Soundelux USA U195
By Phil O'Keefe |
Soundelux USA U195
The legendary large-diaphragm FET is back - and so is Soundelux USA
by Phil O'Keefe
If there's one thing I really love, it's microphones. Like any self-respecting audio engineer, I consider them essential tools of the trade. They're like lenses for a photographer. They're what we perceive the world through, and using the right one can result in an aural picture that inspires and moves people. Using the wrong one… well, let's not go there.
Some of the most prized microphones in my personal mic locker bear the name Soundelux. The man behind those microphones, David Bock, later started Bock Audio. A former studio tech at prestigious recording facilities like Ocean Way and the Hit Factory, he has decades of experience repairing and maintaining high-end vintage microphones. He's also one of the world's preeminent microphone manufacturers. One of his most successful models has been the U195; versions have been made under both the Soundelux (from 1997-2006) and Bock Audio (2007-2014) marquees. Now after a few years off the market, the U195 is back, and in improved form. Let's take a closer look at what makes it tick.
- While based on the earlier Soundelux U195 and more recent Bock Audio 195, the Soundelux USA U195 has a few improvements while retaining the features that users loved about those earlier models.
- The U195 is a custom-built, hand-made, large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone assembled in California (dude). It utilizes a FET amplifier and a transformer-coupled output. It's a classy looking microphone in a no-nonsense kind of way, finished in black powder coat and white graphics on the body.
- It measures 2 inches in diameter and 7.7 inches long, and weighs 1 pound 9.6 ounces. You'll need a decent stand to use with it to safely support the weight.
- The microphone requires 48V phantom power for operation, and voltages under 40V will result in decreased performance.
- Included accessories are minimal. The mic comes in a plastic bag inside of a foam lined cardboard box (which is fine for storage) and includes a threaded metal stand mount, and that's about it.
- Some of you who are familiar with those earlier "195" models are no doubt wondering "what's with the brand name? Did Bock Audio change their name?" Well, no. This microphone is built by Bock Audio. David Bock was a key player behind the original Soundelux microphones, and when Soundelux decided they no longer wanted to be a manufacturer, David continued building the microphones he designed under the Bock Audio name. Apparently he has obtained the rights to use the Soundelux USA moniker, and has applied it to the newly updated U195.
- The Soundelux USA U195 has three switches recessed into the lower part of the back side of the microphone body - you'll need a small tool to adjust them. These switches are the key to the U195's exceptional versatility.
- The -10dB pad uses a voltage divider as opposed to a capacitive pad. The Mode switch selects between the Normal and Fat modes, with the Fat mode providing a gentle low mid / bass EQ that beefs up the bottom and low mids from about 10 Hz to 400 Hz and gives the mic a greater sense of size and impact, with a fatter, warmer sound. There 's also a "Locut" switch, which rolls off the bottom by 10 dB at 30 Hz. The switches can be used singly or together in any combination, so you can tailor the microphone to the situation and sound source at hand.
- There are no user-servicable parts inside the U195 and you'll void your warranty if you crack it open, so I did it for you. Inside, the build quality, parts, and workmanship are up to the very high standards that I expect from David Bock.
- The 34 mm center-terminated capsule uses a K67 type design, with 6 micron, 1" diameter diaphragms. The capsule is where the Soundelux USA U195 differs from its predecessors, with a "new improved / super smooth k67 capsule" according to Bock. As you'd expect, it's center-terminated, and although this is a fixed cardioid microphone, it has a dual backplate, dual-diaphragm capsule, with the rear diaphragm left unconnected.
- The electronics are somewhat based on those of the U87, but with some changes and improvements. Obviously this is a single-pattern mic and all of the polar pattern switching has been eliminated, and the bandwidth restrictions are gone. The bias system has also been changed. The U195 uses a single FET in a Class A configuration, through-hole construction on beefy circuit boards with nice heavy-duty traces, and uses nothing but high-quality components. There are no hard-to-repair surface mount parts to be found anywhere.
- This is a reasonably quiet microphone (rated at 12 dB, "A" weighted), and noise was never an issue in my tests. The S/N ratio is 81 dB "A" weighted, 72 dB unweighted. Dynamic range is 111 dB, and 1% THD occurs at 127 dB SPL. Sensitivity is 8mv/Pa, and the frequency response is rated at 20 Hz - 16 kHz +/- 2dB. The output impedance is 200 ohms.
- While the Soundelux USA U195 has some features in common with a U87, it really doesn't sound like one. Instead of the mid-forward character of the U87, the U195 has a much flatter and more honest-sounding midrange, and the bottom extends further and is much bigger - especially when you engage the Fat switch. You can also take advantage of loads of proximity effect. For a treat, try kicking in the Fat switch with the lo cut switch engaged when singing through it.
- The U195 also lacks the high-end sizzle that plagues many FET condenser microphones. The top is extended and smooth, with a bit of a presence peak at around 10 kHz but it never sounds strident or harsh. Sibilance is not a significant concern, although as with most condenser microphones, it's somewhat dependent on the singer with which you pair the mic.
- The head basket features a double mesh design, with a thicker, more widely spaced outer layer and a finer inner mesh. This helps to keep breath noises at a minimum and protects the capsule a bit from spittle, but you'll probably still want to use an external pop filter with vocalists.
- The transformer inside the Soundelux U195 is the largest one I've ever seen in any microphone. It's HUGE. I have no doubt it contributes significantly to the U195's ability to go low with such authority. Soundelux USA didn't skip on this important component either - they're using a high-quality transformer from Cinemag.
- The U195's XLR output is mounted unusually, with the lock release oriented towards the side of the microphone, instead of being on-axis with the capsule. Everything works fine, but if you're used to plugging microphone cables in without looking, this one will confound you.
- No shock mount is included. The mic's ability to go exceptionally low means it can also pick up things you might not want, including vibrations sent up and through the mic stand. A shock mount can help to reduce this significantly; you may want to pick one up for use with the U195. The one for the Bock Audio 251 will work - at 50mm, the body diameter of the two microphones is the same.
The original U195 had a reputation as an excellent utility microphone, and the new and improved version will do nothing to jeopardize that. Bock said they were seeking to make a microphone that could "satisfy a wide range of applications for engineers and studios that may have a few expensive models, but need to fill out their mic cabinet without breaking the budget." I suspect many U195s will find just those types of homes, but I also suspect more than a few will be the "showcase" mic in home and project studio mic collections. Either way, I'm sure their owners will be very happy with them.
As with its predecessors, the U195 is a great choice to put in front of a kick drum, and bass and guitar amps are a natural too. It can work very well on vocals, as well as on acoustic guitars, hand percussion...lots of sounds, really. I didn't have the opportunity to try it on sax or trombone, but I suspect it would be an excellent choice for those instruments as well. If you're in the market for a superb, no-nonsense, no-excuses large-diaphragm cardioid FET condenser microphone, this one is a definite winner. -HC-
Soundelux USA U195 large diaphragm cardioid FET condenser microphone ($1,249 MSRP)
Soundelux USA product web page
Soundelux USA U195 manual (PDF file)
You can purchase the Soundelux USA U195 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.