Sponsored by JZ Microphones

Modern Body, Vintage Soul: JZ Microphones Vintage Series V12, V47, and V67 large-diaphragm condenser mics aim to bring the classic sounds of recording history to any studio.

By Markkus Rovito

If all that really matters in your productions is the final sound, would you pay four to 30 times the price for a microphone that has a more prestigious model name and/or vintage cachet but which has close to the same sound as a mid-priced model? Some people who have that kind of budget clearly would. And others would say that the mid-price models in question—part of the JZ Microphones Vintage Series, including the new Vintage 12 cardioid condenser mic—don’t actually sound the same as the all-time classic microphones that inspired them. Are those naysayers correct?

The JZ Microphones Vintage Series includes five models in all, but three of them particularly are inspired by some of the more respected and revered mics of all time. The new JZ Vintage 12 (V12) takes its cues from the AKG C12, which first debuted in 1953. Meanwhile, the JZ Vintage 47 (V47) aims to reproduce the warm sound of the Neumann U47 from 1947, and the JZ Vintage 67 (V67) follows that by recreating the follow-up to the U47, the Neumann U67 that debuted in 1960.

The JZ Microphones line, in order of sound character.

All three of these Vintage Series mics have the same look—the same chassis and style. The only difference in appearance between them is the stamping of the model name and number on the back. All of them are phantom powered and noted to run with very low self-noise. They employ built-in shock-mount technology that is supposed to dampen unnecessary vibrations to keep the signal clean. With one-inch capsule diaphragm, these mics all have a maximum SPL of 134dB and a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz.

They also share the same retail price of 1,299 Euros/$1,199, which is a fraction of the price of the new versions of the mics they recreate, and a much smaller fraction of the price of vintage original versions of the mics.

But do these solid-state transistor mics really recapture the coveted sound of the vintage classics that inspired them? You can listen and judge for yourself in this video that compares these three JZ mics to the originals from AKG and Neumann (except for the V67, which is compared to brand new Neumann U87s) on acoustic guitar, vocals, piano, and a drum kit. There’s no question that all three JZ mics hold up very well in comparison, especially when considering their price.

The New JZ Microphones Vintage Series V12 — Is it a Proper 12?

Thom Russo - 16 Grammy Awards "I found the entire line of JZ microphones to be a substantial step forward into new microphone technology, that not only compares to the "classics" we have all grown to love, but in some cases, almost beats them."

When it arrived on the sparse microphone scene in 1953, the AKG C12 multi-pattern valve condenser mic was an early competitor to the Neumann U47. Unlike the U47’s mid-range presence boost, the C12 has a mostly flat frequency response with a bit of extra high-end. It excelled in some areas even more than the U47, such as ensemble recordings where a mid-forward response could tilt the balance between instruments and for vocalists who did not need a presence boost. Famous C12 fans like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley found that the mic had a similar smoothness to ribbon mics but with even better nuanced detail.

Vintage AKG C12 microphone
What really made the C12 so hard to recreate was its dual-diaphragm, dual-backplate CK12 condenser mic capsule. Since the late 1980s, many have tried to clone the CK12 capsule, but not even AKG has been able to replicate it, because of the complexity of the materials and production processes for the original CK12 that are either today unknown or no longer practiced. There was also a patchwork of sub-components coming from various suppliers contributing to the original CK12, making the task of backwards engineering it a befuddling piece of detective work.

JZ Microphones also has a claim to fame with its capsules that go into every JZ mic: the Golden Drop Capsule that Juris Zarins patented around the time he founded the company in 2007. Most condenser mics—even inexpensive ones—use gold sputtered diaphragms in their capsules, but what make the Golden Drop Capsule special is that instead of coating the entire diaphragm, it places strategically spaced drops of gold on the diaphragm to reduce the diaphragm’s weight. There is still enough gold layering to conduct the electricity and resonate evenly and accurately for reducing unwanted colorations and distortions. But with the diaphragm’s lighter weight, it can vibrate faster to capture more detail for a clearer sound.

The JZ Microphones Golden Drop Capsule
While all JZ Microphones include the Golden Drop Capsule, for the V12, JZ also tried to adopt all the best sonic qualities of the AKG C12, including its frequency response curve. That includes a neutral but harmonically rich low end, a dip in the upper mid-range, and a sloped boost starting at about 3kHz, peaking at about 8.5kHz and then falling to a slight cut after about 18kHz.

While the original C12 had nine polar patterns selectable from its external power supply—unusual for its time—the V12 is a single-pattern cardioid mic that instead of tubes like the C12 had, uses modern, durable solid-state transistor technology.

The JZ Vintage 12 (V12)

Besides the differences in construction, there’s also the stark differences in price. If you can even find a vintage AKG C12 in good working order, they can sell for more than $30,000 each! And if you purchase a microphone 60 years old or more, you’re also inheriting all the wear and tear that has accumulated on it, as well as whatever replacement parts may be inside from restoration. Instead, you can easily find the brand new version of the AKG C12 in stock for an MSRP of $8,324.

The JZ V12 frequency response curve.

Either way, the JZ V12 will save you many thousands off the price. But does it have the C12 sound? Expert reviewers and pro A/B testers have agreed that the V12 does have a characteristic C12 sound that is clear, bright, and very detailed. They also tend to note that the C12 is in fact brighter and more shimmery at the top-end. But the V12 also performs wonderfully when up close to it, where it keeps its tight sound profile and doesn’t get boomy at the bottom.

It’s also been noted that even when the original C12 may be the first pick in a straight A/B test, the V12 is very usable for professional productions and would need little to no EQing at the mixing stage for recording vocals and acoustic guitar.

Vintage Series V47 – The Sound of a True Original

Rafa Sardina - 18 Grammy Awards "Having worked in so many session over the years I have to say it was really exciting to do some out of the ordinary sessions for Lady Gaga using some of my new toys, the JZ mics V47 and V67 microphones. They excel in so many uses, from acoustic bass, to amplified bass, or vocals, strings, and guitar. I ended up naturally gravitating towards them, even though I had a great vintage microphone selection to my disposal."

One of the most influential and loved microphones ever, the Neumann U47 large-diaphragm condenser cardioid/omnidirectional microphone used tube amplification from 1949-1965, after which the U47 FET switched to solid-state circuits in 1969 following the discontinuation of Telefunken VF14 tubes. But the tube models became the most iconic, and the Neumann U48 tube condenser was basically the same as the U47 except for having a figure-8 pickup pattern instead of omnidirectional.

The Neumann U47.
The Neumann U47/U48 tube mics are known for a strong mid-range presence, as well as a rich low-end. They gained many converts like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and George Martin famously used the U48 to mic the Beatles’ vocals, guitar amps, and acoustic instruments. During that era, some engineers found the sound of the U47 and U48 too harsh on vocals when they were sung up close. But that quality was actually highly sought-after later as a key part of vintage rock-’n’-roll.

The Beatles in 1965 with their favorite microphone buddy. Photo: EMI., public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Since the V47’s debut in 2010, reviewers have found that it does an admirable job of recreating the warm, creamy midrange and robust low-end of the original U47. While the V47 does have the darkest sound among these three JZ Vintage Series mics, it slightly brightens the sound compared to the U47’s high-end. While it’s not an exact replica, it generally takes trained ears and focused listening on direct A/B tests to tell the V47 apart from a vintage valve Neumann, which has elicited surprise that JZ Mics can get that close while using solid-state transistors and electronically balanced outputs, rather than tubes and transformers.

The JZ Vintage 47 (V47)

The V47’s output is hotter than the original U47, but the V47’s frequency response curve keeps a similar profile, with a low-end bump from 40-200Hz, a mostly neutral mid-range, and a small uptick from 2-7kHz. Producers have noted that the extra high-end detail can be a nice touch, because it’s a silky high-end—not too brittle and is controllable in the mix.

The JZ V47 frequency response curve. Courtesy of JZ Microphones.

The Neumann U67.
Neumann U47 mics from the 1940s or 1950s in working condition currently sell for about $35,000, with Neumann U48s rare but a notch lower at $30,000. Brand new versions cost about $9,000 for the Telefunken U47 tube condenser, while the solid-state Neumann U47 FET goes for $4,395.

Vintage Series V67 – Recreating the Uber Tube Mic

Josh Newell (Avril Lavigne, Linkin Park, Black Veil Brides) "The V67 is everything you'd want if you mixed a vintage tube with a modern mic: It has a full low midrange with a great top end. Great for guitars and bass (both acoustic and electric), and so good on vocals that I even liked how I sounded singing through it.”

In response to the end of the U47 and U48’s runs, Neumann launched the U67 large-diaphragm condenser with new tubes, a new K67 capsule, and less upper midrange response. To cater to the trend of putting microphones closer to sound sources, the U67 added switches for a -10dB pad and a low-cut filter. Its newly tapered body was done purely for style. Studios widely adopted the U67 in the 1960s and appreciated its versatility for a wide variety of applications. The K67 capsule leant the U67 a sound quality that came to be associated with Neumann. In the company’s lineage, the U67 gave way to the U87, which launched in 1967. The U87 swapped tubes for a field effect transistor (FET) but it kept the signature K67 capsule and is still one of the favored high-end microphones to this day.

The JZ Vintage 67 (V67)

JZ’s V47 and V67 differ in ways similar to the difference between the Neumann U47 and U67. The V47 and V67 have similar response curves but still noticeably different characters. The V67 is a bit brighter than the V47, with a little extra detail and intimate presence, while the V47 has a little more rich and thick sound with a smooth top end. The V67 also has a neutral midrange on vocals with a little extra presence without sound artificial in the high frequencies.

Users comparing the JZ V67 to the vintage U67 have noted that the V67 excels particularly well on electric guitars, which is also one of the popular strengths of the U67. When capturing electric guitar, the V67 lends the sound plenty of sting and articulation, while it also has a bit of a more reigned-in bottom end and a good bit more top end than the U67. In the JZ Vintage Series line, the V67 presents a versatile middle ground between the brightness and high-frequency detail of the V12 and the fatter warmth of the V47.

For those insisting on the full Neumann U67 experience, the company is again producing new U67 large-diaphragm tube condenser mics that recreate the vintage 1960s classic at a suggested retail price of $9,379, while the 1960s models sell on the used market for $14,000-20,000.

The JZ V67 frequency response curve.

Record More for Less
While microphones often get a reputation for complementing certain sources the best, studios that have access to the original AKG C12, Neumann U47, and Neumann U67 often end up using them on just about anything and everything, because you’d be hard-pressed to get a bad result regardless of the sound source.

The JZ Microphones Vintage Series V12, V47, and V67 also have the similar advantage of versatility for using them on vocals, piano, drums, acoustic and electric guitar, and whatever else you want to throw at them. They are all hand-crafted and tested in-house in Latvia using Class-A discrete electronics and carry 5-year warranties. So while they may not exactly recapture the sound profile of their inspirations, they come remarkably close for mid-priced solid-state microphones. When you consider the prices of the new or vintage versions of their inspirations, the 1,299 Euros/$1,199 price tag for each Vintage Series mic looks like a bargain.

For more information about JZ microphones visit their website here.