Two new multi-pattern valve condensers have emerged from the Avantone stable. Huw Price puts them through their paces.
Price CV12 £444, CV28 £420
Contact SCV London 020 8418 1470
Back in the day, studio engineers invariably referred to microphones by number, so when a tape op was ordered to put a 47 on this or a 57 on that it was fairly straightforward. For some reason, many modern retro-style mics share the same numbers as their forebears, which gives the potential for confusion.
These Avantone mics are a case in point, sharing both numbers and looks with iconic models from AKG’s distant past. However, this may be misleading because Avantone tells us that the CV12 is actually based on the Sony C800G, and the CV28’s onboard electronics are based around a 6J1B pentode valve rather than a 12AY7 triode or nuvistor.
Both mics are transformer-balanced and the CV12’s capsule is a Neumann-style design with centre termination that feeds a circuit driven by a Chinese 12AX7. This should produce a high output level, but, depending on the transformer, mics with 12AX7s may be quicker to overload.
Rock ‘n’ Roll-Off
No worries on that score because the CV12 trumps much of the competition with its -10dB pad and switchable 80Hz bass roll-off – both of which should keep the transformer from saturating. Ditto the CV28.
The CV12 has nine polar patterns, all selectable from the power supply. Following in the AKG/Schoeps tradition, the CV28 allows users to swap capsules to achieve up to three pickup patterns – cardioid, hypercardioid and omni.
Although they both come in identical metal cases, the CV28 is like a scaled-down version of the CV12, with a correspondingly scaled-down power supply, shockmount and wood box. All things considered, these are very impressive packages for the money.
The Valve Sound
Valve microphones are generally associated with fat and coloured sonic characteristics – maybe with a hint of harmonic overdrive that some might describe as ‘warmth’. However, anyone who has experienced the enhanced realism and even the occasionally forensic detail of some of the legendary small-capsule valve condenser microphones will know that there’s more to it than that.
We started testing with the CV28 in cardioid mode and it blew us away. The tone was very full but also incredibly detailed and natural. There is a trace of a lift in the treble, but this just provides a bit of ‘air’ and there’s no trace of harshness or metallic ringing. In fact, this gentle lift corresponded with the frequency range that we’d usually boost with EQ anyway.
Output level dropped very slightly with the omnidirectional capsule installed, but the noise floor is so low that it’s of no consequence. The tone lost a bit of low-mid girth, but if anything the omni capsule sounded even more open and transparent. It also managed to pick up a slight vibration from one of the tuners on an acoustic guitar that was inaudible with the cardioid cap.
The hypercardioid capsule sounded very different because the high frequencies were very rolled-off, but we enjoyed the full mids. The tone responded really nicely to a bit of EQ, restoring the treble without detracting from this capsule’s chewier mids and larger-than-life quality.
To provide a bit of context we put the CV28 up against an Elation KM201 and an Oktava MK012, both of which can also be purchased with a variety of interchangeable capsules. The Elation is a solid-state microphone that does an uncanny impersonation of a Neumann KM84.
The Elation sounded a little softer than the brighter CV28 but there was little to choose between them. The treble characteristics of the CV28 and the Oktava were similar, but the CV28’s low-mid focus made the Oktava sound a tad woofy.
Suitably impressed, we turned our attention to the CV12. As expected, its tone differed substantially from the CV28. For starters, they’re out-of-phase with each other, probably because the CV12 has a cathode follower output that reverses polarity.
Sonically, the CV12 delivers more of what you might expect from a large-capsule valve condenser. It has a rounder and smoother quality through the mids with a bit more weight but less transparency. Even so, the CV12 has a very likeable treble response that provided ample detail.
Switching to omni mode opens the midrange right out, with the treble shining that little bit more. However, if we were to keep this microphone it would probably spend most of its life with the pattern selector set somewhere between cardioid and omni. We liked the extra treble sheen and the way that the bass takes on a little extra roundness. Figure-8 displays a bit of a midrange scoop and is the least natural-sounding of all the settings, yet it’s perfectly usable – as we’ll discover later.
The CV12 certainly distinguished itself on vocals, generating a full-bodied sound with plenty of low-mid girth and clearly defined consonants. As long as you don’t get silly, the CV12 is fairly resistant to plosives, but you might notice a hint of sibilance with some vocalists.
It’s worth considering that a pair of microphones like these two could conceivably cover all your condenser microphone needs. The small-capsule CV28 does a fine job as an instrument microphone and the omni capsule makes it suitable for use as a room mic. The hypercardioid capsule is a bit of a secret weapon because, despite needing a little EQ assistance, it provides a very useful contrast to the other capsules and could be used to roll off the sharp edges.
The CV12 may lose out to the CV28 in sheer fidelity, but it certainly redeems itself with sonic character. Although vocal recording may end up being its main application, we wouldn’t hesitate to try it in any recording scenario where a little softening and smoothing-out may be required. Then, if you ever needed to record something in stereo, the CV12 and CV28 can be used for mid-and-side stereo.
+ Impressive sound
+ Competitively priced
+ Fine build quality
+ Excellent accessories
Two very serious valve microphones – and both at an incredibly competitive price point.