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Friday, June 14, 2019

Home Recording Studio Review!
The Mojave Audio MA-50
Transformerless Microphone:
“Entry Level Condenser Is Quite
A Transparency Over Achiever!"


Brevis...
Price: $495
Likes: price, accuracy
Dislikes: zilch, nada, zip
Wow Factor: 10 out of 10
More info: Mojave MA-50

by John Gatski
  I have been a fan of every Mojave microphone ever produced. The MA-300, MA-101 fet, etc., all designed by David Royer. They are as good, or better than any Japanese, USA or European mic in their respective classes.
  The $495 retail/street MA-50 is no exception. Such a bargain, in terms of its sonic performance. Clarity and realism are descriptors used by the Mojave marketing team to describe the audio character of the MA-50, and I whole heartedly concur. If you are buying, get two.
  Microphone Designer David Royer, who designs for both Royer Labs, home of the classic ribbon microphones and Mojave, has created a thoroughly modern microphone that rises to that challenge making an affordable, yet thoroughly high-end sounding microphone.

  The MA-50 is a serious recording tool that is significantly above the plethora of $200-$300 microphones flooding the market. Whether a home recording fanatic or a seasoned, big studio pro, the Mojave MA-50 is worth a little extra coin to get this caliber of sound.

   The $495 MA-50 transformerless design is a cardioid, large-diaphragm microphone designed to for recording and live sound use with numerous musical instrument types. Royer said that the MA-50 transfomerless design was a way to get great performance out of a large diaphragm mic at a much lower cost, well under $1,000. Big name condenser mics often are well north of $2,000, and there are a lot of cheaper mics down to just a few hundred bucks. The MA-50, though, hits the sweet spot.
MA-50 with shock mount and case

“When we decided to produce the MA 50, the microphone was intended to be a relatively low-cost microphone,” David Royer explained. “Due to the intended price point, the choice with the design was to either use a low-cost output transformer or dispense with the output transformer entirely.”
  Royer said that cheap transformer designs compromise microphone performance. “I have long been dissatisfied with the performance of inexpensive audio transformers (noise, distortion, etc.),” he said. “So I quickly ruled out that option.”
  Royer noted that he ultimately designed the transformerless circuit, based on the transistorized output buffer stage used in the Royer R-122 and SF-24 ribbon microphones. The capsule is straight out of the MA-200 tube and MA-201fet condensers.

  “It (the ribbon output buffer stage) has been renowned for more than a decade, and it seemed that the design could be adapted to a simple, no-frills condenser microphone design," Royer explained. "I figured that the measured noise, frequency response and distortion would be well within professional standards (they were), and that the cost would be reasonable.”
  Reasonable indeed. Initially manufactured in China and then moved to USA for quality control, the MA-50 became an instant hit in the recording mic world — with quite satisfying results reported by seasoned audio pros and home musician recording buffs. The bundled, stereo-packaged MA-50 deals, at under $1,000 from dealers, made the decision that much easier.

Features
  The MA-50 is a large-diaphragm, cardioid patterned, 3-micron capsule. As mentioned, the transformerless circuitry gives it a very low self-noise, less than 18 dB!. Its ability to handle fast transients makes it ideal for most any kind of recording tasks; drums, vocal, acoustic guitar, mandolin, piano, movie/TV foley and ADR, angels singing from heaven, etc. All right, the last one, I made up, but you get the point. This mic is quite versatile with most musical instruments.

Such a bargain, in terms of its sonic performance. Clarity and realism are descriptors used by the Mojave marketing team to describe the audio character of the MA-50, and I whole heartedly concur. If you are buying, get two.

  The response is an excellent 20 Hz to 20 kHz, plus or minus 3 dB with just a bit of rise on both ends of the spectrum. The cardioid patterns, high-frequency linearity to 15 kHz is impressive.
  Other technical data: externally polarized pressure gradient capacitor capsule, 1-inch diameter, gold-sputtered diaphragm (3-microns), -40 dB re. 1V/pa, 125 dB sensitivity. Comes in a nice carrying case and shock mount: Mic case dimensions are listed at 10” x 9” x 4.5”, 4 lbs; mic dimensions only: 7 5/8” X 2” (194mm x 51mm), 1 lb. (0.45Kg).`194mm.

The set up
  I mounted the Mojave MA-50 pair onto a stereo bar via a telescoping mic stand and recorded numerous instruments, including two Martin acoustic guitars, a Manuel Rodriguez solid cedar top classical guitar, a Fender Mark Knopfler custom Strat with original vintage alnico 3 single coil pickups, a Fender American Series Telecaster, a modded electronics Les Paul Studio, Yamaha SA2200 335-style semi-acoustic electric, a custom double pickup  Gibson L5CES hollow body, a 25-year old Yamaha U1 upright professional piano, Nord Electro 5 keyboard via speakers, and a Zum Steel Stage One Encore, single 10 pedal steel guitar.

  Coupled with the transparency of the Wireworld Equinox cables and the True P2 preamp, I consistently tracked, top-notch quality sample hi-res tracks with the MA-50‘s; 24 bit or DSD, the audible pleasure was all mine!

  All guitars were run through either an original 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb or a ‘74 Princeton Reverb. I utilized the latest Wireworld Pro Equinox XLR mic cable, which are incredibly transparent and robust in their construction. Highly recommended. I powered the MA-50s with a 2002 vintage True Engineering P2, solid state mic preamp, a very transparent and low-noise solid state preamp with a phase scope.
  For vocals on spoken voice and singing, I used one microphone. On all the guitars, I recorded mono and stereo. The piano was only stereo. The recording set up was through a TASCAM DA3000 SSD recorder/player, which lays down stereo PCM (24-bit-192 kHz) and DSD at 2.8 MHz and 5.6MHz sampling. I connected a Benchmark ADC1  (unfortunately no longer made) via AES/EBU to the DA3000, to get a bit more smoothness into the ADC link, but I used the TASCAM’s onboard DSD for takes that I wanted to do in 1 bit.
  I made edits via Audacity, Reaper or SoundIt 8 using Macbook Pro or a Dell Windows laptop. Playback system included Benchmark HPA4 HP amp/line stage, with its custom analog attenuator, Benchmark ABH1 power amp and Amphion nearfield speakers.

The audition
  First up was my trusty, small body, Martin 00-28 custom, a very warm, yet percussive finger picker with true 1930s 1/4-inch bracing.  After recording several cuts at 24/192, I did five cuts in stereo. The playback system consisted of the Macbook Pro connected to the Benchmark monitoring system and listening to the Amphion speakers and a pair of AKG K702 anniversary headphones. I also checked the recording playback quality on my home audiophile  system with MartinLogan electrostatic speakers, Benchmark DAC and Pass Labs amplifier.
Steel guitar recordings via 2x MA-50 are amazing
  The Martin 00-28 custom playback was impressive. The MA-50 mics have a knack for relaying the transient response and warm, midbass of the little Martin with a spacious spread of string tone that is so natural. I really did not hear much rise on the top end. Just a clean and wide soundstage with that accuracy I like in hi-res  recordings of stringed instruments. The warmth of Indian rosewood and red spruce wood from the OO shone through, but it never was too bloomy. These Mojave microphones nailed the Martin perfectly.

Jumbo guitar sound
  Next up was my larger Martin J40 jumbo, a guitar with much more bass and more defined midrange/low treble projection. Not bright sounding like a Taylor, but less vintage than the 00-28. I find that numerous mics that I have used for recording that guitar accentuated the treble response — too much sheen on the J40 that is not there; some mics also boost the midbass, which means a careful placement and some EQ at times.
  However, the MA-50 did a great job keeping this big guitar in sonic balance, whether finger picked or flat picked.  Through the MA-50s, the recorded stereo image of this big guitar was incredible in its power as played through the medium gauge strings. The sound is so much better than a plugged-in acoustic with that thin, under-body mic sound. Give me external mics any day on any acoustic guitar. Indeed.

The classic cardioid polar pattern

  So far, so good. I moved on to my 2002 custom shop Gibson L5CES. My wifey bought this for our tenth anniversary, and this one is among the best modern versions that I have played. The acoustic tone consists of a deep, warmth-filled voicing that is transmitted by the Gibson Classic 57 alnico II magnet pickups. The two pick up position is to die for when playing through .11-.050 flat-wound strings. 
  I then switched amps —  my Fender Twin Reverb Reissue 1998 edition. My newer Twin is as good as any vintage black face. And is open, loud, but revealingly smooth via the tube circuit and USA-made Eminence speakers. Playing the L5CES with a large celluloid Fender pick, on some jazz runs, I placed one mic each in front of each speaker about 8-inches away to capture the sound. Wes Montgomery, I am not, but my little rhythm runs were so vintage and warm toned that I wanted to play the guitar the rest of the week. Lucky, I captured it all in DSD.
  And as I expected, The MA-50 capture of the L5 was incredibly vintage in it tone, but with a lot of dynamic headroom; the sound  reflects a percussive warmth without edgy side tones or bloated bass that would need onboard EQ tweaking. The top end sounded as natural as it could be without undue emphasis. The Mojave mic is definitely a friend to the humbucker tone. And of course, the stereo image from two speakers is much broader and contains more depth than using just one mic. I give it an A++ on the L5!

  Uncanny accuracy without weighted bloom in the bass — and a clean, articulate midrange and treble without the edge. Yamaha pianos are bright, but the Mojave captured realism and essential bite without pushing it to shrill.

  I confirmed the MA-50‘s humbucker guitar friendliness through a tube amp via tracking my Yamaha SA2200 and my Les Paul Studio guitars. Both guitars’ elemental, warm impactful tone shone through the Twin, as well as my ‘74 Princeton Reverb and original ‘65 Deluxe reverb.
  On single coil guitars like my Knopfler Fender Strat with ‘54 alnico 3 vintage pickups (think the Buddy Holly Sound) and my 2001 Telecaster, the MA-50s transmitted the ‘65 Deluxe Reverb’s amplified tone with a nice open midrange and top end that revealed, upon listening, the Reverb’s upper band harmonics, but not being too strident. That bell-like tone of the Knopfler Strat was really seductive sounding via the playback. My favorite Strat sound captured in stereo by the MA-50’s.
   Almost forgot, the Stage One Encore pedal steel guitar through the Twin. Despite my limited proficiency, the rich midrange/treble harmonics of the steel’s humbucker pick up and the string pedal pitch bends and phrasing sounded like a million bucks. The MA-50 picked up that Buddy Emmons/Lloyd Green-like tone that makes you cry in your beer. And in stereo it is like a chorus: powerful and harmonic. Wish I could play it better, but the MA-50 pair picked up the nuance and, in my opinion, does the steel justice as good as any of the classic vintage condenser mics.


  Heck, in the old days, many engineers threw a cheap dynamic on the steel guitar. But I have always remained firm in my belief that a good steel/amp setup has much more to offer, sonically, than through a cheap mic. Why would you put a SM-57 on something as complex as a steel when you can capture more. Via high-res recording, with an excellent condenser like the Mojave MA-50, this steel was done justice.
  Switching off to classical guitar, a $3,000 Manuel Rodriguez solid wood model, the qualities I hear via steel string acoustic, thrive with the nylon string as well. Quick response and a true relay of the percussive transients. And in stereo, there is such a huge image expansion via the second mic. I always record classical guitar with two mics, and the MA-50 is mucho worthy of the challenge.

Tinkling the ivories
   I recorded several home brew cuts of piano runs using the MA-50 and True P2 mic pre and was quite happy. The speed and precision of the transient capture of high register notes and chords on the Yamaha U1 showed how effective a mic the MA-50 is for keyboard duties. Uncanny accuracy without weighted bloom in the bass — and a clean, articulate midrange and treble without the edge. Yamaha pianos are bright, but the Mojave captured realism and essential bite without pushing it over to the shrill side. The stereo placement with the lid open reveals much more nuance than with one mic. I have found the sweet spot on this piano, and the MA-50 brought it all into the recorder.

Wireworld Equinox Pro transparent mic cable

  The MA-50 also impressed me recording the speaker output of my Nord Electro 5 electronic keyboard, using Lipinski L505 loudspeakers and a PSB subwoofer. I recorded the speaker output versus just inserting the line output as a stereo track because  I wanted more of the room sound in the Hammond B3 organ and Wurlitzer electric piano modes. The extra bit of room presence via speakers and the Nord’s sampled organ and electric piano “dirtiness”, as picked up by the MA-50s, gave me exactly what I wanted.

 Through the MA-50s, the recorded stereo image of this big guitar was incredible in its power as played through the medium gauge strings. The sound is so much better than a plugged-in acoustic with that thin, under-body mic sound. Give me external mics on an acoustic.

  On vocals, the MA-50 is said to be a good mic for solo and choral duties. I found it good for vocals, though it does not impart that big character of its older, big brother the MA-300 tube mic, but in its basic signature, the sound is delivered without excessive color, or sibilance, which is a good thing in my book. EQing a little bottom for a bit of low-end authority enables a seamless solo vocal for a typical male singer. I think it is spot on for female vocals
  For drums and percussion I hit some snare and cymbals with brushes and regular sticks, and really liked what I heard. Reminded a bit of a Shure SM-81, which is a really accurate instrument mic for percussion. The brushed cymbal tone had an airy, dimensional signature without hardness — like you hear it in person.  Mic’d in stereo, the high hat really sounds good. All those brush harmonics really popped via the playback system.

Can’t beat em!
  Overall, my experience with the Mojave MA-50s was all positive, its rather neutral, accurate character allowed everything to come through as I wanted. The fast, transient response reminded me of a really good instrument mic, but the larger size gives sound more weight and authority. Coupled with the transparency of the Wireworld Equinox cables and the True P2 preamp, I consistently tracked, top-notch quality sample hi-res tracks with the MA-50‘s; 24 bit or DSD, the audible pleasure was all mine.

The verdict
  The Mojave MA-50 is an incredible bargain ($990 per pair retail) for a high-end, transformerless recording microphone. I was shocked to hear how revealing and how quiet it is. Auditioning a pair of MA-50s through my True Engineering P2 mic preamps and Wireworld Equinox premium mic cables, my 24/192 and DSD recordings of steel string acoustic, Classical and Jazz guitars showcased the mics' ever-present ability to pick up the detail. Ditto on piano and vocal. It is not a big sound, it is "the just right sound" with solid, extended bass, a spot-on midrange and airy high end — without being false. Plus, these babies are less than $1,000 pair on the street. Pretty good price for quality USA mics.

Award winning is understatement for MA-50

  Although the MA-50 is intended as an entry level, full-sized condenser, the results are anything but entry level. The MA-50 is a serious recording tool that is significantly above the plethora of $200-$300 microphones flooding the market. Whether a home recording fanatic or a seasoned, big studio pro, the Mojave MA-50 is worth a little extra coin to get this caliber of sound. A Big Stellar Sound Award  and a nod for mic of the year on EAN.


    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 SoundOnSound, Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything 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 email: everything.audio@verizon.net






 





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