I had a fleeting thought, and I felt like sharing… While running the risk of sounding lame, there’s a nice analogy to wine here. I’m into wine a bit, and remember reading a great quote that I think applies to mics, too. Something like this:
“When you’re actually drinking an old wine, there is no more ‘good vintage,’ you just have to hope for a good bottle.”
Like wines, so many old microphones are not sounding the way that they should, and are otherwise well “past their peak.” Maybe it’s a desirable thing that so many vintage microphones lack the top end they once had for today’s digital world, but the reality is, most of the mics that are in circulation these days are simply not sounding the way that they did when they were released and when they were first put to work on the records that many of us love.
To the extent we are looking for a Neumann U67-clone, you sort of have to ask yourself, which one mic are we cloning? Is it a dead-mint one that has barely seen the light of day, is it what the production 67s or 269s sounded like when they were first made, or is it a much darker (badly in need of a refurb), or an otherwise nice sounding 67 workhorse that has seen better days? Was it the 67 we had here at Sound Pure with a failed transformer and hardly anything past 12k?
I think the general sentiment is that the 67 is a highly desirably sound, and there are a number of alternatives out there, including our overwhelming favorite, the Peluso P67, which we have blogged about previously. The reality is that many out there are “past their peak” and often lacking the top end that they had when they were first released. But, that doesn’t even matter. At the end of the day though, where the rubber meets the road, when you’re making that recording, and making that mic decision, you have to ask yourself, is this microphone sounding good?
I have seen so many great engineers influenced by the age, the name, the model… we should also do ourselves the favor of listening blind, whenever possible, and not speaking in such generalities. At the end of the day, we will be releasing a shootout, and it will be of a freshly refurbished 67 and a Peluso P67. Based on our preliminary tests here, they will be extremely close. But then again, that is one old microphone versus a new one. There is nothing definitive about that.
One thing that can be said with certainty is that you are more likely to get a “good” (as in not otherwise tainted) bottle of wine if you drink recent releases rather than 40-year-old “great vintages.” From our experience at the studio attempting to utilize vintage microphones and other vintage gear, I think the same holds true of microphones.
When I’m in the heat of battle in the studio needing something reliable, or wanting to guarantee I will have a good bottle of wine with dinner, I won’t reach to a microphone or wine that is 30-40+ years old. Frankly, opening a really old and valuable bottle of wine is sort of like utilizing a vintage microphone in the studio—the risk is often not worth the reward, and, unlike wine, I’m wholly unconvinced that there is some underlying value in “aging” audio equipment. At least until there are cellars for storing microphones, I think I will hold my opinion that buying modern equipment with a warranty makes mores sense than vintage gear.
We are in a golden age of microphone building—never before has there been so much widely disseminated knowledge of mic building, and readily available sources for component parts. I think that is why so many producers and engineers are making the switch to modern tools that they can trust. I know I have. Two companies that we represent, Peluso Microphones and Telefunken Microphones, have both made commitments to recreating the best vintage microphones that they can come across, and making reliable, modern, new microphones from the sounds of the vintage originals.