Reviewed by Chris Sanchez
AKG recently sent me a pair of their new 451 ‘65th anniversary edition’ models as well as a D12VR to evaluate in studio. While not strict re-issues per se, these beautifully made microphones combine vintage and modern features to continue the legacy of these two great product lines. AKG introduced the original D12 in the mid 1950s, and it has been a favorite for kick drum mic’ing for decades. The 451 has a similar lengthy history, with that series debuting in 1969. AKG 451s have for decades been staples in music recording studios as well as on film sets and foley stages.
I examined the 451s first, using these two microphones exclusively for a television scoring session. The composition was for an ongoing library of Americana-themed rock and pop that I’ve been building for a music production company. I was curious to see if I could use just one variety of mic for the entire arrangement: two acoustic guitars, mandolin, shaker, percussion, pump organ, and upright piano. The 451 proved valuable on all sources, and even with the slight high-end rise that the 451 introduces, the final mixes had no harshness or top-end imbalance whatsoever.
I tracked the 451s through both an Apogee Mini-Me preamp/convertor and a DIY’d EMI REDD47 type tube preamp; the 451’s variable low-cut and variable pad were especially useful for the percussion tracks, allowing me to get a good level into the REDD47 without too much grit. On my Gibson J45, the 451 proved a little brighter than I would have preferred, although by mix time I was not inclined to correct it. In X/Y over my Yamaha U30 piano the 451s gave me a great sound. Recording a wood/seed shaker proved to be the most illuminating test: the detail that the 451 brought out was remarkable. I felt like I could hear every grain in the thing. I imagine that this is partly due to very even off-axis response.
My overall impression of the 451 65th Anniversary: if you want a clean, detailed mic that adds a touch of brightness, you cannot go wrong with these things. It creates an overall impression of naturalness, and the build quality is extremely high. A good value, especially at the $400 street price that I’m seeing right now at Sweetwater.
Where the 451 proved itself an excellent all-purpose acoustic-instrument microphone, the D12VR is a very specialized microphone. When the original D12 was introduced in the 1960s, it was initially sold as simply a high-quality dynamic mic; its reputation as a kick-drum mic was rather earned through decades of use on records.
With this new D12VR model, AKG has reinforced the D12’s strength as a kick-drum mic with a unique EQ feature specifically designed for that task. I had the chance to use the D12VR in a live studio session with a rock band: drums and sax baffled in our big live room at Gold Coast Recorders with guitar and bass in ISO rooms.
I used a straight-forward 11-mic setup on the 4-piece kit, with the D12VR as the beater-side mic.The band wanted to get 5 basic tracks done in one day, with material that varied quite a bit: this translates into not much setup time and a need for great versatility in the sources. The D12VR was very useful in accomplishing this. Once the mic is positioned, the user can engage a built-in EQ correction from the control room by engaging phantom power on the mic preamp. There are three such corrections available (selectable on the mic itself) and they are the typical sort of EQ procedures that are generally needed on rock kick drums. Here’s the best part though: the overall level of the signal remains pretty much the same with or without the EQ correction, so it’s super easy to get a real apples-to-apples comparison of the what the mic sounds like with-or-without the correction. I opted to track with the ‘position 2’ mid-cut and the results were excellent. At $500 street, the D12VR is not an inexpensive dynamic mic, but the price is certainly inline with competing models from Sennheiser and Electrovoice - and only the AKG offers the functionality of control room-enabled equalization. Overall, a bold idea that I hope we will see on more microphones in the future.