Sponsored by JZ Microphones

Since 2007, Riga, Latvia’s boutique mic company JZ Microphones has built a reputation for high-quality, professional studio microphones, beginning with its first model, the Black Hole condenser mic. After around 20 years of successful research and work on various microphone models, Juris Zarins came up with the Golden Drop Capsule innovation. With that patented capsule technology, Zarins founded JZ Microphones.

Every JZ condenser mic since then has featured the Golden Drop Capsule, and the company considers that distinct element the “heart and soul” of its condenser microphones. But what makes the Golden Drop Capsule a unique feature worth your consideration? It’s not the gold, as most condenser mics—even the “cheap” ones—use gold in the diaphragm.

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JZ Microphones’ original product, the Black Hole 1" condenser microphone, is now in its third iteration and comes in several models that offer multiple polar patterns and/or a PAD switch.

Less is More in a Microphone Capsule
Let’s first briefly review the role that the capsule performs within a microphone. The capsule is the microphone’s transducer. It converts mechanical wave energy (sound) into electrical energy (signal). In condenser mics, the capsules’ important components include the movable diaphragm, comprised of extremely thin layers of sputtered gold and a plastic such as heat-resistant and electrically insulated mylar. There is a chamber in the capsule between the diaphragm and the other key capsule element: a stationary backplate, which is made of a metal alloy. In many cases, including JZ Microphones, that metal is solid brass.

Phantom power or an external power supply provides an electric charge to the electrodes that are attached to the diaphragm. As incoming sound waves cause the diaphragm to vibrate, the sound pressure difference between its two sides causes a change in capacitance that is converted into the mic’s signal. The lighter the weight of the capsule’s diaphragm, the faster it vibrates and the more detail it can capture for a clearer sound.

When Zarins was working on the Golden Drop Capsule, he knew he wanted a lighter diaphragm so it would move faster and catch more detail for enhanced clarity. That meant using less plastic and less gold. It had to use gold because gold is the best material for the job due to its malleability, its excellent conduction of electricity, and its tolerance to the environmental conditions a microphone must be able to endure.

Premium-level microphone manufacturers use the thinnest and most accurate layers of gold possible, while cheaper mics tend to use thicker gold layers and compensate for the resulting change in frequency response with additional parts that boost the signal. The amount of gold required is so small that the manufacturing processes required to sputter the thinnest possible gold layers adds more cost than the price of using thicker gold layers.

For JZ Microphones, Zarins could not make the gold layer any thinner, because it has to be thick enough to produce an electric contact, and the premium mic-makers already used about the thinnest possible gold layers. So Zarins took a different approach and came up with the Golden Drop method of using strategically spaced drops of gold instead of a fully-covered membrane. This method results in a lighter diaphragm that still resonates evenly and accurately for reducing unwanted colorations and distortions.

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The JZ Microphones Golden Drop Capsule, featuring a diaphragm with gold sputtered in an evenly spaced, mandala-style circles.

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This RK-47 capsule from Microphone-Parts.com recreates the capsule of a Neumann U47 and represents the traditional condenser mic capsule, sputtered with gold in a uniform layer.

More on How It's Made
Gearspace met up with JZ Microphones' Head of Marketing & Ecommerce, Andris Evelis, to find out more about how the Golden Drop Capsule contributes to JZ’s different lines of condenser microphones and how it helps them stand out from other mic models. He emphasized that making the capsule’s diaphragm lighter using the Golden Drop technique makes the most important difference, but that the configuration of the drops on the diaphragm also make the capsule unique.

“Imagine a capsule that is wholly sputtered in one layer; it just resonates as one piece,” Evelis says. “But in our case, we have dozens of gold droplets, and they are all resonating. It makes it more accurate, more precise. Can we prove this in scientific tests? Theoretically maybe, but the main thing is that if you listen to any of our mics, you really hear the difference that our mics are clearer.”

JZ Microphones also takes pride in the meticulousness of its production process, of which you can take a peek in their “How It’s Made” video for the Black Hole series. The company rejects any electronic components it purchases that don’t meet its standards, and handcrafts and tests its mics in-house in Latvia. Evelis says that although JZ mics are handcrafted, there are extra steps in the handcrafting process that ensure that each individual microphone of a certain model will sound virtually identical to any other microphone of that model. That allows recordists to purchase a second JZ microphone of the same model at any time and still use them as matched pairs.

Evelis works closely with many of JZ Microphones’ high-profile customers, and he says matched pairs are a popular application for all models of JZ mics. For example, the Vintage series mics, such as the Vintage 67 cardioid condenser, have been very popular for drum overheads, as have the Black Hole series for matched pairs on acoustic guitar. The three-time Grammy® award-winning producer/engineer Marc Urselli (John Zorn, Foo Fighters, Les Paul) uses all of the JZ Microphones models and frequently uses matched pairs of them on orchestral and brass recordings.

While the company has called its Golden Drop Capsule the 'soul' of its microphones, a certain amount of JZ users also detect some soul in the human touch from their high-quality hand craftsmanship and elegant style. Whether it’s real or psychological, the appeal of an artisanal guitar, kitchen table, or even consumables like artisanal bread and beer comes through as well in a handcrafted premium microphone.

Evelis also points out that certain manufacturing methods, such as specific soldering techniques, are simply not offered for microphones made in China, where many microphones—even many well-known mid-priced brands—are currently made. So microphones that are made in Europe and the United States have access to a higher-quality production process rather than just being beholden to more expensive labour.

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The newest model from JZ Microphones, the BB29 Signature Series condenser microphone, is now in its third iteration and comes in several models that offer multiple polar patterns and/or a PAD switch.

Dropping Gold Across Three Mic Series
JZ Microphones’ latest offering, the BB29 Signature Series large diaphragm condenser mic (1299 Euros/$1299), is the first JZ mic to pair the Golden Drop Capsule with a transformer-coupled output. The relationship between the capsule and the transformer compares to the dynamic between a guitar and an amplifier. The capsule supplies an accurate signal rich in detailed frequencies, and the transformer amplifies what is already there.

The transformer adjusts the BB29’s output signal with frequency boosts around 500Hz and another boost curve beginning around 3kHz before rolling off between 15-20kHz. The intention is to bring tracks to the front of your mix. That frequency adjustment was meant particularly to suit live or studio vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, drums, or other instrument tracks that need to cut through a mix, so that producers can save time from “fixing it in the mix” to bring those track out front.

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The frequency response graph for the JZ Microphones BB29.

Gearspace’s BB29 review called its sound “epic” with a “full, smoothly-controlled bass capture with a subtle proximity effect.” It says “despite the increased high-frequency capture, there is no harshness.” Other feedback from professional users has also noted that the BB29’s frequency dip at 8-10kHz keeps any harshness from its high-end lift at bay and that its intimate presence and extremely low self-noise makes it also suitable as a room mic and for recording low-volume instruments and spoken word.

Like all of JZ’s condenser mics, the BB29’S Golden Drop Capsule gives it transparency for a crystal-clear sound, but its transformer-coupled output endows the BB29 with its namesake signature presence that distinguishes it from JZ’s Vintage series mics and Black Hole series mics.

The Vintage series, including The Amethyst, Vintage 67, Vintage 47, and Vintage 11, have capsules that are intentionally tuned to sound “vintage” in their own specific way so that each Vintage series mic has its own character. Those colorations include various levels of boosting below 200Hz.

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Like all of JZ Microphones’ Vintage Series models, the Vintage 67 1" cardioid condenser microphone is specifically tuned to recall a particular vintage sound.

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The frequency response graph for the JZ Microphones Vintage 67.

Whether to use mics with or without colouration comes down to personal preference, and JZ has accommodated both types with their different microphone series. Among the customers who love JZ’s vintage mics, heavy rock producer/mixer Romesh Dodangoda (Bring Me The Horizon, Motorhead, Funeral For A Friend) says, “the JZ V67 has become one of my main vocal mics. The amount of detail is outstanding, and I keep picking it over some of the classic microphones! It's an extremely balanced mic and makes any vocals I record with it so easy to mix.”

On the other side of the coin, the Black Hole series and the BB29 are both meant to sound very natural, with the difference being the BB29’s transformer-coupled output that sweetens the midrange and bestows it with airy highs aimed at modern-day recording.

Sean Genockey, Black Dog Studios owner and producer/engineer/guitarist who’s worked with the likes of The Who, Manic Street Preachers, and Suede, recorded a comparison of four JZ Microphones—the BB29, Black Hole BH1, Vintage 47, and Vintage 67—where you can hear the difference between them on acoustic guitar tracks. Genockey says, “the BB29 sounds fantastic. It has the effortless presence of an Elam 251 and the robust nature of a good-old 87!”

Mentioning the U87 in the same breath as any other microphone constitutes high praise indeed. While Evelis doesn’t throw around grand claims haphazardly, he does believe that the BB29’s transformer-coupled output accentuates the benefits of the Golden Drop Capsule even more than ever before. “I can’t say if the BB29 is better-sounding than the Neumann U87, AKG C414, or the Mojave mics, because sound and character are very subjective things,” he says. “Technically though, we think it is a better mic.”

Visit www.intshop.jzmic.com to learn more about JZ Microphones and to find a local dealer.