Reviews

The Neumann Killer Has Arrived, and it’s from Austria!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Reviews 26 Comments

Austrian Audio OC18 (click to enlarge)

Any day I get to test a new microphone from a new company is a good day.

Today is even better, because I’m trying out the OC18, one of the signature models from Austrian Audio.

For those of you who’d like to skip to the conclusion, here’s my verdict:

The OC18 is more than a microphone.

It is a statement. A statement that puts Austrian Audio on the map. 

The OC18 is a sublime ode to tradition, to mechanical engineering, and to uncompromising craftsmanship.

As far as I’m concerned, the Neumanns, Sennheisers, and Lewitts of the world have been put on notice!

DEEP ROOTS

You may not have heard of Austrian Audio, but you’re familiar with its lineage. Ninety-nine percent of its employees come from the Akustische und Kino-Geräte Gesellschaft m.b.H., better known as AKG.

AKG itself is a subsidiary of Harman International Industries Inc. That’s the company behind Harman Kardon, JBL, Studer, Lexicon, and many other brands. 

In 2017, Samsung Electronics bought Harman in an all-cash transaction, valued at about $8 billion. 

After the deal was done, Harman wanted to cut 650 jobs across the globe to continue its focus on the infotainment and automotive sectors. One of the victims of this policy was AKG’s home office in Vienna. AKG production moved to Eastern Europe and the Far East. 

Anechoic chamber

On July 1st, 2017, a core team of former AKG personnel (management as well as engineers) emerged from the takeover, and formed Austrian Audio. This team was responsible for the development of most of the AKG products in the past twenty years. They made a deal with Harman to buy as much AKG equipment as they could, from office furniture to machinery. Even the anechoic chamber was part of the purchase. 

Right now, the people at Austrian Audio are focused on developing best-in-class, professional audio equipment. As we speak, they’re selling a new suite of hardware and software for audio analysis, testing, and measurement that’s based on the tools they use each and every day. In April they’ve also released two microphones that have recently made it to the United States.

CONTINUING THE TRADITION

These new microphones are based on the famous C12 capsule. According to experts, this is one of the finest and most complex microphone capsules ever made. The C12 is known for having very precise polar patterns throughout the entire frequency range (it could produce 9 different polar patterns).

The original C12 was hard to manufacture (it had a failure rate of 65%), and much of it had to be done by hand. During its ten-year run only 2,500 were made, which comes down to one a day.

Austrian Audio’s CKR12 capsule is traditional in terms of acoustics, but thanks to new materials and an innovative (and to be patented) production process, the assembly is much faster and easier. This no doubt keeps the price down.

Where most makers of C12 clones use a metal-on-plastic interfacing, the CKR12 capsule uses a black ceramic-on-ceramic interfacing of the capsule halves. Ceramic is stiffer and more temperature and humidity resistant. It also has a higher density, which improves mechanical isolation. This makes for a more modern, consistent, and reliable microphone.

The capsule is suspended from three flexible rubber grommets that serve as an internal shockmount. And did I mention that every microphone is 100% made in Vienna? Take a look.

The OC18 I got to test is a large-diaphragm capacitor microphone, featuring a fixed classic cardioid pick-up pattern. The more expensive OC818 features multiple patterns, dual outputs for recording its forward-facing and rear-facing capsules independently, and optional Bluetooth wireless control. The 818 is a marriage of tradition and innovation, but for my purposes it has too many bells and whistles. 

Both mics feature the proprietary handmade ceramic CKR12 capsule, and both models have a pad with -10 and -20 dB settings, as well as a high-pass filter. The Equivalent Noise Level (self-noise) is 9 dBA. In contrast, my very own Gefell M930 Ts has a self-noise level of 7 dBA, just like the Neumann TLM 103. The Sennheiser 416 has a self-noise of 13 dBA.

The OC18 comes in a sturdy carrying case with a mic clip and a spider mount, plus a foam windscreen. The body of the microphone is made as a single piece and has a distinct, stylish look which I find pleasing to the eye. Everything about this microphone tells you that this is a professional piece of gear. Are you ready to hear what it actually sounds like?

TIME TO TEST

Before I share a sample with you, there’s something you need to know. I’m not a musician or a sound engineer, but a voice-over. I’ve been using microphones professionally for over thirty-five years to record commercials, industrials, audio books, guided tours, and eLearning programs. I am going to evaluate the OC18 from that perspective.

Here’s what I look for in a voice-over microphone: 

  • minimal voice coloration (Does it make me sound like myself?)
  • tight pick-up pattern (cardioid or supercardioid)
  • excellent rear rejection
  • controlled proximity effect (bass boost)
  • low susceptibility to sibilance (shrill “S”-sounds) and popping
  • low self-noise
  • value for money

 

Secondly, a word of warning.

Evaluating a microphone based on what you see and hear online is an exercise in futility. If you’re in the market for a new mic, you want to know what it sounds like in your studio using your voice, your acoustics, and your preamp. You don’t need me or some bearded dude using his recording chain and booth, sharing some compressed audio you listen to on your computer speakers. It ain’t fair and it ain’t right.

Having said that, I know you’re getting more curious to find out what the OC18 sounds like in the limited setting of my VO studio. The audio you’re about to hear is “unfooledaround with” (meaning no compression or other sweeteners), and recorded with an Audient iD22 preamplifier. No pads were engaged.

For fun we’ll do an A – B test. The OC18 against my Gefell M930 Ts which I consider to be the best voice-over microphone I have ever tested.

Here’s microphone A:


 

And here’s microphone B:

For the connoisseurs, this was recorded in WAV format, 24 bit, 48,000 Hz and converted to MP3 so it would load quickly. Click here if you’d like to hear the samples uncompressed. I purposely recorded something in Dutch so you wouldn’t be distracted by the content (unless you speak that language, of course).

YOUR IMPRESSION

The question is: How would you describe the difference between mic A and mic B? Is it striking or subtle? 

Which one do you think sounds best, and based on what?

Is that your objective or subjective conclusion? 

At this point I can tell you that one microphone costs $699 and the other $1,647.73. Did you hear a $948.73 difference? More importantly, would a client be able to tell?

Leave your remarks in the comment section, please.

Technically speaking, the OC18 has pads and switches the M930 doesn’t have, but as a voice talent I have no need for them. My iD22 already has a high-pass filter and I’m not going to expose my mic to loud noises any day soon. 

Looking at my criteria for a good voice-over microphone, both mics convincingly tick most of the boxes. Based on specs alone, the OC18 is a clear winner. It’s an all-round performer which will do as well on stage as in the studio.

Considering you’re getting a stellar C12-based, hand-built capsule, the $699 price tag is beyond reasonable. Remember: a Neumann TLM 103 -always a crowd favorite- will set you back about $1,100. I have used the 103 many times, and to me the OC18 sounds more open, balanced, and clear, without being clinical. It is a very user-friendly microphone, even for beginners, and it’s backed by years of audio expertise.

Some critics have mentioned that the form factor makes it hard to place the flat microphone in a generic shock mount. Well, as you can see from the picture at the top of this review, I was able to put the OC18 in a Rycote InVision shockmount system without any problems.

SUMMING UP

Back in 2012, I think I was the first to introduce the voice-over community to the CAD E100S. While this is still a fabulous microphone that offers excellent value for money, there have been some quality control and corporate communication issues at CAD. That’s why I’ve become hesitant to recommend the E100S wholeheartedly.

The OC18 on the other hand, is a different animal. Yes, it’s from a new company, and it was just released. It comes from a small but incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated team that is sought after by other brands who hire Austrian Audio to test their products.

Next to their anechoic chamber, Austrian Audio has a climate chamber where they can simulate the entire life-cycle of a product in a compressed time frame. You bet they’ve subjected their microphones to the most rigorous of tests, before putting them on the market. 

Mark my words, the OC18 is going to be a worthy successor of microphones like the classic AKG 414. I’m sure it will find its way into many voice-over studios across Europe, the United States, and Canada. 

Austrian Audio is being distributed in the U.S. by Momentum Audio Sales in California. Many thanks to Director of Operations Reezin Lovitt, for providing me with a test model, and to Kent Iverson from Austrian Audio to make the introduction. If Sweetwater is your store, you’ll be happy to know that they have the OC18 in stock. Keep in mind that you can test drive several microphones from Sweetwater, and keep the one that makes you sound like your best self.

The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and as with any review on this blog, I did not seek nor receive any compensation for it. 

Oh…. I almost forgot.

Microphone A was the OC18 from Austrian Audio!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: Share, Subscribe and Retweet!

Send to Kindle

How I Saved Over $1,000 On My New Computer

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Money Matters, Reviews, Studio 5 Comments

We’ve all had this experience.

After years of functioning fabulously, your computer tells you it can’t keep up with the times.

You see the spinning beach ball of death way too often, applications suddenly freeze, websites crash, and you can’t upgrade to the latest operating system.

I’ve had my trusted Mac Mini since 2011, and the once so silent computer wasn’t so silent anymore. As it heated up, the fans worked overtime, huffing and puffing right next to me in my voice-over booth. I almost felt sorry for the thing.

A few weeks ago my Mini made its last grand gesture of expiration: it crashed in the middle of a live interview with the Voice Over Body Shop guys, even though I had placed an ice pack on top of it. That terrifying moment was not something I wanted to relive with a well-paying client on the other end of the line.

Something had to be done.

MAC OR PC

In my small family we’ve had the Mac versus PC discussion a long time ago, and we’re done. My wife and I both have had a few Dells and they were a D-saster. The remote techs that were supposed to help were even worse than the lousy machines they were paid to support.

The moment Apple arrived in our household, sanity returned, and we never looked back. We now have iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, Apple desktops and laptops, and we’re living on the iCloud where all is well. And if it isn’t, we just call the friendly folks at AppleCare where they speak using words we can actually understand.

Last year, Apple finally updated the Mac Mini, and for a while it seemed obvious that I would just upgrade to the latest model. Then I started thinking (a dangerous habit of mine, I know).

CAMERA MAN

I don’t have many hobbies, but one thing I do like is photography. I enjoy going out in nature seeing the world through the lens of my mirrorless camera. I especially love taking pictures of people, particularly when they’re not posing.

Over time my photos have been used for social media campaigns, magazines, and websites. Last year one of my pictures landed on the cover of a historic novel. I’ve even won a photography competition with this shot:

click to enlarge

Just like voice-overs, photographers spend a lot of time staring at screens, editing. And that’s why I started thinking about getting an iMac.

iMac

Back in the days I owned one of the first fruit-colored iMacs in the Netherlands (mine was purple), and I’ve always loved the newer aluminum, minimalist design dating back to 2007. Plus, this all-in-one comes with a gorgeous 5K monitor. It is ideal for photo and video editing.

The cheapest 27” display with a 5120 x 2880 resolution is made by LG and costs around $1,300. What if I could get an entire computer for less than that? And if I could, would it be smart to have a huge iMac in the middle of a recording booth?

I asked my VO Facebook friends about it, and the responses ranged from “Don’t do it, you idiot!” to “No problem whatsoever.” Thanks, guys! Very helpful.

COMPUTER NOISE

Now, most of the computer noise usually comes from the fans that kick in when the CPU (Central Processing Unit) has to work hard. This usually happens when you run complicated programs involving lots of graphics. The more bits and bytes the machine has to process, the hotter it gets.

Thankfully, voice-over recordings require very little computing power so they’re not likely to cause overheating, as long as you don’t have a lot of other programs running at the same time.

Hard Disk Drives (HDD’s) are another source of noise because they have moving parts. HDD’s can make clicking and humming noises when the motor is spinning and data is being read or written. Computers with a Solid State Drive (SSD) are quiet because SSD’s have no moving parts. Although prices are coming down, SSD’s are more expensive than HDD’s.

When buying a new iMac you can choose between two different types of storage: Flash storage (SSD) or a Fusion Drive. When you go to the online Apple store, the three iMac models on virtual display all have 1 to 2 TB Fusion drives. Are they good options for the VO studio?

A Fusion Drive consists of two separate drives ‘fused’ together. It contains a regular (heat-producing) hard drive, with a spinning plate inside, and a solid-state drive. What Apple doesn’t tell you is that only 128 GB of that Fusion drive is SSD.

Bottom line, if you want a studio computer that stays cool and runs quietly, forget a Fusion drive and choose SSD instead. SSD’s offer better performance, boot up much quicker, and are not as power hungry. Nice features, but they come at a price!

FINDING A BUDGET FRIENDLY iMAC

A 2019 base model iMac with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD would set me back $2,299.00. That’s way over my budget! What if could get an older computer that was in good shape for a lot less money?

The Apple store is selling reconditioned 2017 iMacs with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD for a whopping $2,209. Not cool!

For the next couple of weeks I kept a close eye on eBay and saw that some 2017 iMacs had a more friendly price tag. I also looked at the reputable Apple refurb sites, as well as at Amazon Renewed. It took me a while, but I gradually narrowed down my options.

One day I decided to take a little detour and check out Facebook Marketplace. This ad caught my eye:


The owner turned out to be an IT specialist working at a Philadelphia university, and when I reached out to him, he couldn’t be nicer. Long story short, I made him an offer and his pristine iMac became mine in a Starbucks near Philly. Now, here’s the best part. How much did it cost me?

I’ll tell you!

I paid $1,260, saving me $1,039 by not buying from Apple. That meant that the iMac did not come with a one-year warranty, but to me the price difference was worth the risk.

MEMORY

Part of what makes Macs so expensive has to do with what Apple charges for memory upgrades. For instance, 32 GB of RAM costs $600 at the Apple store. Crucial sells the same amount of RAM for $134.99! The trouble is that for most Apple products, it’s a giant pain in the neck (if not impossible) to upgrade the RAM yourself… unless you own a 27″ iMac. That’s another reason why I chose the iMac over the Mac Mini. Watch how easy it is to install memory.

Speaking of upgrades, if you’re in the market for an iMac, I have a few suggestions. To create a sleek, clean look, the Apple engineers decided to hide all ports in the back like so:

This means that every time you need to reach one of these slots, you’ve got to turn this 21 pound (9.44 kg ) computer around, leaving scratch marks on your desk. That’s why I got the Rain Design i360 Turntable for iMac (see video below). Please note: if your computer is placed close to the wall, this turntable doesn’t work (obviously).

You’ll also notice another accessory, the Twelve South Backpack for iMac. It’s a small hidden storage shelf for things like external hard drives and SSD’s. In my case it holds an APRIME ineo 1TB USB-C Gen.2 Metallic External Solid State Drive. That’s my backup drive for Time Machine. I’ve also added a 1 TB Seagate backup drive for all my photos and videos.

Thanks to the Backpack, I can enjoy my 5K monitor without having to stare at all kinds of wires and drives cluttering up my desk.

And finally, I wanted to protect my investment with a Tripp Lite 8 Outlet Surge Protector Power Strip. What I like is that Tripp Lite will repair or replace any connected equipment damaged by surges, including direct lightning strikes, up to $75,000 for life (valid in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico only). Let’s hope I never need it.

USING THE iMAC

I’ve used my brand new, previously loved iMac for almost a week now, and as my wife will attest, I am in love with this beautiful machine! A bit too much perhaps.

I love how fast it boots up, how brilliant the screen is, and I marvel at the classic Jony Ives design. I no longer have to wait endlessly for pages to load and websites to connect. As a result, I can work faster and be more productive and free of frustration!

The fans have yet to kick in, and if they did, I didn’t hear them. It’s just the way I want it to be.

I am only left with one question:

Who wants a mid-2011 Mac Mini?

Come meet me at Starbucks and I’ll quote you a good price!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: Subscribe, Share & Retweet!

PPS If you own a Mac and your fans are out of control, check out the following tools to reduce noise: HHD fan Control, SSD Fan Control, and smcFancontrol.

Send to Kindle

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!