When it comes to multi-pattern, largediaphragm condenser (LDC) studio microphones in 2011, what can you own for $699 street?
Well, there are many choices, but I’ve yet to discover a LDC as affordable and truly multipurpose as the flagship model in AKG Acoustics’ Perception line of Austrian-engineered, Chinese-built studio microphones. With the Perception 820 Tube, the aspiring yet budget-restricted recordist has a tool to capture nearly any sound source with great results. Though tube-amplified, it is not especially “vintage” in sound. More than anything, the Perception 820 is markedly neutral-sounding, neither warming midrange nor hyping higher frequencies.
Designed by AKG engineers in Vienna, the 820 Tube has dual oneinch diaphragms and ECC83 (12AX7) triode vacuum-tube pre-amplification within its rather large (2- by 8.3-inch) baby-blue body with an attractive chrome-plated windscreen. From its Remote Control Unit, nine polar patterns (from omnidirectional through figureeight) are switchable from the all-metal box’s aluminum front plate, plus switchable bass cut filter (80 Hz @ 12 dB per octave), ground lift, and -20 dB pad, allowing the system to handle up to 155 dB SPL. Also included in the package are a sleek, sturdy nickel-colored shockmount; a nice suitcase-style case; and a 50-foot, 7-pin cable for mic-to-remote-control-unit connectivity.
For this review, AKG graciously sent two Perception 820 Tube kits, thus allowing use in stereo applications with impressive results. Most notably, the dual 820 Tube mics used as a spaced pair in omni for drum room coverage were lovely, full-bodied and provided the majority of a roomy, classic drum kit sound. On solo instrument sources — most notably, a full-bodied lead male vocal — polar pattern audition was easy, thanks to the RCU’s nine-position detented rotary switch; many times I chose a wide cardioid “in between” pattern, allowing the vocal that touch of extra air that helped better define its unique place in the mix. Those nine polar pattern options are a nice luxury for a mic at this price point, in my opinion.
Those who stood in front of the mic were clearly impressed by its looks. One vocalist even called it “fancy,” surely due to its attractiveness and effective branding (a large AKG logo on its barrel).
If tight positioning wasn’t a limitation, there was rarely a time I didn’t opt to use the 820 Tube (over other LDCs) during my time with it. Between it and another very good-sounding Chinese-built LDC (the solid-state Sontronics Orpheus, featured in this issue’s “PAR Session Trial: Large-Diaphragm Condensers, Part II” cover story), the Perception 820 Tube was ever so slightly smoother through the upper midrange, most notably on a tenor male vocal.
If there is a near-universal weak point amongst “affordable” tube LDCs I’ve used over the past few years, it seems to be the power supply. While the Perception 820’s RCU does its job perfectly well and looks impressive from its front panel, some less-than-industrial feeling switches are weak points. For example, one of the two RCU’s power switches wouldn’t firmly click into place straight out of the box, and the ground-lift pushbuttons on both units felt less than sturdy. I would fear for the RCU’s longevity in a commercial studio environment. That said, both RCUs performed well the entire time I used them for this review, not to mention that the mics sounded virtually identical to each other.
Though AKG wisely relies on its heritage of Austrian design, they have adopted Far East manufacturing for its Perception line, producing some feature-rich products with very competitive pricing. Admittedly, build quality of this class of microphone is determined by price, yet the sonic performance of the Perception 820 Tube is clearly indicative of its legendary heritage. Simply stated, the 820 Tube is a great-sounding, flexible studio LDC worthy of wearing its big, blue AKG insignia.
Price: $849 list
Contact: AKG Acoustics | akg.com