As engineers and music producers, we have a special relationship with our microphones, as they are the lenses through which we hear the world. We desire a certain accurate sonic reproduction, but also just the right amount of flattery for a given purpose. Through experience, we learn just how much we can equalize and process a given mic's output to achieve the magic sound, without adding too many artifacts and distortions.

Hammer Audio, based in the U.K., was founded by Max Gale and Ed Marks, the owners and in-house music team at SilverHammer Productions. Like so many producers, these two gentlemen found themselves struggling to find the right microphone for their recording duties, which eventually led them to think about designing their own microphone. A FET-based design was chosen, with the original Neumann U 87 i (the original 1972 version) in mind. The Hammer Audio HA-872 imagines itself to be a modern, hand-built incarnation of the revered 1972 U 87 i, with some clever updates for added versatility in a wider range of applications.

Physically, the HA-872 is very slightly larger and heavier than the U 87, but has a similar shape and classic appearance. The HA-872 sports a hand-plated bronze finish, which gives each mic a unique look. The supplied shockmount is of the classic elastic-suspension type, and the mic ships in an aluminum briefcase with a 3 m long XLR cable. Inside the mic, premium through-hole components populate the hand-wired circuit board; and the most critical components, including the FET amplifier, custom Sowter output transformer, and Peluso K87i capsule, have been carefully selected for their audio properties. The mic provides a switch for cardioid, omni, and figure-8 patterns, as well as a three-position bass rolloff selector (flat, 80 Hz, and 180 Hz), and has been updated with a three-layer mesh basket, which provides superior wind-blast protection for use without a pop filter.

The original U 87 i is known for a certain midrange presence, which is forward-sounding yet without any peaky or harsh high-mid frequencies. The HA-872 has a built-in "de-emphasis" curve that provides a similarly smooth frequency response. A switch on the mic's body can defeat this de-emphasis curve, resulting in a more modern and airy tone, without having to resort to additional outboard EQ. By using premium components, a custom transformer, and the Peluso capsule, the HA-872 avoids the artifacts that plague many modern mass-produced mics, like harsh, ringy highs, and forward, strident high-mids.

In the studio, I was able to put the HA-872 to work recording a wide range of vocals and instruments for a variety of musical productions. On vocals, I found male singers to sound best about 15 cm from the mic, where the sound was natural and present, without any sizzly highs or boomy lows. The HA-872 rolls off the bottom about 6 dB at 50 Hz, so a high-pass filter was not necessary on most vocals or voiceovers. On group vocals, both omni and figure-8 modes sounded tonally similar to the cardioid setting, and placing singers at a distance of a few feet away from the mic provided a present and crisp tone. On female voice for pop songs, I leaned towards using the mic with the de-emphasis switch off — in the more airy position. I wouldn't say the tonal change between modes is drastic, but the switch allows a bit more open top-end ambience into the signal, which sounds slightly more pop and modern to my ears.

I used the mic on several different singers, and each one commented on how they liked the sound of their voices on this mic. I usually put up two or three mic choices to audition on a given singer, but after a few sessions, I became confident that the HA-872 would be a fine choice in almost every situation. Also of note, the HA-872 sounded extremely consistent between preamp selections. Neve, API, SSL, and Chandler models imparted their signature color, but the mic still maintained its own character regardless of the preamp.

On acoustic guitar, with the HA-872 placed about 12'' in front of the guitar and the de-emphasis switch off (more open), the mic presented a detailed and classic-sounding rock strum. The low-frequency rolloff positions enabled shaping of the lows, without having to resort to EQ after tracking. On drum room, the mic sounded punchy and focused in cardioid mode, and more open and natural in omni mode — both useful settings depending on the production. For grand piano recording, I often use an X-Y pair over the hammers (usually Royer R-121) and gently augment the low end with a single U 87 placed over the bass strings. The HA-872 performed well in this situation, with a solid and tight low-end that gave the bottom of the piano weight and a little extra bite.

Good microphones tend to be expensive, but the HA-872 is modestly priced and fits the bill as both the main mic for smaller studios or a featured mic in a large mic locker. Any time you would reach for a U 87, especially for vocals or guitar, the Hammer Audio HA-872 will provide a similar sound with some added tonal options and flexibility.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

Or Learn More