Karma is one of the newer microphone companies out there. They specialize in mics with unique sounds and designs at very affordable prices. We've been working with Karma on the beta versions of the K6 phantom-powered ribbon mic for over a year. After a few revisions, Karma is ready to present the K6 for sale.
When we received the very first K6, we went over to Tuff Sound Recording to compare it against some top-shelf ribbon mics. Soy Sos, the owner of Tuff Sound, has a wonderful Coles 4038, and we brought our Royer R-121. Given that the Karma costs one-sixth the price of the other ribbons, we didn't know what to expect. In our initial tests, the Karma did not fare well on loud guitar, percussion, or voice narration tests. We reported our findings to the company, and they used our feedback (along with that from other testers) for the next set of revisions. A few months back, we received the final K6 version, and we are happy with the results.
Wanting to solicit additional ears, Chris Moore of East Hall Recording adopted the K6 for several weeks. As it turns out, the K6 is a very different beast than the stalwart Coles, Royer, or RCA mics. Instead of trying to make the Karma a replacement for these world-class ribbon designs, Chris looked for new ways to use the K6. It turns out this is a cool little mic when used in certain situations. The following paragraphs are comments from Chris.
"My first impression was that it's a very attractive mic. More than one client commented about how "expensive" it looked. It feels heavy and very solid-almost like you could drop this thing off of a building and then go record a guitar track with it. (Don't try that, though. It's not good for any mic.) The shockmount is sturdy and holds the K6 securely. Initially, I was disappointed that it didn't come with a close-mount holder-something that would allow point-blank placement on something like a speaker grille. Ultimately, this ended up not really being a problem.
"I had a drum session right after the K6 arrived. I thought I'd try it on the hats. I was curious to see how the darker ribbon sound would work, and I thought the figure-8 pattern would help in isolating the rest of the kit. Even with most of the kit in the null point, the sound pressure was too much for the mic to handle. So I moved it out about 10 ft in front of the kit, setting it up as a room mic. (The kit was still in the null point-sort of a mid/side without the mid). This gave me a favorable room sound that I could mix in just a little to give the drums some extra balls.
"Next was electric guitar. While recording a blues track with a Fender Bassman running into a Fender 4x12 cab, I put the K6 as close to the grill cloth as the shockmount would let me, a little off-axis, in combination with an SM57 straight in on another speaker. This was what I was really waiting to hear. The amp wasn't cranked, but it was loud enough to sound good. For the second time, it was also too loud for the mic to handle, and I had a crackly mess on my hands. So I went with the old standby and moved it
about 5 ft from the speaker, and once I did some ex-post-facto alignment of the tracks, it gave me some added warmth I could blend in with the tracks.
"Bummed that I hadn't found a good primary use for the mic, I moved on to a quiet acoustic session. This was where I started to like the mic. On a singer/songwriter playing acoustic guitar and singing, I set it up as a vocal mic about 8" away with another LDC set to figure-8 on the guitar. Both mics had their null points directed toward the other source. Not bad. It gave good isolation from the guitar. It was a little boomy, but with a little bit of a shelf cutting below 100 Hz and a small-but-wide boost centered around 3 kHz, it gave the vocal a nice, warm, old-world kind of sound. This was a singer that had a history of being a little sibilant, and the K6 tamed it down just right. In a similar situation the next day, I got the same results, except this singer is generally a little louder, and I had to back the mic off about 6" to keep it from distorting.
"On acoustic guitar overdubs, I started to become more attached to the mic. I put it about 6"-8" out from the 12th fret, aimed roughly back at the body. On heavy strumming, it was too boomy, but on finger picking, it worked really well. On acoustic solo work, it was perfect. The extra body it added allowed the guitar to really cut through the mix without being too harsh sounding. When I tried the mic on a 1929 National resonator slide guitar, I fell in love. That particular guitar is naturally real midrangey, and the K6 fit it perfectly.
"I was hesitant, but I decided to try in on upright bass. Plucked, it was too boomy and without enough definition. But bowed, it was this nice, low, droney sound that just sat underneath the track and provided a foundation for all the other instruments.
"On hand percussion, it was perfect. We did egg shaker and cabasa, and it performed beautifully on both. It rolled the biting top end off both and just left this mellow midrange that sat perfectly in the mix. This is a mean shaker mic!"
My experiences with the K6 were similar to those Chris had. With a $200 street price, it's unrealistic to think you can buy a Coles or Royer. Nor is it fair to dismiss the K6 because it does not handle the same SPLs of the over $1000 ribbon club. (Although if future revisions have higher handling capabilities, that would be great.) Ribbons, just like dynamics and condensers, come in a variety of designs. I'm very glad we took the time to try the K6 in a variety of applications, because as a utility, effect, or primary mic, the K6 is a great addition to anyone's mic locker. It can go head-to-head with almost anything on quiet sources where extra body is desirable. Instead of reaching for the EQ on harsh sources, the K6 imparted a soft color in these situations. It's dark, giving a recorded-in-a-wooden-room or tubey-haze-like sound.
With so many mics having a hyped and harsh top end, many people end up with ice-pick mixes. Having a softer mic like the K6 can help instruments sit better in the overall mix and lend some character to otherwise shrill tracks. And don't forget, it's hefty to handle, and very sexy looking. At the incredibly low $200 introductory price, I hope a bunch of people try this distinctive addition to the Karma line.
($600 MSRP; www.karmamics.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.