Finding his way into music via his older brother's guitar, Deni Mesanovic of Mesanovic Microphones quickly advanced to recording his Metallica and Slayer-inspired high school bands. Coming from a family full of mechanics, it's no surprise that a DIY aesthetic was instilled into the budding musician. "My dad’s entire family is made up of mechanics, so if something breaks, you fix it yourself," Mesanovic says.
Aside from developing his independent spirit, Mesanovic's father also taught him the ropes of working the lathe in his mechanic shop that catered to semi-trucks. After making the decision to attend the University of Michigan, Mesanovic applied his love for music and technical skills to an education in the recording arts, which quickly developed into a career in building microphones.
Since Deni's graduation and the official formation of Mesanovic Microphones, his incredible mics have been quickly finding their way into studios around the world. We caught up with Deni to talk about how he got interested in building microphones, his design process and the best applications for all of his gear.
Out of all the gear to start creating, what was it that led you to building microphones?
We didn’t have any ribbon microphones at U of M in the program, they are just too fragile for students who are just learning. My junior year, they got a pair of Fatheads, and I just thought they sounded awesome. They sounded like nothing else in the mic locker, which was mostly mid-budget condenser mics.
I had to do a senior year thesis and I was interested in mics, so I said, “I might as well try and build a mic.” I started researching online in forums and reading books. I got a couple different ribbon mics, took them apart to see what was going on inside and went from there. I’d drive back on weekends to go to the metal shop, build some stuff and test it out until I got a decent mic and then made a pair of them for my thesis.
What was your dad’s approach to building a microphone when you go to him and say, “Dad, I’m trying to build a microphone?”
He just kind of showed me the metal working side of things, he recommended what type of metals to use and how to not cut your hand off while working on the mics. Earlier on, I wasn’t as inclined when it came to designing with metal, so he did say, “If you want to put two magnets at this width with these holes here, you should construct it like this, so it’s rigid and won’t fall apart.”
What’s the next step that takes you from creating these mics for a project to building a brand like Mesanovic Microphones?
I couldn’t see myself interning at a recording studio to be a recording engineer after all the stories I heard about how long it took to get going. I wasn’t opposed to it, but I wanted to hit the ground running after college. The mics sounded really good and one of the kids I went to school with just threw out the idea, “You should just make a few and try selling them.” So that’s what I did.
I spent the summer after I graduated building the best mic that I thought I could make, which was the Model 1. I built a handful of them and started the company. After I figured that all out, I went back to the drawing board because I thought I could make this microphone a lot better. That’s how I came up with the Model 2 and that was the turning point. The Model 1 was an experiment to see what people would think of it, but when I created the Model 2, I thought, “OK, this is the real deal.”
What was the design process of building the microphone like?
When you look at the really cheap, off-shore ribbon mics, they are all built the same, and there aren’t really interior pictures of high-end ribbon mics, so I was trying to figure out what makes these mics sound different. It was a matter of building 30 to 40 different ribbon motors, machining different widths for wider or thinner ribbons, machining different motors so you could have thicker or narrower magnets or longer or shorter magnets. Then I would listen to each one, test the frequency response, figure out a pattern and once I realized what was going on, I looked at the math behind it and it all made sense. That’s when I really started looking at the math, instead of spending hours and hours at the mill.
What makes the Model 2 different from other ribbon microphones?
The Model 2 really pushes the limits of ribbon design. Most other ribbon mics on the market tend to be dark and those that are brighter are usually active ribbons that sometimes have some sort of EQ built-in that sounds unnatural. We've created a ribbon motor structure that is incredibly narrow, which in return extends the high-end roll off of the mic. It addition to that, there are also custom designed and machined "resonator plates" that further extend the high end-response of the mic. There is actually a slight bump at around 13 kHz. The result is a high-end that really adds "air" to the sound and opens up the sound. It still sounds like a ribbon, but with air. Not to be confused with bright condenser mics. Our transformers are pretty special. They are a toroidal design and are wound in our shop. Being able to design and wind the transformers ourselves lets us perfectly match the transformer to the ribbon element. These transformers have low noise, low distortion and a 3D-like quality.
Talk a little bit more in-depth about the 2A and the 2S and how they are different from the Model 2?
The Model 2A and Model 2S are identical to the Model 2 in sound (same ribbon motor and transformer), but each offers something different. The 2S is a stereo version of the Model 2. The two ribbon elements are positioned in a traditional blumlein arrangement. This is great for stereo recordings because you won't have to worry about any phase artifacts. It's really easy to position and start recording. The 2A is an active version of the Model 2. It has 13 dB of additional gain which actually comes from a very high turn ratio transformer, rather than an active gain stage. The "active" part is just an impedance buffer to bring the impedance back down. The benefit in creating the additional gain from the transformer rather than a built-in preamp, is that we end up with the exact same sound as the Model 2.
What are your favorite uses for the microphones that you currently have out, the 2, 2S and 2A?
For the 2, a lot of people have been telling me they don’t need to use a 57 along with a ribbon mic on a guitar cab anymore. The Model 2 does what a traditional ribbon does with all the vibe, but has all the high-end clarity and detail without the need of adding a 57 along with it. I love it on guitar cabs, drum overheads and strings and brass. The stereo mic, it’s got to be drum overheads, they are so easy to place, there are no phase issues. A lot of people have been reaching out to me about using them for orchestras, symphonies, choirs and location recording, which is really cool to hear. The 2A does everything that you want the Model 2 to do, but since it's active, it doesn't get noisy on quieter sources where the Model 2 might sometimes. It's fantastic for vocals, acoustic guitars, and any other quieter sources.