Karma Audio K6

When the first wave of inexpensive ribbon mics hit, I immediately dropped $150 for the express purpose of thickening up certain sources — especially thin-sounding guitars (and amp combinations), violins and, in certain cases, horns. After all, the low price made it easy to justify the expenditure, and the level of commitment was low. I had even heard that using a ribbon on certain voices could add a retro flare to their takes.
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Perhaps I had aimed a little low with my checkbook, though, because the mic just didn’t cut it. The “ribbon novelty” wore off quickly; the retro rumor turned out to be little more than a myth, the mic was too dark to be useful in any sessions I was running, and the thing needed tons of gain to work properly.

So I scrapped the idea of using this breed of mic . . . until the Karma K6 showed up.

OVERVIEW

The K6 is phantom-powered — an historically anomalous feature for ribbons, but a design that has grown in popularity (such as with the Royer 122). Sturdily designed, the K6 is a handsome side address mic that boasts a quoted frequency response of 40Hz–15kHz, and contains a 2-micron aluminum ribbon. Housed in a modest, plastic foam-lined case, the K6 is packaged along with a surprisingly sturdy shockmount that seems to be of better quality than what you’d expect in this price range (i.e., it didn’t slip when adjusted, and featured a full 180º swivel). Most of the less expensive ribbons I’ve encountered had excessively flimsy mounting hardware, so the K6’s shockmount was a relief.

The K6 looks sharp enough, allowing it to stand out aesthetically in the rather swollen mic market, but how it sounds is what’s really important. So we tested it on a few sources that we thought would benefit from the ribbon treatment . . . here’s what we found.

APPLYING THE K6

During an audio workshop I was conducting, I decided to see if the K6 would help the voice of a singer/songwriter. As the artist’s style was more rock-based, the K6’s dark quality didn’t seem to be appropriate, so we instead set up the K6 on acoustic guitar — with much better results. Having no real ’50s style crooners at hand with which we could match the K6, we again tested the mic on a more rock-oriented source. Bottom line: While a bit too dark for a vocalist who wants a more bright, cutting presence in their vocal tracks, the K6’s smooth, round, and thick quality would definitely work in a session requiring a more retro vibe.

Later on, my assumption that the K6 fits best in a more “retro” domain was proven correct when a band came in to record what is probably best described as the stereotypical ’70s big rock record. We had already achieved our tone for the main guitar tracks, but hadn’t quite decided on how to approach a slide guitar track that needed to sound very smooth. Throwing the K6 up on the guitarist’s cabinet, we were immediately astonished at how well the old school slide sound was established. There was just the right amount of edge and bite while still maintaining a huge, yet silky sound.

Although electric guitar is one of the K6’s most complimentary sources, I did encounter a problem: The design of the shockmount (which is the K6’s only mounting option) made it impossible to place the mic closer than two inches from the cabinet. Even with ribbons, I prefer the sound of the mic placed right up to the grille cloth, and this wasn’t an option. So when working with this mic, if you want to employ any additional, simultaneous miking techniques, I suggest that you place the other mics equidistant from the K6 so as not to encounter phasing issues.

CONCLUSIONS

The K6 is both well-built and eminently useful in very specific applications — it’s a clear winner if you’re searching for that “retro” ’50s vocal, or that smooth ’70s rock guitar sound. At a street price of under $400, the K6 is a fair bargain, and I would recommend spending extra for this mid-priced ribbon instead of opting for one of the $100–$200 low-end ribbons. While the dark quality of the K6 (and ribbons in general) keeps it from being an all-purpose piece, if you want to thicken the sound of certain sources and get that flair of old, this mic does the job.

Product type: Phantom-powered ribbon microphone.
Target market: Studios seeking a relatively inexpensive ribbon mic that offers a unique sonic character rather than being general-purpose.
Strengths: Adds lots of smooth thickness to sounds, especially electric guitars. Requires less gain than many ribbons. Reasonable price point.
Limitations: Shock mount can be cumbersome in cabinet miking applications.
Price: $600 list
Contact: www.karmamics.com