AKG C 3000B

One of the best affordable condenser mics just got better.To B or not to B - that is the question. I, for one, was surprised when AKG replaced its enduringly

One of the best affordable condenser mics just got better.

To B or not to B - that is the question. I, for one, was surprised when AKG replaced its enduringly popular C 3000 microphone with the new C 3000B. I have used two C 3000s in my standard location-recording rig for years and I have invariably captured good-sounding recordings with them.

Evidently, AKG felt that a little nip and tuck would spur the C 3000's sonic abilities to the next level. The company has done more than just add an additional letter to the mic's model number - it has also improved upon the C 3000's sound.

WHAT UP?Like its predecessor, the C 3000B is a side-address, large-diaphragm condenser mic. The original C 3000 also contained a second, smaller-diaphragm capsule that sat on top of the larger diaphragm and enabled hypercardioid pattern selection. The design of the C 3000B dispenses with the secondary capsule, which means the new mic offers only one polar pattern - cardioid. But this is hardly a limitation. It seems that most C 3000 users rarely utilized the hypercardioid pattern, and considering the improvements in the mic's sound, I don't miss the hypercardioid option, either.

The C 3000B sports a brighter look than its matte-black forerunner, stepping out in AKG's snazzy silver-gray finish. The general shape of the new mic remains similar to that of the original, but the sturdy double-mesh grille is a bit larger, and it encompasses an improved, integrated, foam pop filter designed to better handle plosives. Internal shock-mounting shields the capsule from handling noise and stand-borne rumble.

The two-piece, die-cast metal body features a retaining flange on the connector shaft to prevent slippage from a stand adapter. Two recessed switches - one on each flank - allow selection of a 10 dB attenuation pad and a low-cut filter. What's novel about this particular filter is that it starts rolling off the lows at a rather high frequency - 500 Hz. Typically, rolloffs start at 150 Hz or below (more on this later).

PACKAGE DEALThe C 3000B comes with the H100 shock-mount, a spider suspension system that is now standard fare with many of AKG's studio mics. The fact that the mount is made primarily of plastic (including the threading on the stand adapter), and the fact that a simple fractional turn of the base is all it takes to lock the mic into the mount, left me with some doubts initially. When used correctly, though, the device holds the mic firmly and works well for its intended purpose. However, the strain-relief cable slots are too small to be of much use with cables thicker than average (Monster cables, for example), and the shock-mount's bulk makes it difficult to position the shock-mounted mic in tight places or to position the mics in a close XY pattern for stereo miking. Therefore, in stereo-miking configurations, I ended up using AKG's SA 41/1 stand adapters (not included).

Another "accessory" that comes with the C 3000B is a foam-lined cardboard box - now standard packaging for AKG's less-expensive mics. I find this new cost-cutting maneuver disappointing. Who wants to carry a mic around in a cardboard box? Bulky, easily torn or crushed, not water proof, and prone to deterioration from frequent use, this type of "case" is less than adequate for my purposes. I used the handy plastic carrying cases from my C 3000s to cart the C 3000Bs from venue to venue - a move that left me feeling better about my charges than if I'd carried them in a crappy cardboard box.

LOCATION IS EVERYTHINGI used a pair of C 3000Bs for a variety of applications - both on location-recording jobs and in studio sessions. I also conducted some controlled tests, comparing the C 3000B with an C 3000 and a C 414 B-ULS, and comparing one C 3000B with the other (to test for consistency). In most cases, I employed Focusrite Green-series preamps and Monster cables, and I recorded directly to DAT on a Panasonic SV3800. For the comparison tests, I routed the preamplified signals flat through a Mackie 1202-VLZ mixer.

My first gig with the C 3000Bs was at Yoshi's Jazz House at Jack London Square in Oakland, California, where I did a live recording of Full Throttle Orchestra, a large jazz ensemble containing saxes, flute, electric guitars, amplified double bass, and a drum set. During sound check, I put both the C 3000 pair (my standard workhorses) and the C 3000B pair side by side on stereo bars in front of the stage, about six feet from the forward row of musicians (horns) and at face level with the players. I routed the signals through my Mackie mixer to DAT for an A/B comparison.

The difference in sound was astonishing. Not only does the C 3000B have a smoother-sounding high end, it also has fuller lows, a better-represented midrange, and a hotter output than its predecessor. I quickly opted to use the C 3000Bs for the rest of the show. Indeed, I used them for all subsequent stereo-miking jobs throughout the test period.

Because I had occasion to work in jazz, rock, chamber, and film-music settings, I heard a multitude of instruments recorded through the C 3000Bs: saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, flute, electric guitar, acoustic upright bass, electric bass, drum set, marimba, electric violin, and cello. These instruments were primarily gathered in ensembles, and the mics were usually positioned three to eight feet away. In each case, the blend of sounds proved exemplary, and the client was pleased with the sonic quality of the finished recording.

When mastering live stereo recordings captured by my C 3000s, I usually temper the frequencies around 3 kHz, which is where the C 3000's presence boost is centered. The C 3000B's frequency response, however, is noticeably different, both on paper and to the ear. Rather than a boost, this mic shows a slight dip between 1 and 3 kHz on the frequency-response chart, as well as a rise that peaks between 6 and 7 kHz. These response characteristics jibed with what I heard and are in keeping with the smoother - yet still vividly defined - highs provided by the C 3000B.

Of course, the fact that I was working with talented musicians who used good instruments and had great tone also helped. A harsh-sounding saxophone or violin probably wouldn't get much help from the C 3000B, thanks to that 7 kHz peak.

LOWDOWN ON THE LOWSIn general, the C 3000B's lows are full and beefy without being muddy. In some cases, however, they can sound a bit boomy. Again, a comparison of the mic's frequency-response chart with that of the C 3000's is illuminating. On the C 3000B, the bass response is slightly - and very evenly - boosted from about 50 to 600 Hz; on the C 3000, there is a dip in bass response below 100 Hz. You can really hear this difference between the two mics.

I tested the C 3000B's 500 Hz roll-off on a location job in which the room was particularly resonant and the amplified upright bass somewhat unruly. Although the filter did an admirable job of taming the boominess, the rolloff frequency proved a bit high. It significantly reduced the presence of the upright, making it sound more like an electric bass, and it pulled all of the guts out of the bass drum. I opted to use the 75 Hz rolloff of the Focusrite Green preamp instead. The C 3000B's bass-cut filter might be put to better use in reducing proximity effect when you're recording, say, vocalists at distances of less than four inches.

SESSION WIZIn studio sessions, I used the C 3000B to record mbira (a Zimbabwean thumb piano), electric sarod (an Indian stringed instrument), male and female vocals, and upright bass. The C 3000B captured the unique timbres of mbira without coloration. The attack on the metal keys and the warm resonance from the thumb piano were both well represented, and the buzz of the vibrating bottle caps attached to the instrument's surface didn't sound harsh or brittle. On electric sarod, I miked the amplifier, and the sound was accurately reproduced. However, the amp hiss was very prominent, accentuated as it was by the mic's 7 kHz peak. But it was a simple matter to notch out that frequency a bit, which helped cleaned up the sound.

For further comparison, I again put up the C 3000B next to the C 3000 and C 414 and then recorded drum set (with the mics positioned as overheads), an assortment of percussion instruments (including hand drums), acoustic and electric guitars, and male and female vocals. The C 3000B performed impressively in each application. As drum overheads, the mics captured a more open sound than the C 3000s, with fuller lows. In contrast, the C 3000s produced more definition in the high mids - which is not a bad thing when you need the drums to cut through a mix. Overall, though, I preferred the sound of the C 3000Bs: there was still plenty of definition, but the sound was richer and smoother.

The C 3000B came through with flying colors on a variety of percussion instruments, too, including shakers, wood blocks, gongs, dumbek, and tambourine. The mic captured lots of tone, good definition and attack, and a smooth, agreeable high end. The high mids were less "crispy" sounding than the C 3000's, which is to say the C 3000B has a warmer sound - more akin to the C 414's, albeit with a bit less control in the frequencies below 150 Hz.

The C 3000B's fuller lows can work for or against you, depending on the situation. For example, they helped impart a beefier tone to a biting electric bass guitar that I stereo-miked for a film-music ensemble. On the other hand, the C 3000B sounded a bit boomy (though not unpleasant) on a steel-string acoustic guitar. In com- parison, the C 3000 better accentuated the pick sound (which would serve well in a mix) and captured more high-end sparkle. The C 414 was again more controlled in the lows, and it possessed smoother highs than either of its less-expensive counterparts. Still, although each microphone offered a different perspective of the same instrument, they all sounded good.

On nylon-string classical guitar, the C 3000B sounded rich and warm, and here the low-end resonance was not so overpowering. However, on an electric guitar I recorded, the C 3000B accentuated a midrange-type quality that was a bit grating to my ears. (The C 414 had a smoother, more controlled sound in this application.)

SMOOTH VOCALSI was very impressed by the C 3000B's performance on male vocals. My subject had a smooth, deep voice, and the C 3000B complemented his vocals beautifully. The smoothness in the upper mids (between 2 and 4 kHz) resulted in the mic's sounding more like the C 414 than the C 3000. In fact, I actually preferred the C 3000B over the C 414 on this particular singer. The mic provided a nice "breathy" quality without sounding overly bright, and it also offered good low-end support.

Female vocals also fared well in the comparison tests, with the C 3000B again sounding more like a C 414 than a C 3000. Also, compared with the C 3000, the C 3000B handles plosives better, thanks, evidently, to the built-in windscreen.

PETE AND REPEATMy two C 3000Bs sounded virtually identical, but I did discover a 3 to 5 dB discrepancy between the two mics' output levels. This was somewhat disconcerting, but I compensated for it with preamp gain. Just the same, if you intend to buy two C 3000Bs for stereo-miking purposes, I suggest that you make the effort to find two with closely matching output levels.

WELL, I'LL BIn addition to being an affordable and great-sounding microphone in its own right, the AKG C 3000B is a real step up from its popular predecessor, the C 3000. Thanks to its full low end, warm mids, and smooth yet well-defined highs, this mic is well suited for many applications. Although the mildly boosted lows can sound boomy in certain cases, they are an asset in other situations. Likewise, the C 3000B's 500 Hz low-cut filter, though radical for some applications (stereo-miking ensembles, for example), could serve well to reduce proximity effect during close-miking. Most preamps and consoles, after all, provide low-cut filters positioned somewhere between 75 and 100 Hz, so the C 3000B's 500 Hz rolloff can be seen as a feature that offers another sound-shaping option.

AKG has done a great service to the recording community by upgrading the C 3000. A very universal microphone, the C 3000B would be a great addition to any mic collection and should have special appeal to personal-studio owners and other budget-conscious recordists. I'll B, I've decided.