Talking and writing about microphones feels a bit like talking and writing about wine – we all like what we like, and mouthing off about it can get pretentious pretty quickly. Nonetheless, we continue to do it. One of my holy grail microphones is the vintage Neumann KM 84. I have an aural memory of those mics that’s similar to the memory of an amazing glass of wine on an outside deck by the ocean with dinner in a Sardinian trattoria, but I have not actually used one in quite a while and don’t own one because they’ve become so expensive. This has put me on an ongoing search for the elusive sound of the original KM 84 that I remember so fondly – an extended but silky, yet not overly bright, top end with lots of detail down into the midrange. See, I told you this was like talking about wine. The Neumann KM 184 is a fine mic, but just doesn’t have the same elusive magic and is still pretty expensive. The KM 84 is transformer-coupled while the 184 employs a transformerless circuit; I think it’s the transformer that adds something special. The SDC category is often overlooked in many mic lockers. They’re essential for recording acoustic stringed instruments, and a primary solution for drum overheads, yet you’ll often see them missing from some small studios’ mic lists. Let’s face it though, SDCs are just not as interesting of a category compared to the big tube and ribbon mics that seem to garner all the attention – much like a Cabernet Franc is often overshadowed by a Cabernet Sauvignon (while both are quite useful around dinnertime). The Audio-Technica PRO 37 [Tape Op #47] is probably the best SDC ever made for under $200 but it’s not quite a KM 84. I have a set of THE SDC mics [#28] that I love, and come very, very close to that elusive KM 84 sound, but that company sadly went out of business over a decade ago.
With vintage KM 84s selling well above $1000 each, what fills the gap between the Pro 37 and a vintage Neumann? Enter the Soyuz 013 FET at $599 ($1199 for a matched pair). The folks at Soyuz sent me a pair to try out, and I’m liking them quite a bit. Similar to the KM 84, the 013 is a transformer-coupled circuit. Reminiscent of older vintage mics, the 013 is hand-built – in Russia, not Germany! Everything about these Soyuz mics speaks to quality and attention to detail. The 013s come in nice high-density foam fitted hardwood boxes and include a frequency plot of the actual mic you have purchased. Each mic is also serialized with the date of manufacture and the handwritten signature of each person who worked on the mic on a small card with their photo – nice touch! In this way I know that my 013s were made on October 30th, 2019, by Sergey Savischev with machining by Danil Andreev and final testing by Vladimir Seleznev. Thanks, guys!
I’ve been using the 013s on acoustic guitar tracking for a recent project, and they sound stunning – exactly what I want from an SDC: Nice definition with an extended but not spiky top end and minimal boominess on the bottom end. In addition to the aforementioned provisions, another nice feature of the Soyuz is that they come with a -10 dB attenuator that threads on to the mic body between the capsule and the amplifier circuit. The handy benefit here is that if you don’t need the attenuation, the pad is completely removed from the circuit! Though I haven’t needed to use these yet, it’s good to know they’re there if I need them for high SPL sources. I should also mention that the supplied heavy plastic mic clips with metal bases are sturdy and hold the 013s firmly in place. Unfortunately, it’s not always a given these days that good clips are included with new mics.
Next, I took the 013s to my buddy Matt Cohen’s San Rafael studio to track drums with him. Matt is not only a solid engineer but a great drummer as well. We set up his Yamaha kit with the 013s as a spaced pair with one focused on the ride cymbal and the other a bit higher up, targeting the hi-hat and crash cymbal. For reference, we went ahead and left the studio’s Neumann KM 84 mono overhead mic up as well. All three went through the studio’s vintage Auditronics “Grandson” 110-series console with no EQ. I’m happy to report that on Matt’s drums, my aural memory of the first time I heard a KM 84 came back with the Soyuz013s. I heard this most in the ride, and as Matt moved between the edge and the bell of the cymbal, it had detail (but not harsh top end) and definition in the midrange. I felt like I could almost hear the density of the wood of the drumstick as it hits the ride cymbal. The vintage KM 84 sounded terrific as well of course, and although their placement was different, the three mics held together beautifully as a clear image of the kit – it was hard to differentiate the 013s from the KM 84. The 013s sounded exceptional with no EQ, but I experimented by boosting the top end and upper midrange even further. The tracks more than held up during EQ adjustments without getting harsh or crunchy sounding – something that happens so often with many inexpensive condenser mics on the market.
Next, I took the 013s out to Panoramic Studios, where producer/engineer Robert Check was starting a tracking session with the band Life in 24 Frames. Here’s what Robert had to say about the mics: “When John dropped off the mics, I was working out an arrangement with the band and playing piano. It was a nice Fazer upright piano that was a recent addition to the studio. The song was pretty mellow and intimate, so I was using the drop-down felt feature. I had been playing for about an hour with the front cover off and when it came time to record the piano I put the 013s in an X/Y setup right in front of my face in hopes of hearing in the control room essentially what I had been hearing for the last hour. I ran the mics through the API 1608 console [#81] and the results were immediate. It sounded pretty much exactly like what I had been hearing. I added about +2 dB at 12 kHz for some detail and notched about -4 dB at 250 Hz to get rid of some mud and the mics responded well to EQ. Next we tracked some drums, and I decided to put the mics on toms with the -10 dB pad on. Wow! That may have been the moment I decided to buy a pair. For years my go-to for “rock” toms has been the tried and true Sennheiser 421, but in recent sessions, when I have the opportunity, I’ve been reaching for Josephson E22s. Without being able to compare at that moment, I suspect that the 013s would absolutely hold their own against either mic. I’ve been recording these particular toms at John’s studio for over six years now and I’ve never heard so much detail. Also, to be noted was the excellent rear/off-axis rejection – when the drummer reached for a cymbal, the mics were barely picking them up.”
If it’s any indication of how much we liked these mics, I decided to buy the pair I had, and even arranged for Robert to buy a second pair. I suspect they’ll age better than most of the bottles of wine I’ve bought lately.