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Engineer Lance Powell Deploys TELEFUNKEN U47 In Recordings For Several Top Artists

Faithful recreation of 1946 original design for lead vocals on recent album projects by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Melissa Etheridge and Raekwon.
Recording engineer Lance Powell in his LA studio with TELEFUNKEN's U47 large-diaphragm tube microphone. (Photo by David Goggin)

Mix and recording engineer Lance Powell. who has a number of Grammy nominations and has worked on many number 1 albums for artists such as Mali Music, Jennifer Hudson, Tank, Nick Cave and Melissa Etheridge, recently mixed and recorded the 17th album by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds utilizing a TELEFUNKEN U47 large-diaphragm condenser microphone on lead vocals.

“Nick’s got a pretty big voice,” explains Powell. “It’s a big, deep baritone voice, really crispy, and toppy, as well. You want it to sound larger than life, sort of the voice of God sound. The U47 was the perfect mic for him.

“I had the option to use a new Telefunken or to go with a vintage model, but in sessions like that where you don’t want any downtime, you don’t want a mic to crap out after a week,” he continues. “You just want something really reliable, consistent, that sounds great, and the new U47 was perfect for that. It sounds huge and it has the big bottom end that’s really smooth, a really clear top end, and you know it’s going to be reliable and consistent from day to day. As soon as Nick put on the headphones and started singing into it, he was really happy and we were on our way.”

Originally developed in 1946, the U47 was the first condenser to offer selectable polar patterns (cardioid and omnidirectional). The faithful recreation of that original design, the company states, is exact in every detail, down to the historically accurate BV8 transformer and M7 capsule.

Powell describes the signal chain for Cave’s vocals. “We put it into a Neve 1073 preamp. From there, I fed it to an Avalon EQ, which we didn’t end up using except for the high pass filter. I was planning on maybe boosting the top end a little bit, but it sounded great. So, we didn’t actually touch that. And then a Universal Audio 1176. We printed all that into Pro Tools and we had a Bricasti M7 as the reverb. Initially, it was meant to be just temporary, just while we were tracking to have a reverb. I asked the assistant to pick a patch on it and we went from there. But it sounded so good that we kept that chain for all the recording and that reverb made it to the final mixes as well, never changed from the patch we had on the morning we started recording.”

Powell also utilized the U47 for Melissa Etheridge’s album,”This Is M.E.”, explaining, “Like Nick, she’s got this huge voice as well, and a massive dynamic range. It’s really powerful and in the dense rock mixes that she’s got, the vocal still has to sit right up front. You’ve got to hear every detail and hear the back of her throat coming through the recording. So, we used the U47 and it sounded great as soon as she put on the headphones and started singing into it. In a sense, this mic makes people sing better. And when it comes time for editing and doing rough mixes and whatnot, it just sits there really easily; you don’t have to do too much to it. So, for Melissa, it was perfect, as well.”

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And, Powell deployed the U47 for Raekwon, the rapper who has recorded numerous solo albums, as well as continuing to work with Wu-Tang and providing a number of guest contributions to other hip hop artists’ works.

“Raekwon’s obviously a bit different than Nick Cave and Melissa Etheridge,” he explains. “He’s an old school hip-hop guy who’s been around for years, from the 90s days of hip-hop, a very different world back then. For hip-hop, I’ll often use a U87 or a U67, because those mics have a bit more bite to them. But the U47 was awesome on Raekwon. He’s got quite a big, deep voice and it just accentuated that. It made him sound huge.

“And with the hip-hop guys, when they’re recording, they love to crank it up on the big monitors and hear it obscenely loud in the studio, and the U47 is great for that. You can have the big monitors blaring and with that mic, it doesn’t rip your face off. It still sounds really nice, with a good volume. So for hip-hop it’s great as well. I ran it through a Neve and an 1176 just to hit the transformers and get a bit of bite out of it. It’s great. And you don’t have to worry too much about de-essing, because the S’s and the top end are just really smooth on the mic. And again, it just sits in the mix really easily.”

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