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Monday, December 26, 2016

Home Recording Review!
Mojave Audio MA-1000
Multi-Pattern Tube Microphone:
“A Vintage-Modern Masterpiece”

©Everything Audio Network

Price: $2,500
Likes: Sounds great on any instrument
Dislikes: I would not dare complain
Wow Factor: the best of the old and the new

by John Gatski
  David Royer is a brilliant microphone designer who has parlayed his experience into designing industry standards, such as the Royer R21 ribbon microphone and the classic tube persons via the versatile MA-3000 multi-pattern condenser of his other mic company, Mojave Audio.
  With the release of the Mojave Audio MA-1000, Royer has made another significant microphone that gives that classic vintage “body” of a large diaphragm condenser, yet has enough detail, depth and low noise to to be used on a transient-rich, hi-resolution 24-bit or DSD jazz recording.
  Like the original Telefunken L251 it is based on, the MA-1000 is good on every kind of instrument imaginable: vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, overheads, horns, violin, a whole orchestra. Its sonic ease and accuracy, plus listenability, make it one of the best new microphones in years. It is not one of those import cheapie mics that flood the USA market, but it is a serious, assembled-in-USA mic, I believe, worthy of a $2,500 investment.

  The MA-1000 is based on the classic L251 condenser microphone, utilizing an original, new old-stock, 5840 tube with a custom-designed transformer built by Coast Magnetics. The mic’s modern bling includes three polar patterns: cardioid, omni and figure 8, and features a pad and a bass roll-off for up close work.  The unit comes with a suspension microphone mount, a case, the power supply and a cable. The polar patterns are adjusted via the power supply-mounted controls.
  Royer said he had an L251-influenced design in his head for a long time, and decided, based on customer interest, to produce one with his own unique twist. “When I decided to revisit the Telefunken ELAM 251, I checked out several available copies of the original AKG CK-12 capsule until I found one that I was happy with,” Royer explained.    
  The MA-1000 is based on the classic L251 condenser microphone, utilizing an original, new old-stock, 5840 tube with a custom-designed transformer built by Coast Magnetics. The mic’s modern bling includes three polar patterns: cardioid, omni and figure 8, and features a pad and a bass roll-off for up close work. 

  The Chinese-made capsule is faithful to the original CK-12 and is 3-microns thick, according to Royer, and he is pleased with the quality consistency. “The Chinese factories that are manufacturing copies of Neumann and AKG capsules have, in several cases, redesigned them somewhat to simplify the manufacturing process,” he noted.
  Royer chose not to follow other mic companies in designing Telefunken L251 clones with the 6072 tube. “I decided to design the electronics, more or less, to follow the design of the German-market ‘251, using an AC701 tube, rather than using a 6072. I frown on the design of the L251 and the C-12 with the 6072 tube for technical reasons. I have used the 5840 and several other subminiature tubes in circuits, adapted from various Neumann, AKG and other tube microphone designs, for thirty years now, and they are well proven.”

  Another key MA-1000 design element is the output transformer, and Royer dug up an old prototype to polish for the new mic. “As for my choice of an output transformer, the transformer that I chose for the MA-1000 is one that I had prototyped twenty years ago, but had not used commercially until now. We tried several different transformers in prototype microphones and, while other transformers worked perfectly well, the one that ultimately was chosen was the pick of the crop.”
  There are a lot of L251 style-capsule derivatives on the market, but this one is one of the best (along with the ADK TC-251 which first used this particular capsule). Some of them are faithful to the vintage tone; others are pretenders that are thoroughly modern with a bit too much zing for my taste. The MA-1000’s sonic character is quite clean and accurate, with just enough warmth to keep everything sweet — without excessive bloat in the midbass and midrange.
  In fact, look at the factory frequency response graph: the cardioid response is amazingly flat for a large diaphragm mic, maybe 2 dB variation max in the midrange and lower treble. Almost dead flat to 1,000 Hz and the 12 kHz to 20 kHz has less roll off than many other large mics on the market. This is one, clean-response, large diaphragm mic.

The set up
  In setting up the one review sample that I could get my hands on,  I mated it with two microphone preamps: the all-tube, USA-made, D.W. Fearn VT-1 single-channel unit and the the  USA-made, True Engineering P2, one the cleanest mic preamps I have ever used (now only made in an eight-channel model). In individual recording sessions, I connected the mic to the preamps using Wireworld premium professional XLR cable and then ran an additional Wireworld cable to the Benchmark ADC1 A/D converter. The converter was linked to a TASCAM DA-3000 in dual mono mode, and  set to 24 bit/192 PCM recording mode.
  The True P2 is a clean-as-a-whistle, very neutral mic pre that excels on transient-rich instruments. The VT-1 has that classic tube body with a rich, smooth body. There is hardly a modern tube pre that can touch when it comes to voice overs, vocalists and choirs.

The audition
  First up was a piano session with the P2 pre and the MA-1000.. I recorded my Yamaha U1 upright professional piano, using a mic boom with the MA-1000 mounted over the piano’s open top cover. Big mics on pianos need careful placement because of proximity effect if too close. By positioning the mic about 12 inches from the top, I obtained a good balance of bass and high-end, though the U1’s don’t have much low bass. I recorded in both omni and cardioid.
Note the tightness of the cardioid response

  I played several songs with both high- and low-register emphasis on the piano to give the MA-1000 a workout. In particular, I wanted to hear if the mid- and upper-frequency were hyped. I went back to the playback and listened through my AKG K702 headphones. Wow! The piano sounded dynamic, clean, and most important: smooth in the transients of the high-register.
  The accuracy of high-octave note playing was particularly impressive. No harsh note projection, but a very accurate rendering of the U1. The recording sounded accurately bright as Yamahas do, but no extra emphasis that can make treble focused pianos sound too sharp. The combination of the mic pickup and the accurate recording path allowed me to hear the natural room reflections and bits of reverb decay from inside of the piano. And this was with one mic, I would love to hear stereo with a pair of MA-1000s.
  The omni mode revealed more of the room reverb from the left side of the room near a set of steps that I did not like. It was just the nature of the room setup; the cardioid sounded better to my ears.

Acoustic guitar nirvana
  I moved from piano to acoustic guitar. I have used various L251 derivative mics over the years and have found them suitable for acoustic guitar, but depending on the make, they often required careful placement, use of the bass roll-off, and sometimes some EQ to tame the bass emphasis — especially on dreadnaughts.
  This is where the MA-1000 really shines. If you look at the bass response, it is essential flat to 20 Hz, offering amazing bass clarity for a big condenser. Mounting the MA-1000 a foot away from my Martin J-40 jumbo at the 12th fret, I set the pattern mode to cardioid and recorded a number of finger- and flat-picked runs. The J40 is not as boomy as a dreadnaught, but some big condensers add bottom-end emphasis that makes it seem muddier-sounding than it really is.

Tube power supply for MA-1000

  Not the Mojave. The Martin’s prominent midbass was clean and balanced on the recordings, while the midrange and lower treble, as picked with phosphor bronze strings, were absolutely perfect. The MA-1000‘s even frequency response allowed the true sound of the Martin to emerge without adding any presence crispness, which is an all-too-frequent character of many modern mics. I could not have been happier as I listened to the Martin tracks playback.
  Ditto on the Manuel Rodriguez solid cedar/Indian Rosewood classical guitar. Intricate plucks and chords were picked up with nothing added. That bit of upper-fret extra percussiveness that I hear from the guitar’s G and B string notes was relayed clearly by the MA-1000. It was not diminished or over emphasized. It sounded just as it does as it is played.

The jazz box and MA-1000
  Switching to electric Jazz guitar, I recorded my Gibson L5 CES Custom jazz guitar, played through a 1974 Princeton Reverb amp. The result was the best recorded sound I have ever heard this rig through a microphone! That warmth, expressive L5 humbucker tone, combined with the extra creamy character of the Princeton 6V6 tube, push-pull circuit, came through without any bass bloat. It is a tricky amp to record — without some adjusting of EQ or rolling off the bass in the recording chain, But with the Mojave, I just dialed back the Fender’s bass roll-off pot a few ticks to get the clean, warm sound that I wanted. 

The MA-1000 is a perfect match for the DW Fearn VT-1

  I had no drum cymbals to record, but I did have some castanets and tambourines that I gave a work out before the MA-1000. Based on the response graph, I assumed the top end would sound good, but it is really refreshing to hear how smooth and linear the presence range and beyond is via the Mojave. No hard, crisp punchiness on the tambourine. It sounds like a tambourine, and I am sure drum cymbals will get the same treatment.

Getting vocal
  Okay-okay, it is a big mic after all and don’t they get used for voice recording? Yes, they do, and so does the MA-1000. I am no real singer, but I sang a few tunes, plus read some narration, as recorded in 24-bit. This time I used the DW Fearn VT-1 as the mic preamp. At a distance of about eight inches, the Mojave again shows its true color, or lack of color. With the bass roll-off switched off, the vocal spectrum is even — without midbass emphasis or any over-sibilance, which distracts from the true essence of the voice.
  Royer has made another significant microphone that gives that classic vintage “body” of a large diaphragm condenser, yet has enough detail, depth and low noise to to be used on a transient-rich, hi-resolution 24-bit or DSD jazz recording.

  And the Mojave picked up the little bits of the room reverb and decay that mixes with the voice. This is a great mic for hi-res recording because of its ability to capture that detail. In fact, its ability to find the inner-detail of transient sounds on the strings and piano remind me of the really good, small instrument mics, only the MA-1000 has a bigger, smoother soundfield. Coupling it with the VT-1 augmented that tube signature, but not overly fat or "slow" in its character. I was impressed! I want one of these mics. Actually, I want two for a stereo pair.

The verdict
   I can’t think of a better vintage/modern tube mic than the Mojave MA-1000. There are loads of classic mics made in China and elsewhere that range from adequate to good, to some very good ones. This Mojave large-diaphragm condenser may be the champion in combining the old-school tube character with a linear, detailed modern flavor that allows for recording in hi-res. It is clean, low noise and extra versatile in its intended uses. Like the original Telefunken and AKG C12, I am sure the MA-1000 will be used for scores of instruments and vocal applications.
  If you like tube microphones, vintage or otherwise, you have to audition the Mojave MA-1000. It receives an EAN Stellar Sound Award and also is our condenser microphone selection for the Everything Audio Network 2016 Product Of The Year in the Home Recording category. 

  John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, LaserviewsEnjoy The MusicThe Audiophile Voice, High Performance ReviewRadio World and TV TechnologyEverything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via

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