thoughts on new Sony 8000 clone and if I will be modding it...
Updated: Oct 6, 2021
A good customer asked me recently about the newly released WA-8000 clone and if I would be modding it, and I figured I would take the opportunity to share my answer so that folks won't have to ask me. Here goes... (and the short answer is No, if you don't feel like reading on)
(copied from an email correspondence, pardon any type-o's)
"I did just watch the video of it. It's interesting, because while it sounds 'warm' and decent, I honestly don't think it looks particularly sexy or expensive and it really doesn't sound that much, to my ears, like the original Sony. To be fair, its really hard to judge things like this by these types of videos and on smaller studio/computer speakers, but the top end seemed substantially more subdued or rolled off at the very top compared to the original mic which was a considerably bright mic. This mic sounded warm with the high end a bit rolled off, in fact the narrator's boom mic actually had more top end, air, and presence, which I thought was surprising. This wouldn't be the first time they did this kind of thing. The WA-251 is an example of this, because it is scooped with heavy low end and sounds very little like the original Ela M 251. The original Sony8000 mic is essentially a take on the U67 with a different tube and output stage and a close variant of the K67 capsule; but without the de-emphasis voicing in the circuitry to tame the bright peaks of the capsule. This causes the capsule to come through pretty bright and results in the 'crispness' of sound that has given shine and clarity to many a hip hop, rap, and R&B track. I also noticed that the Peltier cooling system looks a bit modified (shortened, simplified), which means it may not a true Peltier cooling system, because you have to license that design, I believe, and are not allowed to change a whole lot of it. So it may be either faux or an approximation that they had whipped up in China. I really don't know. And to be honest, and in defense of that decision if they did, it hardly matters to be honest. if I were making a repro I would take that off entirely because its beyond overkill, in my humble opinion. I think you get more out of grading your tubes and carefully calibrating the power supply and biasing than you will by going that route. Some companies have made mics inspired by the 8000 that completely remove that system and to great effect. Once a tube warms up and stabilizes on its own, it doesn't need all that. Give it passive cooling and some type of dampening and you'll be fine. I always felt that the assumption that actively maintaining a set temperature would just automatically achieve the lowest THD in a tube is missing the more important point of needing to bias and calibrate a tube to achieve the lowest THD, and I think that's much more effective.
By what I am hearing, Golden Age did a phenomenally better job on theirs, both sonically and visually. They really went an extra mile to reproduce the exact capsule and do the Peltier cooling system and to grade their own NOS tubes and even did a Teflon PCB for the main mic board to increase bandwidth and reduce noise. It does cost a lot more, of course. I heard it at NAMM. To be fair, the Golden Age is actually slightly more subdued in the top end than the original; but just barely enough to 'right the ship', because the original is almost too bright. They smoothed out the top JUST enough to make it more balanced but otherwise left it alone. No drastic changes. I was really impressed by it and still want to buy one."
I've been asked a few times if I will do mods for the WA-67 and for this new mic, and I have to say that mindset right now is no. I do think both mics sound pretty good already, just not exactly like their original counterparts sound; but the way they are built has them 'boxed into a corner' to such an extent that modification would be difficult and very expensive. Once you start talking about changing out things like the Lundahl transformer or capsule to get a slight sonic improvement, you're talking about a prohibitively expensive mod (and also wasteful). I really like to do mods for people that offer a real economical value and are not overpriced and also not overly wasteful of decent parts and raw materials. I also looked once at the WA-67 and it was just so difficult to poke around due to how much glue is involved and messy manufacturing practices, it was just too much headache to deal with. So with both of these I think I am going to let sleeping dogs lie. Likewise there won't be any mod for the WA-84, because (when they work and have good FETs in them) they are just fine, and there will not be a mod for the 'Jr' because there's simply nothing that can be done for it. I will continue to focus on offering and improving the mods for the WA-87, 251, and 47, because that's where I believe we can make real improvements that people really seem to love. The Ultimate Upgrade for the 47 is something we're especially proud of, and hopefully next year we may even unveil our own board for this mod (just to make it cooler looking and easier for me to pull off). Similarly, the 251 upgrade continues to inch closer and closer to sort of being an 'ultimate upgrade' in its own right because we keep finding gains from changing out more and more stuff (like the stock tantalum and polystyrenes with better ones, etc). This is where we will keep focusing in 2022.