Adventures In Audio with Audio Masterclass
If one of these microphones is right

If one of these microphones is right, the other must surely be wrong. But which is which?

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OK, listen closely. I'm only going to say this once… I prefer the AKG C 414 to the Neumann U87.

Call it audio heresy if you like, but that's a decision I made nearly thirty years ago, and continued experience with both mics, in their various versions, over the years has confirmed it all the way for me.

But I'm in a minority, I know. So if you prefer the Neumann, then best of luck to you.

But something went a bit funny with the AKG C 414 a while back. They split the model into two versions – the C 414 B-XLS and the C 414 B-XLII.

These mics look so similar, I wonder why they don't expect us to be confused.

They don't say much in their advertising. The B-XLS, “delivers superb quality recordings across a wide range of acoustic sources”, while the B-XLII, “for solo vocals and instruments… has been specifically designed to capture every detail of the performance”.

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Hmm, sounds like they are both pretty good, doesn't it. So which one is right for you?

Looking a little deeper into the marketing we find that the XLS, which I'll call it for short, is “accurate”. The XLII has a “distinctive timbre”. Now we are getting somewhere. So what makes this difference?

You'll have to look long and hard at the technical information supplied by AKG, which is what I have done.

Apparently the difference is that the XLII has a significant peak in the upper frequency range. Looking at the charts, this is far from what I would call an accurate frequency response. But microphones are often chosen for character rather than accuracy.

But the most interesting point is perhaps that AKG consider that the XLII, rather than the XLS, is the one that continues the tradition of the 414 sound of the 60s and 70s, with lineage back to the even earlier C12A.

So if I wanted to replace the C414 EB mics that I have now, which date back to the early 80s, then I should probably choose the more accurate XLS model. If I wanted to be reminded how the very first 414s I used, which I remember had special connectors rather than XLRs, then the XLII would be the one to go for.

So, we're not confused any more.

Are we not? Sorry, I forgot to mention the AKG C 414 LTD limited edition, available only in 2007, which celebrates sixty years of AKG history. I wonder what that one sounds like…

David Mellor

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David Mellor