Paul White checks out AKG's elegant newcomer and finds that it combines styling with an ability to deliver the goods.
The AKG C3000 has been heralded in some quarters as the affordable alternative to the AKG C414. Whether it sounds like a C414 remains to be seen, but there are several differences between the two mics other than the very obvious cosmetic ones. What might be fairer is to describe the C3000 as an affordable, high quality studio mic that has much in common with the C414, though without the same multi‑pattern switching and without quite such a high paper specification.
Available in several versions, the C414's continuing popularity is no doubt down to its 'large diaphragm' sound. While small diaphragm mics are the most 'technically correct' when it comes to achieving great accuracy and an exemplary off‑axis response, there's something about the character of a large diaphragm mic that seems to warm and flatter sounds — especially vocals. The C414 is a true capacitor design, featuring a dual diaphragm capsule. This enables the mic to be switched between cardioid, omni and figure‑of‑eight pickup patterns.
Though the C3000 is also a large diaphragm capacitor mic, its capsule design is quite different. Here the main diaphragm is very similar to that used in the C414, but behind it is a small‑diaphragm capsule, the output of which is combined with the main capsule to produce either a cardioid or hypercardioid response. There's no figure‑of‑eight and no omni option on this mic. The capsule response is selected by means of a recessed switch on the side of the microphone body, and further switches are fitted for switching in the ‑10dB pad and the LF roll‑off filter, which comes in at around 500Hz and falls away gently.
Unlike the C414, which has a definite classic look to it, the C3000 is the epitome of '90s design. The sleek, die‑cast zinc alloy body is finished in satin black with a green trim line, while the capsule itself sits on an elaborate elastic spider suspension to minimise stand‑borne noise. Transformerless circuitry, based around discrete FET and transistor devices, is used in the internal preamp, and the microphone will run from phantom power in the range 9 to 52 volts.
An examination of the frequency response of the mic shows it to be nominally flat up to 2kHz, above which there is a slight ripple, followed by a presence peak of around 3dB at 7kHz. The response rolls off slowly above 10kHz and below 100Hz and there is very little difference in the response curves between the cardioid and hypercardioid settings. A useful frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz is quoted in the specifications.
Large diaphragm mics have the ability to be electrically quieter than small diaphragm models, because of the statistics relating to the interaction of individual air molecules with the diaphragm. The trade‑off is a greater degree of HF roll‑off as the capsule is used off‑axis, but as most large diaphragm mics are used on‑axis, and at fairly close range, this is rarely a disadvantage. In the case of the C3000, noise performance is defined mainly by the quality of the internal electronics, the equivalent A‑weighted input noise being 18dBA. Though this isn't as low as can be achieved by more rigorous preamp design, it is low enough to be insignificant for most typical applications. The maximum SPL that can be handled by the mic is around 140dB and a dynamic range of greater than 120dB is quoted.
The maximum SPL that can be handled by the mic is around 140dB...
As it comes, the C3000 is packaged in a padded plastic case that looks like a lunch box designed by British Nuclear Fuels. A stand adaptor and clip are provided, but you have to provide your own mic cable. There's also no external elastic shock mount, as the internal mounting arrangement is said to eliminate the need for it. Personally, I feel that an external shock mount is still a vital fashion accessory! A nice touch is that a small flange moulded onto the end of the mic prevents it sliding out of the clip when suspended upside down.
By far the most popular application of the C414 is to record vocals, and I imagine that AKG see the C3000 as being predominantly a studio vocal mic. However, it's also extremely suitable for use with acoustic guitars, wind, percussion and as a drum overhead. In the latter application, the LF filter is useful, as it helps minimise phase cancellation between close‑miked drums and the same sounds being picked up in the overheads.
A nice touch is that a small flange moulded onto the end of the mic prevents it sliding out of the clip when suspended upside down.
Tested on both sung and spoken vocals, the C3000 turned in a powerful, solid performance. As with the 414, there's a slightly bright edge to the sound, as might be expected from the shape and position of the presence peak, but it doesn't go so far as to make the mic sound over‑sibilant or to throw the top end out of balance with the bottom end. The low end might be described as full or warm, but it isn't mushy or flabby; instead the mic delivers a tight and well‑controlled sound across the whole vocal range. Similar results were in evidence when the mic was used on acoustic guitar. There's enough top to bring out that 'new string' zing, but at the same time, the weight of the instrument is maintained rather than tending in any way towards thinness.
In comparison with other quality large diaphragm mics, the C3000 comes over as having its own character. While it's always difficult to put the sound of a mic into words, I'd say the C3000 is slightly on the 'pushy' side of neutral with an effective, forward presence and a slight sizzle which helps to create a lively, exciting vocal sound that projects well in a busy mix. It also has a slightly 'throaty' quality which helps create an intimate, 'in your face' effect without having to resort to sheer level to achieve the same result.
The qualities previously described also have much in common with the performance of the C414, but I don't think you should be looking at the C3000 as something you'd buy if what you really wanted in the first place was a 414 — it's really a quite different microphone. Indeed, it would demean the C3000 to write it off as a 'second best' C414 because it's a fine microphone in its own right.
AKG have pitched the C3000 so that it competes on price with the Audio Technica 4033, the Microtech Gefell UM70 and Beyer MC834, making it very attractive for the serious project studio owner as well as for the professional. It stands favourable comparison with any of the models mentioned, but at the same time, they all sound quite different to each other — making the ultimate choice a subjective one. If you're a fan of the classic AKG vocal sound and you don't envisage needing more than the two cardioid patterns on offer, then I don't think the C3000 will disappoint you.
- Classic AKG vocal mic sound.
- Practical and elegant styling.
- Many secondary uses.
- None at the price.
An excellent mid‑price studio microphone capable of creating the classic AKG vocal sound.
C3000 £528 inc VAT.