The CK-40 is a stereo condenser mic that offers three polar patterns, and a pad/low-cut filter for each capsule.
The Avant Electronics Avantone CK-40 ($599 [MSRP]) is a Chinese-made multipattern, stereo FET condenser mic that challenges the assumption that you have to pay an arm and a leg for quality. The mic features a pair of large-diaphragm capsules stacked behind rugged polished-nickel grilles. The upper capsule rotates 270 degrees.
Two small switches for each capsule — a pattern selector (cardioid, omni, and figure-8) and a dual-purpose pad/filter switch — flank the body of the mic. At nearly 11 inches in length and weighing almost 2 pounds, it needs a solid mic stand to hold it securely. The CK-40 comes in a padded flight case with a leatherette pouch, an oversize foam windscreen, and a spider-style shockmount.
The mic connects to a splitter box with the included 32-foot 5-pin cable, giving you a pair of XLR jacks labeled Output Lower (for the bottom capsule) and Output Upper (for the one on top). I question the use of an adapter box. I would prefer a Y-cable rather than a device that requires two additional XLR cables to reach my patch panel.
ALL AROUND THE STUDIO
My first test for the CK-40 was on percussion. Using a Focusrite ISA428 preamp, I recorded tambourine, and then shaker, through both capsules simultaneously. The instruments sounded great in all three patterns, although I settled on cardioid because it offered the direct-to-room ratio I was looking for. There was an ample amount of definition and presence, and the high end of the percussive hits didn't seem overbearing or brittle the way it often can with inexpensive condensers.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I ran the CK-40 through a variety of preamps (Blue, Millennia Media, Universal Audio, Vintech) on drums, vocals, piano, electric bass, and acoustic and electric guitars. In every scenario, the CK-40 impressed me, often standing up next to reference mics costing a lot more.
In cardioid mode, using only one capsule, the CK-40 captured the depth and fullness, but also the presence and growl, of the electric instruments. Grand piano sounded particularly open and natural using the Blumlein technique, where both capsules are set to figure-8 at 90 degrees from each other.
For male and female vocals, I again used only one capsule and the cardioid pattern. Although I favored my reference mic (a $1,000 tube-based model) a bit more for its slightly smoother high end, the CK-40 delivered comparable results. In an XY configuration (both capsules set to cardioid at a 90-degree angle), it sounded fantastic as a drum room mic and on solo acoustic guitar, picking up the fullness and presence of the instruments without sounding either boomy or harsh.
It may seem limiting to have a single switch for engaging either the 80 Hz (6 dB per octave) highpass filter or the 10 dB pad; both can't be on at the same time for a given capsule. As it turns out, I didn't need the pad, even in front of loud amplifiers, so this wasn't a problem for me.
However, I have two other, minor issues. First, the otherwise well-designed shockmount has thumbscrews that require a screwdriver in order to tighten it enough to grip the mic dependably. The second issue has to do with determining the orientation of the upper capsule: there is no clear indication of the exact front of the top capsule. There is a dot on the edge, but it is 90 degrees from either address side. Of course, a little trial and error and a tiny sticker will fix that, but it is bothersome.
Nonetheless, it's hard to imagine getting much more of a deal than the CK-40 offers. For less than 600 bucks, you get a multipattern stereo microphone that sounds great on a variety of sources.
Although my gripes have to do with the functionality and accessories, I have nothing but positive things to say about the sound of the mic, which is what matters most. Kudos to Avant Electronics for not sacrificing audio quality just to save its customers money.
Value (1 through 5): 4