Roswell Mini K47 Stereo Cardioid Condenser Microphones
A pair of condensers that will bring out the physicality of your sound without taking a toll on your bank account.
There’s an air of efficiency around Roswell’s Mini K47; no-nonsense, straight to the heart of it, says what it does on the tin. And at the heart of these mics is the capsule; a K47-style one, the sort you’ll find in Neumann tube mics like the U47 and M49. The mini part? Well these ain’t no U47-sized mics.
A pair of Mini K47s turned up in the office after I met Roswell’s owner Matt McGlynn at NAMM earlier in the year. Unfortunately, I got caught up moving around a bit, and they’d only found their way onto a number of guitar recordings. Recently, things have settled down and I found the time and projects to try them on some other sources.
Even if you’ve not heard of Matt, you’ve probably landed on a website of his. Through them, you can trace his journey from recording enthusiast to a mic manufacturer who is intimately familiar with most mic designs on the planet.
These days, Matt runs three businesses. The first was Recordinghacks.com, which Matt intended to be a ‘consumer reports’ source for microphones, spilling the beans on who had original designs and who just picked their mics out of a Chinese manufacturer’s catalogue. After dissecting the specs of thousands of microphones, he moved on to dissecting actual components and started MicParts.com – the DIY epicentre of mic modding. Then came the full-blown manufacturer role with Roswell Microphones, which produces the Mini K47 and a handful of other microphones.
TAMING OF THE SHRILL
According to Matt, the Mini K47 is just his version of a longstanding mic mashup done right. Back in the halcyon days of Chinese mic copies, everyone was just happy to get a U87-looking condenser mic for a few bucks and couldn’t care less about what was inside it. What was inside wasn’t bad, either; according to Matt, it was just mismatched.
The guts of the mics were based on the Schoeps CMC 5 preamp design. The beauty of it is its transformerless design, cutting out the main component cost. Even a bad transformer at volume costs a buck or two. But even better was the fact the circuit survives implementation with the world’s worst parts while retaining remarkable fidelity. You could build a whole circuit for 50 cents and it would still perform well!
The problem came at the other end. Looking around for a capsule that looked the part, naturally the designers turned to the microphone everyone wanted to rip off: the Neumann U87. Unfortunately, the capsule in it – the K67 – was the dead wrong choice. It had a rising frequency response and was designed to be used with a circuit that had corrective EQ in it, working together to produce a relatively flat microphone. Somehow along the way, the capsule also got shrunk from 34mm to 32mm, but that’s another mystery.
Needless to say, Matt saw an opportunity to fix the thousands of mics plagued by this high end shrillness. All it would take was to find the right capsule that would sit comfortably with the linear preamp circuit. A K47-style capsule would do just that.
Matt first offered the solution as a kit on Micparts.com. Once modders started posting results, other less handy recordists wanted in, but needed someone to do the mod for them. Inundated with requests, Matt saw it as the next opportunity: making mics from scratch.
MIC PARTS REMIX
The Roswell Mini K47 is a well-refined version of Matt’s original fix. It’s got a K47-style capsule that’s different to the Mic Parts one, though not necessarily better. He just didn’t feel right about using the same capsule for both. While the guts have been tried and tested, there was still a lot of refinement so Matt wasn’t just importing yet another dodgy Chinese mic.
To keep the cost down he went with a commodity body shape, but it’s made of steel, not aluminium or mystery metal. Secondly, instead of paint, they finished it in a durable powder coat.
The case is a generic aluminium design, with laser-cut foam. But the schockmounts are unique in that the front third of them is cut away so it doesn’t get in the way of your mic placement. You can squeeze the mic right up onto the grille cloth of your guitar cabinet without resorting to a ring mount.
The last bit of quality comes once every K47 is shipped to the States. There it’s QC’d according to Roswell’s tight tolerances over multiple tests – acoustic sweep, listening and sensitivity tests. Anything out of the range is fixed or scavenged for parts. It’s fairly different to the way most cheap mics are treated.
TOUGH-SOUNDING, YET TOLERANT
On drums, it made for a pretty good choice on overheads. There was a tightness to the sound that accentuate the mid-ringing in the toms. They sounded a bit thicker, but not as extended on the low side. Overall, it sounded like the toms were tuned slightly higher through the Mini K47 than the Audio-Technica AT4050 I had up as well. To be fair, the 4050 does have a bass boost written into its frequency response.
On the snare it was a slightly different story; the midrange really hit hard, but again the high end snare portion of the sound wasn’t as sizzly.
Extension isn’t everything though, and hitting the K47 tracks with some parallel compression really showed how these mics shine on drums. The whole drum sound gets really ‘tough’. Because it doesn’t have as much ‘height’ to the sound as another mic might, it also doesn’t sound as loose. It gels together brilliantly with compression. It sounds like the compressor has less work to do to get it to breathe and pump in a musical way because of how the kick sits with the snare without being overwhelmed by bright cymbals.
Roll it out to the room position and the same phenomenon only becomes more apparent. Its high-end pickup is more focused in on the sound, making it less roomy-sounding than other condensers, but again, that means it works on the sound of the drums in the room, rather than the room around the drums.
Testing the Mini K47 on acoustic guitars, it was a winner on some and second choice on others. Again, it seems to really bring out the power in an instrument. I’ve been recording some Brit-pop tunes recently, and the singer strumming away on his Gibson J-50 really sat in the pocket well. It was the perfect sort of midrange without getting in the way. Alternatively, some finger-picking recordings required a little more extension and nuance available from other condensers.
On electric guitar cabs, again, it was a matter of taste. For distorted tones, there’s a forwardness to the sound that meant I could use it without a companion dynamic if needed. Other times, there was a thickness to the tone I was missing. Placement-wise, it wipes the floor with most other condensers. You can get it right up on the grille cloth, and it’s relatively lightweight, so it’s not going to trouble your boom arm if you have to wind it into an odd contortion with another mic. Considering the vast tonal differences you can get just by moving a mic around in front of a speaker, being able to get this close is a luxury that shouldn’t be overlooked.
On male vocals, the Mini K47 was very surprising. I honestly thought it would be its weakest application. If anything, it was a shining moment. Its very smooth presence peak over the 3-10kHz range gave the sound a nice lift without any ringing. One of the things you start to notice the more you listen to cheap condensers is the slight ringing sensation you get in the upper presence range. It generally mixes in a little bit with the mouth or nasal components of the sound, but it’s more of a turn off the more you hear it. Again, the Mini K47 brought the vocal forward, but without any ring to it. You could dial it back with a broad Q or shelf on an EQ, but it sounds great out of the box. If anything, you’ll probably be winding in a little more in a modern context.
In the box I received two mics five serial numbers apart to make a stereo pair. It’s comforting to know Roswell takes the time to match up good pairs, rather than just sequentially packing them. I didn’t have any problems with the pair in a variety of spaced pair and XY configurations. Though technically I was using them more for coverage than stereo, a spaced pair over a mini grand piano sounded present and even.
In more ambient rooms, an XY configuration worked really well on acoustic. It’s not something I’d usually do, but I was trying it out on some solo passages and the mics focused well on the source while letting the room speak beautifully behind it.
As the early Chinese manufacturers showed, it’s hard to make a condenser mic that works well for a bargain price. By marrying the right pieces together – a Schoeps-style circuit with the right Neumann-style capsule – Roswell doesn’t just have a mic that works, it’s made one with a very useable sound that’s probably different to the condensers you already own. Rather than simply reaching for extension and ear-tingling sizzle, the Mini K47 goes for a presence that brings out the power in your instruments. It’s well worth getting your hands on a pair, and it won’t break the bank to do so.