Sure, sure – Frank Sinatra obviously used plenty of microphones. Heck, when he was first starting he used a megaphone! But after he got his record deal with Capitol records, there was one mic that pretty much defined the Sinatra sound. And he was pictured with it a lot. It was the Telefunken U47, also distributed under the different brand name of Neumann. Frank loved it so much that he insisted on using no other mic after 1950. He called it his “Telly.”
The original U47 was only made between 1946 and 1965. It was a large diaphragm tube microphone that differentiated itself from the ribbon mics popular with singers before that time (like bing Crosby) due to what it did to enhance the sound (not merely boosting it) in the mid-range frequencies (between 400 and 2K Hz) that made the voice sound brighter and helped it cut through a full orchestra. The mic also had two patterns you could pick from – cardioid or omnidirectional. That’s fairly standard now, but at the time, it was unheard of. The U47 was the first mic to offer a switchable polar pattern. So this was truly a ground-breaking microphone.
It was really popular with the big studios in its day. And because of that, the U47 helped shape the sound of lots of other famous singers. The Beatles’ producer, George Martin, used it extensively and claimed it was his favorite microphone. Most of Rubber Soul was recorded with that mic. It was also used by Elvis, Roy Orbison, Dean Martin, and a raft of others. The U47 has been hailed as the best vocal microphone in the world.
In 2015, you can’t easily get an original U47 unless you are lucky enough to find a vintage gear dealer and have about $10,000+ to spend on it. But there is good news. Not only can you find many U47 clones out there, but both Telefunken and Neumann have created modern versions of the mic.
The new Telefunken U 47 can be had from B&H for – are you ready for this? – a mere $8,495. But hey, it’s the best vocal mic in the world, right? This is essentially the exact same mic that Frank used.
Neumann has a much more affordable version, the M147 tube mic, that uses the same K 47/49 capsule as the U47, but it doesn’t use a transformer (it is a “transformerless” design). That does change the sound quality of a mic, but it makes it much less expensive. The Neumann M147 costs $2,899.95.
Neumann also makes the U 47 FET Collector’s Edition Condenser Microphone, which does not use a vacuum tube like the original, but rather a FET (field effect transistor). As with a transformerless version of a mic, a FET version will also change the sound somewhat. But it also makes it much more affordable. The Neumann U 47 FET costs $3,999.95.
So if you are in the market for a mic to make you sound like Frank Sinatra, now you know what he used and have several choices to choose from, even if you aren’t going to be dropping $8, 500 for the new U47:-).