Throughout the company’s long history as a major player in microphone design, with classics such as the C 414, C 451, and the Holy Grail C 12, typically AKG’s mics were in the upper echelon of both price and quality. Just over four years ago the company launched a new series of microphones dubbed the Perception Series, combining the European tradition with overseas (Chinese) manufacturing for mass-market affordability.
This month we look at the newest entry in that line, the flagship Perception 820 Tube Microphone.
Variable patterns, dual capsule and a tube!
AKG tube mics have been surprisingly rare. While a C 12 variant still dominates the AKG line in the form of the current $5000 C 12 VR, the only other available AKG tube model in recent years was the now discontinued $1100 SolidTube. So it is exciting to see another tube mic return to the AKG lineup, especially an affordable one.
At its heart the new Perception 820 offers a newly designed circuit built around an ECC83 tube—also known as a 12AX7, which was what was inside the model I was sent. It uses a dual 1" capsule with a choice of 9 remotely selectable polar patterns. It has a transformer-equipped output stage and also includes a 20 dB pad and a 12 dB/octave 80 Hz highpass filter (both located on a remote power supply).
The frequency graphs of the 820 show a common 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response with a slight rolloff on the low end as well as an average 2 kHz rise that slightly shifts and grows depending on pattern choice. It also has a similarly variable high-frequency bump from 5–12 kHz, which then rolls off around 18 kHz. It can handle a maximum SPL of 135 dB (155 dB padded) and has a 78 dB signal-to-noise ratio.
The 820 comes housed in a blue hard-shell briefcase that includes the microphone, shockmount, remote/power supply as well as a 7-pin mic cable, AC cables and extra shock mount bands.
The mic is just under 8-1/2" in height with a 2" diameter and weighs just shy of 2 lbs. Sharing the signature look of the current Perception line, the 820 has a chrome silver grill and head basket with a "vintage" light-blue brushed-metal body.
The power supply is roughly 9" x 6" x 2" and has a brushed-aluminum faceplate with a pair of toggle switches for the aforementioned highpass filter and pad, and a 9-position rotary control for polar pattern selection. Its backside houses a 7-pin XLR jack for connecting to the mic, a standard 3-pin XLR output which connects to your mixer or interface, and a standard 3-prong switchable AC jack.
This is one good looking and well-built kit that does not betray its country of origin in any way. If it was not marked "made in China" on the body, I may have never suspected it. The mic is heavy and solid, its fit and finish superb, and the power supply’s switches and knob are all top notch.
As a tube mic, the 820 may not be what you expect. The most common adjectives associated with the word tubes are "fat" and "warm". The 820 is in my opinion neither. Sonically it is much more clear and clean sounding than you may expect from a tube mic, and its "warmth" seems to my ears to be more of an absence of harshness in the top end rather than the thickness in the mids that we sometimes associate with a tube mic.
I put the Perception 820 to the test alongside a handful of modern tube mics with distinct sonic characteristics, like the Telefunken AR-51 (review forthcoming), the Avant BV-1 (reviewed February 2010), the Peluso 2247LE, and the Lauten Horizon (Reviewed August 2007). The Perception 820, unlike most of the abovementioned models, has more of a hi-fi clarity and leaves less of a discernable sonic footprint. It is akin to the difference between clean, uncolored mic preamps vs. the "vibey" variety, with the Perception 820 leaning heavily toward the uncolored camp.
On drum overheads the 820 is a great choice for capturing a bright modern rock drum sound, and it is a good choice for detailed cymbal articulation—especially nice in omni mode. Unlike many other budget mics, its top end will not have you wanting to gouge out your tweeters with an ice pick to curb the cymbal harshness.
On hand percussion such as conga or djembe, the 2 kHz bump makes the drums sound a bit too honky, but as you move up the sonic percussion scale to higher-toned instruments such as tabla and doumbek it’s quite nice and the instruments sit very naturally in a mix. For similar reasons it is a real winner if you want to capture the upper forwardness of strummed steel-string acoustic guitar.
I am not usually a fan of LDC microphones on guitar cabinet, and the 820 did not change that, especially on distorted modern rock where it was just too aggressive for my taste. Here I found a fatter mic such as the Horizon or an airier mic like the AR-51 to be a better choice.
On vocals the 820 was neutral and clear. Its midrange bump will either work well to push timid singers out of the mix, or it may be a tad too much for others—this is not the mic for overly nasal voices. It worked very well for crisp sounding choirs (spaced pair) and small group backing vocals (figure-8).
Bottom line, the AKG 820 is a real solid contender. At $600 average street price it may not be an instant gimmme for some, but when you consider that it holds its own with similar mics in the $1000–$1200 range, it is more than a good deal.
For me, the Perception 820 joins a class of microphones such as Shure’s KSM line and Audio Technica’s 40 Series. Not in aping their sound, but by offering a bulletproof, utilitarian workhorse mic that, with the right placement, correct pattern choice and a touch of eq, should work well on just about anything.
This is the type of utility microphone every studio could do well to have, and the more I use it the more I like it; better yet, get a pair...
More from: AKG, www.akgusa.com.
Paul Vnuk Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a recording engineer, musician, producer, and sound designer, living and working in the Milwaukee area. His latest project is Continental Drift, a cinematic world-music sample library for Sony Creative Software. Learn more about Paul’s sonic exploits at www.majale.com.