Base Price: $1,499 retail;
Likes: vintage tube smoothness, build, price;
Dislikes: not a thing;
by Jackson Macinnis
When the Beatles recorded at Abbey Road in the 1960s, they used the venerable Telefunken U47 microphone, which began its run in the 1940s, on almost all the drums and most vocals. They had a ton of those multi-pound microphones. Today, it’s nearly impossible to find working original microphones because of a shortage of the older tubes from the WWII era. If you do find one, it could be as much as $20,000. Thankfully, there have been some companies lately that have taken up this cause of renewing the “vintage” sound — as closely as possible to those historic microphones. ADK is one of the companies that achieves its “vintage” marks at very affordable prices.
Although known for its budget, Chinese made microphones, ADK’s Custom Shop has been designing and building really good high-end mics for a while. These USA-assembled microphones have a Belgian/Australian designed, Asian-built capsule and are every bit as good as the current European mics on the market (sometimes better). They offer sonic signatures of various vintages — without the bad stuff (noise, hiss, exaggerated response, etc.)
The TC 47-AU tested here is a typical example of a good-performing, modern tube microphone that is designed with a vintage flavor, but is not many thousands of dollars. In fact, the price is only $1,499 retail, compared to the recently resurrected Telefunken U47 that sells for $10,000, or an original at $20,000 — if you can find one.
The ADK audiophile series microphone Model TC 47-AU is a class-A tube, hand-graded (6072), fixed-cardioid pattern, 1-inch diaphragm condenser mic. It comes complete with a large flight case, 115V/230v “turbo” tube high-voltage power supply, dual cables, T-ring and basket mounts, and a pop filter.
ADK states that the best applications for the TC 47-AU are: vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, reed instruments, strings, drum overheads and applications where you would want a vintage tube microphone sound. The power supply is extremely heavy duty and well made, mainly to protect the fragile tube inside. The maximum SPL is listed at 125 dB, which allows it to work with all sorts of instruments including drums; self noise is 18 dB.
As mentioned, the ADK comes standard with a lot of accessories: a rugged ATA flight case, two mounts, and a pop screen. Suspension shock mounts are extra when you buy most German microphones, so it’s great to see them included in the TC47-AU kit. Overall, this mic is well priced and equipped for professionals and home studio recordists who want that vintage tone.
Here at Sirius-XM studios in DC, it’s all about drums and guitars today. Some of the best recording techniques often involve innovative microphone setups. Since the 47 style of mic was used for drums by numerous studios, I thought I would try that technique here.
As chief engineer and director of the Sirius|XM, I was going to directly compare an original 1951 U47 that we have in our mic closet, but the tube was too noisy to make it a fair comparison. For general comparison purposes, I decided to use a recent Neumann U87, which is one of the more popular, high-end large diaphragm microphones on the market.
I used one U87, two feet from the bass drum at 45 degrees. The TC 47-AU was set at the same distance and angle. For the hi-hat and tom, I placed the U87 and TC 47 one foot away between the two drum components. I ran both mics through Focusrite 110A reissue preamps and then into the A/D converters of our Sony Oxford Console. The resultant audio was imported into Pro-Tools for metering and tracking. I monitored on custom, active midfield monitors.
These USA-assembled microphones have a Belgian/Australian designed, Asian-built capsule and are every bit as good as the current European mics on the market (sometimes better).
On the ADK tracks, the ADK instantly revealed an open, roomy, but very nice, low-end sound. You can hear a single, clear low note ringing in the room, and it seems as if the tube mic is rounding off some of that hard tightness that digital recording often adds to the drum kit sound. That slight smoothing effect is a good thing in recording — as the precision in digital is often a hindrance to get a good mix of all the instruments.
The fact that the ADK’s organic sound is from the tube microphone, and not the result of a fancy computer plug-in, also is refreshing. So much of the recorded sound today is the result of processing plug-ins in the “box” (computer), but with the ADK, you have the vintage signature transmitted through the mic, just like in the old days.
I liked hearing the ADK TC 47-AU on today’s rock music drumming. Think White Stripes, Beck and other room-heavy drum sounds with that analog old school sound. In heavy duty listening, the drum’s room sound was pulsing and energetic, as if the tube itself was a live element in the recording.
I switched over to the Neumann U87 set of tracks. I heard the blurred low end in the room as well, but with a slightly different emphasis on the high end of the drums frequency response. There was a drop in the ADK’s high-end response that replicates the old U47, but I liked it; for my drum application, the TC 47-AU had more character than the U87.
ADK TC 47-AU on the drum kit
On a Martin acoustic guitar recording session, I placed the U87 and ADK one foot from the twelfth fret. The guitar playback revealed a similar character, but the ADK was smoother — especially when playing slide. And unlike 60-year old tube mics, the ADK’s newer tube electronics and hand-graded tubes revealed no extraneous hiss or tube sonic artifacts. The mic was very quiet.
I also noticed that the ADK recorded tracks produced a nice, thick midrange tone from our big body acoustic. If you had two of the ADKs, it would be an ultimate “vintage” stereo setup for acoustic guitar. Maybe capture the flavor of the early-to-mid 60s folk era with that pervasive small body guitar sound.
On a male-vocal session, the ADK mic had a really rich middle with just the right amount of top end. It definitely had that old vintage signature. If the vocalist is too bassy, you might want to use a different mic or some EQ, but for our applications, it really nailed it. And the mic’s lack of noise makes it ideal for recording 24-bit.
There are low-cost imported microphones and pricy USA- and European-made microphones that claim authentic replication of vintage U47 microphone sound. The ADK actually delivers the essence of the classic microphone sound — with less noise and grit, than the original — and for a whole lot less money than the expensive new ones.
The ADK TC 47-AU is a great way to upgrade your overhead drum, acoustic or electric guitar, or your vocal microphone (keyboards and horns as well) to an iconic sound for way less money than buying an original. I also recommend it for an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.
Jackson Macinnis is chief engineer and director of the Sirius|XM recording studios in Washington, DC. He also is a multi-instrumentalist musician and home audio recordist who composes music for TV and film at his home studio. He can be reached via the Everything Audio Network.
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