Out of the thousands of different
mics out there only a small handful have achieved iconic status.
There can be no doubt that the lowly sm57 has appeared on more
albums than any other mic in existence simply based on its perfect
suitability for recording the snare drum but the real holy grail
of mics has to be the legendary Neumann U47 tube microphone.
Introduced in 1949 a it offered the perfect high quality sound
that George Neumann knew that studio engineers were looking
for. With a big warm tone but a lift around 8 KHz the Neumann
had a brighter, more detailed sound than their favourite RCA
ribbon mics and enabled the engineers of the day to place the
vocal into big string arrangements without it getting lost.
But singers also loved the mic and it was quickly embraced by
Frank Sinatra who insisted on his Telefunken branded U47 for
all his sessions.
But as well as its unique sound
it was also technically very advanced and while multipattern
technology has now become a standard feature in studio microphones,
it appeared for the first time in the Neumann U47. Made possible
with the dual diaphragm M7 capsule, by altering the polarizing
voltage the two back-to-back cardioid capsules could be combined
to create an omni pattern or used singly for a cardioid pickup.
But perhaps the most single important element in producing that
sound was the now legendary Telefunken VF-14M pentode vacuum
tube, a steel tube originally built for the German army and
used in field radios during World War II.
It's this model U47 that has
become the stuff of recording legend. On the Beatle's Rubber
Soul album, virtually every track — from vocals, drums,
guitars and the tambourine — were recorded with a Neumann
U47 and George Martin has written that simply it's his favorite
microphone. Frank Sinatra refused to record without his “Telly,”
as the mic was nicknamed and his record label Mercury Records
promoted the U 47 as its Living Presence
microphone, putting the mic's image on its record covers. Sound
engineer Bill Porter used it exclusively on recordings by Elvis
Presley, the Everly Brothers and most of Roy Orbison's hits.
The list goes on and on and on and on........
However by 1959 the only remaining
customer for the VF14 tube was Neumann and so Telefunken stopped
production. As a result Neumann were forced to rethink the U47
and eventually they switched to a "Nuvistor" type
of valve, the 13CW4, a "Triode", in it's place.
Unfortunately, the 13CW4 "Nuvistor" version
never found the popularity of it's VF14 based predecessor basically
as it just didn't sound as good and eventually Neumann threw
there weight behind the new transistor technology discontinuing
their valve mics and producing the solid state U47 fet in 1968
So either you already know how
great these mics are or you are sick or hearing about how great
they are and you want to own one. Buying an original Neumann
U47 from a vintage dealer can cost you anywhere from $6,000
– $10,000 or you can gamble on a mic from eBay for around
$5,500 – $8,500, and hope that the tube and capsule are
in good shape. The other alternative is to buy one of the new
U47 clones. After all how hard can it be with all our new fantastic
technology to reproduce something 60 years old? Well quite hard
as it happens when you are trying to build something around
an obsolete vacuum tube not produced for over 50 years. Neumann
couldn't do it without the VF14 tube so inevitably there is
huge interest and trade in NOS (new old stock) VF14 tubes and
individual VF14s have changed hands for nearly $2000!
So it's the best vocal mic ever
and you can't afford an original but luckily it is probably
the most copied mic with a huge range of to choose from and
today there are two types of Neumann U47 clone on the market:
In the handbuilt corner are manufacturers like Bock Audio, Korby
and Wunder Audio who will sell you one of their U47 clones based
around NOS V14 tubes for around $6,600 (£4699
inc vat at Soundtools) or if you are fiscally challenged
then you can choose a Lawson L47MP MKII for $2000. Other manufacturers
like Peluso and Pearlman will sell you one for as little as
inc vat at KMR) All of these are undoubtedly lovely
microphones and the price reflects the care and attention lavished
on them to get them to be as good as the original granddaddy.
(In 1953 a brand new boxed Neumann U47 cost $390)
However the Chinese manufacturers
have slowly been upping their game and while some of their early
attempts at valve mics left a lot to be desired new mics like
ADKs Area 51 TT show that there really is little difference
now between a top of the range Chinese mic and any of the other
prestige brands. In keeping with the quallity of these mics
they cost around the £1000 mark but there are bargains
to had out there. Last year we were pretty impressed with
sE's CZ5600 which while
not claiming to be a U47 at £550 was a very nice sounding
multi pattern valve condenser based fairly and squarely on the
Neumann U47. So it was inevitable that other small manufacturers
would take this mic and have a good look to see what could be
done to improve it even further and our recent favourite mic
in the studio is the Advanced
Audio CM47 a Neumann U47 clone at a stunning price.
CHECK IT OUT.