Beautifully built in the spirit of the classic Neumann U67 to David Bock’s specifications, the Soundelux USA U99 tube condenser microphone ($2,599 street) is one of the finest microphones being manufactured today at any price. The tube microphone’s pickup pattern is continuously variable from omnidirectional to cardioid to figure-8. The glossy black and beautiful mic features a European-made K67 dual-membraned 1-inch capsule and is equipped with the same signature Soundelux USA Fat switch found on the U195 mic, as well as an inventive and musical high-frequency Cut-Flat-Boost switch that that works in tandem with its Hi-Lo switch.
Dave Bock explains that toggling the Fat switch “changes the bias timing of the tube from ‘traditional 1950s lean’ to ‘modern super size.’” When Cut is selected on the Cut-Flat-Boost switch, a -1 dB shelf is engaged at 10 kHz as well as a 2.5 kHz or a 5 kHz slight cut (depending on the position of the Hi-Lo switch). The capsule has an inherent slight 10 kHz boost so activating the cut actually makes the mic flat at high frequencies, very much like a pre and de-emphasis network. The flat setting keeps the amp flat, allowing the capsule’s natural 10 kHz lift to come through. The Boost setting is a gentle shelf starting at 5 kHz, allowing a 1 dB boost of the amplifier at 10 kHz. Both cut and boost are active feedback elements utilizing just the single vacuum tube.
The mic provides a 30 Hz to 16 kHz frequency response with an output impedance of 200 ohms and an 81 dB signal-to-noise ratio. The mic is handcrafted and hand-tuned by David Bock himself, utilizing point-to-point wiring and unequivocal attention to detail.
The U99 utilizes a NOS (new old stock) EF732 sub-mini pentode tube coupled with the Bock N470 true-linear high-current power supply to provide a natural sound. The large core output transformer improves low frequency headroom.
Also included with the mic is a 6-pin mic cable and shock mount. In order to keep costs lower, Soundelux USA ships the mic without a carry case; the mic itself is still in a wood box, but there isn’t a case to hold the mic, power supply and all of the accessories. Soundelux USA does offer a high-quality case as an option. I think this is a wise decision as it allows the buyer to avoid paying for a case they don’t need. I should add that the build quality of the U99 is exquisite; it would be a shame to pack it in a case that would fall apart after a few months of use.
Upon its arrival, I couldn’t wait to put the U99 to the test. While I was anticipating it to be an amazing mic, it far exceeded my expectations; this mic is stunningly good. Vocals are the U99’s forte and the mic wonderfully captures both male and female vocals. The top end is warm, open and extended and, while the mic isn’t without proximity effect, it is subtler than many vocal mics, providing just enough low-frequency boost to sound rich and full without being boomy or woofy. The overall sound is extremely natural and smooth, and the detail is spectacular as every nuance of a vocal performance is captured in an amazingly realistic manner.
The mic does a fantastic job capturing acoustic guitars, mandolin and violin, too. I miked the violin from several feet away and it still sounded full, warm and natural with a full body. The realism is great; I found that when I closed my eyes, it felt like I was sitting a few feet from the instrument. I’ve only had that experience a handful of times in my entire career.
I’ve found that between the mic’s high-frequency Cut-Flat-Boost switch, the Fat switch and continuously variable pickup pattern control, the mic provides an abundance of sonic shaping options that results in rarely needing equalization to attain a desired sound. There are no hard rules here but, after much experimentation, I’ve found that in most instances, I prefer the high-frequency boost when recording female vocals and darker acoustic guitars. I set the mic to flat when recording male vocals and most acoustic instruments, and I use the high-frequency cut setting when recording mandolin and horns. I start with the Fat switch activated when recording aggressive vocals, solo acoustic instruments and electric guitars. I’ve typically only used the pad when recording louder sound sources, such as electric guitars and loud percussion elements.
Regrettably, I had only a single U99 for my review period; I wasn’t able to do any stereo miking. Based on my tests, though, I believe a pair of the mics would be marvelous on piano or drum overheads.
The Soundelux USA U99 is an impressive microphone. Regardless of your mic locker’s size, it’s worth a serious look as this is no doubt going to be one of this generation’s classic gems.
Soundelux USA/Bock Audio