The Many Faces of the 414

It is one of the best known and widely used studio microphones of all time, yet over the years there have been so many different versions of the AKG C414 it hardly makes sense to think of it as one type of microphone. AKG has released at least ten incarnations with the 414 moniker, some of which sound distinctly different from each other.

Despite somewhat of a sonic rollercoaster ride, the 414 is appreciated as a workhorse microphone that sees a lot of use for a wide range of applications. Whether it’s drum overheads, snare drum, horns or acoustic guitar - most engineers will end up choosing a 414 for a recording or live sound gig at some point during their career. This blog post takes a closer look at the 414s “many faces” and explains why we include four different variants of the 414 in our core collection for the L22 microphone.

To get you started, here's a brief video overview of the 414.

The history of the AKG C414 begins with the legendary C12 microphone. The first design used the same brass-ringed CK12 capsule and 414s of this era have a sound that is reminiscent of its predecessor. But even though the capsule was ostensibly the same, just about everything else was completely different from the electronics to body design.

Here’s a frequency response graph comparing the cardioid on-axis response (at 1 meter) of a C12 microphone we measured with a C414 EB with a brass-ringed CK12 capsule (horizontal lines represent 1dB divisions). As you can see the responses are quite similar. Of course, on-axis frequency response is only part of what impacts the sound of a microphone, but it is definitely a key aspect.

In our opinion, the 414 EB with a brass-ringed capsule is one of the great mics of all time and is strongly reminiscent of the C12 that came before it, yet at a fraction of the cost. The 414, of course, doesn’t have any tube goodness like the C12 but the capsule is arguably a much more important factor as far as sound quality.

It’s important to keep in mind that frequency response can vary substantially from mic to mic of the same type due to manufacturing variation or due to aging. Here at Townsend Labs we try to measure many microphones of the same type so that can get an idea of what a typical one should sound like. For these frequency plots, we used measurements that we feel are representative of a typical mic of that type. Some of the other C12 microphones we measured had greater differences in frequency response than the 414s with CK12 capsules.

Have a listen to our LD-414 Brass model on a range of different instruments in this playlist:

Now For Something Completely Different

Then somewhere in the mid to late 1970s, AKG switched from using the CK12 capsule in the 414 EB to using a new much cheaper to manufacture capsule with a nylon mounting ring (sometimes said to be Teflon). As you can see from these photos, these look like completely different capsules.

Here’s a plot comparing the cardioid frequency response of a 414 EB with a CK12 to a 414 EB with a nylon capsule.

As you can see, they are quite different and much of the high-end sparkle of the CK12 disappeared with the new capsule. While many people prefer the sound of the older capsule, the nylon version has a more neutral response which can work well on many sources. The amazing thing about this change is that it was done without any notification to the customer. The model number and outward appearance of the mic stayed exactly the same, even though under the hood the mic was very different. The only way one could tell they were getting a different capsule was to open the mic up or shine a bright flashlight through the grill.

Check out the same sound examples as above but this time with our LD-414 Nylon model:

The next incarnation continued on with the nylon style capsule but was given a new look and the model number was changed to C414 EB-P48. Previous 414s could operate on phantom power ranging from 12 to 48 volts but this new version required 48 volts. Then after the P48 came the C414 B-ULS which is probably the most ubiquitous version ever made. Again the same nylon capsule was used, with only minor modifications.

In the frequency plot below, you can see that the on-axis frequency response in cardioid is quite similar between the various nylon capsule 414s. Potentially, most of the differences might simply be due to manufacturing variance, but hard to say for sure without evaluating dozens of mics.

For comparison listen to our LD-414 US model (based on the 414 ULS):

Blast From the Past

Then in 1993 AKG release the C414 B-TLII which attempted to recreate the sound of the old CK12 brass-ringed capsule but using a variation of the modern “nylon” style capsule. The TLII is a good sounding mic, but it never got all that close to duplicating the sound of the original 414s with CK12s. The TL line of mics were also the first 414s that moved to a transformerless circuit (hence the name “TL”), which did reduce distortion figures somewhat but was not universally accepted as an improvement in sound.

Here’s a plot comparing the on-axis cardioid response of a CK12 EB to a TLII. Visually the frequency response is quite different which translates into a considerably different sounding mic. The biggest difference is in the 100 Hz to 1 kHz range, where the TLII has a lot more low-mids.

And of course, you can also hear sound examples of the LD-414 T2 in our Sphere Core collection to get the full picture:

Later AKG released the C414 XLII which in some ways got a little closer to the CK12 but overall is still quite different.

While there are close to a dozen incarnations of the 414, we would argue there are three primary variations which sound distinctly different from each other. The first are 414s with CK12 capsules, the second are 414s with nylon capsules, and third are 414s with second generation nylon capsules, such as the TLII and XLII.

414 with CK12 414 with Nylon Capsule Gen 1 414 with Nylon Capsule Gen 2
C414 comb (first 414)
C414 EB (early production)
C414 EB (later production)
C414 EB-P48
C414 B-ULS
C414 B-TL
C414 B-XLS
C414 XLS

Make Up Your Mind...Or Don't

With so many 414s to choose from, how do you make up your mind? For the version 1.2 update, the Townsend Labs Sphere® microphone modeling system now includes four 414 models. Now you can have a wide range of 414 sounds without needing a collection of 414s and you can even choose the best one for your application after the recording is made!

A good method of comparing is by listening to current production AKG C414s and comparing them with our models on Audio Test Kitchen. Even better though, you can try a demo of the Sphere plug-in with the new 414 models in your own environment. Simply visit our downloads page to get started.

For additional, information about the 414, as well as audio examples, check out the excellent Sonic Scoop article:

Curing Condenser Confusion: An Audio History of the AKG C414

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.