How many good vocal mics are there out there today? Probably way too many, but how many are truly great vocal mics? Now we can narrow the field, with the choice mics being mostly of the vintage or vintage re-issue breeds. A few boutique manufacturers - really builders, since calling them manufacturers implies a certain level of output - have hit the nail on the head with new and uniquely designed microphones. Here in California, Charles Dickinson's Cathedral Pipes microphones exemplify the spirit of vintage recreation with a modern approach. Cathedral Pipes custom builds a handful of different microphones, developed and updated from proven vintage designs. The mic in focus here is the Regensburg Dom U 47 re-creation. I should note that the Regensburg Dom draws its heritage from the U 47 but extends the design with many modern benefits, even using some of the circuit design developed for the U 67.
First, the geeky stuff about the mic. The capsule is a custom M 7-type capsule from Canada. The transformer is a U 47 replacement from Cinemag; the Multicap coupling capacitors were chosen to remain true to the '47 sound, but with clean, modern construction and reliability. The tube is not the expensive (and often knocked-off) Telefunken VF 14, but instead an EF86 tube from Amperex in Holland. These updates, plus OCC wiring, point-to-point wiring in the high-impedance tube section, and a self-biasing design, provide the best sounding, most modern and stable tube microphone one could hope for.
Second, the candy. This mic has an LED that lights up the capsule from inside the grill. We have a blue LED in one mic and a red LED in the second, with more color choices available. In a dark room, the LED creates a cool glow inside the grill, without distracting to the artist.
Third, accessories. The mic comes in a very nice, lockable aluminum briefcase, with 7-pin power cable, power supply with pattern control, a beefy shockmount, and even a brief owner's manual. The whole kit feels very solid, heavy, and well-constructed. All that work and soul in a beautifully finished and laser-engraved metal body. The entire kit sells for a very affordable price - much less than a quarter of what a vintage U 47 or U 67 sells for today.
At my home base, Nightbird Recording Studios, vocal sessions regularly start and end with either a U 87 or Sony C800G, but the Regensburg Dom has stepped up to fill in the missing rock-and-roll attitude. In a recent session with producer Jed Leiber and singer Johnny Helms, we held a shootout between the aforementioned mics and a trio of mic preamps from Neve, Focusrite and Grace. Johnny's voice can be clean or raspy, and his dynamics can vary greatly from verse to chorus. In every trial, the Regensburg sounded solid and huge, with a detailed, natural top-end. The Sony comes across as modern, ultra-clean, and bright; the U 87 punchy, but veiled; while the Cathedral Pipes mic gave us everything in the right proportion. No scooped midrange, no hyped highs, and no anemic lows. The mic provides all the mojo you could want. I wouldn't so much call the sound vintage as simply real, intimate, big and right. Besides this rock vocalist, I have pressed the mic into service on many singers, from R&B to pop, and even as a stereo pair on our 9 ft Yamaha grand piano. In every case, the mic delivered. And I'm excited to put the mics up as drum overheads. Furthermore, the continuously-variable polar pattern ranges from omni to figure-eight, so any pattern in-between can be dialed in. This adjustment is great for adjusting room sound versus proximity effect, or balancing a singer who is simultaneously playing acoustic guitar.
Cathedral Pipes currently builds a few other mics that continue the pedigree of other sought-after mics. The Regensburg Dom is the big kahuna of the lot. Oh yeah, Chuck can even custom finish the mic for your studio. For our studio, he laser-etched the Nightbird logo into the power supply before powder coating and clear coating the mic and power supply. That is a very nice and truly custom touch. If you would like to own a truly classic sounding, custom microphone, visit the website for more info and contact details.
by Andy Hong
I can't recall a time when good-sounding mics have been so readily affordable as they are now. I purchased three Oktava MC012 condenser mics for less than it would have cost me to buy three SM-57s....