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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oktava MK-319 modified by OktavaMod

OktavaMod puts new sonics and some zing into MK-319

I own an Oktava MK-319, which is a large diaphragm made in Russia condenser microphone. It's laid around without getting use for a long time. I bought it back in my bedroom recording days. It just did not seem to give me satisfactory results on anything.

I now own a commercial recording studio. While I've upgraded I thought it was time to give a go at upgrading my MK-319. I decided to try getting it modified by Michael Joly, who owns an online business called OktavaMod. I felt skeptical about the whole thing. But, Michael quoted me a price of $99. I felt I did not risk losing much if the mic came back without a significant improvement.

First thing... I found Michael to do the rarest of things for a techie. He gave me a fast turnaround. I think eight days went by from the time I shipped out my mic until it came back all modded out including a cleaned grille sans the dent that I shipped it out with. Thanks for the undent, Michael.

With my MK-319 back in my hands, I wasted no time in getting to work. I recorded test tracks of the modded Oktava MK-319 through an A Designs Audio P-1 mic pre and an OSA MP1-C mic pre. I tracked two different C.F. Martin guitars. The modded MK-319 captured sounds from either guitar that I'd not encountered before whether tracking hard strumming or delicate picking.

I found the modded MK-319 to be sensitive to position (moreso than I would have imagined from any mic in the less than $2,000 range). I found that moving the mic just 1/4 inch produced dramatic changes in the tracked result. I compared the modded MK-319 tracks to several other tracks recorded in the past with different mics including the Audio-Technica AT4033 and a Peluso 22 47. I generally liked the tracks made with the modded MK-319 more than the others about 85 to 90 percent of the time.

I tested the mic on vocals. I cut several tracks of various male and female voices, in various musical styles. I found myself thinking of words such as clarity and power. The modded MK-319 seems suited to vocal styles other than screaming rock. I liked it on middle and lower register voices. I did some more A/B'ing with some older tracks and found myself preferring the modded MK-319 tracks when I wanted to hear "smooth."

I thought the mic seemed to sort of ooze a vintage sound. So, I went so far as to record a mono track of a small group consisting acoustic guitar with male and female vocals from about five feet from the sources. It worked. Playback revealed a sense of a small intimate living room concert.

I next tried the modded MK-319 on electric guitar amp for a blues project. I set the mic up about 18 inches from the speaker and slightly off axis. I got keeper tracks, giving up that elusive smoky, old school blues sound. I thought the modded MK-319 held its own on clean guitars, dirty guitars, and anything in between. It didn’t matter. I even gave it a whirl on Fender Rhodes. And, I captured that "tone" I equate with the greats of the electric piano such as Ray Charles.

As I gathered more and more experience with the modded MK-319 I found myself thinking the mic close to the old FET U47 microphones. I did not say identical. I thought the vibe to be close.

I learned that different mic preamps imparted their character on the modded MK-319. What this means to you is that the modded MK-319 will accentuate any differences in mic pres, thus opening up your pallet of sound even more.

I got to talk to Michael Joly on the telephone about his history. I learned of his former work in mic design for David Blackmer, founder of Earthworks, and that he likes to think of himself as “an empirical engineer.”

I want to thank Patti Spurgeon Irvin for providing her extraordinary vocal talents in my evaluation of this mic.

The Bottom Line: If you own an Oktava MK-219 or a MK-319, then get it modded now. Not only does your mic deserve it, your clients and your recordings deserve it as well. Recommended.

--Ken Morgan

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