Russian-made mics have been a healthy part of my recording life since the mid-'90s. Back in the days when the local six-string retail chain had an excess of Oktava mics and managers were armed with discounts, you could buy a pile of these for less than $500. These Russian mics became some of the threads that instantly shot through the fabric of the home recording revolution the very magazine you are holding helped weave. Not unexpectedly, these mics have held a special place at my High Bias for over 20 years, so when Soyuz's main-man Marc Kuzio asked if I wanted to demo their mics, I was super stoked! Soyuz is a newer company founded in 2013 by American musician David Arthur Brown (who played sax for Beck on tour!) and Russian businessman Pavel Bazdyrev. The word "soyuz" means "union," and underlines the marriage of Russian engineering and Western design. The fact that the factory is located in Tula, where Oktava is based, and employs ex-Oktava engineers and machinists, piqued my interest further.
After a visit with local heroes at Vintage King, Marc came by and dropped off the Bomblet, an 017 Tube mic, and a pair of FET 013s [Tape Op #139]. Out of the box, all of these mics look gorgeous, announcing themselves with a heft that is both impressive and disarming. The thing about Oktava mics was how primitive they felt. There was a charm to them that harkened back to another time and place, when the specs were often off and your MC-012 [#25] omni capsule would maybe fit half the time, etc. I was relieved to find that origin and lineage were what inspired Soyuz to take machining and design to the next level.
The Bomblet is Soyuz's entry-level large-diaphragm FET condenser, and in hand it reminded me of the first time I picked up a mid-'70s Les Paul. There is a classy vibe, and timeless craftsmanship immediately evident. I don't typically care about how a mic feels and looks – I use an ugly-looking Sennheiser MD 441-U a lot. But it is telling that the Bomblet's craftsmanship and sleek heavy-duty vibe impressed me physically. It's a cardioid large diagram condenser that contains a very flattering toroidal transformer with a capsule designed and machined in house from scratch. The Bomblet includes a 20 dB pad, a handsome wood box, and a mic clip. The Deluxe edition includes a custom shock mount, a 20-foot cable, and an oak suitcase.
Rafael Leafar is a multi-instrumentalist from Detroit. Woodwinds, as in two saxes at once, are his main jam, but he plays tons of instruments, including EWIs (electronic wind instruments), synths, etc. often at the same time. This dude is a major force (both spiritually and musically) in Detroit. In addition to being a fearless improviser, he's always pushing the envelope, often literally, with an EWI into several Moogs – think Rahsaan Roland Kirk meets Herbie Hancock's vibe on Sunlight. On this day, Rafael brought keyboard phenom Ian Finkelstein (on Fender Rhodes and keyboard bass) and heroic drummer Alex White with him to accompany his array of saxes and synths. These guys are all champion humans and players. Set up was a bit harried, as the recording session was also being captured by video. That and Rafael's 12-channels took a while to sort out! About halfway through their 30-minute spiritual jazz excursion odyssey, Rafael started playing flute into the Bomblet. The sound was magical and, in a word, finished. Effortless, quite literally, as I was deep in the weeds from the beginning of this session, and we'd swapped the Bomblet from room mic position to flute (instead of a Shure SM7) while the band was warming up, so initially I'd soloed the channel and matched the gain from the Shure to the Bomblet using room bleed, then moved on. Rafael had said he probably wouldn't pick up the flute. The second I heard the flute my left-hand shot for my A-Designs Audio Pacifica P-1 preamp [#55] powering the Bomblet only to stop in my tracks as I heard the best flute sound I had gotten in years. Only I hadn't got it: The Bomblet did – without a pop screen. Reproducing the flute is not easy, especially in a room with a drummer. The bleed was very slight and pleasant, and the tone full and articulate, without any noticeable sibilance, despite a smooth top end. Score! I'd meant to check the flute, but before I could, he counted in and started making amazing sounds, and away we went! It's super rare to find gear that covers you as well as the Bomblet did me on this day.
Fringe Candidate is a hardcore band from Akron, Ohio. Every member of this band is certified North Eastern Ohio Core Royalty. They also all work at the fearlessly innovative Earthquaker Devices (guitar pedal manufacturers). The band sounds like Flip Your Wig era Hüsker Dü meets side A of Black Flag's Slip it In, with a nod to Bad Reputation era Thin Lizzy. Vocalist Karl Vorndran sounds like David Yow (Scratch Acid, The Jesus Lizard, etc.) kicking Henry Rollins' ass. To say this band is supremely phenomenal would be an understatement. Guitarist Joe Dennis uses a very pushed amp to get his gain. In the spirit of trial by fire, we used the Bomblet, and its handy 20 dB pad, right up on an Emperor 4 x 12 guitar cabinet loaded with 65 watt Weber speakers. The resulting guitar tracks were mammoth sounding. The Bomblet has a unique low end that is healthy without being cloudy at all. This is easy to high-pass away, but it's nice to have on tap if you need it, and allowed me to go more for the cone (on mic positioning) than usual in this application, which presented a detailed midrange and attack that nicely contrasted the burly low end. You could hear the transformer here too – adding elegance the harder it was pushed. We used a fully dimed Supro 1600S for overdubs, and the Bomblet took that signature amp's midrange in stride – I was still able to use proximity and placement to fill out the low end. The two tracks sounded huge together, and I noticed no build-up, which is often an issue with a mic that has such a unique and flattering tone. The Bomblet also got tapped for tambourine tracks on this session and produced a sound that was very ribbon-like but with improved detail. Group background vocals sounded impressive too. I was able to get some room in there by adding gain while placing the performers a few feet away – a task seldom doable with a mic that rejects this well. The luxury of pre-mixing during the tracking phase is always the sign of an excellent microphone. Every track that I used the Bomblet on sat in the mix well with minimal effort, taking EQ adjustments in stride.
The Bomblet crushed it in every application across these two disparate sessions. Since then, I've used this mic as an overhead with just kick and snare accompanying mics, and the results were beautiful. With the right cymbals and player, we got a nice Ringo vibe happening. On a mono piano overdub, the Bomblet filled out a sparse arrangement in a very natural way. As a primary vocal mic, it's impressive too! The flavor of presence was in the neighborhood of an AKG C 12A but wasn't hyped or super warm. For a bass guitar track, we mic'd a gainy Traynor Bassmaster YBA-1A MKII amp through a 6 x 10 cabinet slightly off-axis and got very heavy tones. Top-notch mics can do this thing where they seem to adapt to source material, inspire, and even instruct in terms of placement. The Bomblet favors most scenarios where you'd use any large-diaphragm condenser mic, and the way it reacts to proximity or slight placement changes makes it a joy to use. With this mic, I end up balancing at mix instead of processing.
The Soyuz folks nailed it with the Bomblet, and I can also state (having spent some considerable time with the whole Soyuz family of products), that their mics are all exceptional. The 017 large-diaphragm tube and 013 small-diaphragm FET have become my new acoustic guitar go-to pair after years of experimenting with combinations. Both are stellar where you'd think they'd be and in almost every application otherwise. The Launcher inline active preamp is astonishing. If you record music, buy this box. Across the Soyuz line, the charm and wonder of older Russian mics are honored, while adding a huge upgrade in sonics and design. In particular, the Bomblet is at once unique yet familiar, and extremely versatile. All these products punch way above their weight.