In this article, we’ll be exploring some of the rarest and most expensive microphones used on famous recordings. These mic designs have been immortalized through their status within the industry and the timeless music created with them.
Since its invention in the 19th century, we have always looked to expand and elaborate on the microphone’s design. It’s only until recently that we have become increasingly concerned with recreating vintage and other existing designs.
More than being incredible feats of engineering, the iconic microphones ushered in new eras of recording. They allowed performers and engineers new creative freedom with greater capabilities to capture sound.
The Most Expensive Microphones
When exploring vintage microphones and recreating historic sounds, it’s important to remember that the microphone is only one link in the chain. Although it plays a major role in the overall sound, the way microphones work in combination with particular preamps, EQs, channel strips, compressors, and recording mediums such as analogue tape can make recordings come to life.
RCA 44 BX
It might not be the most expensive mic on this list by any means, but the RCA 44 marks an era before German and Austrian condenser microphones became popular in the US recording industry.
Developed by Harry Olson of RCA Labs in the 1930s, the RCA model 44 became the standard for voice recording and broadcast for many years to come. The design used an aluminium ribbon that featured a localized figure of 8 pickup pattern, as well as a transformer.
This created the beautifully dark and coloured sound that we associate with recordings of that era. The RCA 44 has been famously used by Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, Elvis, and Nat King Cole.
Today, AEA creates authentic reproductions of the classic RCA 44 ribbon mic in the form of the R44C. However, the supercardioid KU5A active ribbon mic is a far more feasible choice for modern home recording.
- More about AEA
Tube circuitry has an incredibly low noise floor, which maximizes the dynamic range. However, possibly the main reason this vocal chain is preferred is that it captures vocals in an ultra-clean and transparent way without colouring the sound.
With its unique dual-diaphragm design, the C-800G has been used by artists like Madonna, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Eminem, Justin Bieber, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and many more.
- More from Sony
It might not be the most well-known nor the most widely used, but for those in the know the Brauner VM1 is easily one of the best tube condenser mics ever designed.
In 1999, Klaus Heyne of German Masterworks undertook a project with Brauner to create a timeless version of the already revered VM1, dubbed the VM1 KHE (Klaus Heyne Edition). Only 100 units were produced.
When recording the Queens Of The Stone Age album, Lullabies to Paralyze, Joe Barresi rented a VM1 to use on Josh Homme’s lead vocals, which suited the characteristically dense mixes Baressi is known for creating.
The VM1 is known for capturing high frequencies with the utmost clarity, but as it’s priced slightly out of reach of most recording budgets these days, the Manley Reference Cardioid Mic is a worthy alternative.
- More about Brauner
First introduced in 1953, the AKG C12 and its relative the stereo C24, as well as the Telefunken ELA M 250/251 microphones which were closely modelled on the C12 are still some of the most influential mic designs.
Its coveted brass CK 12 capsule and the expanded multipattern capabilities made it a mainstay in recording studios all over the world. The warm, natural sound was preferred by countless producers and engineers over the years.
The C12 has been used on recordings by artists like Tom Petty, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and Michael Jackson, as well as being used during the famous “We Are The World” sessions.
If you don’t fancy the modern AKG recreation, the C12 VR, you can get some great results with the WA-CX12 from Warm Audio.
- More about AKG
The U47 was the first post-war microphone produced by the Georg Neumann company in what was the West German side of Berlin in 1947 and soon replaced the ribbon mic as the recording standard in the US.
When recording, the U47 offered greater dynamic range with higher SPL handling. Overall, the sound was warmer, fuller, and clearer, with the elegant detail of the recording environment’s ambience, and marked a new era in recording.
From Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and David Bowie, to Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Taylor Swift, and many more, the U47 has proved its worth on some of the most famous records of all time.
- More about Neumann
More about the Most Expensive Microphones:
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- RCA 44BX: Pintrest
- Sony C-800G: SONY
- Brauner VM1: Brauner
- AKG C 12: Vintage King
- Neumann U 47: Neumann GmbH