A couple weeks ago, I received an intriguing email from my friend Artur Fisher (whos RM-5 ribbon mics many of you have now built). It went something like this: “Hey I’ve got an amazing deal on a small lot of vintage Oktava mics. Do you think the DIY crowd would be interested?” Needless to say, part of me wanted to shoot back “Yes” on the spot–”vintage,” “Russian,” “NOS,” and “secret stock” are major trigger words for a recovering gear junkie–but I asked Artur to send me a pair to try out before I decided whether they were worth offering to you guys.
I received my pair of Oktava HD-80M dynamic mics last week, just in time to try them out on a drum set and electric guitar session the next day. The guitarist and I were both impressed when I unpacked them. The aura of belonging to another place and time that these things put out is intense. The technical docs that come with each mic are completely in Russian, and though the pages are mint, they feel as though they might crumble in your hands. I felt a little India Jones-esque thrill as I pulled them gingerly out of their cases. It is a bit of a pain eluding the Russian cabalists who are now hot on my trail to recover these priceless artifacts that are at the heart of a worldwide, centuries-old conspiracy, but noone gets into audio engineering without expecting a little danger!
Anyhow, after sufficiently appreciating the their visual appeal, we put the 80Ms to work on snare and guitar amp. The first thing to notice about the sound of the 80Ms is that there is practically no low end. As you can see in the datasheet to the right, there is a steep low-end roll-off from 500Hz down. So right away we are in very unique territory–this is no Swiss army knife mic. Since there are very few instrumentes that don’t have important stuff going on below 500Hz (and I never use a hi-hat mic), I tried pairing the 80M with a more full-bodied mic on the same source, similar to how Steven Albini use his old Altec mic on snare.
For snare drum, I taped the 80M to a transformerless SM57, which lives on my snare by virtue of how well it captures the low-end body of the drum. The 80M does the opposite, and it does so really well. My usual practice with the SM57 on snare is to create a mult of the snare track, hi-pass and compress it with a slow attack time to emphasize the transient, and mix it back in with the original. The 80M essentially does this for me, with a little upper-mids excitement thrown in. As you can see in the waveforms below, there is a much greater contrast between the transient and the sustain with the Oktava than the SM57. Mixing this in with the signal from the SM57 brought out the attack in a way I’m not used to from a close snare mic. I’m glad I used strong tape when I attached the 80M to the SM57 because it’s going to be there for a while.
|HD-80M in drum mix:|
For electric guitar, I simply moved our Shure/Oktava combo to the Sears Silvertone amp. As opposed to the snare, where I forsee using it on every session, the 80M is a more unique, oddball choice for guitar. Beyond just being brighter than the SM57, the 80M gave the guitar a heavy dose of “jangle”; mixing between the 57 and 80M signals was almost like mixing the neck and bridge pickups of the guitar. I know exactly what Tchad Blake meant when he said (I’m paraphrasing) “Sometimes you just can’t mess up the guitar sound enough.” Next time I feel that way, it’s good to know I’ve got something special stowed away.
|Crossfade from 100% SM57 to 50/50 mix:|
I’ve only had the chance to use the 80Ms on one session, but I could imagine a few more uses for them:
- A “telephone,” band-passed vocal effect
- Hi-hat mic
- Beater-side bass drum mic
- Trashy, mid-range room mic (compressed to hell and back)
- Harmonica mic
Artur is asking only €44 per set + shipping, which includes the MD-80M microphone, windscreen, manual, case, and XLR plug. Each mic is in mint, NOS condition and ships within 2-5 days of your payment. This is a limited quantity offer. Artur has a small amount of stock, and once it’s gone it won’t come again.
Disclosure: This is an affiliate offer; I receive a commission on any mics that are sold through the site. Offers like these allow me to develop DIY projects and write more content for the site.