The latest generation of AKG’s legendary D12 microphone features both classic capabilities and several new sounds.
Capturing kick drum? One might use a LDC (perhaps a Neumann U47 FET), a broadcast-oriented dynamic (such as the Electro-Voice RE20 or RE320), a ribbon (both the AEA 440 or R92 are superb choices), and/or a “speaker-turned-microphone” (such as the Yamaha SKRM-100 Subkick) while hard rockers might pick tonal-opposite transducers (like the Shure Beta 91 or Audix D6). For me, it’s usually one of the above products paired with an AKG D12 family member: the AKG inside and the other wherever needed.
The D12 was AKG's first dynamic mic, produced in 1953—the D12E, the “Motown mic,” as it became known—that brought a low-end optimized dynamic mic sound to market. Now heard on literally countless drum, bass guitar and instrument tracks, the D12 was eventually succeeded by the nearly ubiquitous D112, the green-bumpered, egg-shaped mic that can handle exorbitant SPLs.
With the D12VR, this considerable legacy has been updated to offer a new approach to kick drum recording: capturing ample bottom and top with some degree of control over such a tricky response dichotomy. The D12VR meets the challenge with a dual-mode, built-in EQ design.
The D12VR employs a thin diaphragm and a transformer similar to 1970s-era C 414s within a large squarish body with rear exit XLR connector (parallel to the stand), particularly designed for low-profile kick drum mounting. The most interesting part about this mic is how it offers four different tonal options in one mic. First it can be used as a straight dynamic mic, capable of high SPL handling and hot output. However, when 48V phantom power is applied, it drops the output by 10 dB and applies an active EQ circuit with three different settings. Mode 1 (green LED) has a bottom end boost and scooped mids; Mode 2 (red LED) has scooped mids only; and Mode 3 (blue LED) adds a high frequency boost centered at 6 kHz to the bottom boost and scooped mids.
The D12VR claims a wide frequency response from 17 Hz to 17 kHz (+/-2 dB) and handles a whopping 164 dB SPL (Maximum SPL for 0.5 % THD). However, according to AKG’s published frequency response curves, response is only flat (+/- 2 dB) from 60 to 1500 cycles. There’s a pronounced presence rise from 2 kHz to 9 kHz (+8 dB at 8 kHz), interrupted by a notch centered around 6 kHz and the top end is 15 dB down at 15 kHz.
The D12VR is not really a vintage re-issue; it’s a totally different animal. Inside either a 22- or 24-inch kick in dynamic mode, the D12VR sounds different than a D12 or a D112. It’s more scooped, without a “boing” in the mids, though not as smiley-hyped as a Shure Beta 52 between the 50 to 60 Hz fundamental and the 4 kHz beater click. It’s also not as mid-scooped and aggressive as an Audix D6, but with nice, extended lows and a top defined by the 6 kHz dip in the middle of the boost.
Apply phantom and the D12VR lights up green; this low-boost setting is quite useful, as it can put the gravitas in where there isn't any. It can also negate the need for the outside kick mic when in a hurry or track shy. It can take a boxy, no-resonant head punk rocker and give him some “umph.” Conversely, if your drum has ample thump, this setting will likely be too much bass in your face. Mounted outside the resonant head, this setting provided the fundamental I was looking for, but with too much off axis coloration (a bass drum “tunnel” or “tent” is likely needed).
In my use, the red mid-scoop setting received more use than I initially suspected. Its tight leanness favors an E-V RE320 with the mid-scoop filter in, all punk-rock friendly and punchy (though admittedly not as punchy as the RE320). On a 24-inch kick with no resonant hole, no mounted toms, and plenty of pillows inside, I still received enough bottom end using the red setting.
The blue setting, with a broadly smiling, hyped frequency response, will likely be utilized by most “modern” users. It has a big, round bottom, a svelte middle with notable absence of boxiness, and a detailed, clicky top (not as clicky as a Beta 52 or 91), with perhaps just a little flab in the upper lows; all together, it’s incredibly attractive—huge, solid, aggressive and detailed. To get this particular sound, I'd usually have a mic in the kick for definition and one outside for depth; that, or do some attack/resonance shaping with a plug-in or add some triggering. Yet this time, all it took was the D12VR placed inside. The top and the bottom likely need some EQ (as the bottom can get a little chuggy and the top a little nasty), but it's a quick fix for a modern kick sound.
For this review, I recorded a D12E, a D112 and the D12VR passively and in all three active modes. [Hear these at soundcloud.com/pro-audio-review-magazine — Ed.] Each AKG mic was recorded via Millennia Media STT-1 premium channel strip (courtesy of Millennia’s Joel Silverman); I selected the STT-1‘s solid-state preamp for its linearity, with no transformer, no EQ, and no compression. By far, the D12E has the most 400 Hz honk of the lot, although with a nice, punchy bottom. By direct comparison, the D112 extends further down low frequency-wise and is more scooped through the mids. Operating passively, D12VR doesn't sound much like the D12 or D112; it is more extended on both ends, rather “scoopy,” with some pronounced 4 kHz off-axis bleed (hear snare bleed levels in the audio clips referenced above). The D12VR in green mode has the most bottom (and there’s plenty of it), less midrange from the shell and less off-axis color. On red, the D12VR is predictably tight, with the leanest punch, plus a little extra “shell” sound (good for fast tempos, performing a bit like the RE320). The blue setting is over the top, kind of like a Beta 52 or D6—lots of bottom, little in the middle and detailed up top.
Between different kicks with different resonances, a wide variety of heads on the market, a multitude of beater/pad combinations and every genre of music having different kick tonal characteristics, no one go-to kick mic is going to meet all professional needs.
However, the D12VR does offer as much, if not more, versatility as any other single bass drum mic available. At $499, it's not a cheap microphone, but solidly designed, and—based on the longevity of other AKG kick mics I’ve used over the years—I think it’s a wise choice for a kick drum mic.
—Rob Tavaglione is a prolific North Carolina-based indie engineer and mixer, owner of Charlotte’s Catalyst Recording. http://catalystrecording.com
Price: $499 street
Contact: AKG Acoustics | http://www.akg.com/site/products/powerslave,id,1309,pid,1309,nodeid,2,_language,EN,country,.html