If you, like me are old enough to remember the launch of the Russian space station Mir in 1986 then you are probably asking what on earth has that got to do with a microphone review? Well, keep reading and all will be revealed. The Mir station was transported to its orbit by the Soyuz series of spacecraft.
The name Soyuz comes from the acronym CCCP which translates as Soiuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik or Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (thanks to Yahoo Answers for this one). Keeping it simple this is what we used to call Russia before the breakup of the Soviet Union. So in short, Soyuz means Union.
The Soyuz Microphone company is born out of a union between the craftsmanship and precision engineering of the old USSR and the modern day USA.
I have heard several rumours that the Soyuz microphones use materials that were salvaged from the Russian space program. Sadly the folks at Soyuz tell me this is just a myth but a fun one none the less.
The Soyuz SU-019 FET Condenser Microphone
"So enough of the history lesson already, tell us about the mic." I have been lucky enough to have loan of the Soyuz SU-019 since just after the NAMM show back in January 2017. Many of you will have heard me use it as it is the mic I have been using to record my voice for the Pro Tools Expert podcast ever since.
The SU-019 is a large diaphragm FET condenser microphone. The FET or Field Effect Transistor is placed in the mics internal circuit to produce a richer tone. Originally FETs were added to mics to give them a tone closer to that of their more costly valve mic cousins. There is some debate as to if this worked or not but the FET mic is here and it is here to stay.
The Soyuz SU-019 uses a custom-made capsule based on the Neumann K67 design.
The capsule starts life as a 35mm rod of brass which is milled to a tolerance of 2 microns to form the electrodes. There are 2 of these electrodes, one of each side of the diaphragm. The lathe used to achieve this accuracy came from the Kalashnikov factory, yes the one where they make the AK-47 automatic rifle. The electrodes or pancakes as they are known are then placed into a jig where 248 holes are drilled into it by hand.
The delicate Mylar diaphragm is coated with a very fine layer of gold using a custom made gold sputter machine. The electrodes are then screwed together around the diaphragm and the entire assembly is fitted into the housing which you can see in the picture.
The Design & Build
Having said that the Soyuz microphones are not built of parts from the old Soviet space program, the company have used technology from other industries in the construction of their products.
The SU-019 like their SU-017 valve condenser uses what is called "Stacked Disc" construction. This is more commonly found in the design of missiles and rockets than microphones but it gives the mic a very stable internal structure.
A Polycarbonate disc is milled to the correct size and drilled by hand. These holes have small brass pins inserted. The SU-019 uses what is called Wire Wrap to attach the components. Wire wrap is much more stable than normal soldering to a PCB but it is much more time-consuming. The transformer (the big white thing in the bottom of the body) uses a custom made core and is hand wound by Soyuz technicians. They say this makes the mic sound very musical and I have to say I would agree, more on that to follow.
Soyuz microphones really do have a style all their own. The simple green and gold brass badge is very stylish and yet somehow it hints at the Russian heritage of this mic.
The body design is very practical but also pleasing to the eye. No form-over-function here but the mic is a nice thing to perform into from a vocalist's point of view.
One area of the design and use of the mic where Soyuz have really scored it the shock mount. I am not a fan of "off the shelf" wire form shock mounts, as I have said many times, but this Soyuz model is lovely. It is so easy to use and allows the mic to be placed just where you want it. If you want to get your vocalist up close for that tight sultry sound then the gap in the front of the shock mount allows you to do so. I even tried the mic as the top mic on a snare drum for a really nice jazz brushes sound. The longer neck of the capsule housing allowed me to get the head of the mic just where I wanted it for a lovely swoosh sound with plenty of bite for a slap.
The SU-019 is a fixed cardioid pattern FET condenser. There is no pad and no hi-pass filter. You plug a conventional XLR in the bottom. Turn on the Phantom power, crank up the gain nice and slow and hit record.
I have recorded five audio examples using nothing but the Soyuz SU-019 and the pre-amps from my Audient ASP8024-HE console for you to listen to. There is no EQ or Compression just a little limiting before being converted to MP3.
As I have said many times on gear reviews I love and hate my job both at the same time. I love it because I get to try out in my own studio some of the greatest audio joys available, hey who wouldn't love that. But I hate it because I get used to using something that I know I really can't afford to keep, and the Soyuz SU-019 is in that category. This is a quality handmade product and carries the price tag to match it. At the of writing the SU-019 has a street price of around £1900. This puts it quite near the top of the mark for a single pattern FET condenser. There are some great mics out there for a lot less money. However, I believe that a mic is not just for Christmas, it is for Christmas's for many years to come. So yes, you can buy a great sounding mic for less cash now but will it still be working at peak performance in 10, 20 or even 30 years from now?
Money aside I really like the sound of this mic. I think it could become my go-to mic for spoken word. My voice sounded natural and open and it does a great top picking up the detail in my voice without sounding harsh or sibilant. On acoustic guitars, the tone is really clean and clear and again the detail really shines through.
I always have a problem recording brushes on a snare drum but the SU-019 sounded great. Normally the swoosh sound goes missing and you have too much slap from the right side but the SU-019 collects the swoosh just nicely.
I really did miss a valve on the rock vocal performance. I wanted that added warmth that a valve or tube can add. It sounded good but hey, maybe I should try the SU-017 the valve sister to the SU-019.
In truth, I think this is a great mic for the money. It's not the price of a vintage Neunamm or other sort-after classic brand it is much more than that. It is a modern mic, with a classic sound that will last a lifetime.
You can find out more about the range of Soyuz Microphones at their website. Let me know what you think about the sound in the comments below.