When my friend and collaborator Boi Xochi invited me to visit the Ohma headquarters in East LA, I was stoked. I'd been hearing great things across the internet about these wonderfully weird-looking mics, and it was just a few days after Janelle Monae performed with this mic on the ACLU float at LA Pride. I had some wonderful conversation with the founders and left with some new friends and some demo mics. I was particularly amazed with the sound of their Motif condenser.
What's immediately noticeable about Ohma mics is their screen designs. Far from being your standard mesh front grill, these are works of visual art. They explained to me that they spent many years testing different screen set designs and the sonic properties of each. These screen sets are attached to the enclosure by magnet, making them removable and interchangeable, and each screen imparts a different frequency response. Their flagship screen set design is the Motif, which is what I opted to try.
Ohma hand-builds all their capsules in house—something that can't be said of many other brand name mics out there. When they took me to the capsule assembly room, I got to know how they build their condenser capsules and why. Instead of making another Neumann-inspired capsule that can be outsourced, they base their capsule, affectionately called "Debby," on a nearly forgotten capsule design by microphone designers Debenham, Robinson, and Stebbings, which they found in an old tech expo magazine of some sort.
Immediately, I was struck with the "finished" sound of this mic, by which I mean, it sounds great without any post-processing. During a recording session with one of my artists, Colin Parker, I demo'd it against an Electro-Voice RE20 (another mic that I find has a "finished" sound on baritone and tenor vocalists). Hear the back-to-back of the two mics on Colin's voice below. The examples have been level-matched for comparison and have not been processed in post. It's worth noting, however, that the Ohma mic is a condenser and the RE20 is a dynamic mic, so out the gate, we should expect quite different results.
The Ohma has a warmth in the low mids and an airy, slightly saturated quality to the highs. Compared to the RE20, the Ohma also has less of a boost in the high mids. I love the way the Ohma handles consonants too, especially sibilants. They're pure and present, compared to the RE20, while also remaining smooth and balanced against the singer's vowels.
My partner Jessica Gerhardt and I used it on an upcoming release of our own too. For an example of how it handles femme vocals, listen to the below example, the open highs and the subtle "tucking in" of the sibilants. Hear how the mic captures the warmth of Jessica's full voice on the phrase "the day is waning low" without getting muddy. Again, this recording has not been processed in post.
Besides making a good mic, Ohma is good people. In my visit, I chatted with them for a few hours about creative life and mental health. Their values for anti-racism, LGBTQIA+ rights, and equitable work environments are evident. And they even reuse the metal scraps from their mics to make jewelry!
I recorded several vocalists with this mic, and each of them sounded gorgeous and true-to-life. But the Ohma condenser is not necessarily a "transparent" mic—it certainly has its own thing. It does something like what Bill Schnee calls a "caricature" of the sound, which ends up serving the realism in an almost larger-than-life sort of way. I eventually had to return this demo mic to Ohma for others to try as well. But it has shot to the top of my shortlist of microphones to outfit my studio with.
You can buy your own Ohma mic here.