Our friends at AKG take us on a deep dive of the C414 XLS and C414 XLII multi-pattern condenser microphones
Written by AKG
Welcome to the third and final blog post on the AKG C-Series. In the first article, we explored the history of AKG and the development of the acclaimed C-Series microphones. In the second article, we looked at the AKG C314, and explored some common polar patterns and their applications. Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into the C414 Reference Multipattern Condenser Mic, one of the most versatile mics in the AKG catalog.
Since its original release in 1971, the AKG has produced a number of different model variations of the C414. Currently, it makes two versions—the C414 XLS and the C414 XLII. Aside from minor cosmetic differences, the most important difference between the modern C414 models is their capsules. Let’s take a look at these two mics and explore their features and use cases.
The C414 XLS (left) is more transparent sounding than the C414 XLII, but the latter has a presence boost similar to the legendary C12, which makes it quite flattering on many sources.
C414 Capsules Explained
Designed for accurate reproduction and transparency, the AKG C414 XLS features the same capsule as the popular C414 B-ULS. This transparency is very appealing if you want to capture a sound source with very little coloring, like acoustic guitars, drums, stringed instruments and more
"The XLS is neutral sounding and has the flattest linearity, which means it's very transparent," says JT Taylor, Senior Application Engineer, AKG. "It's suitable for any situation, but really shines on strings and acoustic instruments—or whenever you want a truly accurate recording”.
The C414 XLII features the same capsule design as the legendary AKG C12, with a similar 3kHz presence boost, which makes it an excellent choice for capturing vocals and solo instruments. Both C414 models are great all-around mics and deliver high-quality reproduction for a range of sources.
"I use them on everything," Taylor explains. "From a snare drum to an opera singer, to a jazz singer or a symphony, they're incredibly versatile mics."
Versatile Sound-Shaping Controls on the C414
The C414 gives the user considerably more control over how it picks up sound than most microphones. For example, most mics feature one volume pad, but the C414 gives you three: -6dB, -12dB and -18dB. Engaging any of these will lower the output by the specified amount, which is helpful for avoiding overloads when recording loud sources like horns, drums and guitar cabinets.
The C414 offers multiple pad and filter choices, adding to its versatility.
Also, whereas most mics only give you a single option for cutting low-frequency pickup, the C414 offers three filter settings: 40Hz, 80Hz or 160Hz. The first two filters provide a 12dB/octave slope, while the 160Hz setting has a gentler 6dB/octave slope. The filter can be helpful to reduce low-end distortion when recording bass-heavy sources, and can be useful for reducing proximity effect, wind noise, or plosives.
The C414 also offers a number of other useful features. For example, if you overload the mic with a loud source, even if it's just for a fraction of a second, the polar pattern indicator LED on the front of the mic will light up red. Also, if the phantom power gets turned off, the mic will retain all its settings the next time it's turned on. What's more, you can lock all the settings on the mic temporarily, so that they don't get changed accidentally. That capability is particularly helpful if you're using a C414 for live sound, where it's more likely to get moved or bumped into.
The Many Polar Patterns of the C414
Microphone polar patterns (aka "pickup patterns") are typically represented graphically in a two-dimensional, 360-degree circle plot. In real life, a microphone captures sound in a three-dimensional space around its capsule. In the second article of this series, we discussed four polar patterns: omnidirectional, cardioid, supercardioid and figure-8 (aka "bi-directional").
You can set the C414's pattern selector directly on a particular pattern, or in an intermediate setting in between.
These different polar patterns are created by varying the output level from the omnidirectional microphone capsule and combining it with varying output levels from the figure-8 microphone capsule. The C414's front-panel polar pattern selector has five patterns: Omnidirectional, Wide Cardioid, Cardioid, Hypercardioid and Figure-8. You can also select an intermediate setting between each one, which combines it with the adjacent pattern. The result is four additional patterns, bringing the total to nine, which is considerably more than most multipattern mics.
This shows the various polar patterns available on the C414
Three of the C414's patterns are also available on the C314: Omni, Cardioid and Figure-8. Two others, Wide Cardioid and Hypercardioid are only on the C414. Wide Cardioid falls between Omni and Cardioid, and thus exhibits less of the proximity effect (the accentuated bass response when you record sources close to the mic) of Cardioid. With the C414's ability to select intermediate patterns, you can even set the mic halfway between Wide Cardioid and Omni.
Another pattern on the C414 that's not on the C314 is Hypercardioid. It's even more directional than Supercardioid and is a handy pattern when you're trying to isolate a source from other instruments or voices. It also offers some of the rear sensitivity of Figure-8 (which picks up evenly from the front and back and rejects sound coming in from the sides). Again, thanks to the C414's polar pattern versatility, you can set the selector halfway between Hypercardioid and Figure-8 to split the difference in their response.
AKG C414 Polar Pattern Sound Examples
The following video examples feature the same piano passage recorded using eight of the nine possible polar pattern settings with two C414 microphones. Both mics were placed about 6" above the strings, one above the lower octaves and the other over the higher octaves. There was also a mic over the strings towards the rear of the piano to capture its richest and smoothest sound, which was then mixed in at a lower volume than the mics at the bridge. For comparison purposes, we arranged the videos in order from the omnidirectional recording first to the figure-8 recording last, with each successive polar-pattern recording in between.
This playlist offers audio examples of 8 different polar pattern settings on the AKG C414.
If you listen to the first recording followed by the last, you'll notice the biggest contrast (we recommend listening with headphones to hear the differences clearly). The Omni recording provides a warmer, rounded and more balanced sound across the low-to-high end of the grand piano when compared to the one captured with the Figure-8 pattern. The other six recordings provide slight variations between those two.
However, just because the Omni recording sounded best doesn't necessarily mean it's always a better choice for piano. If you were to move the location of the microphones further away from the piano strings or if you were recording other instruments or vocals at the same time, then you could choose another polar pattern setting to better isolate the piano. Or you may prefer the tonal characteristics of another polar pattern depending on the specific recording situation and environment. Polar pattern selection is equally a creative choice as much as it is a technical decision.
We hope you've enjoyed this blog series about AKG C-Series microphones. You can find all the mics mentioned in these articles at Musician's Friend.