It seems to me there are three distinct camps, sometimes intermingled, amongst discriminating engineers and their preferred large diaphragm condensers (LDCs) for vocal applications. There are the vintage purists, a rather privileged group who love, for example, their all-original C12s, 70s-era U87s, and so on; the vintage mod folks, adventurous ones with custom rebuilds and updates of U87, U67, ELA M 251, and ribbon mics; and the boutique people, relying on evolved, modern homages to classic designs from low original production counts. Though all different, each camp is generally expensive to reside in.
The latter—fans of boutique microphones—may desire classic sonic characteristics and vibey tones but appreciate updated features and conveniences of newly built, high-end transducers. Nashville’s own Luke Audio is an impressive newcomer to our industry’s boutique LDC landscape, handcrafting lovely works of art that nod to the classics yet are streamlined with no superfluous features.
Wave Distribution, Luke Audio’s US distributor, recently supplied me with three mics to review: an AL-X712 pair (Luke Audio’s take on the classic design of AKG’s C12) and one AL-X767 (their version of Neumann’s U67). Both mic models feature the same standard, medium-sized tubular chassis, vented chrome “open air” headbasket, Rycote suspension mount (an InVision USM model) and not a single switch or variable to be found, though Luke Audio does build multi-patterned and padded models too. It also deserves mention that Luke offers the AL-X747 (a take on Neumann’s U47 design) and AL-X751 (inspired by Telefunken’s ELA M 251), all with the same minimalist philosophy.
Read more about Luke Audio’s design and build approach on their website, at www.lukeaudiollc.com/microphones.html.
The only differences within the Luke Audio lineup appear to be in their various capsules; each model has its own—all between 32-34 mm in diameter, platinum sputtered, at one micron thick.
Being cardioid only, this review was a comparatively straightforward “point and shoot” proposition. I paired these transducers with premium top-shelf mic preamps—including my standard bearer, the Millennia-Media STT-1, plus the Avalon VT-737, Manley Force and BAE 73MPL—took some time for proper aiming and then laid down tracks … and good tracks at that.
First up were two male vocals; I paired the AL-X767 with the singer and the AL-X712 with the rapper. Everybody won. I received smooth articulation and warm chestiness from the AL-X767 and the sharply articulated consonant clarity I needed from the AL-X712. Both showed moderate proximity effect, no issues with plosives (while using those proper metal pop-filters from Stedman) and no negative issues with sibilance; the little that I experienced with the AL-X712 was easily rolled off at 10 kHz, then everything sat well in the mix.
Needing well-defined, relatively bright acoustic guitar tracks, I tried the AL-X712s in a spaced pair—one on the body near the bridge and the other where neck meets body—via Audient iD14 mic preamps. The delicate finger-picking required lots of gain and so I heard some self-noise from the mics. The tone, however, was quite desirable: plenty bright with a nice tight bottom and clear mids that accepted midrange-boost EQ with grace.
Later I tried the AL-X712s as a spaced pair for drum overheads. Some may cringe at the thought of these non-coincident C12-types there (due to brightness) but the top end was reasonable, required neither boost nor cut in the mix and presented a wide and detailed stereo image. I also tried the AL-X767 as a room mic where those abundant mids were quite useful for a full, defined and quite compressible sound. I’m guessing that a pair on overheads would be a very good thing, a little different from the AL-X712s and maybe even better (at least on thinner kits with lighter cymbals). Both mics handle a maximum of 150 dB SPL so neither strained under a loud load.
Next I tried the Lukes on miscellaneous percussion, upright piano—hear the audio clip at www.soundcloud.com/proaudioreview—and female vox with expected success. The AL-X712 brings forth a sweet top end that I really desire on piano, and both AL-X712 and AL-X767 seem to help vocalists, reducing unwanted mouth noises and accentuating tone. Electric guitars fared well, and best with the AL-X767 as the AL-X712’s high-frequency bite was just a little much in that application.
For microphones that don’t sport any variable patterns, pads or options these Luke Audio microphones cover a lot of versatile ground. As such, they seem to excel at acoustic instruments, they flatter moderately and add a touch of eupohony—all qualities that underscore their number one application, vocals. Infinitely versatile? No. Widely useful with a variety of vocal types? Oh yes.
An argumentative engineer may point out that boutique mics are too expensive, not easy re-sales, or are just not a particularly stable investment. Well, these hand-made boutique mics each retail at $1,999; it’s a price low enough to entice and high enough to inspire. I’d say the debate just got heated.
For what it’s worth, here’s my final soapbox speech, and mic manufacturers please take note. Including a perfectly effective no-maintenance Rycote shockmount with your microphone is absolutely preferable to providing a marginally effective proprietary one. Luke Audio clearly realizes this and wins serious cool points for doing so.