(click thumbnail)Fast FactsApplications: Studio, sound reinforcement
Key Features: Condenser; cardioid pattern; 1-inch diaphragm, low frequency cut filter, 10 dB pad (Perception 200)
Price: Perception 100 - $199; Perception 200 - $319
Contact: AKG at 615-620-3800, www.akg.com. It seems like at least half of the microphones on the market today are from companies that didn't even exist 15 years ago, much less in the "golden age" of microphones back in the 1950's. On the other hand, studio grade condenser microphones are now available for less than the cost of a nice dinner for two. The AKG Perception 100 and 200 answer the question about what would happen if an "old world" manufacturer developed a "new world" priced microphone.
Like more and more products (and not just in the audio field) the Perception microphones are made in China rather than in Austria with AKG's other products, but let's put that information off to the side for a moment.
Both the Perception 100 and 200 are transformer-coupled condenser cardioid microphones, with externally polarized one-inch diaphragms. They differ from each other in that the 200 adds a low-cut filter (12 dB per octave at 300 Hz) and 10 dB pad switches, a metal spider-style shockmount and a rather nice hard shell box.
Both microphones seem exceedingly well made, feel solid in the hand, and the fit and finish would not be out of place on a microphone costing 5 - 10 times the price. Without a doubt they are the nicest budget microphones I've seen in terms of quality of design, styling and execution.
The manufacturer's stated specifications for the Perception 100/200 include a frequency response from 20 Hz to 20 kHz (with the deviation appearing to be +3 dB/-6 dB according the frequency response chart) and a sensitivity of 18mV/Pa. Signal-to-noise ratio is 78 dB, maximum SPL is rated at 135 dB for the Perception 100 and 145 dB for the Perception 200 with the pad engaged at less than 0.5% THD. The Perceptions' impedance is specified at nominal 200 ohms, and the self-noise is a respectable 16 dBA, which is lower than other microphones in its price class. The Perception microphones carry a two-year warranty.
For this review, I received a single microphone of each model. Although they differ a little bit in terms of their feature set, they do use the same diaphragm and basic electronics, so I compared them to each other, and used them as a stereo pair. Both microphones exhibited similar tonal characteristics and were matched closely enough in order to use them as a stereo pair in non-critical applications.
The overall sound of these microphones is probably best described as modern in terms of having the expected rising high frequency range typical of newer condenser microphones. Unlike some other low-buck condensers they manage to avoid shrillness while still sounding extended in the highs.
The Perception microphones had a compact and reasonably focused sound, with male vocalists easily cutting through dense mixes. Compared to higher-dollar microphones, a hazy and electronic veil could be noted on the Perceptions. At their price point, however, I have yet to hear any microphones that sounded better.
On a FBB Custom fretless bass played through a Marshall bass cabinet the Perception mics portrayed the extended and taut sound of this combination. Beware that the cardioid pattern is fairly tight, and as such bass response will fall off sharply if the microphone is significantly off axis. Incidentally, many of the Chinese microphones seem to improve in low frequency extension the more they are used. PAR editor John Gatski recommends positioning microphones in front of a subwoofer playing 80 Hz test tone at a healthy level as a good method to "loosen up" recalcitrant diaphragms.
The Perception 200 was a great choice miking up a Tom Anderson Strat-style guitar played thorough a Marshall JCM 800 2210 half stack, yielding an edgy tone which was much ballsier than the typical Shure 57 sound. Make sure to turn the gain way down if you plan to change the settings of the low cut or pad switches, as they insert a painfully loud pop when moved whilst powered up.
The Perception microphones will suffice as room microphones but they don't have the resolution of low-level detail and spatial positioning that is the hallmark of a really great microphone. Then again, you can purchase a Perception 100 for less than $100! As with the low frequency extension, the resolution of low-level detail also may improve as the diaphragm becomes more compliant through usage.
Using the pair of Perception microphones on a Rainsong acoustic (the 100 pointed towards the bridge, and the 200 pointed towards the neck joint with the low cut engaged) I was more than pleased with the frequency balance and transient speed when monitored through an Audio Developments 146 console. A small cut in the midrange was all that was needed for a keeper track.
You're not going to be selling your vintage C12s in order to buy a bunch of Perception 100/200 microphones, but considering the asking price, I don't think there is any question that the AKG Perception microphones are a terrific value. Live sound companies in search of ruggedly built, good-sounding and inexpensive large-diaphragm condensers need search no longer. Highly recommended!
Audio Developments AD146 console, FBB Fretless Bass, Tom Anderson guitar, Steinberg Nuendo 3.2.