AKG C 414 B-XLS and C 414 B-XL II

Electronic Musician''s review of the AKG C 414 B-XLS and C 414 B-XL II, two large diaphragm condenser microphones with expanded polar pattern selection and electronic switching.
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In the pro studio world, the AKG Acoustics C 414 B family of microphones has been a powerhouse, a standout in the world of mid-priced, phantom-powered, large-diaphragm condensers. Along with Neumann's U 87 and Shure's SM57, AKG's C 414 B is one of those mics of which any studio worth its salt will have at least one. In fact, many studios have several.

The latest version of the C 414 was released in 1993. Changing a popular classic means upgrading the traditional designs without affecting their sound. AKG has done that admirably with the newest additions to its C 414 family, the C 414 B-XLS and C 414 B-XL II.

FAMILY TREE

Because there are many members of the 414 family (almost all of which are still in use somewhere), I'll provide a brief history here regarding the AKG C 414 lineage. The basic C 414 B evolved from the company's venerated C 12 tube mic as the company adopted a smaller tube with the C 12A (1962), solid-state electronics with the C 414 comb (1971), XLR connectors with the C 414 EB (1976), and phantom-power-optimized circuitry with the C 414 EB-P48 (1980).

The transformer-coupled C 414 B-ULS (1986) came next, and the C 414 B-TL II followed in 1993. The TL II microphone combined the original C 12's high-frequency response with a transformerless output stage that would ensure a flat response at all frequencies below approximately 4 kHz.

The latest C 414 mics (see Fig. 1) offer more flexibility, providing an extra polar pattern and electronic switching for pattern, pad, and rolloff selection. According to AKG, an optional R 414 remote control to switch all parameters will be available by the end of 2004. The company has integrated a capsule shockmount as well. (As with most condensers, in previous C 414s the transducer was fastened directly to the chassis.) Also included are overload and status indicators and a positioning detector that causes the LED indicator to dim as a sound source moves off axis.

FRATERNAL TWINS

The new mics feel identical to the ULS and TL II (subtly rounded corners soften the C 414's angularity a bit). On the cardioid address side, the XL II inherits the TL II's gold mesh screen while the XLS features the silver of the ULS. (Both mics' screens are black on the rear or omni side, where the pad and rolloff switches reside.)

A slightly raised minirocker switch on the front-side housing allows you to cycle through five available patterns: figure-8, hypercardioid, cardioid, wide cardioid, and omnidirectional. Green LEDs indicate the chosen pattern and turn red when the mic's output stage is overloaded. Because pattern switching is electronic, the mic must be attached to a phantom power source in order to see a pattern change. Newly selected patterns take from 10 to 15 seconds to become active. Audio should be cut when changing patterns. Audible pops occur when selecting hypercardioid or wide cardioid patterns. Otherwise, switching is silent.

Smaller rockers on the opposite side of the mic select pad settings (0, -6, -12, and -18 dB) and rolloff frequencies (0, 40, 80, or 160 Hz). The slope of the 40 Hz and 80 Hz filters is more than 12 dB per octave. The 160 Hz filter has a gentler 6 dB-per-octave slope, which I found very helpful for controlling the C 414s' considerable proximity effect. All settings are stored in memory when the mic is unplugged and are recalled when it's put back in use. Settings can be locked by pressing and holding either arrow on the pattern selector. Repeating the process or disconnecting the mic from phantom power unlocks the settings.

Both mics come in compact aluminum carrying cases that include cutouts for the included windscreen and shockmount, which is somewhat disappointing — although functional, it's made out of lightweight plastic. But a more important addition is attached in the case's lid — a PF 80 external pop filter and mic-stand attachment.

In addition, the new C 414 models are available in factory-matched pairs. (Each of the new models come with individually measured frequency response graphs, whether they are sold in singles or pairs.) A matched-pair kit includes all of the standard accessories that come with an individual mic except for the PF 80. It does, however, include a stereo bar for X-Y positioning and proof-of-performance charts.

TEAMWORK

I was able to set up several applications to acquaint myself with both models as I worked on an R&B-jazz session. Later I took both models to Manhattan's Bass Hit Studio to check them out on some drum and percussion overdubs with the help of owner/engineer David Darlington, who has recently tracked projects by Joan Osborne and Wayne Shorter.

I began by testing the C 414s on my own voice and comparing them with various mics I had around my home studio. I connected each C 414 mic to my dbx 386 stereo tube preamp with 48V phantom power engaged. I also checked them out through my old reliable Mackie 1604-VLZ mixer. I monitored through my MOTU 2408mkII system driving Mackie HR824s.

I was immediately impressed during my basic voice testing. I quickly settled on the hypercardioid pattern and 160 dB rolloff for my own quick spoken-word demo. The new pattern option and pad flexibility made it a breeze to get a good setting for my voice when working alone in the studio.

Later, I brought in a female singer with whom I've worked on many projects to record some overdubs and new takes on a jazz project. We had been using another condenser that sounded fine on her voice. When she started warming up by singing into the XL II, the improvement was immediately noticeable. The XL II added that sweetness in the 3 kHz area that the TL II had given me in other studios. The XL II added clarity and crispness without turning her voice strident or abrasive. After listening to playback, we quickly agreed that this was the mic for her, and that we would redo some of her finished tracks with the XL II, even if that meant buying or renting one.

C 414 B-XLS and C 414 B-XL II Specifications DiaphragmDual 1" gold-sputtered plastic foil diaphragm, pressure-gradientPolar PatternsOmnidirectional, wide cardioid, cardioid, hypercardioid, figure-8Frequency Response20 Hz-20 kHzSensitivity-33 dB, ± 0.5 dBPower48V phantom power to DIN/IECElectrical Impedance• 200žRecommended Load ImpedanceŽ 2,200žBass Cut Filter Slope12 dB/octave @ 40 Hz and 80 Hz; 6 dB/octave @ 160 HzPads-6 dB, -12 dB, -18 dB, switchableSignal-to-Noise Ratio88 dB, re 1 Pa (A-weighted)Maximum SPL(0/-6/-12/-18 dB bass cut settings)
140/146/152/158 dB (at 0.5% THD)Dynamic Range134 dB (minimum)Dimensions2" (W) × 1.5" (D) × 6.3" (L)Weight10.6 oz.

I then set up both mics to capture my Martin D-15 mahogany acoustic guitar, a more difficult challenge. The D-15 is rather flat sounding compared with other Martins, which makes it easier to place in a mix than a richer solo acoustic. The best approach for this guitar was with the XLS positioned vertically about 12 inches back from the sound hole and angled slightly toward a point midway between sound hole and bridge. With no rolloff or pad, the XLS made a performance star out of a quirky acoustic guitar.

FAMILY OUTING

I got similar results at Bass Hit Studio in New York. The self-noise of the new models is rated at over 8 dB lower than the previous models, and the sensitivity is rated at 6 dB higher. This was evident when we A-B'ed the new mics with the studio's C 414 B-ULS mic. The new mics were quieter and hotter.

We connected the C 414s to Bass Hit's Avalon 737 mic pre and monitored through Genelec 1031As driven by a Yamaha 02R. I verified that the silky smooth sound of the vocal tracks cut at home with the XL II translated well, and then used the XLS for one of Darlington's favorite C 414 applications: miking a snare drum with the hypercardioid setting and the -10 dB pad engaged. Positioning the mic over the drum and tilting it approximately 45 degrees toward the center of the head resulted in a fine and nuanced snare track. The sound was perfect for recording a small jazz ensemble, and the hypercardioid pattern prevented excessive bleed from the separately miked hi-hat.

SIBLING UNITY

AKG's new C 414 microphones have been solidly updated and upgraded. The improved specifications, the elimination of mechanical switches, and the included pop-screen attachment are welcome changes. The company includes a three-year parts-and-labor warranty. Even the list prices for these C 414s are lower than those of the previous versions.

The C 414 family has proven itself time and time again in countless recordings. And these new versions uphold the family's stellar reputation. The C 414 B-XLS mic provides the sheen and crispness of the ULS, and the C 414 B-XL II is a vocal mic that is just as outstanding as the TL II. AKG may have muddied the waters a bit with its model numbers, but a C 414 by any name provides nothing but clarity.

Rusty Cutchinis an associate editor of EM. He can be contacted atrcutchin@comcast.net.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

AKG
C 414 B-XLS $999
C 414 B-XL II $1,049
condenser microphones

FEATURES4.5EASE OF USE5.0AUDIO QUALITY5.0VALUE4.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Classic C 414 sound. Five polar patterns. Three pad settings. Three bass rolloff settings. Electronic switching. Settings memory. Included pop filter and stand attachment.

CONS: Plastic shockmount.

Manufacturer

AKG Acoustics, U.S.
tel.: (615) 620-3800
Web: www.akg.com