With roots dating back to 1947 at Leningrad's Optical and Mechanical Association — a.k.a. LOMO, makers of the prized LOMO 19A19 tube mic — Nevaton Ltd. formed in 1991 in St. Petersburg, Russia along the Neva River. Comprised of a group of former LOMO engineers, Nevaton designs and builds a series of studio condenser microphones now available in North America. At first glance, Nevaton's MC Series appears to feature the usual suspects, yet each model offers a distinct "old world" flavor and just a touch of quirkiness.

Nevaton builds all their mics and components in-house — including brass housings, capsules and XLR connectors — and are fully hand-assembled and hand-tuned. According to the company, the mics are strenuously tested and the capsules are artificially aged before delivery, ensuring consistent performance and supporting their two-year warranty. The four MC Series mics available for this review were all quite similar in their basic design and styling, sharing far more qualities than not, creating a very consistent and identifiable product line.

Features

The MC48 ($1,795 list), MC51 ($1,295 list), MC404 ($1,395 list) and MC416 ($1,595 list) all share a machined brass body with tapered handle, Class A transformerless output, an "ultra-thin" gold-sputtered polyethyleneterephtalate film diaphragm, an elastic suspension for the capsule(s) and three stages of metal windscreen.

Although each mic looks nearly identical (somewhat large, dark gray, nonreflective paint with brass accents and labeling, a three-centimeter diameter shaft and a black windscreen), each model is a slightly different size, differing only in the length of the handle or the capsule housing. The resulting look is a little "scientific instrumentation," slightly military, and a touch "cold" by today's global standards — it's a look that grew on me over time.

The MC48 Large Diaphragm Stereo Condenser offers two 25mm diaphragms in an X/Y pattern, continuously variable between 50 and 140 degrees. A switchable high-pass filter is provided and the mic handles 135 dB max SPL, with only 12 dB of self-noise [should specify what reference]. The MC404 Multipattern Stereo Condenser offers 28mm diaphragms, no HPF and its capsules are fixed at 180 degrees (back to back).

The MC51 Multipattern Condenser is a medium diaphragm (twin 24mm) condenser with omni, cardioid, figure-eight and soft cardioid pickup patterns. A -10 dB pad is provided, allowing SPL handling up to 150 dB. The MC51 has 17 dB self-noise and a 50-ohm output.

The MC416 Multipattern Condenser is the near-twin brother of the MC51, except with two larger, 33mm diaphragms and only 14 dB of self-noise. All of the Nevaton mics are listed as having frequency responses from 20 Hz to 20 kHz (with a frequency response chart [a generic chart or an individual one specific to this microphone?] showing greater detail, response with different patterns and deviation), and all require 48V phantom power (typically within 4 volts, plus or minus).

In Use

I should have played it safe with these mysterious strangers in my studio (especially considering the nearly cryptic manuals), but the day of their arrival coincided with an overdub of some shimmering, clean, chorused guitar. My studio's Roland Jazz Chorus 70 guitar amp has the quintessential chorus sound, but all I had was the stereo MC404; the MC48 hadn't arrived yet and my trusty AKG C422 - basically a stereo C414 - had recently died. With its extreme 180 degrees of separation very much in mind, I - positioned the 404 with it and the centers of the two speakers forming an equilateral triangle. I feared I might get a hollow center or excessive stereo imaging, so imagine my surprise at finding a sufficiently strong middle, super width, detailed and fluid imaging (gotta love that RJC chorusing), and absolutely no EQ required! (OK, I added a HPF.) In the mix, this wide and spacious sound was lively and animated, but caressed the lead vocal nestled in the middle - not my usual stereo-chorus-guitar sound for sure, but it was simply gorgeous!

I soon got to work with the MC416 and found it capable of typical vocal and electric guitar tasks. I found the 416 to be similar to an Audio-Technica 4033 on loud, distorted guitar, with a nice overall balance and stronger low-mids. My first two vocal tests had me worried, as the 416 didn't win a mic shootout with either a male or female vocalist. The 416 lacked a little midrange detail, but offered slightly thick, substantive, and compressed lower mids. I then tried the 416 on an unskilled male vocalist with excessive sibilance, uncontrolled dynamics, and a lack of power; he was greatly aided by the MC416, lending some substance and softening his fluctuations without robbing detail or realism.

I tried both the MC416 and its smaller version, the MC51, on acoustic guitars, vocals, and piano. As expected, the 416 was always fuller in the bottom and the 51 was always brighter up top; the 416 had the size and the depth while the 51 had the focus and the detail. Both mics were smoothest and flattest in omni or cardioid with a pleasant midrange voicing in soft cardioid and were quirky in figure 8 (with a fairly normal front lobe and a combination midrange bump/scoop on their rear lobes). This isn't unusual by any means, but what did surprise me was how cool the 51 sounded on acoustic guitar in figure 8 — it had a tight bottom, excellent imaging, and a touch of room air-enhancing realism.

Soon thereafter the MC48 arrived, just in time for a location concert recording date with Bums Lie, a reggae/ska/punk band that covers lots of ground with swift dynamic changes and difficult-torecord versatility. I applied the MC48 at drum overheads, where its muted finish and one-mic simplicity made for a clean application. Mounted 3.5 feet over the cymbals and directly over the snare, I employed the HPF (there was going to be a lot of bass leakage into that mic) and started out with a 90-degree spread. Monitoring in my makeshift control room confirmed I could widen that spread to about 100 or 110 degrees with better stereo separation and still a strong, mono middle — what fun! The slight high-end emphasis sweetened the cymbals and the pleasant midrange quality flattered the snare.

Summary

At first, I'll admit that I was a little skeptical about the quality, design, and documentation of these Nevaton microphones, but they ultimately won me over. They proved themselves to be reliable, consistent performers and capable of a wide range of recording duties. I'm particularly fond of the stereo mics: the MC48 for its sweet sound and adjustable versatility and the MC404 for its quirky uniqueness and, yes, lack of versatility. The two multi-pattern condensers (the MC51 and the MC416) bring an ample feature set to the table with pleasing sonics, quality workmanship, and just enough color to keep things interesting. If this sounds intriguing, I would recommend that you bring your mic closet into today's global economy with these fine offerings from Nevaton.

Rob Tavaglione owns and operates Catalyst Recording in Charlotte, North Carolina. www.catalystrecording.com