 47 fet and its non-hyped tone. Compared to "modern" multipurpose condensers, the U 47 fet maintains its "classic" tone by not having a pushed or over-accentuated "fffttt" in the upper ranges — without sounding dull.
I would still probably use this mic where it shines the greatest, on kick drum, bass, or other low-end rich sources that need capturing in the most complete and compelling way. Bass players and drummers will be thrilled to hear the power they are projecting into the room, captured with such authority. Guitar players will swoon at the balance and clarity in the recorded tone of their amps. The U 47 fet is a beauty of a mic, and anyone owning one will find great joy in putting it to work in a variety of situations. For a mic that has a street rep as a kick drum mic, it sure serves its master well for many a task.