Last week I purchased a pair of microphones at Guitar Center. The package didn’t contain all the parts I expected, and subsequent research indicated that something mysterious and possibly deceptive had happened to the supply of this particular line of mics. I called the story “counterfeit Oktava microphones at Guitar Center?”
Since then I’ve exchanged a number of emails with Andy McKay, a principal in Oktava Ltd. He explained in convincing detail that the facts are not what they appeared to be. In an effort to fully and fairly present the Oktava Ltd. side of the story, I’ll quote extensively from Andy’s responses to my questions:
Q: Who manufactured the mics currently sold by Guitar Center? (Specifically, this mic.)
A: The mic that you have seen is being manufactured for the company Oktava Ltd of the UK.
Q: Where was that mic manufactured?
A: The mic is being made in China.
Engineers with more experience (or at least more gear) than me will confirm that numerous well-known mic manufacturers have outsourced their production to China. I’ve seen chatter that this adversely affects quality, although I have no direct experience. Mic quality likely has more to do with a specific manufacturer’s quality control than the color of the local flag.
Q: How does the performance of this mic compare to the MK-012 mics manufactured in Russia and sold via Guitar Center several years ago? Or, if it’s true that the mic pictured above was manufactured in China, how does it perform as compared to mics currently made in Russia?
A: The design of these new MK 012’s is the same as the design of the old Russian mics that were being made for us by the plant OAO Oktava in Tula Russia and sold by Guitar Center up until last year. It’s a little known fact that this mic was not actually designed by OAO Oktava and they do not own the design for this model. The performance of the new version of the mic is the same as the performance of the old Russian versions. We have produced a CD with a blind test between an old Russian version of the mic and a new Chinese version of the same mic. The recording alternates between the two samples and we invite out customers to spot the difference. [Ed. note: Andy has promised to send me a copy of this CD. I’ll post a review soon.] This test was done by an independent studio with an independent journalist present. Sonically it is practically impossible to spot the changeovers.
We have also had several reports back from our distributors in other countries that actually say they prefer the performance of the new microphone. We believe the reason for this is that although the basic design of the mic is very good, the standard of workmanship from the factory in Russia is in general very poor and inconsistent. I’m sure you will have seen over the last few years many comments on the web about the fact that there is inconsistency between individual mics made at the plant in Tula. This means that whilst one customer may get a fantastic sounding mic from Russia that sounds as is should another customer may not get a mic that performs the same even though they paid the same amount for it, it comes from the same factory and the mic is essentially the same. It is quite well known that Oktava in Russia often substitute some components for different ones if there is a shortage of supply in Russia and therefore often the mics need “tweaking” to sound similar. … In addition to this the English paperwork that used to be supplied with old Oktava’s containing details of the warranty were supplied by Oktava Ltd of the UK and not OAO Oktava of Russia whearas the Russian paperwork contained numerous technical inaccuracies.
It is also worth noting that the build quality on the new models is very much improved from the old Russian Oktavas of a few years ago.
Although the new mic is currently supplied without a 10db pad, one is available as an optional extra. Our aim at Oktava Ltd is to provide the best sounding microphones possible at the lowest price. We have managed to have this model made at a lower price than was previously possible and this will be reflected in the price to the end customer. From our next shipment onwards all Oktava mics will be supplied with technical documentation and warranty certificates. We will also be bringing out a more expensive improved version of this mic shortly based on the improvements suggested in the article by Scott Dorsey [Ed. note: mentioned here]. This will include the 10db pad a shock mount and will be better packaged.
I have found no primary source to confirm the origin of the design of the MK-012 microphone. Links would be appreciated.
I can confirm the comments about uneven, unpredictable quality coming from the Russian factory; any audio-engineer message board that discusses these mics contains plenty of advice to audition these prior to purchase. On the other hand, I’ve heard from Ken that the build quality of the Russian mics has dramatically improved in the past 9 months. I have no personal experience either way.
Andy’s statement that the new, lower, manufacturing cost is reflected in the price to the consumer does not appear to hold true for Guitar Center, for Guitar Center charges the same price for the Chinese pad-less mic as they did two years ago for the Russian mic-with-pad: $99, or possibly less if you tell the sales clerk you like his nosering.
And finally, the issue of paperwork is disconcerting. If Oktava Ltd. used to supply paperwork with Russian mics, why don’t they supply it with the Chinese mics? Wouldn’t the paperwork be the same? I’ve never bought a new piece of audio gear that had no manual, no warranty, not even a box showing a company name. I’m struggling to believe that a company that’s been selling mics for 12 years would knowingly put such a product into stores.
Q: What is the nature of the conflict (assuming there is one) between McKay Audio and the Russian microphone company?
[Ed. note: Andy’s response was candid and complete. I’ve trimmed out parts that I feel are not relevant for the mic-buying public, and best debated in court rather than in public. I hope it is sufficient to say that there is a financial disagreement. That said, the history Andy provided, and the contract issues noted below, are germane.]
A: OAO Oktava in Russia have been manufacturing microphones exclusively for the Mckay family companies since 1992. The designs they sell were made specifically for us and Oktava had not exported from Russia before their involvement with us. The designs as they currently are on the MK 219, MK 319, MK 012, ML 52, MKL 5000 and others are not the same as they originally were. In fact the only mic that OAO Oktava were making at the time that our collaboration began that is exported today was the MK 219. … All the other mics exported were made specifically at the request of Oktava Ltd / A & F Mckay Audio Ltd, to our design briefs. All the microphones that were sold by A & F Mckay Ltd / Oktava Ltd were also branded A.S.M (the initials of one of the directors of our companies) to show that the
IPon those mics was owned by us and that the mics were made exclusively for us. In all of these cases we actually paid Oktava for the design of these mics…
Oktava Ltd has two worldwide exclusive distribution contracts for Oktava microphones manufactured in Tula Russia. … [T]here are no sanctions in either contract that allow for termination of those contract before the contracts run out. One of these contracts runs till 2011 and the other until 2013.
Oktava Ltd owns the Trade Marks “Oktava” in the USA, UK and Europe as well as the contracts giving Oktava Ltd the rights to Oktava microphones and therefore because of the above dispute we are now having the same microphones manufactured elsewhere until such time as the dispute is resolved.
Q: Do you have any comment about the statement regarding the retraction of distribution rights from “Oktava Ltd”?
A: Unfortunately is seems that the management of the factory in Tula Russia do not understand the implications of signing a contract that has no sanction for termination. … The company OAO Oktava in Russia has not legally terminated these contracts, does not have the power to do so and it acting illegally in their supply of those products that are the exclusive right of Oktava Ltd to other parties.
The key issue for me, and probably for most consumers, is the quality of the microphone. Are the Chinese mics really as good as the Russian ones? We’ll need some real engineers to post impartial reviews before we can say for sure.
The remainder of this issue seems to be tied up in a financial and legal disagreement. Andy’s arguments are compelling, if they’re true.
Finally, note that Oktava Ltd does have a website, which Google should now be able to find: Oktava Ltd
Update 2005-05-16: see Part III, OAO Oktava responds