Microphone Locker: The Mojave MA-200

One excellent microphone for vocals as well as other applications.

One excellent microphone for vocals as well as other applications.

This Mojave large diaphragm condenser microphone is one of my favorite go-to mics for lead or background vocals. I’ve also been very pleased when using it on electric guitar amps/cabinets. In vocal A-B-C comparison tests it has won more than any other in the locker.

The MA-200 was created by David Royer of Royer Labs fame and the Mojave is advertised as “sounds like classic German microphones.”

I guess they can’t come right out and say it but I can tell you which “German microphone” it was modeled to sound like: The Neumann U87, no doubt about it. It’s likely the Neumann U87 is the most used mic in Nashville.

By the way, here’s a little tip that just might save one of your song projects someday. Having the right tool, which will often be the Mojave, is great but the singer IS the song! Before investing in tracking be sure you have the right one for the song. For those times you get stuck, bookmark this link. These are some of the singers I use and each is fabulous at what they do and willing to be the vocalist on your project.

Both U87 and the Mojave are advertised as having a flat frequency response from 20 to 20khz, other specs are similar, and, unless examined at extremely close range, they look nearly indistinguishable, even the baskets the microphones sit in are dead ringers.

Some engineers will argue it’s the Neumann U67 clone, and yes, they’re still popular on the used microphone market, but even Neumann no longer makes the U67 only the U87.

Before we go further you should know the following information was obtained at great personal risk and required donning a trench coat, wearing a Fedora, driving hundreds of miles, sleeping in my car overnight, and hiding a camera up my left nostril. It actually felt pretty good up there and cut my Kleenex needs in half, so I haven’t taken it out other than to retrieve the Mojave graph pic below:

Additional proof it’s a U87 clone is contained in the actual frequency response curve, nearly identical to the U87 throughout, except for a slight bump centered around 4k:

MA-200 Frequency Response

MA-200 Frequency Response

I suspect the bump is there intentionally, so no preamp EQ tweaking in that range is necessary. I often don’t need to do any EQ in the preamp stage to the MA-200, it sounds fantastic as-is.

The U67 does have a slight bump. but it’s centered around 1K, not 4. No longer manufactured, wrong bump placement. Nope, doesn’t add up.

The good thing is the MA-200 retails at just over $1,000 complete with power pack, case and basket. The U87 is a budget busting $3,500. It would be interesting to do a blind listening test featuring a U87 and an MA-200 through various pre-amps. How many engineers would stake their reputation on being able to tell the difference? I’ve made that offer around town a few times, and so far, no takers. Hmmmm…

So if the MA-200 so great, why not use it for everything or at least for every singer?

Because there is no such thing as the perfect microphone. Every voice has unique characteristics. Recordings of anything, especially vocals, sound the most natural when the least EQ tweaking is necessary at mix. So you want a microphone up that brings out the best characteristics of that particular vocalist. If, for example, the singer’s wheelhouse is in the high registers and they have an edgy, desirable peak in the upper mids, I want a microphone that brings those features to the forefront.

If you go through tracking tossing up any microphone simply because it records all frequencies, adopting an “I’ll fix it in the mix” approach, you’re going to have a whole lot of unnecessary knob turning happening during mixdown, That is extremely undesirable on vocals, and it can result in a weird, unnatural sounding mix.

The better approach is to choose microphones that reproduce the sounds you want to hear or as close to a particular sound as possible, so very little EQ tweaking is necessary.

When recording a new vocalist, I’ll usually listen to them sing in the control room either a capella, or with just an acoustic guitar as accompaniment. Then I’ll situate them in the vocal booth and start tossing up various microphones while I test record them singing through the Avalon and on into the Pro Tools session file track. If I test 4 microphones I’ll edit the track down to about 15 seconds of each side-by-side in an A, B, C, D style comparison so I can hear how each microphone sounds with their voice, then go with the winner.

At least half the time, that’s the MA-200- b.e.