OKTAVA - Import History by Brett Ross

It all started with a trip to Lithuania in 1993 to oversee the production of music for a musical film
to be made at Vilnius Film Studios.

I'd been settling into the Lithuanian culture for a week or so, very enjoyable to be somewhere different,
(having spent the last 4 years esconced in a squat in S. London - an historic squat now - Oval Mansions),
and with the dregs of the old Russian empire fading away the Lithuanian people had started to make use
of their new found freedom as was clear by the pre-occupation the locals had of Western culture and free trade.
Everybody wanted to speak English and I was always being confronted with questions about England, although
I could see they had far more knowledge of western culture than we had of the old Russian ways of life. My
knowledge of Eastern Europe paled against theirs! However, I was keen to learn and enjoyed meeting a whole
host of different 'thinkers' - craftsmen, musicians, poets, TV/radio media persons, even chatting with the 'kambarines'
(maids) at the hotel, practising a few words I had learnt!

I had arrived at Vilnius airport at the end of March '93, cold and slushy, and was told we had to go to Kaunas,
the second city of Lithuania and temporary capital during WW2, so off we went in the dark, arriving about midnight.
I was glad to have a room to myself.....(here I will get to the point about Oktava microphones, but if you want to
read an in depth and colourful 'diary' of my exploits in Lithuania over the 5 months spent there look out for my
publication 'Diary of an Englishman in Lithuania'..or, as I like to call it 'TM and the Art of Microphone Maintenance' :))
{ref: Robert Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'}.

*For privacy reasons names of actual persons have been given fictitious names, and all studio details are available in the aforementioned 'book'

....Girdas was checking his equipment ready for some trial vocals. While we waited for them to go over the songs he pulled out a microphone.
"Mikrofon!" he said, waiting for a reaction. It was certainly the oddest mic I had seen.
"Neumann copy" he said "Russian copy".
Neumann was well known for making high quality studio microphones. Made in Germany since before the Second World war, it is alleged that Hitler used them in his speeches!
I checked it over noticing the rough unfinished alloy casting of the body shell with it's retro look. It reminded me of the 'Hoover' building on the A40 into London with it's angular appearance and '50s style.
"Any good?" I asked
Girdas tilted his head from side to side, obviously preferring the Neumann.
"Yes and no, I tell you Russian components are not reliable, but sound good" he said " I test now".
He plugged it in speaking some Lithuanian words. It sounded OK but was hard to judge without any reference.
"We record with Neumann on one track and with Russian mic on other" he said.
We recorded similar things on two tracks using each mic.
On playback it was hard to tell the difference! Girdas laughed to accompany my surprise at such a good sound from a crazy looking mic.
"How many?" Girdas said.
"Do you mean 'how much'?" I questioned. I knew Neumann's were one of the most expensive mics but had absolutely no idea of the value of this thing, also, my entrepreneurial sensors were active and I didn't want to commit to a price in case I quoted too high and they took advantage so I shrugged.
"Five dollars!" he said.
That's cheap I thought!
"How many are there…quantity?" I said.
"How many you want…20, 30, 50…?" he said as if there was an unlimited supply.
I thought about my airfare reimbursement to come and how much I could spare, and are they all OK?
I knew nothing about selling mics but I knew about selling, and also the Golden rule - "bought right -half sold". If you buy something at the right price, a price to make a good profit, then it becomes easier to sell. One has more energy with that knowledge of greater gain. Whereas, if one pays too much for an item, then a lot of time is spent worrying whether or not it will sell, consequently losing enthusiasm and profit! At different times in my life when recording work was thin on the ground I had sold double-glazing, life insurance, security systems and others, and knew I could do something with these things.
Something in the back of my mind told me it would be useful to have when I returned to England.
I couldn't lose at $5 each I thought. But how to get them home? I weighed up the idea of 40 mics…$200…Yes, I could do it. What I didn't know was that they came with 25m of cable and a power supply unit…I would only be able to get seven or eight in my suitcase.
"OK" I said decisively "I'll take 40 if you can hold until money arrives from Evvy?".
"OK, no problem!" said Girdas " I keep for you, not worry"
It was important for me to get hold of this money as soon as possible. I didn't want to lose this opportunity while the price was so low and wondered why it was so low….it was cheap to live here and I suppose to them it seemed a lot of money for something that had been lying on the shelf for a couple of years - Girdas had 5 or 6 in the studio with various years of manufacture printed on them from '89 to '92, and each with a different quality to the casing, the earlier ones seeming to have a better finish.
Tomas calculated it would cost around $900 to send by DHL.
"Any other way would be too…er…well, you may lose consignment. It is not safe wiv normal transport" he explained. One thing we hadn't taken into consideration was that the power supplies and cables weren't really necessary these days because nearly all mixing consoles had 48v phantom power built in for these sort of mics.

The mics on their own would weigh less than a quarter of the total package weight and thus would reduce the transport cost pro rata....

....a few days later:

I put the spiral(heater to boil water in a cup)on and settled down to have a look inside one of the mics I had brought back.. I decided to be patriotic and have a ‘London Bridge’ tea-bag. The indian loose tea was beautiful but there was always leaves to deal with and it got stronger as the tea reached the bottom of the cup, setting up a ‘beaver dam’ of tea leaves on the rim, straining the last few dregs of liquid.
The mic sported a large capsule with a gold-foil diaphragm and the circuit board with it’s Russian components. I thought about reliability after what Girdas had said about Russian transistors.
He had replaced quite a few on his Russian copied Soundcraft console.
The case was really unfinished – rough die-cast alloy with pitting in some parts.
I spotted the company logo – Okmebe, it read . I imagined the factory somewhere in Russia, and in my mind saw a brick gateway with the name in 'scrolled' wrought iron above.. The model number – MK219 - and date of manufacture.
Would people laugh at me? I had no idea of their future.
I looked through the accompanying manual trying to decipher the cyrillic symbols, making out what looked like ‘microphone’ above a lay-out of the circuit. Girdas had translated the word on the front of the manual, not ‘instructions’, or ‘manual’ but ‘passport’, the Russian intention for manual.
I fell asleep thinking how absorbed I was with the place and what it would be like to live here.....continuing(nov25th 2008)