We are sure most of us have lusted after microphones by the five or six super-famous names with even more famous model numbers, we certainly have! After all, who doesn’t want a real AKG C12 or Neumann U47, U67 or U87 in their studio? However, there are dozens of smaller, what we might call “boutique”, microphone manufacturers all over the world who are making some stunning sounding, and incredible looking microphones that you might not have heard of. What also maybe be surprising is that boutique microphones don’t always come with a vintage (read hefty) price tag. In this article we list the boutique microphones companies, which you might not have heard that we have come across and we think should be on your studio radar.
What Is Boutique? - The Rules
So let’s get this out of the way right at the top of this article. This not every small microphone company. If it was, we could start researching now and still not be finished by the time we all finally hang up our headphones. Instead this article is intended to be is an ever-growing resource where from time to time, and with the help of you, our amazing community, we will add small companies let’s say of less than 30 employees, who are making amazing and interesting microphones that in some way capture our imagination. We will not be adding the big famous brands or companies that are building what have become known as microphone “clones”. Nor will we be adding companies who have their mic built in outsourced overseas factories. All the companies listed below will have the lion’s share of their product produced on home turf, in-house. The list not a top-down ranked list, it is a list in no particular order and Mic brands have been added as we have found them.
Samar Audio Design
Samar Audio Design are a Salt Lake City, Utah based microphone company who currently have a line of 7 ribbon microphones. We first saw them at Winter NAMM 2019 and fell in love with the beauty of the design and the attention to detail in the machining and finish. What’s more when we heard them, even in a trade-show hall environment, they sounded clean, clear and warm. Even their most inexpensive mic, the new Samar AL95 at only $399 USD, sounded fantastic.
Check them out at the Samar Audio Design Website.
This small family run operation based in Dorset in the UK make some amazing looking and sounding microphones. It will come as no surprise that James Ivey Technical Editor of Production Expert is a major fan of the entire Sontronics range and uses their DM1-T and DM1-B on toms and kick drum on nearly every session he records and their new Delta 2 ribbon mic is permanently set-up in front of his guitar cab. While some of their more cost effective range of mics are designed in the UK they are built overseas, their premium mics like the Aria and Mercury and their dynamic handheld mic, the Solo, are designed and built in the UK.
Check out some recent Sontronics microphones reviews from the team at Production Expert below.
You can find out more about the entire Sontronics range of mics, preamps and accessories at the Sontronics website.
Vanguard Audio Labs
Vanguard Audio Labs are a Southern California based company who design and make some of the finest yet affordable mics available today. These mics have regularly gone head-to-head with mics many times greater in cost and come out on top. Their design and quality ethic is to make great microphones in a way that keeps them affordable without cutting corners. Production Expert’s James Ivey is a fan of the V1 + Lolli on drum overheads and the V44S as a stereo room mic. Check out these reviews and tests…
Latvian company JZ Microphones are making some truly original looking and great sounding mics. Their design ethos is truly left of centre, or should that be “All About The Holes”. While their Golden Drop capsule technology makes the capsule lighter and faster moving meaning even the fastest transients are detected and reproduced. The JZ BlackHole BH 1S and BH2 mics were used to great lengths in the tracking of a recent Production Expert series of videos for Universal Audio and sounded amazing on male vocal for the track Thought Of Love by the Rooftop Renegades. The Vintage line, which includes the Vintage V67 and V47 mics might suggest a 47 and 67 clone but these mics are far from just another copy of a great mic. These are slightly retro sounding mics that will not break the bank when you add them to your mic locker, and you will want to once you have heard and used them.
You can check out some recent articles featuring JZ Microphones below.
You can find out more about the full range of JZ Microphones at the companies website.
Without a doubt one of the biggest developments in what we might call conventional microphone technology has been made by Swedish company Ehrlund with the invention of the triangular diaphragm membrane which, in theory at least, produces a clearer more transparent sound by being able to move faster without the slow dampening factor of a traditional round membrane. Ehrlund are gaining plenty of fans in a very short amount of time with this new approach. George Massenburg in particular used an array of Ehrlund mics in the recording of the Toontrack Superior Drummer 3 Core Library.
There are currently 5 mics in the Ehrlund range which all feature the triangular membrane technology. These mics are well worth checking out if you get the chance.
You can check out what the Production Expert team thought when they first saw the Ehrlund microphones at NAMM 2017.
You can find out more about Ehrlund microphones at their website.
There is quite a funny rumour going round that Soyuz took their name from the Soviet space program because all the material in their mics had either been used in construction or been up into space. As cool as it might sound this is sadly not true. Soyuz in Russian means union and Soyuz Microphones is an alliance of East and West. From the East comes the skilled Russian technicians at their factory in the city of Tula and from the West comes design, quality control and marketing ability. At a time of tension between Russia and the United States, Soyuz is a rare example of the mutual benefits of cooperation.
The company currently make three ranges of mics. The flagship SU-017 large diaphragm condenser in either FET or valve varieties. The newly updated SU-013 small diaphragm pencil condenser in either FET or valve varieties and the baby of the range the SU-023 or Bomblet. These are hand-made microphones in the true sense of the word.
Production Expert Technical Editor James Ivey was fortunate enough to be invited to the Soyuz factory to see first hand exactly what goes into a Soyuz mic, and even gets his hands dirty in the machine room. Check out the videos below.
You can also check out the latest Production Expert reviews of two of the Soyuz microphones below.
You can find out more about the Soyuz Microphones range at their website.
We have had the fortune, or maybe it’s misfortune, to use Brauner mics on more than one occasion and they are truly stunning. From the build quality to the shock-mount to the control to the sound quality, the attention to every detail is bang on point. It is true that in this case you get what you pay for and Brauner mics are not what you might call bank account friendly but the Brauner VMA, which we used way back when on our voiceover microphone shootout in February 2015 was possibly one of the best sounding mics James Ivey says he has ever used.
The Brauner line-up is currently 12 large diaphragm mics, including 8 tube/valve condensers and 4 FET condensers. Prices start at around £1,400 for the Phantom Classic all the way up to an eye watering £8,748 for the VM-1S stereo mic. Brauner Microphones are a very, very small company who have developed a product that a great many top studios are recording professionals would like to get their hands on. To this end, if you do want to place an order for the Brauner mic of your dreams, you may be waiting a little while for delivery.
You can find out more about Brauner Microphones at their website.
If you’re looking for amazing sounding and looking microphones with the “bling” factor you really should check out Cathedral Pipes of Huntington Beach, California.
Cathedral Pipes is the culmination of a simple yet, always hard to achieve goal, to build the best studio microphones with uncompromising components and materials and then sell them at a fair price. It should be said that these are not cheap mics, but quality never is. Cathedral Pipes have taken the finest studio microphone designs in the world from Germany, Austria, Japan, and the United States and made slight, yet significant improvements to give them a unique, unparalleled sound and quality. Want to know where the idea for putting LEDs in a microphones head basket came from? Then look no further.
There are currently 4 mics in the range. The Notre Dame at $2,400 USD is a valve condenser mic and is described as a U47 taken to the max. The Saville is a classic Ribbon mic. The oddly titled Regensburg Dome is another valve condenser mic. Think of this as the rock and roll father to the Notre Dame and the Saint Jean Baptiste is a vintage style FET condenser.
Each Cathedral Pipes microphone is handmade in Orange County, California, USA where they gather the best parts from manufacturers like Cinemag, Jensen, OCC copper, AuriCap, Wima, and NOS glass resistors. Each microphone is wired with OCC long single crystal copper wire for the clearest possible signal quality.
You can find out all about the Cathedral Pipes range of mics and preamps at their website.
Ear Trumpet Labs
The team of six at Ear Trumpet Labs (and one of those is the dog) are currently producing a range of 11 microphones in their small workshop in Portland, Oregon, USA. I say 11 models but they will happily get creative with your favourite metal “junk” to create you an amazing one of a kind microphone. The thing that really sets Ear Trumpet Labs mic aside from other handmade custom mic manufacturers is that their mics are every bit as home in the studio as they are on a live stage. Often handmade means delicate and fragile, but not in this case. Ear Trumpet Labs mics are built for the demands of the road yet give you a studio quality sound, and a damn funky retro look to boot.
Starting at around $599 USD these mics are great value when you consider that they are completely handmade in the USA and while you might think all that copper screams out, what we in the UK might generically call “Country” music, and it is true that a great many artists in that musical world are embracing Ear Trumpet Labs, you can find these mics being used in studios and on live stages all over the world with every type of band and performer. If you are looking for something that looks off the wall but sounds sweet and true, you should check them out.
If you want to find out about the full range of Ear Trumpet Labs mics you can check out their website.
Trash Talk Audio
When I first saw that a company was remaking/repurposing old school (and I’m not expecting everyone who reads this to know that the picture above actually is) telephone handsets into microphones, a sharp intake of breath and a rub of the forehead was the very least I did. However, I then got to thinking. For audio post production these things would be amazing. We talk about get it right down the mic and for period drama where you want that lo-fi sound of a telephone call, what better than an actual telephone mic that in some cases would have been used for actual calls. However, digging a little deeper and taking some time to think about it a little more, I often put a “dirt” mic on a drum kit to give it some edge or grit and it looks like the Trash Talk Audio mics could be a very interesting option for this “grot” mic or LoFi mic. Blend a little of the “phone mic” into a drum kit mix or a 3 mic electric guitar set up and it sounds amazing.
There are currently 3 models. The new PP-1 for $99 USD. The vintage and hence rare RP-1 for $99 (not many of these left and if you want one I hope you like orange) and the full monty TB-1 for $199 and yes James did have one of these in his house when he was a kid!
If you looking for a talking point mic for your next session it’s got to be worth a cheeky punt, $99 what’s not to love. But we think this is going to be one of those mics you start putting up for a giggle and realise that you love what it adds to the vibe of a recording. And yes James is thinking about ordering one.
You can find out more about Trash Talk Audio at their website.
Since 1988 Josephson have been making beautiful microphones in Santa Cruz, California. Their range currently includes seven studio microphones and one measurement microphone. The Series 4 is a small cardioid pencil condenser for general studio use. The Series 6, which includes the E22S side address cardioid condenser mic was designed specifically to meet requirements of recording engineering legend Steve Albini to use when he records drums and in particular tom toms. The Series 7, which often look like they should be end addressed are not as they actually should be used, side addressed. The C700S stereo microphone features 3 capsules which make it a pricey, yet very versatile microphone. The C550 is their measurement microphone which is a lower cost version of the stunningly flat Microtech Gefell nickel diaphragm microphones.
If you would like to find out more about the Josephson range check out their website.
Extinct Audio have a range of three ribbon mics made in Yorkshire, UK, all roughly based around the same ribbon element and capsule design. However they look amazing and could be a real talking point on your next session. The first mic in the range the BM9 Viking is a general purpose bi-directional (Figure of 8) ribbon microphone, designed to be equally at home in front of a guitar amp, above an orchestra, and everywhere in between. It has a deep, rich bottom end particularly when used close to the source, and has a large bass proximity effect. Like many ribbon mics the top end response is smooth and detailed. The look of the BM9 is inspired by classic Danish microphones from the 1950s and 60s, but it contains numerous technical innovations which bring its performance, noise floor and output level up to 21st century specs.
The Extinct Audio Black Ops is a rugged near-field version of their BM9. The 2.5 micrometer ribbon is designed to withstand higher sound pressure volumes found close up in front of guitar amps and other louder instruments or voices. It has a black label and grills to distinguish it from the standard BM9. Black Ops boldly goes where you wouldn’t usually put a ribbon microphone.
Finally Valkyr is the stereo version of their BM9 and is designed to be a perfect one-point solution for recording ensemble, orchestral or choral performances. It also makes an excellent live room or drum overhead microphone, and is ideal for use in larger spaces.
If you want to find out more about the three Extinct Audio mics check out their website.
There is nothing more familiar in the studio than a pair of Coles 4038 ribbon mics over a drum kit but did you knows that Coles Electroacoustics Ltd, to give them their full and proper name, have been manufacturing the superb BBC-designed ribbon microphones in the UK for over 50 years? The mics are not their only production outlet. Coles also make magnetic educational products, moving coil sound pressure units and flooring products like cable boxes and access grommets. Originally designed for radio and television broadcast studios, Coles ribbon mics have become a primary tool of choice throughout the sound recording industry. Horse racing, F1 or Football commentary without the Coles 4104 “lip” mic would just not sound the same.
You can find out more about the complete range of Coles microphones at their website.
Pearl Mikrofonlaboratorium have been producing microphones in Stockholm, Sweden since 1941 and they were the only Swedish mic manufacturer until the late 1970’s and while just from looking at them you might think that many of the range are ribbon mics most of their microphones are actually condensers with large (not circular) membranes. There are a total of 13 mics in the range covering everything from hand held condensers for live use. Mid/Side and Shotgun mics for video and broadcast recordings and a host of different format large capsule mics with different polar patterns and features.
You can find out more about the company and their range of high quality microphones at the Pearl Microphones website.
Along with their range of desktop USB microphones Neat also produce the King Bee and Worker Bee studio cardioid condenser mics. Their very apiculturist friendly (bee keepers to you and me) styling really does make them stand out but these mics are more than just fun to look at, they are serious studio work-horses designed and built by engineers who have worked with some of the biggest names in the microphone and audio industry for over 30 years.
I have to admit, if you are going to have a theme then you need to let it fly and Neat really have when they designed the product the Beeline, or microphone cable if you will. I’m looking forward to how many more Bee themed products they can come up with before someone gets waspy (sorry).
You can find out more about the entire hive of products from Neat Microphones at their website.
If you have read this article and a microphone company that you love is not on the list, and if they are what we have defined as “boutique” in the opening paragraph then please do add the name of this company into the comments section so we can do some digging and if appropriate, add them to our list. As stated earlier this is a resource, not a list of reviews.
We will also be adding new manufacturers to this list as and when we find them at trade shows and events.