This is not the first time I’m writing about a company I hold in high esteem: Austrian Audio. As soon as their first microphone came out, I knew it would be something special, even spectacular. I’m talking about the the OC18. Click here for my review.
If you’ve never heard of Austrian Audio, here’s a bit of history.
Had it been up to mother company AKG, their Vienna home office would have been closed after a takeover from Samsung. However, a core team at AKG decided to buy what was left and start under a new name, and continue a legacy of innovation and excellence. This is how Austrian Audio was born.
As you know, high quality does not come very cheap. The Austrian Audio Hi-X55 closed-back headphones I am using every day (click here for my review), cost $349. The OC18 large diaphragm condenser microphone retails for $849. But compared to Neumann’s TLM 103 ($1200), this is a steal.
A NEW MICROPHONE
Now, would you believe me if I told you that you can get the same OC18 audio quality from a new Austrian Audio cardioid microphone that is priced at less than half of what the OC18 costs? I couldn’t believe it either, but after it was introduced at NAMM, Austrian Audio sent me their OC16, and I was pleasantly surprised.
First off, the OC16 looks very much like the 18 and the OC818. The OC16 is equipped with a patented single-sided CKR6 ceramic capsule. The design is inspired by the legendary CK12 capsule which was made out of brass, and notoriously hard to make.
Just like the OC18, the capsule of the 16 is made of industrial ceramics which is easier to produce in less time. 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 mesh headbasket the capsule is in, is completely open to prevent internal reflections and standing waves that could color the sound. Austrian Audio calls this “Open Acoustics Technology.” “OC,” by the way, stands for “Open Condenser.” Lastly, inside the mesh housing is an internal silicone suspension and a diffuser that separates the capsule from the electronics for a cleaner sound.
WHAT ABOUT THE PRICE?
So, why is the OC16 much more affordable than the OC18? There are several reasons. All design and engineering is done in Vienna, the CKR6 capsule is handmade in Vienna, but the microphone is assembled in China.
The OC16 has a three-position high pass filter selectable at 0, 40, and 160 Hz. The OC818 and OC18 offer a fourth 80 Hz setting. The OC16 is also lacking a -10 dB and -20 dB pad switch you’ll find on the OC18. No big deal for voice overs, but just so you know, the OC16 has an impressive 148 dB SPL range, so you can also use it on loud sources like an electric guitar.
The OC18 has a lower sensitivity, 11mV/Pa, compared to the OC16 which comes in at 13. The OC18 also has a lower self noise of 9dBA against 14dBA for the OC16. Based on my experience in my studio, these small differences were practically negligible. Unless you’re an audio engineer with superhuman ears, no one will notice.
Last but not least, the OC16 does not come in a sturdy metal carrying case, but in a lightweight nylon soft case which is perfectly adequate. Included in the price is an elastic microphone spider and a mic clip. It’s a very complete and attractive package.
Like all other Austrian Audio products, the OC16 comes with a 24-month warranty, and in the carrying case you’ll find a free one year extension that goes into effect when you register your product.
BUT HOW DOES IT SOUND?
Looking at the frequency graph, the OC16 has a controlled low end and a modern lift in the high frequencies that doesn’t make the mic overly bright. I think the mid section is quite neutral, making the OC16 a smooth vocal mic.
Bear in mind that frequency graphs were created under artificial conditions in anechoic chambers. How will the OC16 perform in a humble home studio? For me as a voice over, I don’t really care what a microphone looks like, but speech intelligibility is the most important quality a mic must have. Based on that criterium alone, the OC16 gets full marks.
This is me, speaking into the OC16 using an SSL2+ preamplifier. The sound is in no way sweetened or otherwise processed.
The star of the show is really the outstanding handmade-in-Europe CKR6 capsule, that no other microphone in this price range can offer. Sound-wise, the OC16 reminds me of the AKG C414 XLS in cardioid mode. This AKG mic has multiple patterns, and retails for a little over $700 ($1279 at Sweetwater).
We’ve all grown up with the idea that there is a close relationship between price and quality. The lower the cost, the lower we expect the quality to be.
With the introduction of the OC16, Austrian Audio turns this concept upside down. For $399 you get a Designed-in-Austria large-diaphragm condenser microphone that will easily go head to head with more expensive mics. In terms of value for money, I think very few mics can match the OC16.
By the way, releasing this microphone might not be a smart move for Austrian Audio because who’s going to buy the more expensive OC18? But luckily, that’s not a problem you and I have to worry about. In an economy burdened by unprecedented inflation, I am grateful not to have to spend more than necessary to get excellent audio equipment.
Sennheiser and Neumann, are you listening?
PS You may have heard that one of the nicest people in voice overs, Humberto Franco, is in a hospital, far away from home. His medical expenses are skyrocketing, and he needs our help. Friends of Humberto have started a GoFundMe campaign for him. CLICK HERE to contribute to that campaign, and let Humberto know that you’re thinking of him.