The low cost of manufacturing in China has allowed mic designers in the United States to start up with much less capital than in the past. The result
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The Karma K6 is a phantom-powered ribbon mic that was designed not to sound like the typical ribbon.

The low cost of manufacturing in China has allowed mic designers in the United States to start up with much less capital than in the past. The result has been an ever-expanding supply of inexpensive mics. Karma Audio, which has its own factory in Shanghai, has joined the fray of companies providing low-cost ribbon mics to a new generation of engineers looking for that magical ribbon sound.

Big for Its Britches

The K6 ($600) has a striking appearance. Its horizontal slots and vertical side fins are reminiscent of the Royer R-121, but the K6 is roughly twice the diameter. Below the grille, the Karma logo is embossed into a black faux-snakeskin sheath, which encases the mic like a glove.

At the base of the K6 is a long threaded stem. At the bottom of that is the XLR input. The purpose of this protuberance is to screw into the included shockmount. As I attempted to do so, two problems arose: first, the thread is so long that it takes quite a bit of effort to screw it on; and second, even when screwed to the hilt, the shockmount still rattles and shakes against the mic. That's the last thing you want from a device intended to decrease vibrations.

A Unique Voice

The K6 is a phantom-powered ribbon mic, which is certainly atypical. If you're used to working with ribbons, you have to retrain your brain to flip the +48V switch on even though you know a ribbon mic is on the other side of the cable. The advantage of this design is that you don't have to worry about accidentally frying your mic with the phantom power. Although I don't own any other phantom-powered ribbon mics, I compared the K6 to some of the ribbon mics I do possess.

Each of these mics costs several times more than the K6, so it wasn't an apples-to-apples comparison. The Coles 4038, Royer R-121, Royer SF-12, and vintage RCA 77DX each have their own distinct character, and collectively show a wide spectrum of what the “ribbon sound” really is. Each has a different sound, but all are stellar. Whether on horns, acoustic guitar, voice, or drums, the Karma couldn't capture as natural a sound as the others. That didn't surprise me, considering the price difference. (It's important to note that the K6 has a much hotter output than any of these other mics, so unlike the other ribbons listed, it can be used with preamps without tons of gain.)

The K6 had a unique, usable sound on selected sources, but it was too dark and boomy for most applications. One of my favorite uses for it was as a room mic for an electric guitar amp. Its low-end boost and top-end rolloff were perfect for that application. I also had success with it as a secondary mic next to a high-end tube condenser, adding “chest” to a reedy male vocal and some nice “clunk” to a shaker track. I liked it somewhat on flute because it tamed the shrillness of the instrument and enhanced the body, due to its severe drop-off around 5 kHz and bump around 180 Hz (see Web Clips 1a and 1b).

In general, the K6 had kind of a raspy sound. It was a slightly hoarse quality that made my clients say things like “lo-fi” and “gritty,” almost as if the acoustic instruments were running through a tube amp with the gain a little too high (see Web Clips 2a and 2b). Now, for the right application, that aspect could be really cool, especially if you have other mics to get the pristine sounds. I wouldn't expect to get ultra-high-fidelity recordings through the K6, so I wouldn't recommend it as the mic to start your collection with. Talking to the folks at Karma made it clear they were out to design a unique-sounding mic, not just another ribbon copycat.

Fringe Benefits

For the money, the K6 is not a bad deal. It comes with a three-year warranty and a sturdy, lightweight flight case with a combination lock. I would recommend that you give the K6 a listen before purchasing, to see whether its character suits your needs. As luck would have it, you can do just that through Karma's unique seven-day trial program.

Value (1 through 5): 3
Karma Audio