Home   Contents   About   Links

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oktava MK-319

Oktava MK-319 captures a neutral, natural sound

Of all the inexpensive condenser microphones available to day, Oktava is the only manufacturer that doesn’t have ties to the Orient. Established as a Russian radio factory in 1927, Oktava soon began to focus on the production of acoustical-electrical transducers consisting of both loudspeakers and dynamic microphones. In the 1950s, Oktava began manufacturing successful copies of RCA ribbon mics for the Soviet television and movie production industries. Today, Oktava is a major producer of affordable ribbon and condenser microphones.

The Oktava MK-319 is a large (28 mm) diaphragm cardioid pattern condenser microphone that is essentially a repackaged version of the MK-219. The MK-219 body rightfully gets a lot of criticism due to its boxy shape negatively impacting the mic's sonics. So, Oktava put the insides of the MK-219 into a new mic body and the MK-319 was born.

The MK-319 utilizes a -10 dB switch and a low-cut switch that reduces the mic's sensitivity by 10 dB below 50 Hz. The mic usually sells in a soft vinyl pouch with a stand adapter. The literature that comes with the MK-319 still reads “MK-219” and lists the sensitivity as 10 mV/Pa and the max SPL @ 1 kHz as > 140 dB. I recently picked up a couple and have spent a considerable amount of time both listening to them and examining their design.

Before purchasing the MK-319, my friends at my local Oktava dealer helped me set up a temporary listening station in their pro audio room consisting of a pair of Audio-Technica headphones, a Focusrite VoiceMaster Pro, and a pile of MK-319 microphones (seven to be exact). This allowed me to compare them to determine any sonic variations that might exist due to the inadequate quality control that low budget offshore microphones are so famous for. To my surprise, there was little variation between them and selecting two from the heap was just a tossup. Bear in mind that the ones I tested were probably all from the same run, so variations between manufacturing runs are still a possibility.

At home on the bench, I took each mic apart to examine its internal parts. The capsule appears to be a copy of a Neumann design, similar to the one found in most of the Chinese mics. One difference I did notice, even before taking it apart, was that the capsule had a strange plastic disc attached to both its front and back sides. Each disc has nine holes symmetrically placed around it. I'm not sure what the purpose of this disc is. Some say it improves the higher frequencies, but it may just simply be there to help protect the diaphragm.

As I examined the electronics, I immediately discovered that the low-cut and -10 dB switches were reed switches rather than the mechanical slide switches normally used on mics in this price range. The significance is that reed switches operate magnetically and have no sliding contacts to wear out. Reed switches also are hermetically sealed in a gas filled tube, and thus totally isolated from the outside environment. These two things provide a long switch life. If you've ever flipped one of those cheap slide switches only to find it had become faulty or intermittent, you'll understand why this is such a big deal to me.

I traced out the circuit and found that it functions similar to the one used in the MK-012. One exception, however, is that the MK-319 uses an output transformer and provides a true differential output. (Incidentally, the MK-012 does not have a true balanced output.)

In most of the transformer-coupled Chinese mics, the low quality output transformer has always been a major weakness of their design. According to Scott Dorsey, who is quite knowledgeable about Oktava mics, this is not true of the MK-319. Over at the rec.audio.pro group at usenet, Scott said, "I was kind of surprised that the transformer in those (Oktava MK-219 and MK-319) mics actually sounds pretty good, and measures well on the bench." As to the Chinese mics, Scott said, "The transformer rings. The core is poorly made; the windings are poorly wrapped. You put a square wave in, what comes out isn't square."

Like the newer vintage MK-012 microphones, the printed circuit board and its components are lacquer coated to resist moisture and prevent noise. The electronic components appear to be consistent between the two mics I have, and even though the quality of some components could be improved, none of the parts are what I would call shoddy.

For my listening test at home, I used my Aardvark Q10 with its built-in preamplifiers, and a Blue Cranberry microphone cable. I listened to the results through some decent headphones and a pair of KRK Rokit monitors.

I tried the MK-319 on a few acoustic instruments, and it always performed well without the harshness usually associated with low cost large diaphragm Chinese microphones. Although it sounded neutral, I could still detect a little "color" that isn’t there when using small diaphragm condensers. Another thing I noticed was that it isn't nearly as picky about placement in front of an acoustic instrument as its MK-012 sibling. This would suggest that the MK-319 has a wider polar pattern.

Next, I tested the MK-319 on both male and female vocals, comparing it to identical clips made using some different Chinese made large diaphragm condenser microphones. In comparison, the MK-319 didn't seem to add anything of its own flavor to the vocals.

Now, before you get the idea that the MK-319 is dull and boring, rest assured that it's not. There is a clarity in the lower mids. This low-mid clarity and smooth, unhyped upper end is where the MK-319 shines.

The Bottom Line: The Oktava MK319 is a versatile mic with somewhat neutral sonics. Contrary to popular myth, the MK319 is not a dark sounding mic. Street prices vary. Try it out before you buy.

--Tim Harbin


No comments: