Author Mike Hiratzka recorded a variety of sounds through the three interchangeable tubes that come with the CV-12.
Whenever you are tracking a live instrument, the first and most essential link in the recording chain is always the microphone. There are countless choices on the market, all with their own unique characteristics and capabilities that will help shape your music's tone and quality. Recently, there's been a trend moving toward relatively inexpensive tube microphones that offer a similar design, performance and sonic virtues of their significantly higher priced predecessors. Avant Electronics — a relative newcomer to the industry (but with no shortage of experience among the staff) — is committed to the idea that quality studio microphones can be available to the everyday user at prices that won't break the bank. The Avantone CV-12 large-capsule tube condenser mic is one of its flagship models and resembles the legendary AKG C12. Despite the obvious design and feature comparisons, the CV-12 really needs to be judged on its performance in real-world applications, and it proves to be a worthy competitor indeed.
The CV-12 comes packed in a sturdy aluminum briefcase so you can easily transport it from session to session and have a safe place to store the mic and its accoutrements. There's a nice padded wooden case inside the briefcase that holds the mic, a shockmount, a dedicated power supply, cables and two extra tubes. At first glance, I thought those tubes might have been replacement tubes (which still would have been a bonus), but after closer inspection, they turned out to be two different tubes. Including the one that ships inside the mic, you have three tube options that offer different gain characteristics so you can experiment and find the tonal combination that works best for your application. This is a very cool option that I haven't seen before, and the possibilities the mic may offer in a studio environment intrigued me.
Setting up the CV-12 was typical: Screw the shockmount onto the top of a mic stand (or screw the stand into the shockmount, so to speak, so you're less likely to dislodge the cables that isolate the two aluminum frames) and then slip the mic into the shockmount and tighten it down. Connect the mic to the power supply with the 7-pin XLR cable, and then use a standard 3-pin XLR cable to link the power supply to your preamp, console or interface. Avant recommends warming up the power supply for at least 15 minutes because tube gear performs better that way. Add a pop filter for vocal recording or simply place the mic in front of your amp or instrumentalist, and you're ready to rock.
Similar to the AKG C12, the CV-12 uses twin gold-sputtered Mylar capsules that offer a total of nine different polar patterns, including omni, cardioid and figure-8, as well as six other in-between settings. For most applications, I like to use microphones in the cardioid setting because it offers good off-axis rejection, meaning that it will pick up less ambient sounds from the room. If you want to capture the room ambience, try the omni mode, which will record sources from all directions. Figure-8 is generally used for opposing sound sources, such as two singers facing the mic from opposite sides. These are just guidelines, however, so experiment and find the settings that work best for you.
ROCKIN' AND WRECKIN' IT
Because the AKG C12 is used primarily as a vocal mic, I first tried out the CV-12 on a female vocal. I was doing sessions with Kristy Thirsk, who you may know from her work with Delerium or her band, the Rose Chronicles. She has a dynamic voice that is soft and angelic at times but can also be very loud and powerful, so any mic I use on her must be able to handle her entire range. The CV-12 passed this test with excellent sonic results. It was clean, present and airy on the softer passages, with a nice top end that captured her naturally strong sibilance without sounding harsh or brittle. When she really opened up and started belting it out, the CV-12 responded with a smooth character, nice and balanced low-mids and no hint of breaking up at peak transients, which I have sometimes experienced with her on other microphones. The warm, fat tone sounded reminiscent of other tube mics I have used, including the M-Audio Sputnik, which has a $200 higher list price than the CV-12.
One of my favorite tests for mics is electric guitars. I like my guitars fat, crunchy and creamy, so it's important that a mic not only handle the high-input level, but also give me a true representation of the sound coming from the amp. The CV-12 did not disappoint. I started out with a medium distortion setting, and I was immediately impressed by the tone. It had warm mids, a well-rounded low end and smooth highs: basically everything I look for in a good guitar mic. I switched to a clean setting, and the results were equally as pleasant. There wasn't any unwanted coloration — just a nice transparent representation of the sound of the amp with great dynamic response. Finally, I cranked up the distortion for a big lead sound, and again the CV-12 delivered the thick, wet tone that I was hoping for, along with the final assurance that this mic is a great choice for guitars.
I didn't have the opportunity to demo the CV-12 on much percussion because I was doing mostly vocal and guitar sessions during the review, but I did happen to have an egg shaker handy, so I gave that a try. Recording shakers can be kind of finicky; I really like to capture the dynamics and the crispness of the top end so that it cuts through a mix well. Again, the CV-12 lived up to my expectations and responded with a nice, even performance that sounded great in the mix.
I also tried singing through the CV-12 to give myself an idea of how it sounded on male vocals. At first, I was really close to the mic, only an inch or so away (with a pop filter in between), which I thought made me sound kind of boxed in. But then I backed up a bit, and the sound became much more open and natural. This midrange proximity effect is typical of tube mics and is generally considered to be a desirable characteristic because it warms up the tone of the recording, so you should try to see how it works for you. I prefer less proximity effect on my vocals, but I really like it on Kristy's vocals, so it's nice to have the option to use this mic characteristic. After this positive experience with the CV-12, I'm looking forward to using it on acoustic guitar and congas during my next sessions.
Microphones are a subjective issue with engineers and musicians. A singer may sound different on one mic than another, and if you try out a variety of them, eventually you'll find something that really brings out the tone and character you want. For studio users on a budget, it is important to have a mic that can be used in different applications, and that's where the CV-12 really shines. It is marketed toward musicians who are looking for a quality unit with excellent performance at a great price, and the CV-12 delivers the goods in every respect. No matter what your budget is, the CV-12 can be a highly useful and well-rounded addition to your sonic arsenal.
To hear the Avantone CV-12 in action, go toremixmag.com.
AVANTONE CV-12 > $499
Pros: Excellent, sturdy construction. Three tube selections for tonal variety. Great tone and dynamic response. Five-year warranty.
Cons: Long warm-up period for tube mics as compared to solid-state.