In the crowded multipattern, large-diaphragm condenser (LDC) studio microphone market, 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. It’s simply a flexible, attractive modern LDC at a great price ($849).
Designed by AKG engineers in Vienna, the 820 Tube has dual, one-inch diaphragms and ECC83 (12AX7) triode vacuum-tube preamplification within its rather large (2- by 8.3-inch) baby-blue body and attractive chrome-plated windscreen. Its remote control unit (and power supply) controls nine polar patterns (from omnidirectional through figure-eight), a switchable bass cut filter (80 Hz @ 12 dB per octave), ground lift, and -20 dB pad (the latter allowing handling up to 155 dB SPL). Included in the package are a shockmount, case and a 50-foot, 7-pin cable for mic-to-remote-control-unit connectivity.
For this review, AKG sent two Perception 820 Tube kits, thus allowing use in stereo applications with impressive results. 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—I often 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, a luxury I quickly became accustomed to having in short reach. 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. Those who stood in front of the mic were clearly impressed by its looks.
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. 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. 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.