JZ Microphones Vintage 11 Cardioid Condenser Microphone
By Barry Rudolph
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JZ Microphones' new Vintage 11 condenser microphone is an all-new design but shares its sonic "pedigree" with the company's more expensive Black Hole microphones. Similarly sized and shaped as the other mics in the Vintage Series, the V11 employs a more modest shock mount design than the V47, V67 and V12 models. But at $699 MSRP, it's also the least expensive in this line of cardioid-only large diaphragm condenser mics.
The "11" stands for the year 2011 marking exactly two years ago when JZ introduced the cardioid-only Vintage line in homage to the classic German and Austrian-made condenser microphones of yesteryear. JZ's Vintage Series mics are designed to emulate the sonic qualities of those classics and combine it with new manufacturing technologies, various improvements and affordable pricing.
Modern And Hand-Made
The V11 is assembled only in JZ's Latvia factory by hand and uses a body made from brass and aluminum. It has a rugged metal mesh screen but no internal wind/pop filter. Access to the interior is by way of two small, recessed screws on either side of a gold-pinned XLR output connector on the bottom of the mic. There are no pad or roll-off switches on this mic to become problematic with age and/or heavy use as is typical with old condenser mics.
The capsule electronics use an FET-based amplifier and are all Class-A with an electronically-balance output (no transformer) circuit similar to the Black Hole. The V11 has an output impedance of 50-ohms with a suggested load impedance of greater than 500-ohms. Sensitivity is 22 mV/Pa measured at 1kHz and into a 1k-ohm load.
A modern, practical touch is the construction and design of the internal electronics package. This entirely handmade circuit is sealed within a module made of a high impact, carbon fiber. So if ever required, it is easily replaceable--a good 'plug n' play' idea for field repair it seems. But JZ recommends that a JZ-certified restorer replace it at their factory in Latvia.
The V11 uses a large, 27-mm diameter dual-membrane capsule held in a holder made of carbon fiber. As with all JZ microphone capsules, it was designed by Juris Zarin. It's externally charged (not an electret) and is manufactured using JZ's Golden Drop sputtering technique.
Specifications: frequency range is 20Hz to 20kHz; equivalent noise level (DIN/IEC A-weighted) 6.5 dB A; a max SPL of 134dB for 0.5% THD @ 1kHz; and a dynamic range specified at 128dB.
In The Studio
For me, setting up the V11 was slightly restricted because there is no swivel ball-joint mount system as found on the other Vintage mics. The mounting bracket has two thumbscrews with knurled heads that have self-retaining rubber bushings that act like mini shock absorbers when mated to the threaded holes in the mic's base.
This system does prevent extreme rumbling noises from coming up from the floor and affecting the sound but just lightly tapping on the mic stand produced audible bumps in the audio. JZ has a nascent accessory line started (an excellent pop filter, mic clips etc.) and perhaps they have a version of the Black Hole's combined shock mount and pop filter system coming for the Vintage Series?
But How Does It Sound?
My first use for the Vintage 11 was for voice-over and Foley recordings for a video project. For the voice-over, I set the mic up on a straight stand (no boom). Once adjusted, my narrator stood in front of it about six-inches away and sounded excellent with plenty of warmth and presence. This is not an overly bright condenser mic that might exacerbate sibilants. In all my uses of the V11, de-essing was never needed.
I used the mic pre-amp in the studio's SSL AWS 900 console and noticed the Vintage 11 provided more than enough output level for this application. I used mic gain settings in the range of 25 to 35dB.
But every new setup meant I had to carry a screwdriver in my back pocket to readjust the mic's positioning since it only has a single brass screw to tighten and lock it into position. I think this screw should be replaced with a conventional, easy-to-turn wing nut, as is common on other mics.
After using many different mic pre-amps, I found the V11 always required about 5 to 10dB less mic pre-amp gain than my usual choices of tube and solid-state condenser mics. In general for a given distance from the source, I noticed the V11 had more proximity effect as compared to my tube reference microphone and this ability was useful for my next test--a distant mono drum room recording.
Unless I'm lucky to be working in a "magical" sounding room, my experience with actually using the sound picked up by distant drum room mics is sketchy at best. The V11 promises to change my luck! I found that just about anywhere I positioned it in the drum room produced (in a greater or lesser degree) usable results--so now I've found a good microphone for this application--now all I need is to work in better-sounding rooms!
In my next tests I used my Ingram MPA685 variable impedance pre-amp (also reviewed here in the Sept 2011 issue) to test the effect of changing the load impedance presented to the V11. As expected the results were subtle but at 600-ohms, the lowest impedance available, the V11 produced the lowest output and a slightly mellower sound. Using the Ingram's higher 1.5k or 2.5k-ohm impedance positions resulted in more level and a brighter sound.
With small diaphragm condensers, this setup usually produces a bright, uneven "spotlighted" sound by not fully covering the entire range of the instrument. Even with my single V11, I got a very natural and warm sound with no equalization required--two of them would capture the whole instrument.
There is no attenuator pad on the V11 but I had no problems recording drums at all. But as I find with most modern condenser microphones, your pre-amp should have an attenuator to handle its higher output level.
I set up both a Shure SM57 (As my "reference") and the V11 next to each other at the rim of a 6-inch vintage Pearl snare drum--about 4-inches from where the stick hits the center of head. In this test, I used a new Avid Mbox Mini and Pro Tools 10 on an iMac (4-core) running OS 10.7.2.
Surprisingly, the V11 was fatter and thicker but just as bright as the SM57. The V11's wider profile may not physically fit into drum setups the "stick" SM57 will, but I like the option to use a more sensitive condenser mic close in on snare drums and know it'll sound great, be not overly bright and not distort.
Best All-Around Contender
My goal was to use the V11 in many applications so I could recommend it for a general-purpose, all-around condenser microphone that sounds good and won't break the bank. I think between the V11's rugged construction, fat sound and low price, it's the one for now--unless JZ comes out with a better and less expensive model.
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