Luke Audio AL-Y56 G Tube Condenser Microphone
By Phil O'Keefe |
Are three heads better than one?
If you're into recording you'd probably love to have a large and varied mic cabinet with several high-end vintage and modern boutique models; with it comes flexibility and a wide range of sonic options. But for many recordists, financial realities mean having only a few workhorse mics, and if you can swing it, one Really Nice Mic. But picking out just one high-end mic for your collection can be a daunting task that is often full of compromises. The ideal mic for your own voice can be tough enough to find, and there's no guarantee that what sounds great on you will also sound great on other people you may want to record. And even a mic that sounds great on any one particular person isn't always going to be a great "all around" mic that will excel on other audio sources besides vocals. So what can you do? You can play the lottery and hope to win so you can afford a world-class mic collection, or you can check out the Luke Audio AL-Y56 G under review here. Why? Read on to find out…
What You Need To Know
- The Luke Audio AL-Y56 G is a "pop top" or "bottle style" tube condenser microphone. While it uses the same mic body as the Luke Audio AL-Y56 P, it uses different capsules, and is designed as a more affordable alternative.
- The capsules on the AL-Y56 G microphone are not permanently attached; instead, they can be removed and swapped out with a different capsule by the user.
- The AL-Y56 G (or Y56 for short) comes equipped with three different cardioid capsules, each with its own distinctive sound. Luke Audio calls them the AL-A1AU, the AL-A2AU and the AL-A3AU. They are more simply labeled as A1, A2, and A3 on their stems. Each capsule was inspired by the ones you'll find in some very famous vintage microphones.
- The A1AU capsule is a edge-terminated dual-backplate design based on the CK-12 capsule used in the AKG C12 and Telefunken ELA M 251 mics, among others. The A1AU capsule has the brightest and most open sound of the three capsules, and can really help things cut through a busy mix without sounding harsh or brittle.
- The A2AU capsule features a center-terminated dual-backplate design that is based on the K67 capsule, which was used in the Neumann U67. It is very punchy and has a more midrange-forward sound.
- The A3AU capsule is a center-terminated single-backplate type, and is based on the K47 capsule that was used in many Neumann U47 microphones. It has a darker and warmer character that imparts a sense of fullness and girth to the sound.
- While the AL-Y56 mic body is made in the USA, the AL-AU series capsules are made in China to Luke Audio's specifications, and then fine-tuned by Luke Audio.
- All three capsules feature 3 micron diaphragms.
- All three capsules have a small "knob" at the top. Unlike some other "bottle" style mic capsules, these aren't intended to be removed before use; they're strictly for making it easier for you to remove them from their storage box, and should be left in place.
- While the capsules are "hot swappable" and can be changed out without having to power down the mic, you should always mute the channel of the board, mic preamp and/or DAW to prevent any noise or pops when doing so.
- Removing a capsule from the mic body is easy - a slight clockwise twist unlocks the capsule, and it can be pulled off the mic from there by lifting it straight up. Installation is just as easy - line up the groove on the base of the capsule with the pin (or "buckle") on the body, push the capsule down and twist it counter-clockwise slightly until it locks in place.
- The Luke Audio AL-Y56 is a beautiful looking mic. It simply oozes quality, and the attention to detail that went into its construction is readily apparent. It looks and feels like a high-end studio mic, and it sounds like three different high-end mics.
- With a capsule installed the AL-Y56 G measures 10.5" L x 1.97" W (266.7 mm L x 50 mm W). The head baskets that house the capsules each measure 2.56" wide x 1.65" thick (65 mm x 42 mm), not including their mounting stems.
- The metal body shell is finished in white powder-coat, and has a LA logo badge on the front face, and a brand, model and serial number badge screwed on to the lower part of the back of the mic. The bottom end bell and top part of the mic are both highly-polished, and the black nickel shade matches the metal base stems and outer rings of the three included capsules, which have gold grilles on the business side, and black ones on the back. All of this gives the mic and capsules a very classy appearance.
- The beauty of the AL-Y56 isn't just skin deep. Unscrewing the bottom end bell, sliding the white metal body shell off and looking inside shows that the attention to detail and quality construction isn't limited to just the external appearance; it's just as carefully built on the inside as it is on the outside. The AL-Y56 uses good quality, full-sized, through-hole (no SMD's here!) electronic components, including 1% resistors from PRP and Ohmite, and capacitors from Erse and WIMA.
- The AL-Y56 uses a Electro Harmonix 6072a tube. The tube is plugged into a ceramic tube socket, which is equipped with gold plated contacts.
- The Luke Audio AL-Y56 uses an overseas-sourced 11.5 :1 output transformer. It is housed in the silver-colored bell at the cable end of the mic.
- There is a very nice set of accessories included with the Y56. For starters, you get a large (21" x 18" x 7") locking, two-tone aluminum camera-style hard case for storage and transport. It is primarily black, and features the Luke Audio name and logo on the top in white.
- Inside, you'll find the mic body and one capsule, which are boxed up in a cherry-colored wood box. A second wood box contains the two additional capsules. A foam windscreen is also included.
- Also inside the case is the microphone's power supply. On one side are the jacks for the mic cable and an XLR output jack. The other side has a 115V / 230V AC line voltage switch, the IEC power input jack, as well as a power on / off switch. The power on indicator lamp is red, and it's really bright. An IEC power cable for the power supply is also included.
- A shockmount is included, and it has buckle-style tensioners to clip the mic into it.
- An unbranded 7-pin cable to connect the mic to the power supply is also included, and it has a very generous 33 foot length, making it easy to position the mic quite a distance from the power supply. The only cable you'll need to provide yourself is a regular XLR mic cable to connect the power supply to your mixing board, mic preamp or computer audio interface.
- If you're looking for a step up from the AL-Y56 G, check out the Luke Audio AL-Y56 P. It includes the same Y56 microphone body, but instead of coming with three Chinese-built capsules with 3 micron gold-sputtered mylar diaphragms, it comes with three Luke Audio USA-built capsules with 1 micron platinum-sputtered diaphragms that Luke Audio creates in their own clean room. The AL-Y56 P "streets" for only $999.00. Single gold and platinum series capsules are also offered for sale individually at $199.00 and $299.00 each, respectively, so you can add platinum capsules to a AL-Y56 G kit at a later point if you wish.
- Currently there are no capsules with other polar patterns besides cardioid available from Luke Audio for the AL-Y56 G, although they have stated they will be offering additional compatible capsules with other polar patterns at some point in the future.
- While there are other similarly-styled "pop top" or "bottle" microphones available from other manufacturers, the capsules for them are not compatible with the Luke Audio AL-Y56. Some users have reported that some Blue Bottle Cap capsules will fit (very tightly) and work with the Y56 mic body, but this isn't guaranteed; others have tried them without success. Luke Audio has stated that they may consider offering an adapter that would allow capsules from other manufacturers to work with the AL-Y56 if there's enough interest from their customers - let's hope that they do!
- While the AL-Y56 does include a -10dB pad, it can't be accessed from the power supply or the outside of the mic body as with most other pad-equipped mics; instead, it is located inside the mic, and requires the removal of the end bell and outer shell of the mic to access it.
- The shockmount of the review unit doesn't hold the mic as firmly as I prefer. In fact, the mic tends to quickly slip down once it's buckled in, and only the raised logo prevents it from falling out. I would not recommend using the mic and stock shockmount in the inverted (hanging head-down, towards the floor) position; there's too much risk of the microphone accidentally falling out of the shockmount.
It's not every day that I come across a microphone with not only this level of overall build quality and useful included accessories, but also this kind of sonic versatility. The fact that Luke Audio offers this American-built microphone package at this low price is both surprising and impressive. We really are living in the "golden age of the microphone" folks, and we all benefit from the plethora of mic options that are available on the market today. The Luke Audio AL-Y56 G is certainly one of the better ones.
No, it's not perfect. I do wish the -10 dB pad switch was accessible without having to open the body of the mic, and that the shockmount held the mic more securely. I'm sure some folks will decide to explore premium cable, transformer and vintage / NOS tube swaps too, although to be fair the stock units seem to perform just fine. An adapter that would allow the use of capsules from other bottle-style microphones would also be a welcome addition. And of course, the option of adding some of Luke Audio's own USA-made platinum-series cardioid capsules is already available for owners of the AL-Y56 G.
The AL-Y56 G is not an exact clone of any particular microphone, nor does it sound identical to a C12, U67 or U47, but it does offer you some similar sonic characteristics - not of only one of those legendary microphones, but of all three of them. No matter who the vocalist is, or what instrument you're going to record, chances are excellent that at least one of the three capsules that come with the Luke Audio AL-Y56 G are going to handle the job to your satisfaction and provide excellent sounding results - assuming you do your job and place the mic properly.
I'm fortunate to have a large and varied mic cabinet… which includes some very high-end tube condenser models. However, if I was just starting to build my collection today, the Luke Audio AL-Y56 would be one of the first, if not the first large diaphragm tube condenser mic I'd consider purchasing. While it may not totally replace every other high-end or vintage mic, and you may run into situations where you prefer the sound of this or that high-end / boutique / vintage mic over it, it does go further than the vast majority of microphones in terms of giving you a variety of extremely useful sonic options, and nothing else I can think of comes anywhere near to this level of quality and versatility at anything close to this price point. The Luke Audio AL-Y56 is very highly recommended for recording neophytes and experienced professional engineers alike. -HC-
Want to discuss the Luke Audio AL-Y56 G or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Studio Trenches forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
Luke Audio AL-Y56-G tube condenser microphone system ($699.00 "street")
Luke Audio's product web page
You can purchase the Luke Audio AL-Y56 G from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.