Microphone choice is always a fascinating subject. Go on any internet forum and pose a “Best mic for ______” question. Trolls and sages alike will descend from the ranks with every possible answer. It may not be 2016-presidential-campaign-ugly, but the debate can still rage fiercely.
Some microphones though, have achieved near-mythic status and routinely appear as a default answer to almost every “best mic for [BLANK]” question. Certain model numbers—C12, 251, U47, M49, U87—are bandied about like code names, inspiring lust and envy, and commanding many thousands of dollars, sight unseen, from those whose bank accounts match their sonic aspirations.
But what about those of us who would have to forgo such frivolous luxuries as “food” and “rent” to own such a mic? Are we out of luck, doomed to haunt the classifieds forever, in search of that elusive once-in-a-lifetime deal?
Vintage examples of some of these classic microphones are as pricey as they are coveted. And, even when you find one in visibly good condition, these older mics can be fraught with problems as electronic components age and deteriorate. It can be difficult to determine the viable lifespan of any piece of vintage gear—especially from tiny pictures on eBay.
Fortunately, with the help of the internet and modern manufacturing techniques, many smaller manufacturers are now proudly proclaiming that you too can have the tone of your dreams while staying within your financial means. Peluso Microphone Lab is one such company, and fresh on the scene is their latest offering: The P-87.
John Peluso started manufacturing microphones in a tiny shop in Virginia in 2002. Today, Peluso offers many models of mics and their bread and butter are modern-day recreations of vintage microphones, primarily using the venerable mics by Neumann, AKG and Schoeps as their templates.
The P-87 is an updated version of the classic 1970’s Neumann U 87, one of the most beloved and widely used mics of all time. Flattering to most sources, one would be hard-pressed to find a studio that doesn’t offer at least one to their clients.
Neumann currently offers the U 87 Ai, which retails for well over $3,000 and differs from the original U 87 offered in the 1970’s. With the advent of digital recording, Neumann changed the circuitry of their flagship model in order to feature a lower noise floor. However, since no one alteration is made in a vacuum, changing components and circuitry alters the sound, and not everyone prefers this new version.
Peluso has made it his goal to offer a faithful recreation of the classic tone of the original U 87, with a few nods to changes in recording techniques since the 70’s. After experimenting with and tweaking the design for the last few years, making sure it fires on all cylinders, the end result is a quality, affordable mic that sounds great and, at under $1,000 street, is well within reach for most studios and engineers.
The Peluso P-87 comes in a solid, foam-lined aluminum flight case. Opening the case reveals the mic itself, with a soft velvet cover, a shock mount (with extra elastic bands—thank you!), a classic mount (for when you do want some shock?), and a foam windscreen.
To be critical, the difference between “utilitarian” and “luxurious” is palpable here. While I do feel this mic and its accompanying accessories are well-made and durable, the metal housing, switches, carrying case, etc., don’t have the no-expense-spared heft of a more costly microphone. Honda makes great automobiles, but they don’t have the luxury feel of a Rolls Royce. This is to be expected, as the Peluso version is roughly 1/3 of the price of the Neumann. In order to make a mic less expensive, costs must be cut somewhere. Fortunately, this should prove true when it comes time to repair it as well, which is a big factor for any busy studio. Repairs and the replacement of parts on this mic should be easier and cheaper than for its Neummann counterpart.
Opening up the mic itself shows clean and neat solder work and layout. In talking with John Peluso, I learned that while the metalwork and backplates are machined overseas, all circuit board assembly and capsule tweaking, along with the critical final stages, are done in-house by Peluso and company. Every mic is tuned by hand, and run through a noise test and frequency response. They even claim the first batch of these mics (roughly 200) are stereo matched to within +/- ¼ dB!
Compared to an original 1970s U 87, the P-87 boasts 4dB lower self-noise and a 6dB higher overload point—better than even the modern U 87 Ai. This is great as singers these days tend to eat the mic quite a bit more than they did 40 years ago, so having that extra headroom can be very handy. When the P-87 did begin to break up, the included -10dB pad was enough to drop the signal down to a reasonable level. Like the U 87, the P-87 also includes a low-cut switch to minimize excessive boom, and offers the choice of Cardioid, Omni and Figure-of-8 polar patterns.
I’m happy to report that the P-87 fares just as well as it did on paper. I was lucky to have many different sessions to test this mic, and since Peluso sent me two, I was even able to test out how it performs in stereo as well.
On spaced-pair overheads for a metal band, the image was accurate and concise, portraying the width and depth of field I had hoped for. On softer spoken word vocals, I was able to use the (very) workable proximity effect and off-axis response of the cardioid pattern to get just the right smooth, intimate sound we needed. I even used the mics to record an entire country gospel act, which included stand-up bass, lap steel, drums, acoustic and electric guitar, and vocals. The P-87 performed well, no matter what I threw at it.
In true U 87 fashion, this mic is not a magic bullet that can fix anything. My experience with 87’s has generally been that singers with good technique, who know how to work a microphone, can make magic happen. Sources that are overly loud will distort, but the pad will get you through in these cases. The same is true for the P-87. Additionally, all recorded signals took well to additional processing, with no hints of harshness or stridency when equalizing.
Summing it Up
There is something to be said for cachet, and some clientele will only want the original name brand Neumann U 87. However, there is also a lot to be said for high-quality, reasonably-priced tools that consistently deliver professional results. In that respect, the P-87 shines, and coming in at under a grand at most retailers makes this mic one to check out for your locker.