The term “boutique” gets thrown around a lot in the microphone game, and seems to be readily applied to anything that is not mass produced in China (and more than a few that are). While it has become increasingly easy to get a good microphone without spending a small fortune, serious project and professional studios alike have proven there is still a need for truly great microphones, which provide an extra something for your sound, be it warmth or clarity, that is often difficult to describe. As it is with most great pieces of audio gear, it is just this ethereal something that you know it when you hear it.
Many classic microphones have this something, which is often attributed to the small production and high attention to detail in microphone manufacturing producers of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s had, which is generally not found in the mass produced microphones of today, even in very high-end models. Enter Soyuz Microphones. Harking back to an era and location helps define what we mean when we say “classic” or “vintage”—namely, Germany, Austria, and Russia from the 1940s through the ’60s.
Soyuz boasts a particularly impressive commitment to its manufacturing process by combining Soviet-era Russian circuit design with both Western aesthetics and, let’s face it, superior quality-control practices. In fact, the name Soyuz itself means union, in this case, the union between the aesthetics and science of Russia and the West. So what does this union consist of?
The SU-017 Large Diaphragm Tube Condenser Microphone certainly boasts a boutique price tag, but a look under the hood shows just why that is. The mic is entirely handmade, with its capsule being cut, tuned, and assembled all manually and individually. All of its transformers are hand wound, and the electronics are assembled in-house, using point-to-point wiring. All the metal work is done, once again by hand, on metal lathes from the famous Kalashnikov rifle factory in Izhevsk.
In addition to the attention to detail one can only get from a handmade process, the SU-017 benefits from a few more rare aspects in its production; namely the 510 MOhm resistors it employs, which are only available in Russia. Another special ingredient is the Soviet-era tubes used, which have been made in the same factory nonstop since 1962.
While it has its feet firmly in the past, the team at Soyuz is not at all foolhardy, and made sure to incorporate modern components where they proved superior, with Marquardt switches and Neutrik connectors.
The microphone has a swappable capsule system, which its designers feel helps avoid the sonic compromises that can come with a multi-pattern capsule design. It comes included with a cardioid polar pattern capsule, with omnidirectional and figure capsules also available separately.
Also announced is the SU-011, the small diaphragm condenser counterpart to the SU-017. It features the same pedigree as its large diaphragm big brother, optimized to excel at applications typical of a small diaphragm mic. An impressive bonus of the SU-011 is that it is compatible with the capsules for the SU-017, allowing you to use it as either a small or large diaphragm mic.
Visuals and Sounds
The SU-017 certainly looks its price tag, taking the influence for its appearance from a variety of Russian elements, namely the domes of Russian Orthodox churches, the metal sphere of Sputnik, the Soyuz rocket ship, and Tsarist Russian architecture. The body of the mic conforms to the Golden Ratio (1 x 1.618, in case you are ever on Jeopardy), with the Sputnik-esque sphere sitting on top.
While a pretty microphone is a good thing to have when it comes time to film that YouTube performance, all that glitters is not gold, if the sound is not there. While it is easy (and sometimes annoying) to wax poetic about how a great microphone sounds, it is also much easier to just take a listen. Over at www.soyuzmicrophones.com, there are quite a few samples pitting the SU-017 against other heavyweights, such as the Neumann U87 and Telefunken 251E.