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!
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.
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).
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.
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
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