The Day I Preferred The AKG 414 to the Neumann U47!!

The Day I Preferred The AKG 414 to the Neumann U47!!

Early in my career, I worked at at least a half dozen studios with a very modest microphone collection. During that time, I fell in love with the AKG 414 as a vocal mic. It was the best that most of those studios had at the time. And it was certainly better than the 57s I was using at home.

When I finally got my first job at a world class facility (Sabella Studios), I was surrounded with Neumann mics that were each more expensive than the car I was driving at the time.

Of course, I didn’t know what I was doing or what to look or listen for so early on in my career. I still preferred to use the 414 for vocals in many situations. It gave me that bright present vocal sound that I was really drawn to.

The studio owner (who became my mentor - James Sabella) would let me use whatever I wanted but would sometimes interject with his opinions and suggestions. So one time, we were about to record a vocal for this local rock band and we but up about 4 or 5 mics to figure out which one was best for their singer.

Not sure if it was confirmation bias or what but after trying each mic, I still preferred the AKG 414 to the other more expensive Neumann mics and I convinced the band to agree.

I could see that the studio owner was a little upset about our choice. He really liked the Neumann U-47 (tube) and obviously had some pride in his incredible microphone collection that was not being utilized.

So he went downstairs for a minute and then came back up with child-like excitement. He asked me to step away from the board and take a break. He wanted to try to add some EQ and compression to each mic and allow us to choose again.

The studio had 11 Pultec EQs and a Neve 8068 console so there was no limitation on the outboard gear that was available.

After about 15 minutes, The band and I come back into the room and were told to sit down and listen. But this time, we didn’t know which mic was which. It was a blind test.

Immediately, everyone chose the Neumann U47. It wasn’t even close. I asked my boss what he did. He told me it was as simple as matching the EQ of each mic to make each of them sound as close to each other as possible. Leaving the other characteristics (depth and roundness) to really stand out. The different EQ and the brightness of the AKG 414 had really fooled all of us. Except for the studio owner, of course. He knew.

But it taught me how important blind listening tests are, and how matching EQ with each mic can really change how we view the quality of different pieces of equipment in our arsenal. The brighter or louder sound will always be seen (or heard) as better by comparison and without more careful scrutiny.  

It also taught me that people with more experience "might" know a little more than some of us just getting started in our craft. LOL

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I hope this message finds you well. Kenny Gioia