On the heels of the SolidTube-AKG's most affordable tube mic to date-comes the company's next transducer event, the C 4000B, a large-diaphragm, side-address, electret-style condenser microphone. Similar to the SolidTube in design (the two mics employ a similar capsule), but with three polar patterns to the SolidTube's one, the solid-state C 4000B even looks like the SolidTube, except that the lower half of the mic is shorter. Of course, being solid state, the C 4000B doesn't have the SolidTube's little red "Easy Bake oven" window through which to see the glowing tube.
AKG bills the C 4000B as the "only electret, dual large-diaphragm transducer in the world." (What makes it unique is that its diaphragm is a full inch in diameter; evidently all other electret microphones on the market have smaller diaphragms.) Unlike "true" condenser mics, which rely on phantom power for the element's polarization charge, electret mics use a permanently charged element that does not require an external polarization voltage. Because the design eliminates the need for DC converters and other circuitry, electrets are less expensive to manufacture, and the savings can be passed on to the end user. However, electret-style condenser mics still need an external power source to operate the internal impedance converter.
I put the C 4000B through the paces in a number of studio applications and on a few location recording jobs, as well. Here's what I found out.
BUILD AND BOOTYThe C 4000B is built like a tank. Its all-metal housing gives the mic a satisfying heft and, according to AKG, extra abilities to deflect radio-frequency interference.
The mic's integrated wind/pop screen is also heavy-duty. I was impressed by the sturdiness of the wire mesh and foam that act as protective layers. They are so dense that, even when holding the mic up to a light, you can't see the outline of the capsule. The screen is very effective on its own, but just in case you need to record in a hurricane, an external foam windscreen is included.
You access the C 4000B's three polar patterns-cardioid, hypercardioid, and omnidirectional-through a recessed switch on the front of the mic. Two recessed switches on the rear activate a 10 dB attenuation pad and a 100 Hz low-cut filter. All electrical contact points, including the XLR connectors, are gold plated.
In addition to its foam windscreen, the C 4000B comes with a sturdy, spider-type shock-mount (model H100). It looks impressive, but when I gave the mount a shake, the rattling plastic pieces didn't exactly inspire confidence. The plastic threading in the mic-stand adapter also left me feeling dubious. However, once I inserted the C 4000B into the mount and tightened the dial that locks the mic into place, the rattling ceased and the mic was secure. Still, to avoid mishap, make sure you learn to use the tightening mechanism correctly.
Another little detail: the shock-mount has two different-size "strain-relief slots" that are designed to secure the mic cable and keep it from tugging on the mic. Unfortunately, the larger slot was too small to accommodate my Monster Cable.
The C 4000B and accessories come securely nestled in a cardboard box lined with custom-cut foam rubber. Norbert Sobol, product marketing manager at AKG, told me that this is now the standard packaging for AKG's less expensive mics and was implemented to cut costs and reduce waste from discarded boxes. Sorry, folks-no snazzy aluminum flight case with this mic.
CHARACTER REFERENCETo get a sense of how the C 4000B stacks up against its siblings, I first put it head-to-head with an AKG C 3000 ($438) and C 414 B/ULS ($1,285) on some standard loudspeaker tests. I also compared it with a more formidable contender in its price range, the Neumann TLM 103 ($995), to help draw a bead on the C 4000B's tonal character.
For the loudspeaker tests, I positioned the four mics closely together about 15 inches back from my stereo speakers and recorded three tracks-a folk song, a dub mix, and a big-band swing selection-to DAT with all the mics in the cardioid position. This test clearly revealed the response characteristics of the different mics.
The first thing I noticed was a definite high-end boost in the C 4000B. Compared with the C 3000, it seemed to emphasize frequencies between 6 and 8 kHz-which made the acoustic guitar and hats on the folk track seem overly bright. In some ways, the C 4000B's highs were more akin to the C 414's, only crisper and not as smooth.
Also, compared with the C 3000, the C 4000B was fuller in the low end-again, similar to the C 414's. However, the C 3000 provided more midrange presence (around 3 kHz), which enhanced the clarity of the music. This was especially noticeable in the fuller orchestrations of the big-band selection and in the dub piece.
Evidently, the C 4000B's pumped-up lows and highs make its midrange response sound a bit distant-a quality all the more apparent in comparison with the TLM 103, which had smoother highs, clearer lows, and a better-represented midrange. (Of course, the TLM 103 offers neither an attenuation pad nor a low-cut filter, and it has only one polar pattern, which is cardioid.)
ON TRACKSpecs for the C 4000B are very impressive (see the table "C 4000B Specifications"). Self-noise and dynamic range, for example, are 8 and 137 dB, respectively, and the mic can handle sound-pressure levels up to 145 dB (155 dB with the 10 dB pad engaged).
I didn't stick the C 4000B into any motorcycle tailpipes to test its SPL handling, but I did test it on an electric-bass cabinet, a kick drum, and a variety of other percussion instruments-all without falter. I also tried the mic on hi-hat, acoustic upright bass, female and male vocals, and acoustic guitar. All tests were conducted using Focusrite Green Series preamps and Monster Cable Prolink 500 cables.
In general, the C 4000B proved to be a good performer, and it certainly impressed a few musicians on my location-recording jobs. It's a very quiet mic, and overall it sounded rich and crisp on the various individual sources I recorded. I especially liked it on shaker (miked from a distance of two feet), where it compared favorably to the TLM 103.
I also thought the C 4000B was very complementary to the vocal qualities of alto singer Heather Heliger, whose demo became a testing ground for the new mic. The C 4000B's full low end warmed up some aspects of her voice that might otherwise have sounded shrill. Although the mic's high-end boost sometimes resulted in too much sibilance, while its lows sounded just a tad muffled or covered, the overall sound was quite smooth.
On a mellow male vocalist already prone to sibilance and excessive mouth sounds ("spittiness"), the C 4000B was not ideal. Again, the sharp highs only enhanced the spittiness, and the lows came across sounding slightly covered. Thanks to its full lows and tendency to downplay mids, this mic would probably work best for a vocalist who has a biting, midrange-type voice.
DRUM DELIVERYI got excellent results from the C 4000B on dumbek-a good instrument for testing a mic's response, thanks to its unique balance of highs, lows, and mids. The dumbek I used had a fundamental note of low B, which is around 246 Hz. The C 4000B emphasized this tone nicely, confirming my general perception of the mic's characteristic boost around 250 Hz. The C 4000B's boosting of high frequencies was favorable for the dumbek, too, resulting in a nice "papery" sound with plenty of attack and detail from the head and fingers. Transient response was also good, though not exceptional.
In another comparison test, I close-miked a double-headed bass drum (no hole in the front head) with the C 4000B and the C 414, both in omni mode and with 10 dB pads engaged. The performance of the two mics was similar, except that the C 4000B sounded thicker and captured a bit less attack. Still, this was one of my favorite applications for the mic.
Next, I moved both mics back five feet and raised them several feet for a distant-miking test on the same drum set. Here I found that the C 4000B colored the sound of the hi-hats noticeably, resulting in a less realistic sound than what the C 414 captured. Specifically, the C 4000B accentuated a high, clangy ring while simultaneously attenuating some of the lower overtones. It wasn't a bad sound (and it was less clangy than what the C 3000 picked up), but it did demonstrate the particular high-end boosting characteristic of the mic.
As for the kick-drum sound picked up by the distant mics, the lows from the C 4000B sounded a bit too thick and muffled for my tastes. The effect was sufficiently bright but there was a lack of clarity, caused, apparently, by the slightly muffled low end.
STRING THINGThe C 4000B sounded rich and full on a bass cabinet during a Latin jazz session in which the bassist played an electric upright. This, too, ended up being one of my favorite applications for the mic. On acoustic double bass, however, it accentuated an annoying buzz from the strings. Although the C 4000B gave a fairly accurate representation of the instrument, the troublesome buzzing remained, even though I tried several mic positions.
The C 4000B proved well suited to a steel-string acoustic guitar. The mic's high-end rise made for a bright, sparkly sound that would help the track cut through a mix. However, the overall sound was again somewhat muddled by the C 4000B's thick, low-mid boosting.
ON THE CHARTSDuring the loudspeaker tests, I also listened to the sonic differences in the C 4000B's polar patterns. The selector switch was easy to manipulate, although reaching it was a little tricky when the mic was in the shock-mount. I was pleased that the sound of flipping the switch was hard to hear in the speakers.
In cardioid mode, the mic's high- and low-end responses increased and the bass response became noticeably colored. This boosting correlates with AKG's published frequency-response charts, which show peaks at 4 and 10 kHz.
In the mic's hypercardioid mode, the midrange became more distant and "pinched" sounding, while the bass dropped off considerably. Also, off-axis response grew more colored (typical for a tight, directional pattern), and the sound seemed slightly compressed. Again, what I heard jibed with AKG's specs, which show a rolloff in the lows below 100 Hz and some dips in the mids between 1.5 and 3 kHz. Also, the highs were slightly less bumped up in hypercardioid mode (as compared to cardioid), though still plenty bright.
In omni mode, the mic's hyped lows and highs evened out nicely. The midrange around 3 kHz came up, too, resulting in a more accurate, open, and natural sound. This was my favorite polar pattern on the C 4000B.
ONE FOR ALLThe C 4000B is a versatile, fat-sounding, and affordable large-diaphragm condenser mic. In general, it exhibits crisp highs (especially around 6 to 8 kHz) and a very full low end that is similar to the AKG C 414's but with a noticeable boost around 250 Hz. The audible emphasis on the lows and highs can make the midrange sound distant, and the highs, while crisp, sometimes exhibit a slight lack of definition. But I'm splitting hairs here: this mic's sound ranged from good to very good in all my tests.
The C 4000B is also remarkably quiet, is capable of handling high SPLs, and comes with a lot of extras, including a 10 dB pad, a 100 Hz rumble filter, and three polar patterns. These qualities and features, along with the inclusion of a quality shock-mount, make the mic a very good value. Overall, the C 4000B is a great choice for the personal- or project-studio owner seeking a versatile, low-cost, and high-quality condenser mic that just about does it all.
Karen Stackpole is a recording and mastering engineer as well as an active drummer/percussionist. She wanders the San Francisco Bay Area under the alias Stray Dog Recording Services.