We had this mic at Jackpot! Recording Studio for a while before I got a chance to try it out, so I dropped a line to our manager and Tape Op contributor, Gus Berry, to ask him what his impressions were. He replied, "I love the FLEA 12. It's already become my go-to vocal mic. It's very forward in the high end but never gets harsh to my ear. It's also super easy to mix; it handles EQ and compression like a champ!" FLEA touts the 12 as an "exact replica" of an AKG C12; the classic tube powered, multipattern, large diaphragm condenser mic. I wouldn't know; I've never been granted the chance to use an expensive, rare C12. I do remember sitting in on some of the tracking for Elliott Smith's XO album, with Rob Schnapf [Tape Op #9] pointing to a pair of mics set up for the string tracking date and saying, "Those mics are worth $20,000 each." Hearing them up over a double string quartet and soloed, yes, they sounded amazing. But considering I started Jackpot! with $25,000, these were not exactly within my budget back then, or now!
Like Gus, I've also used this mic extensively now on lead vocals, and I have to say it's become my first choice as well – this is in a studio that has at least eight other excellent boutique tube condenser mics available. I've also used it on electric guitar amps and bass amps, and it sounded clear as could be with no internal electronics overload like many tube mics. On acoustic guitar, for rhythm in a full rock song, it was so well balanced (not boomy or spikey) that it sat in the mix without much work – not something I usually get from this type of mic on guitars. Every source I've placed it on simply works, much in the way other classic mics, like the Neumann U 47, are known for. It must have been built right, and using Tim Campbell's well-respected CT12 capsule and the same 6072 tube as the original must be part of the success. The mic's body and all included accessories, like the power supply and cable/mount, are well-made and feel solid unlike other new mics I've seen recently.
Complaints about the FLEA 12? Not many. The socket for the base/mic mount is difficult to line up with the mic body. I find myself spinning the mic around on the base looking for the pins to line up, and I usually have to pull the mic off and visually line up the socket and pins – set up takes just a moment longer. The nine pickup patterns (like the original) are great, but it'd have been nice to support this with clearer markings around the selector switch on the power supply. If I land somewhere between cardioid and omni I have to count the number of clicks when I'm making notes for a recall, and on first glance one might not even move the switch all the way to omni or figure 8. FLEA says they will be updating the power supply with better markings in the future.
But heck, the FLEA 12 is a really great mic. I know it's not cheap, but it holds its own perfectly against other more expensive mics I own. Plus it's a quarter the cost of a vintage C12! The first quality tube condenser mic I ever purchased was a revelation some 20-plus years ago, and every time I find a mic that ups the game one more notch for me I'm impressed. The FLEA 12 is simply really that good.