A Russian-made, large-diaphragm tube mic which is surprisingly affordable.
The new Oktava MKL2500, which is a design collaboration between Oktava's Russian engineers and British designers, is cosmetically similar to their 319 model and incorporates a 33mm gold-sputtered cardioid capsule. A free-standing power supply is included, along with the necessary six-pin DIN cable, in a foam-lined plastic carry case, the PSU being fitted with a ground lift switch. However, there are no pad or filter buttons on either the mic or the PSU. Given that almost all mixers and mic preamps have these anyway, that's not much of a problem, especially as the mic can handle SPLs up to 135dB.
Inside the body of the microphone is a 6C315P tube and the power supply has been designed so as to deliberately introduce a measure of third-harmonic distortion with a view to adding both brightness and warmth. A locking ring around the XLR connector secures the included standmount to the microphone, which may be removed to fit the optional shockmount, and a small red LED on the mic body shows that it is powered up.
The quoted frequency response of the microphone is a somewhat vague 20Hz-20kHz, with a sensitivity of 13mV/Pa. No noise or distortion figures are quoted, but then it can be argued that, in the context of studio vocal miking, these parameters are better evaluated subjectively rather than numerically anyway, especially as one of the reasons we use tubes is that they introduce a type of distortion at high operating levels.
Testing the MKL2500 with vocals confirmed that the tube circuitry has been tweaked to give the mic a slightly larger-than-life sound, which comes across mainly as emphasised presence, though that slightly chesty character that comes with many valve mics is also in evidence. The result is quite flattering on most voice types, and though the sound doesn't have the same degree of silky smoothness as the best tube mics, switching back to an otherwise comparable solid-state mic demonstrates that the tube is doing something musically attractive.
In fact the only negative comment I can make against this mic, given its competitive price, is that not enough attention has been paid to the mechanical damping of the casework and/or tube mounting, as tapping the case produces a pronounced ring. While this would be of no consequence when shockmounting the mic, it could be a problem in situations where the regular mount was being used and floor vibrations were being transmitted along the mic stand. For that reason I'd say that the use of a shockmount is mandatory with this mic.
Other than the problem with ringing metalwork, the MKL2500 behaved very well, delivering a nicely hyped version of the original vocal, but still with a seemingly natural character. The third harmonic distortion adds a sense of presence and intimacy to the sound, as well as thickening the lower mid-range, and though this may be more contrived than on most 'classic' tube mics, it certainly works musically. Although the mic construction is simple and has a certain retro element to it, the standard of construction seems adequate and I didn't notice any significant background noise during my tests. As I remarked earlier, there are classier-sounding tube mics, but you have to pay a lot more than this in the UK for them, and when you consider that the MKL2500 sells for little more than a solid-state studio mic it would be unfair to be too critical. Definitely one to try if you're on the lookout for something a little bit special in the microphone department, but you don't want to break the bank.