Mojave Audio, the company founded by David Royer to produce his condenser microphone designs, has a new mic on the scene. The MA-100 ($795) is a small-diaphragm tube mic that shares the black and silver color scheme of the company's large-diaphragm MA-200 (see the review online at www.emusician.com). Like its larger sibling, the MA-100 uses a military-grade JAN 5840 vacuum tube as well as a high-quality Jensen transformer, although the MA-100's transformer is in the power supply. Consequently, the power supply housing is much bigger than that of the MA-200 — about the size of a small hardbound book.
The Mojave Audio MA-100 is an excellent, all-purpose small-diaphragm tube microphone.
The MA-100's accessories include an aluminum flight case, a foam windscreen, and a small clip (instead of a shockmount). But the true jewel in the box is an additional capsule, giving you the choice between cardioid and omnidirectional pickup patterns. The capsules screw easily onto the mic's body.
Present and Accounted For
My first test was to mic a full-range speaker playing program material in order to A/B the MA-100s against each other for consistency, as well as against the other small-diaphragm tube mics I own, two vintage Schoeps M 221Bs. My conclusion was that the Schoeps mics sounded more natural and closer to the original source, but the MA-100s sounded more exciting, with more presence and bite. The MA-100's frequency-response chart shows a significant bump around 6 kHz, which helps explain the perceived difference.
The MA-100's presence peak, in addition to its capacity to withstand high SPLs, makes it an excellent choice for a number of applications. When close-miking snare and toms (as recommended by Mojave Audio's president, Dusty Wakeman), as well as acoustic and electric guitars, the mic performed extraordinarily well. Using a pair of MA-100s as drum overheads, the full kit was well represented. Although the cymbals sometimes had a little more bite than I wanted, I got very good sounds with only a touch of subtractive EQ in the upper midrange. On a jazz drum set, the cymbals sounded better with the omni capsules, which smoothed out the ping of the ride while picking up the rest of the kit in a very natural way.
I also used the MA-100s on strings, horns, vocals, and even as room mics. In every case, they sounded remarkably good: bright without being harsh or lacking depth and body. Consequently, I've been reaching for them instead of the M 221Bs when I want a little extra edge on my sound.
The only problem I experienced with the MA-100s was a buzz in the audio signal: on one of the mics it was very slight, but on the other it was quite pronounced. Mojave sent me a replacement pair right away, and I had a similar problem with them (one slight buzz and one major buzz), although the pair had tested fine in the company's facility.
It turns out that the power in my building, although set up with an isolated ground for “tech power,” was interacting unsympathetically with the MA-100s' power supplies. The solution was simply to use ground lifts on the supplies' power cables to eliminate any ground loops. This has not been an issue with any of my other tube mics (including my pair of MA-200s).
Mojave assured me that it's looking into why this happens with these power supplies in certain electrical situations. Sticking ground lifts on the power cables is a pretty easy fix, but it would be better to not have this issue at all.
Quality and Value
Power supply issues notwithstanding, I have fallen in love with the MA-100 over the past few months. It sounds great on a multitude of sources, and having two polar patterns to choose from expands its usefulness further.
I highly recommend auditioning this mic if you are in the market for a small-diaphragm condenser or two. At $1,600 a pair, the MA-100 is not what I'd call entry level. But I consider that a fair price for what it has to offer.
Value (1 through 5): 4