When it comes to buying vintage microphones, there are many different factors for deciding which mic is the perfect fit for you. Obviously, you need a piece that adds something significant to the audio capturing capabilities of your studio, but the microphone should also be a sound investment (pun not intended).
Since vintage mics come in all shapes, sizes and formats, there are lots of ways to easily be confused by a piece of gear's hefty price tag v.s. actual performance and monetary value. We caught up with two studio veterans, Vintage King Co-Owner Mike Nehra and Director of Business Development Ryan McGuire, for some helpful tips that will ensure your next vintage microphone purchase is a multi-faceted tool that appreciates in value and not the other way around.
Why Do I Want A Vintage Microphone?
Most vintage mics represent a build quality you don't often find today. Along with being solid investment pieces, these are often high-caliber microphones, by any standard. Additionally, while it doesn't add any physical or sonic value, these microphones have a soul and spirit that only come with being time-tested studio pieces. By having a few hallmark selections in your mic locker, such as the Neumann/Telefunken U47/U48, Neumann U87a, Telefunken Elam 251 E, AKG C12 and more, you can create an exceptional studio experience and offer pristine recordings that leave listeners with chills.
Finding A Mic That Has Recently Been Serviced
Once you began your search for a vintage microphone, you'll be pleased to find that many of the classics that you desire are still somewhat readily available. However, their condition might leave you wanting more, especially with price tags that will have you rubbing your eyes in disbelief. This forces you to consider the microphone's buying price and any additional work to make it function, which might take you way over the budget you originally intended to spend on a piece of gear.
One way of avoiding these headaches is to look for microphones that have already been serviced and restored. This way, you have peace of mind by knowing that your investment is functioning and that you won't be looking for a microphone technician shortly after purchase. In the case of buying vintage mics from Vintage King, nearly every classic microphone that comes through our Tech Shop is premium serviced, comes with a trial period, and in most cases, includes a free warranty.
Testing Out Vintage Microphones Properly
Alright, so you've found a microphone you're interested in and you know it's working. That's great! However, an investment of this magnitude should require a little more than the knowledge that the mic is in working condition. Ask for a trial period with the microphone and bring it to your studio where you're ears are accustomed to making accurate decisions. Using the preamp you know best, plug your microphone in and began to listen for a low noise floor. Older microphones tend to have a higher noise floor, but what you're looking for here is anything that might be deemed excessive. Listen for lots of crackles, pops, hiss and other things that might make your recordings sound less than ideal.
In addition to checking for noise concerns, it's important to evaluate a vintage microphone for its tonal range. This is done by speaking or singing closely into the mic and listening to how it captures mids, top and bottom end. All microphones have different sonic characteristics and you want to make sure the one you're testing meets your expectations. This is when it's important to do your research and be knowledgeable about different details of the microphone, as the mic's internal makeup could have been changed since its creation. Make sure you're satisfied with the sound of the microphone before purchasing it based on name recognition alone.
Assessing A Vintage Microphone's Internal Makeup
While the cosmetic condition of a vintage microphone is important to its value, it takes a backseat to the condition and originality of the mic's guts. When looking for a piece, find out what's going on with the tubes, transformers and other pieces of its internal makeup. If the tubes and transformers are original, it will greatly enhance the microphone's worth and you will know that you have a piece on your hands that can appreciate in value over time. However, in the case of a ribbon microphone, remember that ribbons wear out over time, so an original ribbon isn't exactly ideal. You'll want to consider adding $300 to $500 into your budget for a ribbon replacement to make the mic usable and investment-worthy.