Thanks to Top Hat Recording, a few of us Austin engineers, producers, and studio owners got to listen to one of the first Wunder CM7 FET mics alongside its inspiration -the Neumann U 47 fet. Top Hat's John Harvey went straight for the jugular and recorded the kick drum first, something the U 47 fet records very well. Mary Podio undertook the tedious task of performing incessant kicks on a Fibes kick drum. As expected, the Neumann sounded great in this application and captured a tight, full-sounding low end. The CM7 FET sounded similar, almost identical to the Neumann in the bottom end but with a little bump in the high mids around 3 kHz. Later, when I added some compression to both kick drum tracks, that 3 kHz bump pretty much disappeared, and the two mics sounded very close to each other. Still, I'd give a slight edge to the Neumann on kick.
Next, Chris Ware -creator and builder of the hand-made Branham custom tube amplifier -played a Fender Telecaster through one of his namesake amps. These tracks sounded a lot closer to each other than the kick drum recordings. After listening several times, I gave the edge to the Wunder on the clean guitar tracks and a slight edge to the Neumann on overdriven guitar. I'm calling this one a tie, but recording engineer Stuart Sullivan of Wire Recording -who's had a lot more experience with the U 47 fet sound than I have -said he heard a nice jangly presence on the guitars mic'ed by the CM7 FET and preferred it overall.
For bass guitar, Harvey played his 1964 Gretsch on a rig that consisted of a Fender PA 135 tube head into an SWR 410 cabinet. When I listened to the tracks at home, I could not tell one from the other in a blind test. The Wunder might have been a little smoother on the fingerpicked bass, but the Neumann seemed to have a little bit more attack on the picked parts. Maybe. Then again, it could all be a psycho-acoustic illusion. I'll call the sound of the two mics on bass guitar a draw once again.
For my contribution to the shootout, I played acoustic guitar and added a vocal overdub to that same guitar track, an up-tempo tune in the high end of my range. I then followed that with a few bars of the Johnny Cash version of NIN's "I Hurt Myself" so we could hear the low end. Pulling up the Pro Tools session in my home studio, I could not tell the difference between the acoustic guitar tracks at all, and I must have listened to them a dozen times. On vocals, the CM7 FET seemed a tad smoother than the U 47 fet, but both mics featured that famous Neumann high-mid sound -great for cutting through mixes. I added some echo and compression to both vocals, and when I played them back, I definitely preferred the Wunder this time. It was more than a subtle difference.
While the Top Hat recordings covered things I couldn't do easily on my own, I wanted to hear the CM7 FET on vocals and acoustic guitar in the controlled environment of my home studio as well. I set up separate sessions with two female vocalists to make sure at least one of them showed up (let's not go there). Leslie Forbes brought a strong Mariah Carey-type voice to the tests while Molly Waldo's soft-spoken, alternative-rock vocal required a closely-placed mic about 6' away from her. For the male vocal, I used my voice again because it always seems to be available. We shot out the CM7 FET on all three lead vocals against three other mics -the AKG C 414 B-TL II, the Sanken CU-41, and the Gefell UM 70/MV 692 combo. For everything else -acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and background vocals -I used the CM7 FET. The chain for everything except the bass went to a Millennia HV-3 mic preamp to LavryBlue 4496 converters and then to the computer via Pro Tools. I took the Fender Precision bass through a DI as I always do.
When everyone finished recording, I made two mixes of each vocalist. The first mix had no processing other than a touch of reverb, but in the second mix, I added some Massey CT4 (Tape Op #64) plug-in compression to each vocal. I bounced each mix from the 24-bit, 44.1 kHz Pro Tools session to 16-bit, 44.1 kHz and ran off a CD for each of us, with the exception of Leslie who downloaded the 16-bit files from my website. I then asked Molly and Leslie to pick their favorites from their own performances.
The two different female vocals yielded two different results. Molly and I agreed on the same top two mics, and we both thought the UM 70 sounded best for her voice with or without compression. We also picked the CM7 FET for second best in the blind tests. Leslie and I disagreed completely on which mic sounded best. She preferred the CM7 FET for both compressed and uncompressed vocals, while I preferred the Sanken CU-41 on her compressed vocals and the AKG TL II on her uncompressed version. Interestingly, she picked the Sanken and the AKG respectively as her second picks, so we both picked the same top two mics; we just disagreed on the order.
For my vocal shootout, I added one more mic to the mix, an SE Electronics H3500, yet another U 47 fet clone. This mic was much darker than the others, but that's not bad since most of the time, the high end wreaks havoc on my voice. Still, it didn't get the full sound I heard using the Sanken, my first choice. Listening blindly on my home stereo, I picked the CM7 FET as my second favorite followed closely by the SE H3500, then the UM 70 (which would probably work better for me on background vocals), and finally the AKG TL II. This shootout also revealed something I hadn't counted on; I absolutely loved the CM7 FET on electric guitar, specifically my Les Paul 1960 reissue through a Mesa Boogie Mark III.
Here's my verdict. If you're looking for an exact replica of a Neumann U 47 fet, you will probably be disappointed. Yes, the capsule is a K 47 dual-diaphragm just like the original, and the grille is an exact replica as well. (The grille contributes greatly to the characteristic frequency response of the U 47.) However, the transformers and the circuit design differ from the original. In my opinion, the CM7 FET will work on kick, acoustic guitar, and bass almost as well as a U 47 fet and even better than the vintage Neumann on some applications such as vocals and electric guitar.
I think the CM7 FET would make a great all-around utility mic. Sullivan, who owns three U 47 fet mics, agreed. "The CM7 FET would be a far better utility mic than a U 87," Sullivan said. "I'd love to have a stereo pair of CM7 FETs to use on piano." You'll have to take his word for it, because I never did test it on piano.
At about two grand MSRP (including wooden box, shockmount, and one-year warranty), it's at least a thousand bucks less than a vintage U 47 fet and around the same price as a new Neumann U 87 -and that puts the Wunder CM7 FET squarely in the game. ($1995 MSRP; www.wunderaudio.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.