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Q. What are the characteristics of vintage mics?

Published January 2011
By Hugh Robjohns

I've been browsing a vintage microphone site and it got me thinking: what kind of characteristics are actually offered by vintage mics? Can the same sound be achieved with modern mics and EQ? Isn't most of the 'vintage sound' due to tape and valves rather than mics?

The sought-after sound of the classic vintage mics is partly down to the fact that microphones used in professional studios many years ago would have been of particularly high quality to start with — and quality tends to age well.The sought-after sound of the classic vintage mics is partly down to the fact that microphones used in professional studios many years ago would have been of particularly high quality to start with — and quality tends to age well.

Via SOS web site

SOS Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: A good vintage capacitor mic sounds much the same as a good modern equivalent, and the same goes for ribbons and moving coils. Having said that, there has been a tendency over the last decade or two to make modern mics sound brighter, partly because the technology has improved to allow that, and partly because of aural fashion.

Also, professional mics that are now considered vintage were usually pretty expensive in their day — studios and broadcasters bought very high‑quality products — and that high‑end quality generally persists despite the age of the microphones.

Most of the vintage mics you'll find on those kinds of sites, though, are either valve capacitor mics or ribbons, and they both have inherent characteristics of their own that a lot of people revere. Ribbons have a delightfully smooth and natural top end, while high‑quality valve capacitor mics often have mid‑range clarity and low‑end warmth. These qualities can still be found in some modern equivalents if you choose carefully.

Some of the vintage character is certainly attributable to recording on tape, replaying from vinyl, and the use of valves and transformers. But some is also down to the construction of the microphone capsules and the materials used, not all of which are still available in commercial products today.  

Published January 2011