Over the course of two weeks I anticipated a delivery of two new ADK microphones to be used for a month of extensive testing. This review was done over the course of a month of tracking with various rock bands at Monsterland Recording Studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Everything was recorded to protools using high end Lynx converters and api microphone preamps. There was an effort to keep the signal chain similar throughout the testing process.
Via email, Larry Villella of ADK was extremely honest and informative about the nature of his microphones. Often gear manufacturers act like pimps hustling their goods under the veil of trendy marketing terms and “celebrity” testimonials. ADK took a different stance and talked with me frankly about what they sell and how it can aid in the recording process.
I received one S-7 and one A-6 large diaphragm condenser microphone. The mics arrived in nice piano painted wooden boxes with cloth lined interiors. Each mic comes with a stand mount but no shock mount. Although there was no shock mount, the microphones are typical in shape to other mics and I had no problem finding shock mounts in my collection that would fit each microphone. The build quality of both microphones is extremely solid. There is no question that ADK is making products that are meant for serious studio use. These are not Guitar Center toys that come free with your next pack of guitar strings.
The S-7 is a FET based microphone intended for high SPL sources such as guitar speaker cabinets or drums. As a matter of fact, “S” stands for high SPL. ADK claims that this mic can handle 150 db of gain before distortion. I am not the kind of engineer that keeps a db meter in my back pocket but I did crank a number of guitar amps in front of this microphone and it never came close to breaking up. There are two pads on the microphone that were often not even needed but are still a useful tool. The big benefit of this is that I can access more usable gain on my preamps and get a less compressed guitar signal.
On guitar amps the S-7 is extremely clean and open but doesn’t fizz out like other condenser mics might. It is usable as a single mic, especially for cleaner country oriented sources, but it really shines in addition to a shure sm-57. Although a 57 is a typical choice for guitar amps, I find it to be lackluster on many amps. A 57 will compress in a pleasing manner but the S-7 will retain dynamics that, in combination with a 57, can bring the life, attack, and detail back to your guitar tracks. Unlike other condenser mics I have used on guitar the S-7 worked well further away from the speaker than I would usually place a microphone. I got great results with the mic two feet away from the speaker facing slightly down towards to floor. An AKG 414 would have not taken well to this placement. This is probably due to the tight polar pattern of the S-7.
Due to the dynamic detail from the S-7, the low end appears very accurate from guitar amps. This is ideal on chuggy distorted guitars in that the microphone doesn’t sustain the low end but still represents the presence of sub harmonic material. I avoided a hi pass filter on the S-7 tracks during mix because the low end was sitting well with my other tracks.
On drums, I put the S-7 in positions where I would normally put a vintage Neumann Fet 47 large diaphram condenser. I placed the S-7 outside of a kick drum tunnel about 3 feet away from the beater head. The result was not in anyway like a FET 47, but it was still an very usefull. The low end decayed in a natural manner. A FET 47 extends the low end decay in a pleasing manner, but the S-7 low end was still flattering, just in a more natural context. I often ended up compressing the S-7 on kick with an 1176 to pull that low end back up. I found the S-7 to reject a lot of the other drums in this situation. This was ideal for using the outisde kick mic exclusively for kick sustain.
I found the S-7 a great microphone for a mono kit. When placed about 4 feed away from the snare the S-7 gave me a useful picture of the entire drum kit but didn’t hype the cymbals in a harsh manner. If anything, it gave me a diminished cymbal sound that complemented the other microphones I had on the drum kit. I should note that the drummer I was testing this with was heavy handed and loud. The S-7 held up to the volume in the room without a problem.
I wouldn’t call the S-7 a colored microphone, but the A-6 counterpart is slightly cleaner on the top end. ADK advertises the A-6 as a more “all around” studio condenser microphone that can be used in a variety of situations but is great on acoustic instruments. I assume that the A stands for acoustic. Because of this claim the first thing I used the A-6 on was acoustic piano. I placed the microphone about 5 inches above middle C on a honky-tonk upright piano. The piano part was meant to compliment a thick guitar and drum arrangement so I was looking for something to pop out of the mix in a bright manner but not overwhelm the guitars. The A-6 nailed my goals immediately. The dynamics remained clean and worked well with hefty compression and limiting. In the past I have used microphones like a Sennhieser 421 to accomplish a similar piano sound, but the A-6 did the job well and required less equalization.
I had a few chances to use the A-6 on acoustic guitar and I had results on par to the A-6 on piano. The A-6 took well to high end EQ boost on jangly acoustic guitars. There was enough harmonic information present in the upper register from the mic to boost it with EQ with pleasing results. The A-6 did not do well on drums. I repeatedly had issues with the microphone distorting in close micing situations. It was usable as a room mic for loud drums but I had trouble with too much cymbals in the room mics. The S-7 was better suited for this application.
There was only one application where the A-6 really failed me. I should note that I have never been a huge fan of large diaphragm condensers on vocals. I have used the full gamut of condenser vocal mics from vintage U67’s to cheap chinese condensers and most of them I did not like. I tried the A-6 on several vocalists from softly spoken female vocals to loud rambunctious whaling male vocals. I repeatedly ran into issues with sibilance and a lack of body. I tried out different preamps and microphone positioning but the problem persisted. On every occasion I ended up using a large diaphragm dynamic microphone such as an Electrovoice re-20. ADK has a few more expensive microphones such as the Vienna and the Hamburg that I am very interested in trying out on vocals. To ADK’s credit, the literature that comes with the A-6 describes the microphone as acoustic instrument specific. This mic was not intended to be used as a main vocal mic but I figured I should give it a shot anyway.
Both of these microphones are well worth adding to a microphone collection. I started testing them while unaware of their price point. I was shocked to find out that these microphones are available for under $300 each. They are on par or better than similar microphones worth 4 times as much. If I were selecting microphones for a new studio, a stereo pair of each of these would be on my must have list. – Shane O’Connor