AKG C414B-XL II and C414B-XLS Microphones

AKG C414B-XL II and C414B-XLS Microphones
AKG C414B-XL II and
C414B-XLS Microphones
by Barry Rudolph
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AKG C414B-XL II and C414B-XLS Microphones
Since 1971, the original C 414 Comb's
birth date, AKG has upgraded, optimized
and improved this studio standard's specs
and feature set when better electronic
components and advanced manufacturing
techniques became available. All parts are
now surface-mount devices for increased
reliability and lower production costs. (Only
the capsule is hand-soldered.) Despite the
fact that these new models come with
more accessories, they are priced less
than their predecessors: $999 for the C
414B-XLS, which replaces the C 414BULS introduced in 1986, and $1,099 for the
C 414B-XL II, replacing the C 414B-TL II.
NUMEROUS UPGRADES
There are 15 new changes, yet the new
transformerless 414s retain the same sonic
character as before. Apart from the XL II's
gold front grille vs. the silver grille on the
XLS, everything else, including all internal
electronics, is identical. The only distinction
between the XLS and the XL II is a
difference in the capsules to achieve the
desired acoustical response for each
version. The XL II has a slight increase in response above 3 kHz, which is said to be better
for individual vocals and solo instruments miked at a distance, while the flatter XLS is better
suited for instruments and group vocals.
Both capsules use 1-inch-diameter, edge-terminated, six-micron-thick dual diaphragms
suspended in an elastic capsule shock-mount system. This built-in shock-mount decouples
the capsule from the mic's body, minimizing externally introduced vibrations. The body is the
double trapezoidal shape, but 10 percent larger with a 20-percent bigger grille. The grille
comprises two layers of cross-polarized screening that reduces plosives and unusually
catches and refracts light. The die-cast body has a flat, grayish-blue finish and rounded
edges, which are said to reduce unwanted reflections.
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AKG C414B-XL II and C414B-XLS Microphones
FULL KIT
With lower manufacturing
costs, AKG can offer the
414s in a handsome
aluminum carrying case
with the package. Standard
accessories include the
H85 elastic shock-mount
(which grips any mic from
19.26 to 26 mm in
diameter), Euro stand
adapter, a square-shaped
foam windscreen, external
metal goose-necked twostage pop filter that mounts
to any mic stand or boom,
dust cover, individual frequency plot of the mic and a multilanguage manual. There is also a
stereo kit with two sets of these accessories and a stereo pair mounting bracket. The mics
are also well-matched, and the typical sensitivity tolerance between any two mics is
maintained to +/- 0.5 dB.
NEW FEATURES ABOUND
One obvious change is that the old mechanical switches for pattern, attenuator and lowpass
filter have been replaced with nearly flush-mounted electronic pushbuttons. Simply push
either end of the button to step through the patterns, attenuation settings or filter choices.
Settings are remembered after disconnection from phantom, and you can lock/unlock all of
your choices by holding down the Pattern button for three seconds; the LED blinks red to
indicate lock or unlock. This is a valuable feature when you're quickly moving the mic's
position and inadvertently touch a button. A recessed LED above each value or polar pattern
shows your choice by lighting green. The pattern LED has a limited viewing angle and
doubles as an "aiming" guide, useful when hanging the mic in dimly lit studios. Instead of
telling singers to keep their "nose on the pattern switch" to stay on-mic, they can just aim at
the LED.
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AKG C414B-XL II and C414B-XLS Microphones
The pattern LED also acts as an overload indicator, turning
red when you are within 2 dB of clipping. To minimize the
typical changeover noise when changing pattern or
attenuator, there is a momentary mute period before the mic
becomes active again. All switching is done in the lowimpedance section of the head amp circuitry, preventing
intermittent noise problems when the mic is operated in highhumidity situations.
The new 414s have five pattern choices: cardioid,
hypercardioid, figure-8, omni and the new wide cardioid
position. Attenuation choices are now 0, -6, -12 and -18 dB,
with attenuation achieved by changing the polarization
voltage to the capsule. The cheaper and more usual way is
to use shunting capacitors across the capsule's output but this method produces low-level
distortion. (No wonder I've always noticed a change in the sound of condenser mics with the
attenuator pad switched in!) The new 414s have 6 dB more sensitivity, a low self-noise at 6
dBA and 134 dB of dynamic range.
The redesigned lowpass filter has positions
at 0 (flat), -12 dB per octave @ 40 Hz, -12
dB per octave @ 80 Hz and -6 dB per
octave @ 160 Hz. The highest position on
the old mics offered too much roll-off. I'm
glad to see this change.
Coming later this year is an R 414 remote
controller/power supply that can control two
microphones independently or together. All
of the mic's switchable functions can be
controlled in finer steps than on the microphone itself. You'll have access to 13 different polar
patterns, 3dB steps for pre-attenuation and more. Controller commands to the microphone
are sent over standard 3-wire XLR mic cables in short, coded tone bursts at supersonic
frequencies.
IN THE STUDIO
First up was a solo acoustic guitar recording. As there were three passes (basic track and two
overdubs), I used a different stereo miking technique for each without EQ or compression.
For the basic tracks, I used an M/S pair without pads and the 40Hz roll-off. The slightly
brighter XL II, in figure-8 pattern, was the side mic and the XLS was the mid. I got great
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AKG C414B-XL II and C414B-XLS Microphones
results with lots of low end, even though the pair was 18 inches away. The shock-mounts
worked extremely well: no sound from foot stomping or rumble traveling up the stands.
I used two wide-space regular cardioids for the first overdub track. The mics were placed
about two inches above my player's hands with the XL II at the middle of the neck and the
XLS behind the sound hole. The second overdub used two similarly spaced omnis. For both
setups, I used the 160Hz roll-offs to tame the cardioids' proximity effect and reduce the
boomy bottom end. (The big-bodied acoustic was tuned down: to a C# for the low E string.)
This technique produced a great sound--plenty to work with in a remix with different
ambiences for each guitar part. I noticed a thump when selecting any roll-off and an
occasional "pop" when changing patterns, but these were not severe.
On drums, I tried close-miking and a more traditional two-microphone setup: the XL II
overhead about four feet above the kick drum without the roll-off, no pad and in wide cardioid.
The XLS hovered just above the front of the kick (no front head) about 12 inches away, aimed
down at the center at an angle to avoid the windblast. I didn't use the roll-off in wide cardioid,
but with the -12dB pad--more in deference to the PreSonus M80 mic preamp that I used--it
overloaded very easily. This setup produced a remarkable drum sound without EQ or
compression on the '60s vintage Ludwig kit. The kick sounded close as if it was inside the
drum but with more air. The rest of kit was well-balanced without any accentuated high
frequencies.
The 414s were also great for close-miking the kit for a sampling/loop session. Although I
usually don't use condensers in these situations, I put the XLS inside the kick with the foam
windscreen on and set it to omni with the -12dB pad. This sounded more like how a dynamic
would sound, except that I heard more player/beater imperfections with the 414. I put the XL
II about six inches in front of the snare, just above the rim but below the hi-hat. The mic was
switched to omni and did not engage the roll-off, but the -18dB pad was necessary. The
snare sounded quite real with a good bottom end and a good balance between the top and
bottom heads.
For vocals, I lined up the XL II, XLS and an older C 414EB P48. Set all to cardioid, no roll-off
and no pad, a quick A/B showed the old 414 was darker and produced an occasional low
midrange distortion peak compared to either new 414. Both new 414s had more output, were
clearer-sounding, offered no distortion on peaks and let me hear all the way down into the
noise floor of the studio without hearing microphone electronics. I used a Chandler EMI
Channel mic pre and anywhere from 20 to 30 dB of mic gain without EQ.
My male singer is a high tenor and both mics sounded great on him. The XL II was brighter
but without excessive sibilance or shrillness. A pop filter was not required, and the new grille
pattern works for moderate wind. I recorded six vocal tracks, all at different distances and
different polar patterns. All of my results were good and usable — it was hard not to get a
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AKG C414B-XL II and C414B-XLS Microphones
good sound with these mics. They also looked impressive in the dim studio with their bigger
size, gleaming grilles and three LEDS glowing. The new wide cardioid pattern is the one to
use for vocals as it seems more forgiving of "wandering" vocalists.
The best-sounding, all-purpose studio microphones to come along, the new C 414s are ready
for action! They handled everything that I threw at them and returned superb-sounding
recordings ready for mix.
AKG, 615/620-3800, www.akgusa.com.
Barry Rudolph is an L.A.-based recording engineer. Visit his Web site at: WWW.
BARRYRUDOLPH.COM
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