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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Home Recording Review!
Mojave Audio MA-300 Multi-Pattern,
Large-Diaphragm Tube Microphone




Brevis...
Price: $1,295
Likes: smooth accuracy, variable patterns, price
Dislikes: zilch!
More info: Mojave MA-300


by John Gatski


Within his ribbon microphone company, Royer Labs, and condenser microphone company, Mojave Audio, engineer David Royer produces microphones that rank up there with classic American and European microphones. You expect top-tier quality out of the premium priced, made-in-USA Royer ribbon microphones (and you get it). What is amazing is how high-end the affordable USA-designed/Chinese-built Mojave mics are. I am not talking about the “it’s good for the money” label you often hear in the world of Far East-made microphones, I am talking about performance and build that is comparable to any high-end microphone ever or currently made.
Case in point, is the new MA-300 multiple-pattern, large diaphragm, tube condenser microphone. This under-$1,300 wunderkind of a mic is so darn good on instrument and voice (and most any other application), that you will want multiples in your mic cabinet.
Mojave President Dusty Wakeman, was kind enough to loan me two new MA-300s for the review. Dr Fred Bashour of EAN had already reviewed a pair of the top-rated MA-101FET — a smaller-sized condenser instrument mic — so I decided to test the pair of the full-sized MA-300s.

Features
The $1,295 MA-300 is a full-sized condenser microphone with a hand-selected, 1-inch diameter/3-micron diaphragm and tube electronics — featuring a JAN 5480 vacuum tube and select Jensen transformer. It is based on the cardioid-only MA200, which I did not have a chance to review. The MA-300 adds continuously variable polar pattern adjustment that allows four polar patterns: from full-omnidirectional to figure 8, cardioid — and hypercardioid for those times you want to dial in that precisely focused vocal.
The mic is connected to the external power supply via a multi-pin connector umbilical wire; the power supply also contains the electronics for controlling the polar position. Onboard mic switches include bass roll off at 6 dB per octave below 100 Hz and a -15 dB pad. The mic boasts amazing specs, including 14 dB self-noise (A-weighted) and 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response (+/-3 dB). Maximum SPL is 120 dB with pad disengaged.

The Mojave MA-300 is a modern microphone classic. It’s accurate, yet warm inviting tube character, make you want to use it on almost everything.

The MA-300 comes in a nice case with a suspension mount, power supply, and connector cable. The microphone is solidly constructed with a good physical feel in the switches and the outboard polar-pattern control. The mic has some heft to it and needs a boom that is amply weighted to keep it all balanced. No light weight microphone here.

The recording setup
I recorded several instruments in my home studio including Martin HD-28, Gibson SJ-200 and Martin HD28V acoustic guitars as well as a Gibson L5CES jazz guitar into a Fender Twin Reverb reissue amp. I also recorded a Nord Electro 3 keyboard in Hammond B3 mode — via a McIntosh vintage MC275 tube amplifier that powered a pair of Lipinski L505 loudspeakers, one mic per speaker. For voice, I read aloud into the mic to test its vocal performance.
I used Accusound microphone cables from the mic power supply/pattern adjustment box connected to a True Audio P2 microphone preamp (one of the quietest on the market), which fed a TASCAM DVRA-1000HD master recorder. The TASCAM’s resolution was set at 24-bit/96 kHz. All components were plugged into an Essential Sound Products Essence power strip, which is immune to extraneous RF noise which can contaminate home studio microphone setups with low-level noise. This setup allowed me to hear how quiet the Mojave is.
The playback gear included Legacy Studio HD speakers, Pass Labs X350.5 amplifier and Benchmark Dac1 Pre D/A, which were linked by Westlake Low PE interconnects.

The audition
First up, were the acoustic guitars. I set up the mics on a stereo bar in a typical X-Y configuration about a foot from the Martins and Gibson and recorded using the cardioid mode. On playback of the Martin HD28V/Mojave recordings, I was impressed with how much detail the MA-300s transmitted, and how the stereo miking produced such an amazing sonic spread of the guitar. There was plenty of clarity and the mic’s focus on the Martin’s strong midrange/low treble character. And the bass was full, yet balanced. This is how the guitar sounds in real life. Wow! I was pleased that I could get the bottom end to sound so natural — without resorting to the bass roll-off switch, which is often the case with full-sized mics in cardioid mode, placed close to the source.
The Gibson SJ200 had even more of a midrange treble emphasis and the Mojave picked that up nicely, yet imparted just a tinge of smoothness. Again the imaging of the matched microphones really creates width and depth to a stereo recording. I should point out that although it is a tube microphone design, I heard zero hiss in the quiet parts of these recordings. This microphone is really quiet!
I moved on to the jazz guitar trial. The Gibson L-5CES Custom is a very warm sounding guitar with its solid wood construction, hollow-body design and classic Gibson humbucker, which projects a nice laid-back electric guitar tone. The Twin Reverb reissue is a perfect amp for the L5 with a warm, yet percussive tone that gets enhanced by a wee bit of reverb.
I close mic’d the cabinet in stereo about eight-inches from the speakers with the mics elevated a few inches above the speakers, but angled toward them. The result was one of the best recordings I have ever heard from my L5/Fender combo — warm, yet full of detailed overtones. I also took one mic and experimented with the variable patterns including the omnidirectional mode, which gave a bit more of the room sound, though my room is not that reflective to showcase any particular character.


I should note that the MA-300‘s sonic footprint is one of accuracy, not hype, yet with a gentle warmness that pleases the ear. Reminds me of those old Blue-Note recordings — a warm, yet accurate portrayal of the musical instruments. David Royer said that with his background in recording reference quality classical music, his mission is to make microphones that are accurate and not “overly-hyped” in any one area of the audio spectrum. He has really nailed it with the MA-300.
I mounted the mics in front of the Lipinski loudspeakers and recorded some bits of Hammond organ sound from the Nord Electro 3, which also has very convincing samples of Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano in its arsenal of sounds. In the Hammond B-3-mode, the stereo or mono-mic’d recordings sounded very close to a real Hammond. With the key clicks, the rotating Leslie speaker effect’s fast and slow modes and that bit of tube distortion, the MA300 made the recordings that much more real.

Whether you are a seasoned pro or an aspiring, quality conscious home recordist, compare the Mojave Audio MA-300 to your favorite mics; you will be impressed.

What I like from Mojave is its ability to convey bass without the bass heaviness you get from close miking and proximity effect. I seldom used the bass roll-off switch. If you look at the Mojave cardioid frequency response graph, these mics are really flat in bass response from 50 Hz to 400 Hz.
Dusty Wakeman suggested I try the hypercardioid mode on voice. So, since I am not really a singer, I read aloud from book passages, kind of a narration thing using a single MA-300 and a pop filter. The mic’s accuracy on the voice was uncanny with smooth character that was not overly sibilant. The hypercardioid mode really focused in on the voice — with a concise character that was not distracted by room sound. Very nice.
I had no complaints about the Mojave Audio MA-300 or its peripherals. It worked perfectly, no tube noise, no intermittent switch noises, or any other anomaly. It all worked like it should.

The verdict
The Mojave MA-300 is a modern microphone classic. It’s accurate, yet warm inviting tube character, make you want to use it on almost everything: guitars, keyboards, string instruments (can’t wait to try it on a banjo). You throw in the polar pattern adjustability and you’ve got yourself one bargain of a tube mic package. Whether you are a seasoned pro or an aspiring, quality conscious home recordist, compare the Mojave Audio MA-300 to your favorite mics; you will be impressed. Of course, the mic qualifies for our Stellar Sound Award. Now I just need to save those quarters, nickels and dimes so I can buy one.

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