Nearly 20 years later, the MZ 204 still delivers the goods. On Friday, September 14 in 1990, I bought my first microphone, a Yamaha MZ 204 cardioid dynamic from Sound Track Music in King, North Carolina. My total was $249.99, including sales tax, and I paid with cash; it was a fortune to me, only $100 less than I paid for my first proper drum set several years prior. I remember that my high school sweetheart, with me at the time of purchase, seemed simultaneously impressed and slightly offended, as I'm sure we had just eaten at a Burger King or close equivalent.
Serious thought and consideration had led to this point in time, what I now understand was a life-changing, career-shaping purchase. I had been repeatedly told by members of my high school rock band that I needed a really good kick drum mic so we could sound better live, to plug into any PA we happened to be using (and soon our own, a 6-channel mono Sound Tech powered mixer, first with 12-inch two-way cabs, then later with two dual 15-inch two-way cabs. How we ever brought the latter to gigs in our caravan of late '70s/early '80s hatchbacks, I don't remember.)
So, at the store that evening, Phil Essick — a local audio engineer and Sound Track employee — recommended the MZ 204 as a cool, new, and really good kick drum mic. I trusted him, and I bought it. I can't say that this mic made me sound much better than any other similarly priced kick mic could have (as we generally played through some less-than-good PA systems), but I was the only drummer I knew that had his own kick drum mic, which counted for something, at least in my own mind — I was serious, man. I ended up using it everywhere, live and in the studio: anywhere the engineer in charge would let it happen (as most had, as you would assume, an AKG D 112 or Electro-Voice RE20 that they swore by). And as I remember, my MZ 204 and I impressed a few engineers over the years.
I recently rediscovered the MZ 204 when setting up a much-larger-than-normal assembly of inputs. My hands and eyes have passed over it for years, and, on this day, for whatever reason, they still did. I guess I thought my own work and abilities had surpassed its usefulness. Sad, because the Yamaha MZ 204 completely changed how I interacted with the sound of my own music. Before it, I was a drummer with no sound experience to speak of; I simply hit drumheads and cymbals in order to be heard. Then, with the purchase of my MZ 204, I suddenly owned a tool that connected my sound to something larger, allowing me to reach beyond the energy I created alone. Essentially, the MZ 204 was what plugged me into the mechanics of modern-day music production.
But does the MZ 204 actually sound as good as I remember it? On this day — when I plug it in for the first time in what feels like forever and record it, even up against my current favorite kick drum microphone — yes, it does. It's still a perfectly good kick drum microphone nearly two decades after I bought it (and I don't use "perfectly good" lightly).
My MZ 204 may not be the "best" pro audio purchase I've ever made, but I can say with conviction that it has been the most valuable. Its value — that of longowned, still performing gear — is more than nostalgic. It's proof of the worth in product recommendations by knowledgeable and respected sources, just like those by our real-world experts in the pages of this magazine. Nearly 20 years ago, such a recommendation certainly proved to be powerful, and valuable, to an aspirational 16-year-old drummer.
So Phil, wherever you are, thanks again.
Strother Bullins is the reviews and features editor for Pro Audio Review.