The sheer number of mics on the market today is astounding. Apart from the titans of the industry and the myriad of models they produce, there are any number of smaller boutique manufacturers vying for your attention.
One such option is the Soundelux U195 microphone, which was reintroduced to the world near the end of 2016. This cardioid FET LDC mic aims to provide a quality large diaphragm condenser sound at a reasonable price.
Long-time recordists would be right to recognize this model name. First produced by Soundelux from 1996-2006, then by Bock Audio from 2006 to 2013, the U195 has now been updated and re-released with a new capsule design under the Soundelux name once again.
David Bock launched this new Soundelux USA line in 2016, with the updated U195 as its first offering, and more promised to come. The Soundelux USA brand is more cost-conscious than the Bock Audio line, which exclusively features expensive, very high-end models. That being said, the Soundelux USA line is built in the same place, by the same people. Let’s take a closer look.
Patterned after the 1970’s Neumann U87, Soundelux’s aim was to take a classic mic design and update it for modern studios and recording techniques.
The original U87 was designed as a solid state replacement for the tube U67 (which itself replaced the U47), and used a then-new K67 capsule, which has since become the most often imitated and utilized capsule for LDCs. The cardioid capsule is a dual-diaphragm design as opposed to single diaphragm which uses venting to create the polar pattern. This helps minimize plosives and mitigate proximity effect.
Like many FET LDCs, the U195 has an active low-cut filter (-10dB @ 30Hz) and a pad (-20dB). Additionally, the U195 offers a “Fat” voicing as an additional tonal option. Labeled as “Fat/Norm” on the rear of the microphone, the Fat setting engages a low-mid bass EQ boost from 400Hz down to 10Hz into the circuit for additional girth.
I had a nice conversation with David about the components selected for this particular model and the reasoning behind them. For example, the U195 uses a voltage divider pad, as opposed to a capacitive pad (which reduces the probability of capsule overload). It also employs an active low-cut 1-stage design, as opposed to a passive 2-stage design (eliminating rumble before the amplifier and minimizing distortion). Additionally, no switching power supplies are used, so the mic itself has much more consistent power. It’s clear this is no copycat piece of gear.
According to the spec sheet, the U195 performs very similarly to the venerable U87 with identical sensitivity, rating at 8mV/PA. However, the U195 specs out with several dB less self-noise than the U87 and a higher max SPL rating, ultimately giving the user more ease in recording both quieter and louder sources.
Inspecting the U195 shows absolutely top-notch construction. This mic feels solid and incredibly well-built, and its look is classy and clean. Manufacturing tolerances are as tight as can be and I have zero doubt that this mic can and will last a lifetime.
The U195 uses no surface-mount components, and all pieces are held in place with screws (as opposed to glue) where possible to extend the life of the mic. I like to take mics apart and see the quality of construction whenever I can, and I’m happy to report that the insides of the U195 are as clean as can be. It’s clear that David and Soundelux put much thought and care into the manufacturing process of the mic.
This mic is also very heavy compared to the U87, weighing an additional 30% (1.61 lbs. vs 1.21). My guess is that this is due to the massive transformer inside, which I also believe heavily affects the characteristics of the mic and helps make overloads a bit less “tizzy.” This is in no way a deal breaker, but it definitely comes into play when selecting stands or hanging the mic out over a drum kit, as only the sturdiest of stands will suffice. That said, I think it’s worth it as that transformer can pass line level at 20Hz and greatly reduces low frequency distortion.
I was fortunate enough to have plenty of material to try the U195 on at several studios.
AJ at The Wavelab in Brooklyn had a 1973 U87 he offered up for a direct comparison. Carefully setting up and gain-matching the two mics, we tested their performance on mono drum overhead, guitar, bass and male voice. In terms of frequency response, these two mics are very similar with the U195 giving all the classic sheen and polish of the revered U87. The original U87 sounded more relaxed to my ears and offered greater depth, while the U195 had a more present and upfront sound—more aggressive and in-your-face, with a bit more detail.
The FAT switch was especially useful, as having two different voicings on the mic really allows tailoring of the sound as needed, especially when adding the useful low-cut filter option.
On bass tracks, Fat mode was unnecessary, whereas on my voice, it brought a fullness and size that was missing from the normal mode. Be aware, this control can be overwhelming and makes the mic especially sensitive to thumps and other very low frequency information.
I also used the mic on background vocals and horns for a track by The Bushwick Hotel, and the results were excellent—the tracks slid right into place and were very easy to EQ and fit into an already dense mix.
To Be Critical
Something of note to potential buyers: This mic does not come with a shockmount (only a standard threaded mount) and the box it comes in is cardboard (albeit nice, heavily foam-padded cardboard), which won’t really stand the test of time… especially if you want to travel with it.
Many mics in this price range come with both a shockmount and a protective carrying case, and though the U195 does not, Soundelux does offer a wooden box for $149 and two different kinds of shockmounts (one threaded and one side-clamping) for $149 each. This is in no way a knock, as not everyone needs them and they are easily purchased, but be sure to factor these added costs into your total budget if you’re considering the U195.
Summing it Up
The Soundelux U195 mic is fantastic, especially considering its $1,250 price point which, although not cheap, is a fraction of what a U87 would cost. Like the U87, its sound is flattering across the vast majority of sources, and anyone looking to up their game with a flexible all-purpose FET LDC would do well to check it out.