Following up on the success of the MA-300 large-diaphragm tube mic [Tape Op #87], Mojave recently released a FET version. As was the case with the MA-200 - tube version first, then roll out the FET. The beauty of Mojave's strategy is that they now have a serious line-up of microphones that give some of the more expensive and "snobbier" mics a serious challenge for a lot less dough.
The MA-301fet can go head-to-head with the Neumann U 87 as currently manufactured, as well as other big-named LDCs, despite the Mojave's lower cost. If you are going to use China in the build process, it's nice to see the savings normally associated with overseas manufacturing actually get passed to the consumer. I've noted in other Mojave reviews that they are not shy about the fact that China is involved. Every one of their mics is final-inspected and tested in Burbank, California by a dedicated staff of recording geeks and musicians like us, and the build-quality is very high. That is evident in important things like the polar-pattern selector switch, which on the MA-301fet is a nice, solid, metal affair, whereas on the U 87, it's now cheap plastic. The body of the mic is also a nicely-finished, solid aluminum piece that does not feel like you can dent it by merely squeezing it too hard. Throw in the well-crafted case and decent shockmount, and you have the whole package.
We received a pair to review, and while technically not a matched pair, without the aid of sophisticated audio- measurement tools, we could not readily discern a difference in sound between them. That means overheads, baby, and they went up straight away. We were fortunate enough to be tracking some basics at the time the mics showed up, so we decided to fly them on a stereo bar in ORTF as our "more" room mics - centered over the drummer's head about 12 ft up, looking down across the whole kit - and we worked them in with our normal Royer SF-12 stereo ribbon [Tape Op #25] overhead. We also used the MA-301fet on piano, lead vocals, backing vocals, and pump organ. All of the recordings sounded great, and the 100 Hz high-pass filter, -15 dB pad, and polar pattern selector (omni, cardioid, figure-eight) made for easy operation. We employed cardioid for overheads, lead vocals, and piano; omni for backing vocals; and figure-eight for pump organ.
Of course, the real test is always in the mix. Since the SF-12 overhead is an important contributor to our overall drum sound, we always use it. With the MA-301fet pair, we discovered that the brighter (as expected) sound of the FET condensers was great for bringing out the more aggressive drums we were tracking. The rack and floor recorded beautifully and worked well in the mix with the close mics; the close mics provided the whack and the MA-301fets gave us the boom. Perfect. Also, the cymbals in the MA-301fets were neither overly brash nor washy, and they added some edge to the smoothness of the SF-12 ribbon. If we were to record more aggressive music in the future, I'd just go with the MA-301fets as the overheads as they can handle the SPL of loud playing, and their cardioid pattern is really tight. Metal dudes don't like washy drums, and until now, we've struggled to find a pair of condensers we like with their drumming.
On the piano, the brightness of the MA-301fet was again a strong feature as it brought out the detail of the higher notes and did not attenuate the whomp and thud of the damper pedal. Here we used one mic pointed into the baby grand with the lid up on the tall stick. This is a position with which we have had good luck when using LDCs, and the MA-301fet sounded great. On the pump organ, we mic the back of the organ and start with the mic at a height close to the top of the organ - diaphragm pointing at the floor. With the mic set for figure-eight, we raise and lower it until we get a nice off-axis sound of the instrument (it is air going by, after all). In this way, the null of the pattern is rejecting most of the unwanted creaks and groans from pumping, while still letting in enough noise to be appropriately breathy and vibey. Nothing was needed at mix for the piano and organ tracks but some fader rides. On the backup vocals, the MA-301fet was also great-sounding and captured all the nuances of the breathy man-choir stack we compiled. We were able to put those backups together as the bed for the mix and did not fight any frequency humps that can develop when you sum many tracks of the same singer on the same mic.
We were most pleased on how the MA-301fet handled the lead vocals on our session. Jairo is from Madrid and has a very distinct voice and annunciation style, singing mostly in Spanish. He has an incredible range and can switch from a sweet falsetto to robust rocker in the same song, and the MA-301fet was the perfect choice. We could go on and on about how great and easy it was to use, but we will just tell you that Jairo is now purchasing one for his home studio and selling that other big name mic he paid too much for.
So, if you are looking for a real affordable workhorse of a microphone, at a street price of $900 each, you can buy four of the MA-301fet mics for as much as you would spend on a single U 87. Or you could buy a bunch of other Mojave mics along with the MA-301fet and have a great recording arsenal for your studio. We don't know about you, but in these tough economic times, it seems Mojave is looking to help you hold on to your hard-earned money by making great microphones we can all afford.
($895 street; www.mojaveaudio.com)
-Craig Schumacher <firstname.lastname@example.org>