Reviews : Microphone : OKTAVA ML52
Oktava ML52 Ribbon Microphone
A Russian ribbon mic brings this classic technology to a new low price
Although completely usurped by electrostatic mics in the '60s, ribbon mics were the
highest-fidelity option in the studio for many years. They fell from grace for several
reasons -- their delicate build, comparatively low output level and figure-of-eight polar
pattern. However, a good ribbon mic is a marvellous thing, with a sweet sound and a
transient response to equal many capacitor mics. Well-designed ribbon mics also have a
wonderfully 'black' noise floor, making for a better dynamic range than available with top
Built Like A Battleship
The ML52 is made in Russia by Oktava, and is supplied in a foam-lined ABS case. It is a
substantial black beast measuring 185mm in length and 55mm in diameter. It weighs 600g,
but looks a lot heavier, with its matt-black metal body and vertical grille fins. A
threaded stand adaptor fits around the XLR connector at the base of the mic.
Like any ribbon mic, the ML52 must be treated with care. Air blasts -- whether from
wind draughts or an idiot puffing into the mic to test it -- can easily stretch or rupture
- Silky-smooth sound.
- Precise and deep side rejection nulls.
- Wide dynamic range.
- Very susceptible to LF vibration.
- Needs careful handling.
|A very affordable microphone which does much
to reinstate the good name of ribbon technology. Combines modern technical performance
with a characteristically smooth sound and precise polar response. The only disappointment
is in its susceptibility to vibration through the cable and stand -- a shockmount is a
The ribbon is a corrugated double-filament affair about three microns thick, open to
the air on both sides, through the substantial magnet assembly. The polar response is
figure-of-eight, and it remains very consistent across most of the frequency range, with
rejection at the sides reaching 20dB in the mid-range.
There are no active components in this mic, which is why there is so little self-noise,
but also why the output voltage is relatively low. Having said that, the mic's sensitivity
is 1.6mV/Pa, which is about 10dB higher than that of the classic Coles 4038 ribbon. The
signal level is similar to that of a modern dynamic mic, although still about 25dB lower
than that of most capacitor designs. The quoted maximum SPL is over 135dB, so there should
be no fears about putting an ML52 up in front of a brass section.
Although it is often suggested that phantom power should be kept away from ribbon mics,
in practice I've never had any problems, provided properly balanced circuits are used and
the mics are connected with XLRs. Never plug or unplug any mic via a jack-plug if phantom
power is on!
The frequency response of the ML52 is quoted as 50Hz to 16kHz ±2.5dB. Although pretty
flat from below 50Hz to 5kHz (albeit with a broad 2-3dB lift at around 150Hz), there is a
substantial hollow in the response above this. The wide dip stretches between about 5kHz
and 16kHz, reaching almost -6dB at 8kHz. Although this looks alarming on the supplied
chart, it translates into a smooth and mellow sound, which is characteristic of the breed.
Like most figure-of-eight mics, the ML52 has a substantial bottom-end capability, and
is extremely sensitive to every rumble and vibration which finds its way up the stand or
cable. I would consider a shockmount absolutely essential and, while no dedicated unit is
currently available, Oktava's worldwide distributors say that one will be on sale within a
In The Studio
The ML52's sound is pure ribbon: silky smooth, detailed, and fast, with an extremely
low noise floor utterly devoid of the spikiness often present in budget electrostatic
models. The mic worked well on a wide range of instruments. A brief trial with a small
string section sounded smooth, and it helped the individual players sound more like an
ensemble. Trumpets and trombones were captured with fine clarity and detail, but with a
refinement which can be hard to achieve with budget capacitor mics. These characteristics
pervaded everything I tried, and proved particularly effective on male voices, although
care was required to maintain a constant working distance, as the proximity effect is
The accuracy of the polar pattern was ideal for recording a solo singing guitarist
using one of my favourite techniques: one figure-of-eight mic for the guitar, angled to
reject the voice, and another one for the voice, angled to reject the guitar.
The Oktava ML52 sounds a lot better than you might expect given its stunningly low UK
price. Provided it is treated with care, and a decent shockmount is used, this mic can
really deliver results comparable with far more expensive fare, and is worth considering
as an alterative to some of the fierce-sounding budget capacitor mics. And don't be put
off by the figure-of-eight polar response -- there is more to the art of recording than
in SOS December 2001