Recently I was able to try out some small batch, handmade Russian microphones from Soyuz. In the trial were the SU-017 large diaphragm tube condenser ($3,499 street, each) and its small cousin, the SU-011 ($1,119 or $1,999 street, single or pair, respectively). The test bed was my usual place, the Clubhouse Studios in Rhinebeck, New York; there’s nothing like using these mics on premium sessions in a nice room.
The SU-017 was delivered in a beautiful wooden box, gleaned from the forests of Siberia, with a magnetic clasp. The package includes a power supply with toroidal transformer (designed only for audio applications, explains Soyuz promotional materials, built via Soviet-era equipment from the late 1970s). Also included is a shock mount built of steel, brass and aluminum. The SU-017’s tubes (known as model 6G1P) have been made in the same factory since 1960 and were chosen to be the best match for high capsule output impedance and low amplifier input impedance. In all, the SU-017 is a real beauty of a mic with its polished brass and white casing. It feels amazing; it’s premium to the touch and precisely built in all its tooling and fittings.
The SU-017’s capsules—featuring two 34 mm diaphragms—are handspun by a master machinist who, before moving on to microphones, honed his craft in Soviet weapons factories in the industrial city of Tula, Russia. As the incredibly cool, informative video on Soyuz’s website shows, their machinist is one of the only such craftsmen who consistently gets a 2 micron tolerance out of a manual lathe on the capsule. As Soyuz also notes, their lathes were made at the Kalashnikov factory; it’s nice to know that they are now being used for peaceful purposes, now used for nothing but cutting capsules.
The capsule design for the SU-017 is based on the original Neumann K67 and all 248 holes per capsule are drilled by hand. Next, back plates are placed in a special oven before cutting. As the manufacturing video also notes, cutting the electrode for the capsule is a difficult process; both its machinist and the lathe must be of the highest quality. Each of the 248 holes is then hand-checked, cleaned, polished, and tested with a Soviet-era micrometer. Soyuz is both serious and detailed about what they do.
When the SU-017 arrived at the studio for testing, owner/engineer Paul Antonell noted that engineer Ryan Hewitt had just used the same model as the main vocal mic on The Lumineers’ upcoming release. But the proof was in the pudding. We put it up on my Martin OM-38 acoustic and it delivered a warm, amazing tone that, to all of our ears, sounded somewhat like analog tape. We were all highly impressed.
We used the SU-017 to record legendary bassist Ira Coleman (Sting, Branford Marsalis, Herbie Hancock) on acoustic bass. Ira’s tone and approach to acoustic bass is impeccable and the mic delivered the goods with flying colors. It provided a full, rich transduction of his instrument. We all agreed that the SU-017 seems to have a “historical” sound to it, but with modern touches. That statement is not to be minimized, because we also agreed that to have a new mic with a classic sound means fewer fixing and repairing hassles (complete with “vintage inconsistencies”). We all agreed that the SU-017 is a “future classic”—a bold statement perhaps, but true.
Note that the 20 Hz-20 kHz SU-017 features a cardioid capsule but there are purchasing options for figure eight and omni capsules, too. The SU-017’s smaller cousin, the SU-011, also arrived as a pair; they too come in a handcrafted wooden box with the same precision build, power supply and easy-to-use clip as the SU-017. While the SU-011 is cardioid, hyper-cardioid and omni capsules are also available. We tried the SU-011 on acoustic guitar, too; once again, we were taken by Soyuz’s natural and warm personality.
Soon thereafter, engineer Mark Everton Gray (Joe Bonamassa, Imagine Dragons, Carlos Santana, The Killers) used both mics while recording the talented Lindsey Webster. Jokingly referring to the SU-017 as “Boris,” he also used it on Ira Coleman’s bass. “I had it with a U47, a U67, a KM84, and an sE mic,” he explained. “I feel that it blew them away. I placed it about a foot off the bridge and it gave me a clear and round representation of all the frequencies in the spectrum. When you’re recording someone like Ira, you had better be dead on. This mic delivered; we didn’t have to roll anything off at the fundamental frequency of 125Hz, which is crazy. ‘Boris’ was the go-to mic.”
Next, Mark used the SU-017 and the SU-011 on a 7-string Ibanez nylon acoustic guitar, putting the smaller mic at the 12th fret and the larger mic on the sound hole. “It sounded spot-on—truly amazing,” he noted. He also used the SU-011 pair (which he calls “Little Babushkas”) on drum overheads; according to him, “They were absolutely ridiculous. I had them on a stereo bar and imaging was also spot-on, with perfect definition and placement. They are warm but transparent. I also used them as mid-distance room mics on the guitarist’s amp setup. These mics are awesome. I’m definitely buying myself multiple pairs. For drums, acoustic guitar, vocals and all sorts of applications, I have to have them because they make my life easy.” Say no more, Mark!