AKG D5 & C5
AKG has given birth to twin live vocal mics – one a condenser, the other a dynamic.
Text: Ben Burns
Austria. Home to the sausage, Mozart, and AKG Acoustics. Every engineer knows at least a couple of AKG mics inside out, be it the workhorse C-414 or a lofty valve C12. Synonymous with quality and reliability, AKG’s reputation stretches back to the early days of amplified music, and it’s for this audio realm that two new live performance mics have been released: the C5 condenser and D5 dynamic. Both these mics feature a robust new industrial design, excellent sound and improved feedback resistance. Lets check ‘em out.
A LOUDER FUTURE?
Essentially, microphone design hasn’t really changed much since its inception – there have been many developments, but the basic principles remain the same: a sound pressure wave hits a moving mass causing it to oscillate – this physical movement is then translated into electrical signals using a variety of methods (dynamic, condenser, ribbon etc.). That small electrical signal is then messed about with in various ways and finally turned into a voltage large enough to move big old speakers, which vibrate, sending compression waves through the air to the ears of listeners.
It’s a pretty safe argument then to suggest that one key to obtaining a transparent sound is by improving how the electrical signal is produced in the first place. By improving the clarity at all the other stages through a live reinforcement system, isn’t it high time we did something about the mics?
To that end AKG has managed to use the laws of simplicity, quality, and function to design these mics to be stronger and better sounding, making them easier to fix and harder to break.
C5 CONDENSER MICROPHONE
The C5 condenser features a 24-carat gold-sputtered housing to protect the fragile condenser capsule against moisture and humidity. Other barriers from the outside start with the specially reinforced steel wire mesh, the very solid die-caste body and the integral pop filter.
The design of this hand-held mic is great – it weighs a bit too, and you can tell it’s built well just from the feel of the thing: handy for hitting people with. Before I did that, however, I wanted to take a look at the construction.
Everything fits together in a simple, uncluttered way. Removing the grille for a closer inspection reveals a golden capsule mounted on a neoprene shockmount. Removing the entire capsule/shockmount assembly from the body of the mic is easy (not that I’m suggesting you do this the moment you get your hands on one!) and there’s no messy glue to replace. The capsule housing itself is much like an iceberg, with the golden cylinder tapered into a pointed counter-weight under the neoprene.
There are four small internal slots on the microphone body, which receive the four plastic guides of the shockmount housing. The whole capsule assembly simply slots into the grooves inside the metal body and is held in place by the screw-on basket.
Meanwhile, at the rear end of the mic, the electronics package is soldered directly to the back of the gold-plated XLR connectors, and the whole assembly slides out after the removal of one screw. The PCB is also as solid as they come, with the delicate connections covered with protective silicon-glue. All these components fit together with the quality zinc-alloy die-caste housing for ultimate protection. Hell, it might even survive a surprise hip-hop stage invasion.
Extras for the C5 include a presence booster and SA61 clip. The presence booster is a plastic hat for the capsule, said to boost frequencies between 5 and 9kHz by around 5dB for ‘optimum quality of speech’. To fit the booster (mine arrived fitted) simply unscrew the basket and carefully push the clip into place.
THE C5 COMPONENTS
On stage I replaced a Beta 87 with the new AKG C5 and although the stand needed tightening to deal with the extra weight, on first listen the sound was great. With the presence booster fitted, the sound was slightly crisper than the 87, which immedately prompted the bass player to mutter under his breath: “You plug it in, you hear it, it’s great!”
Although they’re a potential feedback nightmare in the wrong place, condenser mics do sound much better on some sources. To that end, this is the highest feedback rejection I have ever heard in a stage condenser. The polar response is cardioid, which exhibits no rear-facing lobe as with hypercardioid or supercardioid patterns. The off-axis rejection is quite pronounced, so it’s not a good microphone choice for two people to share.
With the ‘presence boost’ cap fitted, certain vocals worked a treat with minimal EQ – although a sibilant voice may need a notch filter or de-essing (or simply remove the cap!). Speaking close to the mic with the cap on produced sparkly voice reproduction with stunning detail in the highs maintained over a rich low end.
‘Stage Condenser’ models are popular nowadays and consequently most of the big manufacturers offer some kind of special vocal condenser model. With new technologies improving the audio quality of live productions almost daily – stunning sound design, powerful bands and subtle vocalists can all sound great now – it’s becoming ever more apparent that each part of a system is only as good as the weakest component. Choosing a microphone isn’t a matter of ‘right or wrong’, but different choices can make a huge difference to the character of any sound source.
D5 DYNAMIC VOCAL MIC
Almost identical in appearance to the C5, the D5 is similar in design with an optional switch mounted on the body. The supercardioid dynamic mic has a very effective shockmount for very low handling noise. The plastic of the shockmount housing is supple and able to withstand impact without breaking, while the plastic of the actual diaphragm is tougher.
The diaphragm of the D5 sits about 2.5cm from the outside of the grille and, if necessary, the internal foam pop shield can be quickly removed from both models with a pair of long nose pliers – just peel the whole thing inside out in about half a second. The diaphragm housing is capped with a dust filter, securely glued to a red plastic support.
AKG has developed a technique for varying the thickness of the diaphragm of dynamic microphones, a technique known as Laminate-Varimotion, which increases the thickness in the centre of the diaphragm. This is said to improve reliability, consistency of sound over time, and also accounts for the high SPLs this mic can deal with. In fact, the rated maximum input range is stated as 147dB SPL with one percent THD or 156dB SPL with 3% THD. Generally speaking, stage levels that high usually require distortion as a mandatory quality. Indeed, it would be a challenge to overload the mic with anything quieter than a jumbo jet and hear distortion artefacts.
A faster response can make all the difference to sounds, bringing shiny clarity with sharp attack to the mix. The transient response of this mic makes it really easy to achieve a shiny vocal sound with great clarity and resistance to screaming overloads. In the monitors, the D5 sounded great to a singer accustomed to a 58. For monitors with the same system EQ, the mic instantly increased the clarity, and with further EQ a very stable and very loud mic was sounding great on stage. In the mix, the vocal was also different enough to make us change the reverb to suit. The sound remained warm and pleasant enough, but simultaneously added a presence and sharpness, ready to be abused by anyone mixing on a good system.
Microphone manufacturing is in a funny place right now. There are hundreds of bad microphone designs flooding in from all over the world, where phase coherence, frequency response, and other vital elements are ignored if the price is right. In fact, many people argue that microphone development (especially dynamic vocal mics) has gone backwards, and that mics 30 years old are still better than modern equivalents.
Other people can’t stop going on about developments in other areas affecting the performance of a microphone overall. Regardless of where you stand on that, it must surely be accepted that technology and the understanding of acoustics and psychoacoustics have evolved, bringing us into this brave new world where live gigs really can sound like the album. And if there’s one thing that makes the most difference to a sound – after the musician, the instrument, and the room – it has to be the microphone.
AKG, along with other manufacturers, continues to push the boundaries of microphone design. Although this hasn’t seen the birth of radical new designs on the surface, innovations have been conceived that allow subtle differences to make all the difference. In the C5 and D5, AKG has produced high quality microphones that sound musical, with serious hardware to protect the gubbins. Well and truly worth a gander.