Review of Oktavamod’s MXL V69 Mod w/ MJE-K47 Capsule
Now headquartered in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, Mike Joly and his wife Meryl, the people behind OktavaMod, are known for, among other product lines, great sounding custom boutique microphone modifications. OktavaMod is able to offer custom designs and improved microphone electronics for a select group of microphones from well-known microphone manufacturers like Oktava, MXL, CAD and RODE. The company appears to run a single site in New England where the microphones are researched, developed, rebuilt and tested.
Another custom boutique shop in the microphone modification business is Evidence Audio, a high-quality instrument and studio cabling company, providing hand-built custom cables since 1997. Evidence Audio’s products are found in the microphone under review.
The MXL V69ME microphone is a large-diaphragm tube condenser mic with a fixed cardioid polar pattern, designed to offer extremely low noise level, wide dynamic range and warm sonic characteristics. I was re-introduced to this microphone through the OktavaMod-Shop (the website), as an affordable tube solution for ‘better digital recordings’. So I purchased a slightly used MXL V69ME from a seller on Craigslist for $160.00, tested it in studio 3 of Guitar Center on West 14th St. in New York City and sent it to OktavaMod via UPS the same week.
When I first opened the well packed microphones (I also received a modified RODE NT1a), from the USPS issued corrugated box, I was immediately impressed. The box was filled with at least 4 inches of ‘foam packaging peanuts’ and the two microphone were well wrapped in over 18 inches of UPS styled bubble packaging. This was a bonus because there is always a high amount of outgoing shipments from my studio, so the extra packing peanuts and bubble wrap are warmly welcomed.
The way a microphone looks has a psychological impact on a singer or vocal performer and therefore impacts the recording. I thought of this just before looking at the actual microphone. Once I opened the microphones’ packaging, I noticed a difference right away. What was once a faux gold-plated was now an aged rust colored single layered headbasket. And the chassis, which already had a solid build quality, was no longer semi-glossed black but a brushed aluminum. The new look gave the entire mic a more solid and authentic look. So much that while I was opening the package my six-year-old son commented saying,
“Wow Daddy, that one looks cool.” (Twitter, @sonicidiot)
In addition to the microphones, I pulled out of the box two Neumann K67 styled capsules neatly packed in a proper clear plastic case. These were the original capsules Michael removed for his custom designed Neumann U47 clone, the MJE-K47.
Michael and Meryl Joly were friendly and very pleasant people to work with. One of the most impressive things I found in OktavaMod is the data sheet that comes with each modified microphone. It is full of useful information about the modifications performed. Michael personally signs and dates each data sheet as well as attached a small graph with the on-axis and diffuse frequency response curves. It is a professional gesture that other pro audio technicians offering modifications on equipment should follow. But let me not say too much about that just yet. The items bulleted on the data sheet were as follows:
- New MJE-K47 capsule for classic “47” timbre-balance free from sibilance, excessive brightness or edginess.
- Single layer headbasket for greater openness, transparency and transient detail delivered with lowered sibilance.
- Evidence Audio LYRIC HG solid core wiring for improved harmonic time alignment and more solid bass response.
- Upgraded coupling capacitors for reduced distortion, better detail and improved frequency response.
- Vacuum tube upgrade to low-noise NOS GE Five Star 6072
General Technical Specs
The V69ME is a pressure gradient condenser microphone, the MJE-K47 uses a 3 micron diaphragm as opposed to the 6 micron diaphragm in the original. Joly suggests this difference allows his MJE-K47 a more ‘extended HF response and snappier transient response compared to the original’.
However, the polar pattern, sensitivity, impedance, power requirements, size and weight all remain the same as the original. Michael wrote me saying that the mic’s S/N remains the same, but my ears heard an audible difference in the microphones self-noise. So I am wondering if there may actually be an improvement in the mic’s S/N ratio and equivalent noise level.
Performance Testing: Vocal Only
I tried the V69ME with MJE-K47 modification to record vocals with Michelle B., a very beautiful and talented singer/songwriter I’m producing and album for. I was really impressed by the first sounds I was able to capture. So with Michelle B’s help I took a closer look the microphone’s performance by running a series of tests on and off-axis at about thirty centimeters from the capsule.
In my studio we used a Black Lion Audio (BLA), Auteur microphone pre-amp going into a Digidesign 003R+ with BLA Signature Modification. Our findings were more than revealing. The character and color of this microphone were not merely an improvement on MXL’s original but much more. These modifications actually made the MXL V69ME sound like a much pricier microphone.
During my session with the lovely Michelle B., I realized that the MJE-K47’s polar pattern is very forgiving. There is slight coloration off-axis and as the diffuse field response curve indicates, there is a significant dip in the lows when off-axis.
I recorded Michelle B. to test the microphone. Then, I recorded an original song for the purpose of this review. It is a quirky nonsensical tune that is not meant for anything more than to see male proximity effect and off-axis coloration of the MJE-K47. During this performance test, I tried different mics to make my comparisons. The MJE-K47 really showcases a room, offering great detail about the surrounding area. Depending on the room, this is sometimes not desirable.
Although, the mic captures the room you can get a focused and yet smoothed vocal when on-axis. The harshness of the top-end in the factory model is gone. There was clarity, punch and a nice round low-end that helped my vocal part sit in the mix quite easily. Everything about the sounds says smooth. The mid range and upper mids are even, and accompanied with great tone and even-order harmonics from the GE NOS tube. In our discussions Joly suggested that, ‘the substitution of the MJE-K47H for the K67-type eliminates the 8dB peak at 8kHz and provides a midrange-focused sound with a gentle presence “mound” of 2dB centered at 3kHz.’ (M. Joly)
I love this microphone. Besides that the ‘Rat Rod’ finish makes it look like a classic vintage microphone of the Neumann variety, it sounds great too! I could not believe that an MXL from their low-end project studio line sounded this good. OktavaMod offers MXL V69ME owners the opportunity to have ‘something you can be proud of’ in your microphone collection. Its sound has a tube character that is useful for vocals recordings with a digital format.
The original microphone costs $300, street price and the modification is $359. This mod could easily be that next step to getting your recordings on par with a professional vocal sound. I recommend this mod for quality microphone re-voicing and top flight customer service.
For More Information: www.oktavamodshop.com
Schmit, CJ. Dirty Rat. 2009
Joly, Michael. http://www.oktavamod.com. 2010
Curiel, Fernando. MXL V87. Recording. V22, 10. July, 2009