The Making of the Ocean Way Mic Collection

The Ocean Way Microphone Collection has been out for a while, and I thought I’d take a moment to reminisce about the events that led to the making of that plug-in and what went into its creation. It was an exciting project for me to work on, and the response from customers has been phenomenal. Read my Making-of of the Ocean Way Mic Collection to find out what it took to make it happen.

I can hardly describe how excited I was when we were finally able to release the UAD Ocean Way Microphone Collection plug-in for the Sphere L22 microphone system. The plug-in is the result of over two years of collaborative development and partnership between producer /engineer Allen Sides—the long-time owner and mic collector of Ocean Way Studios—and Townsend Labs. In case you’re not familiar with the Ocean Way Mic Collection yet, here’s a quick product launch video:

It was a pleasure and an honor working with Allen on this project. His experience and knowledge of vintage microphones are astounding. For Ocean Way Recording, Allen acquired (and sold) well over a thousand vintage tube mics over the years, including more than 400 U47s! This is particularly amazing, given that Neumann produced only about 5000 U47s to begin with.

Allen is a true renaissance man. Apart from all the recording work he has done, he is very active in developing recording equipment. His company Ocean Way Audio makes high-end monitor systems and other audio gear. So even though he owns one of the most valuable collections of gear on this planet, he is still curious about new inventions and pioneering technology. He was also heavily involved in the development of the UAD Ocean Way Studios plug-in — so he was no stranger to getting involved in creating the Ocean Way Microphone Collection plug-in. And he was very interested in the patented technology behind Sphere.

Selecting the Microphones

Allen Sides is not just an amazing Grammy-winning recording engineer, he’s a microphone connoisseur like very few others. Over the years, he has bought and sold microphones that most of us can only dream of even getting close to. At some point during the time when tube microphones went out of fashion, Allen purchased about 1000 decommissioned microphones from European broadcasters alone. Needless to say, the ones he kept to himself are the cream of the crop—some of the very best microphones in existence.

Allen critically listened to every vintage mic that came through his studio to select the ones with the best sound and in the best condition. His typical method for evaluating microphones is to put on his custom electrostatic headphones and monitor the sound of his voice. His ear is so well-tuned to the sound of his own voice that he can easily determine the characteristics of a mic. In some ways, this is not too surprising given the sheer number of microphones he’s listened to and how many hit records he’s engineered. Watch the video below for more insights on the curation and selection process:

For the making of the Ocean Way Mic Collection plug-in, we had access to the very best of this legendary collection. These mics were used by countless A-list artists, including Frank Sinatra, Radiohead, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, and Stevie Wonder. It was a dream come true for me as a microphone aficionado. And having access to Allen's ears has been invaluable in helping us curate and refine the models to best capture the essence of these classic mics.

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In the Beginning

Around the time that Townsend Labs became a UAD Direct Developer, Universal Audio saw great potential for collaboration between Townsend Labs and Ocean Way. UA’s own Bill Putnam Jr. facilitated a meeting with Allen Sides and myself at a Los Angeles studio to give Allen a chance to hear Sphere for himself. Special thanks go to Bill and Universal Audio because without their support and vision this deal never would have happened. 

Allen brought a few mics with him from his collection to compare and a singer/guitarist to cut some tracks. After a day of intensive listening tests, Allen was convinced that Sphere provided the accuracy and sound quality he demanded. 

We then all agreed to bring the Ocean Way Mic Collection to UAD utilizing the Sphere microphone system.

Allen Sides Chris Townsend and Erik Papp NAMM 2018

Allen Sides with Chris Townsend and Erik Papp at NAMM 2018

The Measurement Process

A while later, I drove to the Los Angeles area with a van full of microphone measurement equipment. We set up all of the measurement gear at a local recording studio and Allen brought his extensive microphone collection. After a week of intensive work, we had all of the measurements we needed to create the models. 

The measurement process is tedious but it is well worth the effort. For every microphone modeled, we measure both on and off-axis with full 360-degree coverage. Precisely aligning the microphones at many axis positions is difficult. We use lasers to help with the process! 

AKG C12 measurement with lasers in front of speaker

But the real work comes when we do the listening tests. In order to have a good point of comparison with the models we create, we set up the Sphere L22 and the original microphones in a number of real-world recording setups (such as with a guitar amp shown below).

Chris Townsend Allen Sides during the measurement process

After we finished the measurements, we added them to a prototype version of the Ocean Way Microphone Collection plug-in. Next, we sent Allen a Sphere L22 microphone and the plug-in so he could evaluate the modeling for himself. Allen provided extensive listening notes on the models and then we tweaked the models until Allen was satisfied with the results.

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The Mics of Ocean Way

For any particular type of mic, we typically measured two or three of the best ones from Allen's collection. This gave us multiple models to choose from. In the case of the two C12s we measured, both sounded so good yet substantially different, that we couldn't choose and included both. This decision was also driven by the fact that Allen uses the mics for different applications based on their character and sonic qualities.

For the RCA KU-3A, we had to measure and listen to a few before we found a great one. These are super old ribbon mics, and the differences can be quite dramatic even when comparing two mics in pristine condition.

The OW-800 model in the Ocean Way Microphone Collection

The OW-800 model pictured above is quite interesting and unique. It’s based on a prototype Sony C800G from Allen Side’s personal collection. Allen Sides and Ocean Way were involved in the very early development of the C800G. Sony gave Allen two C800G prototypes for listening tests. The prototype included in the Ocean Way Collection has a slightly warmer character than a current production C800G. Allen also had a couple of super-low serial number production 800s which we measured for comparison. It was really an amazing opportunity to have access to a prototype and very early production C800s. The Ocean Way Mic Collection exclusively gives you access to this one-of-a-kind microphone.

Learn more about all of the included microphones in the Ocean Way Mic Collection here.

The Results

The Ocean Way Microphone Collection has been receiving phenomenal reviews from Sphere customers and the trade press alike:

“Warm tones....that's it. The best mics on the planet.” - K.Lima

“I don't know how and what sort of magic is happening here...but the 47, 49 and 12s do exactly what I described by default as soon as you bring the plug-in up. Strongly recommended!” - I. Andriotis

“I was already very happy with mic emulations I got with my Sphere L22, but these are truly amazing. Somehow Alan Side's ears helped making the revered mics sound even more silky in the top end. I love the C800G and C12 variations. The fun part starts with combining/mixing different mics with each other.” - D. van Haarlem

Working with Allen on the making of the Ocean Way Mic Collection has been truly inspiring for us all. We're excited to see the relationship continue and grow over time. And it's absolutely fascinating to see these iconic mics preserved and ready to use with Sphere.

Read more reviews and buy the Ocean Way Microphone Collection for UAD-2 now.

With Sphere you now can:

  • Record with the sound of microphones many have only dreamt about
  • Change mic type, polar pattern, and other microphone characteristics, even after tracking!
  • Audition the sound of different microphones without tiring the vocalist
  • Reduce bleed, undesirable room coloration, and other common issues using Off-Axis Correction™
  • Record in stereo from a single microphone

We invite you to install the free, fully-featured Sphere plug-in for all major platforms and DAWs. Try it now and reimagine our library of pre-recorded tracks.

Unless otherwise noted, all brand and product names referred to in this article are trademarks of their respective owners, which are in no way associated or affiliated with Townsend Labs.