I’ve been accused – recently, in fact – of living in the past. I won’t deny it, particularly in regards to audio, because there really haven’t been changes in results in recording techniques in my lifetime. Styles and collective tastes may change, but great sound is great sound.
Now, there’s no way I want to go back to tape for multitrack recording. I love digital. I also love the sound of vinyl, but CDs are cleaner and more accurate. MP3s don’t sound as good, but it’s a minor difference, and it’s a format that’s brought a lot of music to new places and that’s a good thing.
So, when I saw the Miktek CV4, I yawned. Another Chinese-built knock-off mic to separate home recording hobbyists from their money, I thought. The design and build are a little cliché and chintzy, and I took a BIG double-take when I saw the $1600 price tag. No way. That’s $500 more than my favorite and adored Neumann TLM 103. Whomever this upstart Miktek is, they aren’t fooling me.
The Bottom Line: They fooled me. This is a fine mic, appearances notwithstanding.
Setup and Usability
The CV4 is a little different for a large-format condenser to connect and use, but it’s not uncommon for a tube-based microphone, most of which connect and operate in a similar manner. Vacuum tubes, the forerunners of transistors and integrated circuits, require more than simply phantom power to operate. Mics incorporating vacuum tubes frequently have external power supplies. These boxes plug into a wall socket to supply power for the tube in the mic itself. While the power supply and mic are connected by an XLR cable, this is not the usual three-pin XLR that most mics accept. The CV4 uses a seven-pin cable for this purpose. A conventional XLR connects the power supply mic out to your mixer or audio interface as you normally would hook up a conventional mic.
The CV4 is similar to other tube mics with external power supplies in that its polar patterns are selected by a dial on the power supply. The patterns range from omnidirectional, through cardioid to figure-8 with incremental settings between these three major patterns, for a total of nine in all.
Otherwise, the CV4 is a side-address large-diaphragm condenser, and it is set up and positioned in the same ways you would any other mic of this kind. The seven-pin plug is somewhat fragile, as the pins are smaller and more delicate than three-pin cousins, so take some care when inserting connectors. It’s possible to bend pins with rough handling.
This is where I got fooled. I own an inexpensive tube mic of similar function and overall design, an Apex 460. It is typical of mics based on Chinese capsules designed with low cost and mass manufacturing in mind. It’s not a bad mic at all, particularly since I replaced some of the internal electronics. However, it was a $300 microphone when it was new and it’s dropped $50 since. This is a long way from the Miktek CV4. I was expecting the CV4 to sound like the Apex, at which point I would pounce all over the CV4 as a scam costing way too much.
Oops. Not quite. The point of using a tube in a microphone, particularly in this day and age is, believe it or not, to add distortion. Distortion comes in many flavors, from digital clicks and pops to fuzzy noise and many other points on the sonic compass. There are some useful and musical distortions as well. The band AC/DC wouldn’t exist as we know it without tube-based guitar distortion. Of course, neither would Nickelback, so it’s sort of hit or miss in that department.
This is a great video demonstrating what the Miktek CV4 is capable of:
Before tubes jump over into marvelously crunchy guitar distortion they add subtler coloration, a quality often described as “warm.” Where solid-state Chinese mics can be harsh and brittle, introducing a tube into the circuit can counter these negative characteristics. Tubes impart harmonic distortion. That is, they add harmonics to a sound that aren’t there to begin with. Tubes usually generate even-order harmonics. No need to understand that other than they are musical, nice-sounding harmonics. Added to the stark clarity of a large diaphragm mic, this harmonic distortion fills out the sound, making it fuller, rounder and, yes, warmer.
So usually a tube mic is a character mic. We don’t look to them for near-perfect representation of the original sound, we want to add something. Usually. And this is where the CV4 is surprising. The frequency response of the CV4 is not nearly as hyped in the upper frequencies as not only those harsh Chinese mics, but even compared to the very best condenser mics in the business. There is action in the upper frequencies, starting around 3,000 Hz, but rather than an across-the-board boost, such as a Neumann U87 or TLM 103, there are a series of peaks and valleys through the range that coincide, I’m guessing, with the tube harmonics. What this produces in sonic terms is an extremely useful sound that maintains clarity, sparkle and airiness without overdoing it to the point where a soprano voice scrapes the wax off the insides of your ears.
As we saw with the AKG C414 II, the variety of polar patterns introduce subtle changes to frequency response that can further tune the mic to match your sound source, be it for different voices or instruments. This is not a traditional character tube mic at all, but one that uses tube characteristics to produce surprisingly flat response with just a touch of warm richness. The CV4 sound is nothing at all like a typical Chinese condenser, and this is a very nice thing.
The CV4 is not only paying homage to the venerable Telefunken U47 tube mic, it is blatantly imitating it in size, shape and design aesthetic. However, the CV4 comes off as a trailer-trashy imitator in appearance. Logos are glued on, and not particularly well in some cases, and the overall effect is a bit garish. The re-released U47s, heck even the originals, are not the coolest looking mics. Their mojo comes from the sound. And the CV4 certainly compares in mojo factor.
Users commented on the basket shock mount not being well-designed for the mic. I didn’t really find this to be the case, but the mount is not what I’d call over-engineered either. There may be more than one shock mount version being distributed with this mic.
However, there’s nothing about the mount or the tawdry design that should cause you to second-guess the purchase if you’re into the sound. If a clump of dirt sounded as good as the CV4 I’d proudly attach it to a mic stand too.
Of the two negative reviews I saw for the CV4, both spoke of characteristics that I didn’t perceive at all. It’s likely these users have problems elsewhere, be it room acoustics or signal paths. A mic with poor quality control is also a possibility. However, part of the Miktek way seems to be rigorously testing mics in their Nashville facility before sending them out for sale, so weird frequency response as experienced by those two users is probably originating elsewhere.
Speaking of Miktek, from the user reviews it sounds like this is a company that’s very hands-on and proactive about customer care. There are worse things you could know about the company behind a potential $1,600 purchase.
“Silky” is the word that pops up a lot in user reviews and, while it’s not a word that came to mind for me, I can’t argue too much. I haven’t used a Telefunken U47 in so long there’s no way I can compare it with the CV4 beyond appearance. The one U47 I have experience with was not in the best condition either, so really, it’s the reputation of that mic that exists for me as context here. All I can say is that the CV4 is a success all on its own. If you’re looking for one Really Serious Microphone, or if you’re adding a Really Useful Additional Microphone, the CV4 should be on your list.
What’s your biggest surprise in terms of microphones meeting or failing your expectations? Add a comment below and get the conversation started. Surprise yourself with quality home recording content in your inbox by subscribing to Hear the Music, another undiscovered gem.