Austrian Audio OC818 by Arthur Stone
Introducing...the Austrian Audio OC818 large-diaphragm, condenser microphone; a fully-featured mic in the traditional sense - having multiple selectable polar patterns, high-pass filters, and pads - also incorporating novel mic technology that allows wireless remote control via bluetooth (with the optional OCR8 dongle) and the ability to split the capsule into two outputs that can be edited post-capture with custom Polar Designer software.
In use, the Austrian Audio OC818 is a flexible, high-quality microphone, suited to a variety of roles (and strong in those roles); additionally the features and controls allow the user to achieve a wide variety of tones and textures. The design, build and components are first-class. Stylistically, the OC818 is tradition in a modern form.
Sonically, the OC818 is clear, bright and modern, capturing all detail and ambience; equally, by tweaking controls, it offers a more vintage, traditional palette across a variety of sources.
One telling characteristic: the OC818 needed little or no remedial processing post-recording; it captured the sound as I wanted (imagined) it to be heard, especially with the Polar Designer plug-in. EQ and compression? Forget it.
The modern aspects, microprocessor-control, the bluetooth, app, and plug-in worked flawlessly, without glitches, and assisted workflow and sonics. For the artist, producer, and audio engineer, the OC818 is a great investment in the signal path (at source) and offers good value at the price.
Price: £843 UK/$999 US/Euro 999 for the studio package: good quality hard case; suspension; hard clip; foam windshield; also available as a stereo/two-mic package.
The OCR8 bluetooth dongle is an optional extra priced at £134 UK/$150 US/Euro 149 (Money well spent IMHO).
At this price one can reasonably expect performance, materials and design to be professional. It is. This would extend to the warranty and serviceability of the OC818.
Some vintage mics can be mechanically-sound and still capable of daily use after decades (with care/servicing); some of these appreciate in value. Damage is generally cosmetic. Some parts might have alternative replacements.
Holding (and using) the OC818, I get the feeling that it could be one of these vintage mics decades into the future. Still robust and solid (despite the relatively light weight); maybe with a few dings (probably a drummer!) and scratches and fingerprints visible in the patina. Used and handled thousands of times. The OC818 has that feeling of reassurance about it's physical longetivity, in addition, the ceramic capsule is super stable so won't degrade like brass and plastic, and the OC818 will sound more consistent through the decades.
The OC818 product page at Austrian Audio website has detailed charts for the capsule response in each polar pattern. There is a wide variety of combinations of pattern, pad and filter plus the programmable custom preset which, in conjunction with the Polar Pilot app, offers 250 polar positions.
Matching: the OC818 is +/- 0.5 dB with Austrian Audio's other mics. This makes complex miking scenarios easier and. for example, the OC18 (similar to the OC818 but fixed cardioid) could be a good economic addition for a cardioid stereo-pair.
Capsule Talk: The Austrian Audio ceramic CKR12 capsule is crafted to the same dimensions as the original AKG CK12. The CK12 capsule in the AKG C12 microphone is highly-regarded and rare and expensive, as are the high-quality clones but also the mics that were later developed from the CK12: e.g. the AKG C414 and Elam 251.
The early CK12 capsules were brass and the weight of the metal provided enough mass for capturing bass frequencies; 55 components needed to be precision engineered. This was costly to manufacture and for various reasons production shifted to Teflon and plastic variants which, whilst less costly to produce consistently, never had the sonic quality of the brass version.
Austrian Audio have developed a ceramic that has the necessary mass, like the original brass version, to capture a full range of frequencies. Like the plastic, it is consistent and avoids the electrical problems of brass, as it is an isolator. The ceramic does not change over time and neither will the sound capture.
Whilst the capsule in the C12 mic had a boost at around 10 kHz, in the C414 the emphasis was lower at 4-5 kHz - the OC818 has a similar frequency response in figure-of-8 and hypercardioid but a higher emphasis, like the original C12, in cardioid and omni modes. In a sense, the OC818 is capable of mimicking the variants of the original CK12 capsule.
Ancient and Modern: CEO Martin Seidl describes Austrian Audio as "a start-up company with over 350 years of experience" in reference to the combined years of experience of the employees - the 'experience' being the time at AKG microphones, founded in 1947. The development of AKG's high-end microphones through the metamorphosis to Austrian Audio is discussed in this Funky Junk video interview with Martin.
Running with this theme, the Austrian Audio OC818 microphone encompasses all the traditional evolution to a fine form - also with the addition of modern electronic advantages, microprocessor control, combined with the OCR8 bluetooth dongle, Polar Pilot app and Polar Designer plug-in.
The bluetooth is merely a control utility - a convenience - and has nothing to do with the audio or signal path. More importantly, the bluetooth gains credibility in this application as it profers users an advantage: control of the mic without touching it or needing to be in the same room, or for example, with microphone arrays that are at height or in a balanced position.
The multi-polar pattern, pad and high-pass filter, can all be adjusted (via Polar Pilot app on bluetooth device) whilst the mic is in front of the singer in the vocal booth, or in front of the amp in the amp room, or inside the bass drum. The mic can be adjusted from the mix-listening position in the control room. Even in the home studio, this remote-control is invaluable (as I discovered in the bass tracking session, detailed below).
As a new modern 'start-up' we can begin to see Austrian Audio as now distinct from AKG but still continuing the tradition of high-end, professional, microphone design and manufacture.
One obvious new design direction is based around the 'open condenser' (the OC of the OC818 name)- as much free-field (for capsule) as possible - hence the large, wide basket and minimalist, spacious interior. Simply, this means there less reflections of sound transmitted from the mic components and body to the capsule. The OC818 does sound remarkably free and open.
The Austrian Audio OC818 is designed and manufactured in Vienna, Austria. Austrian Audio also offer research and design facilities for other manufacturers - expertise in hardware and software and patent/propriety tech in audio, acoustics, transducers, noise-cancelling and measurement tools - also specialised tech in telecom and aviation industries. Cross-pollination of techniques and ideas between industries can be very beneficial and audio gear is constantly improving in this way.
Although the mechanics of design and manufacture is a sort of universal philosophy based in physics and math, each manufacturing region or tradition seems to impart some of it's own character into the process from the first principles - either on the drawing board or in the creators mind: with the OC818, Austrian Audio have produced something unique - a product of a local imagination. Obviously, they are thinking very clearly judging by the OC818.
The Angles: There are three review angles: the OC818 as a standalone traditional mic; as a remote-controlled mic; and, as a source for dynamic editing post-capture.
The OC818 is obviously a very capable mic without the additional gizmos (bluetooth dongle, Polar App & Polar Designer): the on-body control switches access all features. This is how I first approached the mic - as a trad mic. Although this is where the main value lies - in the performance and material quality - there's also added value in the remote and post-editor (which I'll cover below).
If the OC818 doesn't function as a standalone trad mic then the extras don't really matter. The fact is that the OC818 does tick all the boxes in its pure form - without the novel technology.
If you don't have Bluetooth, or a phone or a computer, then the OC818 works fully and nothing is lost - either in capability or function. No money is paid for features that will not be used; there is no loss of value in standalone mode.
Even if you can't access Polar Designer (e.g. in an all analogue studio) then there is still the dual-output as 2 independent mono sources and these can be manipulated in the analogue domain.
In Use: The Austrian Audio OC818 is light in weight (not super-light but lighter than older mics) and this makes it easy to position - no sagging or stand-felling potential - and being quite compact and slim, it can fit into small spaces with ease. The custom suspension cradle does the job without fuss.
I don't have a lot of experience with £500+ mics; I've heard them but not used them. The OC818 immediately conveyed a detailed and lively sound (reminiscent of a silver Manley); the sound was so detailed I could hear the room in a way that the sub-£500 mics missed - they kind of glossed over that level of detail; and detail is important at the mix stage. The width control on a mono DAW channel has a lot to play with: either as tight mono or opened up with the room sound filling the stereo soundstage in a natural way.
This taught me I needed to up my game with the OC818 - unless the source was perfect, the mic would capture the flaws too. This level of detail comes at a cost and initially this affects the ease-of-use. A learning curve - although acceptable for a mic that will improve your recordings and last a lifetime with care and servicing.
I experimented with room position, distance, and different preamps: a BAE 1073mpf, a Sound Devices 702 and interface pre's on the Focusrite Saffire, Audient EVO4 and IK Multimedia AXE I/O. I compressed the mic with a Warm76
I recorded a short ballad (male vocal and acoustic guitar) using the OC818 (alongside a MXL770 with the Jim Williams RK12 mod) into the Audient EVO4 preamps and analogue-digital conversion.
These tracks are heard here.
Austrian Audio OC818
OC818 in mix
Despite sharing some heritage in terms of the capsule, and even with both mics in cardioid mode, the two mics had different emphasis in frequency - the OC818 more sensitive to 4 kHz, with the modded-MXL around 9 kHz. The OC818 captured much more of the room and ambience - even with both mics in cardioid mode there was a fuller proximity effect with the OC818.
Another difference is the level of detail captured by the OC818; akin to the difference between comfortable distorted monitors and breathtaking crystal clear reference monitors.
The OC818's ability to capture bass cleanly, without overloading or distorting, came in useful for the next test: mic'ing a bass guitar amp.
One of the challenges of reviewing is unlocking the gear's character in a short time: one option is to create a song/track using the mic on many sources. This sort of filters the overall sound.
I started with an ITB drum track from the DAW and positioned the OC818 in front of a Fender Acoustasonic amp; the Ibanez SR500 bass guitar went into a Radial JDI then into a Blackstar HT1R tube preamp section and into a Fender Acoustasonic amp. A DI is also taken from the JDI and along with mic into a BAE1073mpf dual preamp. I fed the DI into a Warm 76 compressor and an converted them via iZ RADAR Studio with Classic 96 card (@48kHz) into Propellerhead Reason DAW.
I discarded the DI track immediately; not needed. It sounded kinda flat alongside the fullness and warm ambience of the OC818.
Next I added some chop guitar: Fender Tele FMT HH into the Blackstar. Again, it sounded perfect with little fuss or tweaking.
Next I added percussion tracks, one at a time. On listening to the rough mix everything just sounded 'right' and in place; also, the live recorded material blended perfectly with the software DAW tracks. The room ambience captured by the OC818 enhanced the ITB soundstage and each source was clear, detailed, in-the-pocket, and resting on the shelf. No remedial EQ or compression needed.
The clarity and detail also helped with monitoring during the tracking.
Bass and guitar in mix.
Polar Pilot w/OCR8 bluetooth dongle: Polar Pilot is an app that runs on a phone/tablet/device and wirelessly controls the polarity, filter, and pad of the OC818 mic. It also features an override meter to detect level clips.
The polar patterns are selected by a slider (with the patterns: fig-8, hyper, cardioid, omni, and custom, from left to right). The slider has 250 positions available between the polar patterns so unique shapes/patterns can be created, particularly in conjunction with the pad and filter controls. The unique pattern can then be saved as a preset to the custom setting and will work standalone. Very cool.
For the bass, guitar, and persussion recordings I set the mic in position and adjusted the OC818 settings using the OCR8 bluetooth dongle and Polar Pilot app - running on a phone and a tablet. (Tip: if the app doesn't connect automatically, pair mic dongle via your devices system preferences to start, then run app).
I was able to listen to the different polar patterns, filter and pad, from the monitoring/mix sweet spot, where I was playing the instrument with the OC818 in front of the amp. The amp and mic could have been in another room or in a cabinet.
In this audio example (as I heard it though headphones whilst tracking), the bass riff repeats twice for each polar pattern: figure-of-8; hypercardioid; cardioid; omni; and, custom preset. This enabled me to select and set the best OC818 settings
With the percussion I wore headphones and was able to adjust the OC818 from the playing position, just below the mic. The Override meter, displayed with 60 secs history in the Polar Pilot app, showed that I had a couple of clips (lit red against green) - I could easily and remotely apply the -10 dB pad without leaving the playing position. Neat.
In general I found the Polar Pilot app very useful for tracking/solo recording: time-saved, less stretching and repetitive tasks. More focus on the sound.
Polar Designer: This VST3 plug-in allows the user to manipulate the polar pattern of the OC818's sound post-capture. The capsule is split to two physical XLR outputs (front membrane and rear) which are then recorded separately to two mono tracks in the DAW. The Polar Designer plug-in can then adjust the polar pattern (using the spatial/phase information in the audio tracks) after the recording is captured.
This is neat, particularly as the OC818 captures great ambience and room detail and this can help the source to sit in the mix soundstage. Even neater: the polar pattern can be adjusted over up to five frequency bands and the bands can be moved freely.
The Polar Designer also auto-detects for optimum settings and offers other features such as adjustable proximity effect and room EQ emphasis (software inspects audio using an IIR impulse filter to reduce spill). In addition utilities: presets, bypass, DAW channel linking.
On a test persussion track (audio examples below) I was able to tweak drums in a unique way with awesome results - better than with the OC818 alone! The unwanted deep resonant boom of the acoustic guitar (too close to soundhole) was easily tamed by adjusting one band in Polar Designer from omni to figure-of-eight pattern whilst leaving the bass and high end intact and unaffected. With up to 5 bands to tweak it is quick and easy to make the source sound as intended and without compromise.
The only downside of the Polar Designer system is that it requires two identical preamps and two mixer/DAW channels; also, the two mic outputs need to be balanced using the pad switch on the mic (0, -10, -20 dB) rather than using preamp gain. In practice this requires careful positioning of the mic so that, for example, the rear diaphragm is either equal in level, or 10 or 20 dB quieter than the front one.
The upside is that the source can be tweaked post-capture and in a spectacular, revolutionary way. Once bitten forever smitten. Add or remove proximity effect in any polar pattern - even omni.
The Polar Designer has such a positive effect in terms of tone, perceived compression and dynamics, that it is unlikely you will not want to use it every time. I'd go so far as to say that the mic alone is not as good as with Polar Designer on complex sources, maybe the type of sources that benefit from a multiband processor. On less needy sources, even one or two bands of the Polar Designer offers significant sonic advantages...and all in hindsight, post-capture.
The Polar Designer is free, open-source and will work with a variety of sources; currently VST3 only (the DDMF Metaplugin was used for the review). Low CPU, low latency, zero glitches.
Conclusion: I was highly-satisfied with the Austrian Audio OC818 especially in combination with the Polar Designer app; the sound and the ability to adjust it in a natural way without artifacts is remarkable. I felt encouraged as an audio engineer, musician, and producer.
The OC18 bluetooth system with Polar Pilot app is extremely useful in setting up the mic, moreso in unfamiliar set-ups.
In addition to the beautiful sound and useful ergonomics, the OC818 is well-designed and built on quality engineering and components.
Congratulations to Austrian Audio - the new 350-year old start-up company: a pleasure (and an education) to use the OC818.
Sound quality 5/5 Clear, detailed, honest, without hype. Full bandwidth capture. Lack of harshness/high-end distortion even when pushed. Stable ceramic capsule for consistent sound over time.
Features: 5/5 Although the OC818 will work standalone as a traditional mic, it really shines when the bluetooth Polar Pilot and especially the Polar Designer come into play. The pad, filter and polar patterns are well-judged and flexible enough that the OC818 can handle every source and position. The suspension is effective.
Ease of use: 5/5 Takes a while to get to grips with the OC818's potential and flexibility; short learning curve with the apps. Physical mic and suspension can be easily manouvered and will fit in tight or difficult spaces. Control sliders are quite low profile but move easily.
Bang-for-buck: 5/5 Great investment in the studio and sound. Workhorse for multiple roles. Material construction and engineering feels high end. Likely to last.