|The standouts for me were the
MXL V67N ($129) the Naiant X-M omni with transformer option ($70) and
the surprising AT4021 ($250). I say surprising because it easily
surpassed the higher-numbered AT models including the 4041 and the
now-defunct AT4031. It was not only competitive with the 4051, but
possibly better and the noise stats were some of the best of any mic in
any price class. I could see using a pair of these on everything you'd
use an SD mic for -- overheads, live recording and acoustic
instruments. It's got a nice balanced sound -- highs, mids and bottom
sound great on it. The only downside is that AT does not sell these
mics in matched stereo pairs.
The other two mics I liked have transformers in them, but believe me when I tell you that I can't just listen to a mic and say, "Yep, that's got a transformer." And neither can you. I gave a dozen people a test with seven mics -- three had transformers and four didn't -- and only one person got even one of the mics right. Still, there's a certain mojo working on the V67N that I can't put my finger on, so I'll credit the transformer for that. While I wouldn't recommend it for live recording it's colored sound worked well on the Collings C-10 guitar. And the Naiant? I think the bigger sonic difference was between the free-field vs. diffuse-field versions of that omni mic rather than the transformer. I like the diffuse version best with it's more open high end.
I wanted to like the Oktava MK-012 because I had heard so many good things about it. It's not bad -- a buddy of mine says it has a rustic sound -- but the only version of the MK-012 that really impressed me was the Mark Fouxman mod of that mic. Not everyone agreed with me. Randall at The Still Recording Studio is absolutely sold on the stock sound of the MK-012 on acoustic guitar. Big midrange on it, not unlike a KM84 but to my ears not as good.
Lots of contenders in this category and lots of help scoring mics. The Avantone CK-1 was furnished by Mark Donovan of Austin to Boston Recording and the Avenson STO-2 was supplied by Stuart Sullivan of Wire Recording. Britton Beisenhertz at Ramble Creek provided the Rode NT5 and Pat Manske at The Zone Recording came up with a no-longer-made SE1 from SE Electronics. Daniel Gill of Reicher Recording shipped his Samson CO2 for the test and Tristan Rhodes drove all the way from Wimberley so I could hear the sE Electronics sE3 mic. Finally, singer-songwriter Mark Viator supplied his Studio Projects C4 to the cause, and Eastside Flash provided his Audio-Technica Pro 37R. Other mics were sent to me by willing manufacturers and a few were won in eBay auctions. They include the AKG C 1000 S, the Audio-Technica AT4021, AT4041 and ATM450, the CAD GXL1200, Kel Audio HM-1, MXL 604 and V67N, Naiant X-M with and without transformer option, Shure SM137 and Oktava MK-012.