A little-known company from Russia called Oktava has made a silent entry in the recording gear industry and are crushing the competition with surprisingly high quality and low costs. In this article, I’ll be reviewing a set of unique small diaphragm condenser microphones that are grabbing the attention of more engineers by the hour – the Oktava MK012s. Before I dive into the mics and their performance let me give you some background on the company so you can understand and appreciate what makes them and their products special.
I called them little-known, as most people won’t recognize their brand in the western hemisphere, but don’t misunderstand the tone of this article. They are by no means a small startup. To the contrary, they are in fact a giant hiding in the dark corners of Russia. They do attend certain mic and tech conferences around the world, but you won’t see them on glossy billboards or any other advertisement. That being said Oktava is one of the leading microphone developers in the world. Their mics are being used and shipped to every corner of the planet with 65% of their product line being distributed in Europe.
The reason why I see their entry in the business as silent is due to the fact that you won’t see their mics on the stands of the music shops or at least not here in the UK. As far as I know aside from Amazon and eBay their products are being offered from just a few more distributors like Thomann yet they are flooding the markets in Europe. Even if they don’t invest a lot in marketing and advertisement, make no mistake as they have almost a 100 years of experience in the business of electronics and sound. They’ve pretty much been around almost since microphones and speakers exist. Established in 1927 they supplied the Soviet Union with loudspeakers, microphones, telephones and even hearing aids. Oktava started exporting during the mid-90s after modernizing their factory and their microphones can now be seen all over the world. It’s interesting to mention that a third of their revenue today comes from military purposes.
The commercial side of Oktava nowadays has focused on microphones, but have a completely different approach to all of their competitors in the West which is seen in their product line.
At first glans, it appears that the company has just a few different microphones to offer with their flagship crown jew being the MKL-111 tube mic, but over the years they have developed over a 150 different products and are still offering a wide variety of mics. In this article, I want to focus on one specific model – the small diaphragm condenser MK012. Let me explain why I find this mic so unique.
The MK012 is a modular microphone and probably the only one of it’s kind. The mic has interchangeable diaphragm screwable capsules that can readapt the device for any situation and can expand it’s versatility to ridiculous levels. Oktava has a whole array for different capsules starting from the standard cardioid pattern and going all the way to hypercardioid, omni-directional and a huge variety of large diaphragms and figure-of-eight capsules.
Furthermore, they are pushing the boundaries of versatility by offering other screwable mods like -10 dB pads, low-cut filters, swivel joints and even different body options that include a tube preamp. Add to that all the standard accessories that help repurpose the mics such as windscreens, different shock-mounts, and adapters. In a nutshell, they are focusing a lot of time and effort on one completely customizable microphone, but are making sure it can satisfy every need of today’s sound engineer by offering a wide variety of different components for the customization of the mic.
The swivel joints I mention are a very interesting concept as they create a joint between the body of the mic (amp) and the capsule which increases the versatility significantly when it comes to mic positioning.
The standard package (Oktava MK012-01 MSP2 Pair)
A couple of years ago I bought a matched pair of MK012 and ever since they have become my most trusted mics. They came in a beautiful wooden display box with -10 dB Pads and stand clips. The overall built quality of the mics feels premium, but like any other expensive piece of jewelry it also feels fragile when you’re holding them in your hands. That is nothing to worry about as any high-end mic has to be handled with great caution.
The real magic happens when the capsules are screwed on and the phantom power is flowing through the internals. The performance of these mics is stunning for the price you’re paying. Clean, full and rich sound with minimal colouration. The high end is silky and detailed, but not overly sharpened while the mid-range has a nice pronounced bite. I’m also noticing a surprisingly full body in the lower end of the spectrum. Overall very well balanced mics with a seemingly flat frequency response that provides a clean and realistic representation of the sound source.
The capsules are super sensitive which makes me reach for the -10 dB pads almost every time. I like pushing my pre-amps to their limits, which is why I need the extra headroom and the pads come very handily.
I bought the mics originally as drum overheads and they do the job incredibly well and consistent. It seems they can handle the sharp transients yet preserve the full body of the drums with a nice shine in the top-end.
Aside from drums, the standard cardioid capsules can perform great on any acoustic application. I’ve tested them on everything from an acoustic guitar to a tambourine and even a cello. The results were nothing short of great. Other applications of the MK012 include room, speech as well as surprisingly enough – vocals. It is uncommon for engineers to use small diaphragm condensers on vocals, but maybe the MK012 can change that. They might look small and unnatural for vocal applications, but they should not be underestimated. At first, the vocalist might give you a few strange looks and may even question the decision to place those thin cigar-looking things in-front of his/her mighty voice, but this opinion will quickly change when speakers are playing back the record.
Tip: When recording vocals point the capsule of MK012 slightly to the cheeks (45 degrees off axis). That will balance out the sound and will minimize the pops and breaths.
Another great application of the MK012 is for all the video-makers out there. I’ve compared it to a Rode NTG 2 as a video microphone and indoors the cardioid capsules of Oktava is definitely the better choice for me. Outdoors the NTG has the upper ground because of its hyper-cardioid capsule. That being said Oktava does offer a hyper-cardioid mod that can probably change that. To my ears the MK012 has a little less boxiness in the 500Hz range than the NTG and a bit more presence and detail in the upper mids making it perfect for in-door video dialog recordings.
At the beginning of the article, I said that Oktava and their MK012s are crushing the competition and I’d like to circle back on that. They are crushing the competition in the price range they are competing in. As any other product at the end of the day what matters is the price. The pair of MK012 I got a couple of years ago with their accessories costed me around £200. In my personal opinion, the built and most importantly the performance quality of the MK012s can stand up to mics that cost 4 figures. Now I’m not saying that the MK012 can hold their ground next to a U87, but I am saying that I’ll choose them over many mics that cost £1,000. Furthermore, if we drop down to the actual price-range of the MK012s (around £200), there is literally nothing that can produce that quality.
That whole price comparison only works when we compare mics back to back. If we have to add the fact that for a bit more cash you can increase the versatility of the MK012 with their interchangeable mods then the comparison becomes pointless as I’m not aware of many modular mics in that price range.
The only way I can explain the low prices of the MK012 and all other products of Oktava is cheap manufacturing costs as the company is based in Russia and they’ve had more than enough time to figure out the details and set up the right channels. After all, they were supplying the Soviets with audio tech and still do supply the Russian military as their public records show. During the golden ages of the Soviet Union everything there was focused on efficiency. Manufacturing was built around the word efficiency. They knew how to produce maximum quality with minimal resources as privatization didn’t exist and saving resources was key for manufacturing and progress. Like I said earlier – Oktava has been around for a very long time and have had more than enough time to figure out how to bring the costs down.
If you reach out to Oktava you’ll be dealing with a well-experienced company. Those people have been in the business for almost a century and their current simplistic yet complex and versatile line of products proves that.
As it comes to the MK012 the best way to get to know the mic is to try it out yourself. It offers great flexibility and versatility and delivers consistent performance. No mic is perfect for any given situation as it comes down to personal taste. You can’t expect to have one piece of gear cover all your recording needs, but you can get a taste of that.
In many cases nowadays people judge the product quality by its price and more than often they are right. There are exceptions though where those two factors are not correlated and the price tag does not determine the quality. I think the MK012 might be that exception.
If you are a beginner on a small budget you’ll struggle to find the quality and versatility of the MK012 in a different company. The standard package as I call it (a pair of MK012 with cardioid capsules) can satisfy most of your recording needs except probably close up drum micing or loud guitar amps.
If you are an established and experienced engineer looking to expand your arsenal you have nothing to lose from giving Oktava a chance to prove to you why the MK012s are worth it.
If you are a video-maker the Oktava MK012 is a perfect entry to intermediate level camera mic.
This month Oktava released a new line of microphones. The company has an added a few new pieces in their arsenal and they certainly look promising. From what I know about the company’s background and from the quality I’m seeing across their other products I have no doubt these new mics will be worthwhile. If I get hold of them I will make a completely separate review (with video) where and I’ll test them back to back with the MK012s and some other pieces of gear. Here’s a little teaser from their looks: