Neumann Launches TLM 107 — Multi-Pattern Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

October 26, 2013 by  

The TLM series of Neumann microphones has stood for years as some of the most versatile mikes available. Neumann continues to expand this series with the TLM 107 condenser microphone.

The TLM 107 contains inspiration from Neumann's classic D-01.

The TLM 107 contains inspiration from Neumann’s classic D-01.

The new multi-pattern microphone is digitally controlled via the navigation switch located on the front of the microphone. Users can set the low cut filter, pickup pattern and pre attenuation level with a single switch via LED indicators. Getting hands on it with AES, we found this navigation system to be intuitive and easy to learn.

The TLM 107 is available now for $1,699.95 MSRP. Here are more details from NeumannUSA:

Multi-faceted versatility, no-compromise sound and innovative operation: With five directional characteristics and a novel operating concept, this standard-setting large-diaphragm microphone provides sound without any coloration. Featuring equally impressive level stability and low self-noise, it captures everything from the softest whisper to thundering drums. For studio, broadcasting and demanding home recording applications.

Classic proportions combined with attractive styling and fresh ideas – the TLM 107 perfectly embodies the Neumann philosophy: Innovation based on tradition. Far from evoking vintage or retro nostalgia, the standard-setting TLM 107 represents an impressive, modern studio microphone. Its extensive performance spectrum and high-precision reproduction, very close to the original, make the TLM 107 universally applicable, opening up previously unknown design freedom possibilities in mixing and post-production.

Neumann Engineering
The newly developed sound transducer, inspired by one of Neumann’s top-of-the-line microphones, the D-01, is impressive with its outstanding impulse fidelity. The great consistency of the five polar patterns, omnidirectional, cardioid and figure-8, with the intermediate patterns wide-angle cardioid and hypercardioid, is also unusual for a large-diaphragm capsule. The TLM 107 provides optimal sound not only for the cardioid setting; it also ensures maximum precision over the entire frequency range for all of the other directional characteristics. The sound always remains balanced, with an almost linear reproduction up to 8 kHz, and a slight boost in the highest frequencies that lends presence and freshness to the voice. Here particular attention has been paid to the natural reproduction of speech sounds, especially the critical “s” sound. The grille is acoustically optimized for low sensitivity to pop sounds. In addition, the sound transducer is edge-terminated, with both diaphragms at ground voltage. Specifically, this ensures considerably reduced sensitivity to dust and humidity.

No-Compromise Sound Design
Transformerless circuitry permits a high degree of linearity and a large dynamic range. The self-noise of only 10 dB-A is practically inaudible, while at the same time, the TLM 107 features high level stability. The maximum sound pressure level of 141 dB SPL can be increased to 153 dB SPL via pre-attenuation (Pad). This enables the TLM 107 to transmit the sound of even the loudest instruments without distortion. The Low Cut settings of Linear, 40 Hz, and 100 Hz are precisely adapted to practical recording situations. Without side effects, the 40 Hz setting cuts interference noise below the range of fundamental tones (where 41 Hz is the frequency of the double bass open E string), while the 100 Hz setting is optimized for speech and vocals (where 100 Hz corresponds to the lowest notes of a baritone).

Innovative Operating Concept
For the first time, all of the microphone switch functions are controlled intuitively via a navigation switch. A visual highlight is the illuminated pattern display in the chrome ring, while the Pad and Low Cut status is displayed by LEDs to the left and right of the switch. In order not to distract singers, the switch and display are located on the back of the microphone. After 15 seconds, the displays are turned off automatically.

Delivery Package
The TLM 107 is available in the colors matte nickel and black. A stand mount (SG 2) is included.

Neumann TLM 107 Condenser Microphone Specifications

  • Acoustical operating principle: Pressure gradient transducer
  • Directional pattern: Omnidirectional, wide angle cardioid, cardioid, hypercardioid, figure-8
  • Frequency range: 20 Hz … 20 kHz
  • Sensitivity at 1 kHz into 1 kohm: 11 mV/Pa
  • Rated impedance: 50 ohms
  • Rated load impedance: 1 kohms
  • Equivalent noise level, CCIR: 22 dB
  • Equivalent noise level, A-weighted: 10 dB-A
  • Signal-to-noise ratio, CCIR (rel. 94 dB SPL): 72 dB
  • Signal-to-noise ratio, A-weighted (rel. 94 dB SPL): 88 dB
  • Maximum SPL for THD 0.5%: 141 dB
  • with preattenuation -6 dB: 147 dB
  • with preattenuation -12 dB: 153 dB
  • Max. output voltage for THD > 0.5 %: 10 dBu
  • Power Supply (IEC 61938): P48
  • Current consumption: 3.2 mA
  • Required connector: XLR 3 F
  • Weight: 445 g
  • Diameter: 64 mm
  • Length: 145 mm

Neumann Debuts KH 310 A — Three-Way Active Studio Monitor

April 8, 2013 by  

There are plenty of audio developments that go down at NAB. Neumann is the latest to make a statement, with the unveiling of its new KH 310 A active studio monitor.

A three-way system designed to achieve highly accurate sound reproduction, the KH 310 A was created for music mixing and mastering, as well as for broadcasting and post, in stereo or surround configurations. Possible applications include use as a near-field monitor, as a front loudspeaker in mid-sized multi-channel systems, or as a rear loudspeaker in a larger multi-channel system.

The KH 310 A is a versatile new monitor from Neumann.

The KH 310 A is a versatile new monitor from Neumann.

The KH 310 A joins a growing line of Neumann near-field, midfield, and control monitors, as well as two different subwoofers.

Availability commences in early May, with an MSRP of $2,249.95 per speaker.

Here are the full details, direct from Neumann:

The cutting edge electro-acoustic performance of the KH 310 A is based on newly developed drivers housed in a sealed cabinet — this ensures extremely accurate reproduction over the entire frequency response at surprisingly high reproduction levels. The new KH 310 A, along with the KH 120 monitor Neumann launched in 2010, demonstrates that Neumann is not only identified with first-class microphones but also manufactures sound transducers of equally high quality for the end of the signal chain.

The KH 310 A is suited for use as a near-field monitor for mixing and mastering, or as a front loudspeaker in medium-sized surround systems, or as a rear loudspeaker for larger mult-channel systems. It is recommended for demanding applications in the fields of music production, broadcasting, post production and mastering. In combination with the Neumann studio subwoofers, KH 810 and KH 870, which feature a 7.1 High Definition Bass Manager, the KH 310 A monitor provides users with a perfect surround solution. The system is particularly relevant for use in the movie industry, which often requires monitoring solutions for multichannel recordings with 8 or more audio channels.

The KH 310 A’s treble, midrange and bass drivers have all been designed and tested by Neumann. Each driver is carefully optimized using acoustic simulations and undergoes an extensive series of measurements, ensuring an extremely linear reproduction across the entire frequency range. The bass driver provides an accurate response down to 34 Hz. This is achieved using a sealed cabinet design that provides extremely fast transient response. The mid-frequencies, essential for speech and vocals, are reproduced with exceptional precision by a dedicated soft dome midrange driver. Meanwhile, the high frequencies are handled by an alloy fabric dome in an elliptical Mathematically Modeled Dispersion waveguide. The result is an authentic sound, rich in detail, that provides a wide sweet spot while minimizing reflections in the vertical plane.

Three powerful class-AB amplifiers and a high-capacity SMPS power supply deliver very high headroom to the system with no audible distortion, and the acoustical controls for bass, low-mid and high frequencies make the KH 310 A a problem solver for acoustically challenging environments such as edit suites and OB vans. The KH 310 A is magnetically shielded and an exstensive range of accessories offers a diverse range of mounting options.

The back panel includes 4-position bass, low-mid and treble acoustical controls.

The back panel includes 4-position bass, low-mid and treble acoustical controls.

Heart & Soul: Mason Jar Music, The Brooklyn Creative Collective & Residential Studio

May 23, 2012 by  

In October, on the eve of her latest album release, Feist debuted her new repertoire to a small audience in a clandestine location in NYC. Joined by an 18-piece orchestra, she and her band performed the dynamic songs off Metals in a reverberant crypt at Church of the Intercession in Harlem.

Mason Jar arranger/composer and multi-instrumenalist Ian McLellan Davis in the Feist ensemble during setup. Photo by Sasha Arutyunova.

Only 150 guests got to see the spectacle live (and help pad the chamber), but that just scratches the surface of what the audience for this concert will be. The Brooklyn-based creative collective known as Mason Jar Music staged the entire production for video – part of its popular Mason Jar Music Presents series that captures artists performing in old buildings around NYC, late at night.

“We called in every favor for this one,” says Daniel Knobler, producer, engineer and Mason Jar co-founder. “We handled every aspect of the production – transcribed the arrangements from the record and put the orchestral ensemble together, recorded the audio, did the live sound and monitor mixes, filmed, art-directed and post-produced it.

“And it nearly killed us,” he adds, cracking up his Mason Jar co-founder Jon Seale. He’s exaggerating, but maybe still slightly amazed they managed to pull this one off.

The Feist concert was Mason Jar’s largest-scale, highest-profile production to date. And the multi-tasking – even though these guys seem like born multi-taskers – can be overwhelming. It’s only been a year since many in the Mason Jar collective graduated from NYU – Knobler and Seale from the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, others from Tisch, or the Jazz or Music Composition programs – and in that time, Mason Jar has become a full-fledged multimedia production company.

“This is just the way things are moving,” Seale says. “It’s really difficult to be in the game if all you do is audio.

“Dan and I went to school for record production. It’s what we do on a day-to-day basis, but in terms of getting the word out there about Mason Jar, about us as producers, the videos have done so much more than we could have ever done just on our own making records.”

Mason Jar Music Co-Founders (l-r) Daniel Knobler and Jon Seale

We’re sitting in Mason Jar’s basement recording studio in Kensington. It’s a residential studio; the collective largely works and lives in house. Upstairs, you’d likely find a number of other creatives buzzing around on any given day – filmmakers and editors, post sound guys, arrangers, composers and musicians no doubt working on a flurry of projects.

But “Mason Jar Music Presents” is the collective’s calling card.

The flagship video concert series gets right to the Mason Jar ethos – it’s a spirit of keeping things real, of bringing accomplished musicians together in inspiring acoustic spaces and leveraging new technology to capture and share that with the world.

The company’s motto “Preserving Analog Principles in a Digital Age” comes to life through these videos, shot in old churches, schools, abandoned industrial spaces, crypts; the productions seem to draw inspiration from the spaces themselves, and create something new, transcendent, and easily distributed online.

In the midst of the ongoing series – for which they just shot an episode with My Brightest Diamond – Mason Jar Music has additionally been working on an even larger-scale project: a feature-length music documentary on the singer/songwriter Josh Garrels.

Through one of their most popular MJM Presents, featuring Garrels performing in a Manhattan church, the group connected with a patron that funded a trip out to Mayne Island (Vancouver) last summer. Knobler and Seale assembled an ensemble, audio/video crew, and battery-powered recording rig to capture Garrels and the group performing in remote locations all over the island.

Their experience turned out to be movie-sized – as you can gather from The Sea In Between trailer below:

Josh Garrels: The Sea In Between – Trailer from Mason Jar Music on Vimeo.

It might seem overly earnest to some more business-minded, but the Mason Jar aim is true: they’re out to capture authentic performances, and they go to great lengths to do this and to do it in a hardly-done-before fashion.

“All the technological advancements in music production and creation have been really exciting,” notes Seale, “But unfortunately so much of it has been used almost abusively in a way…to create an unrealistic portrayal of what musicians actually do, what they sound like.

“For us, one of the things we’d like to do is to reclaim the technology and say: this is what we could be doing with it…we’re going to take these small high-definition cameras, and these field recorders that can now record 10 channels, and take them somewhere and do something amazing with them. Rather than programming all of our instruments and making our voices sound in tune, etc.”

Crypt Tracking: Engineers Chase Culpon and Daniel Knobler at their recording station for Feist’s performance. Photo by Sasha Arutyunova

INSIDE MASON JAR MUSIC STUDIOS

On the morning of our visit to Mason Jar HQ, Knobler and Seale – who are also bandmates in the funk-folk band Flearoy – had just finished producing a debut full-length album, Roots & Bells, for the sweet, folksy, indie-pop trio Town Hall. Later that afternoon, an 11-piece Afrobeat ensemble EMEFE would be in to track their upcoming album. And work with The Whiskey Collection – a new bluegrass/folk ensemble of Juilliard musicians – was about to begin.

Two of the 11-piece Emefe Afrobeat ensemble tracking at Mason Jar Music.

Down a few steps from a side-door entrance, the homey Mason Jar studio provides a versatile tracking room for the collective’s projects, and a comfortable space for bands.

The live room is home to a colorful spread of vintage and well-worn instruments – Hammond organ and Wurlitzer, Silvertone banjo, full drum kit and percussion accoutrements; and the control room is a narrow sideline off the vocal/iso booth.

The Mason Jar Studio is a modest affair but anyone who works here has likely been DIYing it for long enough to see that their bases are more than covered – by the Pro Tools HD system + True Systems Precision 8 and Hamptone mic pres,  Manley Vox Box, Neve 8816 summing mixer and LA2A and 1176s in the racks. Like in their mobile rigs, the studio equipment has been carefully selected, hard-earned, and in some cases… sponsored.

Starting out in 2010, Mason Jar self-funded their video projects, but a grant from NYU and a Kickstarter campaign helped them stay in the game long enough to establish a reputation.

Support from a number of gear sponsors, including Peluso and Sennheiser/Neumann, Gotham Sound and ARRI, helps keep equipment rental fees at a minimum. Even though clients are coming to them now, says Knobler, “the nature of these big video shoots requires so many people in so many disciplines that even the largest budgets get eaten up pretty quickly.”

Knobler and Seale cite Motown and Daptone Records, and The Band, as influences in what they do. And new technology is what has enabled them to take up and advance these great traditions with little budget.

“Some of our favorite records are live – like Aretha Franklin and Allman Brothers records – from back when some of the best records were live records,” says Seale, “And people really responded to them because they felt like they were there. That’s a feeling that we want to bring to all of our projects.

“I think people respond to our videos because it makes them feel a little bit closer to that time when something was conceived and created.”

Jon Seale during the Laura Gibson “MJM Presents”, recorded and filmed in a Long Island City furniture warehouse. Photo by Michael George.

From a business perspective, Knobler describes the videos as a “front” to the rest of the creative work he and the Mason Jar family produce. “From Feist, two of our arrangers ended up writing horn charts for Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear’s solo record,” Knobler cites.

“Our arrangers/composers do film scores and orchestrations, and we have filmmakers who do documentaries and narrative music videos and concert videos. And a lot of the work feeds each other – [i.e.] we did some music for the Food Network, and now our cinematographer is working with the Food Network.”

Finally, the videos present Knobler and Seale as producer/engineers with a lot of heart and soul, and a lot of savvy. And these days, that goes a long way when you’re trying to make a name for yourself.

Knobler puts it best: “The videos have been fun, and promotional for Mason Jar, and they’ve enabled us to work with some artists who – let’s be honest – would never have come to our basement to make a record.”

Visit www.masonjarmusic.com for more information on Knobler, Seale and the other Mason Jar members, and to get in touch.

Review By Shootout: The Ronin Pegasus Microphone

April 4, 2012 by  

DUMBO, BROOKLYN: I met microphone designer Dimitri Wolfwood and his [Ronin Applied Sciences] business partner Fenton Joseph at the Tape Op party during AES New York last fall. Joel Hamilton had arrived with them and introduced us, and Dimitri immediately took me into his world of ultimate microphone design. Before I knew it, I was swept up in his excitement about capsules and transformers, the virtues of film caps, and the sin of electrolytics.

In his introduction, Joel spoke with excitement about these guys having a new approach to tube microphone design, that – to his ears – had achieved a level of complexity and balance he’d only known from the Neumann classics.

I talked microphones with Dimitri for a while that night, and we kept in touch. After a couple more conversations, I asked him if I could demo his first microphone, the Pegasus. He and Fenton arrived at the studio just as I was setting up for a session, helped set up the mic, and then set me loose.

A Few Words For The Uninitiated…

Large diaphragm condenser (LDC) microphones, especially those powered and amplified by a tube, tend to be more subjective sound transducers. Much more than most small diaphragm mics, a tube LDC traditionally exhibits a strong personality, for which you pay to some degree in “accuracy.” However, when that personality is paired up with the right source, the recording takes on a hyper-reality that can be gripping and emotional.

The Ronin Pegasus setup at AES in NYC

Traditionally, the small diaphragm condenser, and the tradition of FET-based electronics, has been a quest for different types of accuracy. The tube LDC is the one that’s always strived for character and attitude. In so doing, they wind up being useful for a different type of application.

As an extreme example, measurement microphones have a flat EQ response from a couple Hertz to 20 kHz and beyond – but the results are often “unmusical”. A tube LDC, on the other hand, usually makes no pretense towards flat response, but rather boasts an ability to give a living, interactive response to the source, not unlike a guitar amp gives the guitar and guitarist. Accuracy really has little to do with it: the question is whether its distinct personality relates well to the instrument, like when two people meet each other.

Another side-note about tubes: Tubes have a reputation for being the choice when you want “warmth” or “good distortion.” This is a poor generalization, and one that doesn’t help us understand the Pegasus. While some tube circuits can sound very good when operating in their non-linear (distorted) regions, there are as many exceptions as there are examples. First, tube distortion is not always pleasant or warm, let alone the right choice for the application. Additionally, some tube circuits sound unusably terrible when they distort, sometimes even being a frigid opposite of what is commonly mis-described as “tube warmth.”

Second, some tube equipment, including the Pegasus, can be stunningly linear, and require as much effort to be pushed into the non-linear region as any solid-state circuit. So the choice of tubes over transistors is only in part about distortion: from the point of view of the microphone designer, it’s more about choosing a particular tradition of priorities in signal amplification.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

I tested the microphone at Vinegar Hill Sound, where I engineer and produce records along with studio owner and engineer Justin King. Our live room is about 400 square feet with 18-foot ceilings. Two walls are exposed, rough brick walls; one is drywall, and one is cloth-covered broad-band absorption. We have worked to achieve good spectral and temporal balance within the room’s natural medium-length reverb, and it is a pronounced feature of the room.

We work in Pro Tools HD 9 and use a Toft 32-channel ATB board for monitoring and mixing, but we track through outboard pre’s – API, Neve, Manley, Telefunken, Chandler – through outboard processing, and then feed directly into Lynx Aurora converters.

The Ronin Pegasus Test Sessions

To evaluate, I tested the Pegasus on various sources: voice, drum kit, kick drum, cello, trumpet, melodica, harmonica, piano, and pump organ (I will not discuss all of these). The microphones I compared it to were two tube LDC’s: the Telefunken Elektroakustik ELA-M 251E reissue and the Telefunken R-F-T AK-47; as well as mics of differing architectures: a Coles 4038 ribbon, a Telefunken ELA-M 260 SDC (reissue), a Neumann KM184 SDC, and a Shure SM7 dynamic.

On Vocals…

The first source I tried was voice. I tracked vocals for Diamond Doves singer-band-members Nick Kinsey, Wyndham Boylan-Garnett, and Brigham Brough. Each of the three trade off singing lead vocal for each song, so we had to do the “usual suspects” mic shoot-out for each of their three different voices. This was a stark demonstration of the characteristics of each microphone. We tried the Pegasus, the Telefunken ELA-M 251E, the Telefunken R-F-T AK47, and the Shure SM7 (a dynamic mic).

Diamond Doves is a trio of musicians from Elvis Perkins' band (the "Dearland" of "Elvis Perkins In Dearland")

What the Pegasus brought to each voice was musicality and balance: a robust low-end with formidable, but not overwhelming proximity effect; substantial body and detail in the lower-mids; a clarity and depth to the upper-mids, and an extended but well-tempered high-end that faithfully celebrated the higher-order harmonics.

The Telefunken 251E was by far the most similar example, but it had its own character that felt like a different take on the same subject; a more exaggerated proximity effect which made it a little more unruly (and more hyper-realistic), a similar depth to the lower mids, an upper-mid focus that was about half-an-octave higher than the Pegasus, and a sparkly high-end that nevertheless remained on a tighter leash than with the Pegasus. Transients were also a little more “gooey” than the Pegasus.

Neither of these two mics ever sounded like they got pushed into that resonating acoustic-distortion that lesser mics revert to under pressure. They remained open and tolerant of high sound pressure levels as well as ultra-resonant sources.

The Telefunken AK47, on the other hand, was much easier to push into its own resonance. It is a generally brighter mic with less depth and subtlety than the Pegasus, or the 251 for that matter. It has a bit of high-mid hype that can get edgy, which can be useful for pulling out nice natural distortions in vocals. As it happened, that was just what the doctor ordered for Nick’s voice, which has a gritty texture in that territory that distorted nicely with the AK47′s own grit – the two jousted together for a well-formed acoustic-electric distortion that became very flattering. But on Brigham’s Barry White-type baritone, it peeled the highs away into their own separate texture, where they laid distracting and out-of-balance. Likewise, Wyndham’s Brian Wilson-esque falsetto and soaring highs were dragged from sparkly to screechy through the AK47.

This edgy high-end raspiness also seemed to mask low-level information, especially in that range. So instead of casting a three-dimensional image with foreground, midfield and background, as the Pegasus and the 251 did, it depicted a much flatter image with less subtlety.

The SM7 suffered from some of the same problems; but what it lacked in complexity and easily-conjured resonance, it made up for with its characteristic impact and strength. It is a different type of mic that does a different type of thing; but it does it very well. The SM7 gives the transients a rougher handling that nevertheless glues the sound together in a lovely way – an inexact explosive intensity that replaces clarity and depth as the feature presentation. It can get a tiny bit boxy when people start to howl. But I have always found that what the SM7 lacks in precision sonics, it nevertheless imparts by offering the ear a robust landscape to re-imagine those lost details.

The Pegasus sounded universally beautiful on all three singers. It captured the three voices’ low-end weight, mid-range details and high-end harmonics with authority; In spite of that, it was not always the best fit among the group. I chose the Pegasus for Wyndham’s higher voice, but the AK47 and SM7 were much more flattering to Nick’s alto, and the ELA-M 251E had just the right mid-high-end sheen to balance Brigham’s “Papa Bear” baritone.

Pegasus on Strings

The second source I tried the Pegasus on was cello. The night consisted of string section overdubs for singer/songwriter Erin McKeown. I have had success before miking cello with a vintage U47, which brings out the creamy mid-range lushness of the wood, and the depth and size of the instrument; other times, I have used an Electro-Voice RE20 to great effect, getting a tight low-end impact without the bloated, proximity-effect lows becoming overwhelming. But, here, the Pegasus was stunning in the extension and detail of the instrument’s high-end information, couched in a rich, comfortable, and understated low-end.

I have never heard the detail in the rosin and strings emerge with such elegance and complexity, and somehow, those airy, effortless highs were well-merged with the lows and lower-mids to form a very unified sound. The Coles 4038, in comparison, was slow to respond to the harmonics, and only seemed to bring out the velvety lows and mids without addressing the highs. I even tried a high-end shelf boost to bring them out, but the sound never had the wide-spectrum of the Pegasus. They appeared, but seemed to be an after-thought. However, on the violin and viola the 4038′s sounded absolutely regal (unfortunately, there was no time to try the Pegasus on them).

On Drums…

When it came to recording drums for the Diamond Doves, I set up the Pegasus and the ELA-M 251E to be coincident for an old-fashioned shoot-out. I flipped them into omni, and placed them to be mono kit mics. This was another very interesting experiment that demonstrated the capabilities of both mics to take in a lot of information.

The Pegasus had a tighter low-end response, while the 251 has a more sizeable bottom. The Pegasus gave a good deal of focus on the lower and “mid”-mids, from about 500 Hz right on up to a little over 3k, whereas this region was more taught and scooped with the 251. The Pegasus then backed off from there to 8kHz, leaving the cymbals smoother, and rendering the transient mid-highs more realistically. Then the Pegasus had an extended crispness to the high end, up beyond the frequencies this engineer can still hear. The 251 had a gentle rolloff to the high-highs, maintaining a focus on the lows and the mid-highs from 4-8k.

Finally, the transient response between the two was noticeably different – the Pegasus had substantially more stick and batter-attack than the 251, leaving me with a little more of the drummer in the picture. The 251 seemed to get the explosion of the skin without as much information on the thing used to set it off.

With singer/songwriter Keith Polasko, I turned the Pegasus to another usual LDC task: the Kick-Out microphone. I set it about three feet in front of the kick drum inside a makeshift tunnel of insulation panels and blankets. Again, I was struck by the complexity: I could hear the detailed skin of the batter head and the body of the resonating shell as a unified panorama, with neither element competing with the other. Various bands of information lay side-by-side in perfect harmony. I needed no EQ and mixed to taste with a Beta 91 as Kick-In.

On Overdubs (Horns, Melodica, Etc.)

Mics setup and ready for trumpet (Pegasus at the top of the pack) - at Vinegar Hill Sound

I conducted my fourth round of experimentation during overdubs for Chris Harford‘s upcoming record, Lay the Passage. Ween bass-player Dave Dreiwitz came in to play trumpet, harmonica and melodica over a couple different tracks. The two serious contenders were the Pegasus and the Coles 4038.

With trumpet, the Pegasus’ focus was on the delicacy of the airflow, the higher-order harmonics emanating from the bell, and the resonance of the brass. It was a bright and airy sound that stood in stark relief against the dark and creamy Coles, which focused more on the girth of the low-mids and fundamentals of the brass. For this particular song, the upper-range space the Pegasus highlighted was already firmly owned by banjo and percussive close-miked acoustic guitar, so I chose the mic that held the harmonics in tight rein – the rich Coles 4038 ribbon. But I can imagine that for the right type of music, perhaps up-tempo Latin Jazz or Ska, the Pegasus would deliver the brightness and aggression of trumpets without getting harsh and spitty like many LDC’s.

Harmonica was too honky for the Pegasus to do much with – it was the one instrument where I simply did not like the Pegasus’ response.

The biggest surprise for me was using the Pegasus with Dave playing a cheap melodica – an instrument that seems to have very little complexity to its sound. But through the Pegasus, it became a far richer instrument than it sounded in the room, which was a real brain-teaser for me. Somehow we were getting more information out of the system than we were putting in, which violates many of the principles I take for granted. It became a very artful pad with several different and distinct layers of material in the sound, each with their own winding movement, twisting and turning – out of a $25 plastic children’s toy! It was exciting to see the mic at its finest.

Complexity of Character

Without going into too much detail that can be found elsewhere, I learned from talking with Dimitri that the levels of complexity and low-level sensitivity of this mic are due to an extraordinary and completely rethought approach to making ultra-simple and uncontaminated circuits that are only possible using custom and cost-no-object parts. A Stephen Paul one-micron diaphragm, expensive toroidal transformers, a never-before-used inductor-loaded circuit and a never-before-used tube, film and polypro caps that cost up to $50 a-piece: These are the elements that go into a mic that can capture multiple zones in its dynamic range with equal musicality.

Pegasus with Power Supply

The results shine in a mic that captures complexity of character, while maintaining a balance that makes it a beautiful choice for a wide range of applications. The strength and complexity of the sound make it a unique, 21st-century addition to any great mic closet.

One thing: At $4,200, this is not a microphone for project studios. The Pegasus is only a reasonable investment for full-time engineers and producers who already have a sizeable mic closet with all the usual suspects. An engineer who is still building his mic locker would be far better off acquiring an assortment of the standard, amazing mics that cost less than $1,000.

As the saying goes, the difference between a $200 mic and a $60 mic is much bigger than that of a $200 mic and a $1,000 mic – and some cheap mics are absolutely legendary (see the SM57). But if you have all those, and you’re still looking for something different to fill out your palette, then this just may be an alternative to adding a vintage U47 or C12.

Affordability is a variable like any other, but Dimitri’s creation calls for all top-of-the-line components paired with utmost concern for elegance and functionality of design. He set out to put together his best ideas about every element of the microphone system, and use only high-quality parts to achieve an “ultimate, non-upgradeable,” and completely original microphone. The Pegasus design philosophy falls into the category of never compromising functionality for cost, and never designing by concession to either tradition or to saving a dime.

That is not for everyone, and doesn’t have to be. But for those who are lucky enough to be able to afford this mic, I’m telling you, you will know where that money went.

The Pegasus is manufactured by Ronin Applied Sciences on Long Island. Visit www.roninappliedsciences.com for more information.

Reed Black is an engineer, producer, musician, and songwriter based in Brooklyn. Prior to focusing on studio work, Black recorded and toured the world as keyboardist for Saves The Day and played/recorded/engineered with his subsequent eponymous band of the same members. He joined Vinegar Hill Sound as house engineer in July of 2011, where he has had the pleasure of recording for artists such as Vampire Weekend, Chris Harford, Erin McKeown, and Jeannine Hebb, among many others. Get in touch via www.reedblack.com.

Project Studio Toolbox: The Best Mid-Priced Condensers for $500-$1500

March 22, 2012 by  

Last week, we covered some of the best large diaphragm condenser mics around at an entry-level price of $300. This time, we’ll move up a bracket to review some of the most useful condensers available from $500 to $1,500 new.

Keep in mind that this list is no way conclusive. It only promises to offer a proven handful of options that I’ve used time and again, and which have consistently performed as some of the best in their class.

Also remember that this list focuses only on new condenser mics, and does not include ribbons, dynamics, or a whole array of used and vintage microphones that can be equally good options.

With that out of the way, here’s the roundup:

The Workhorse LDCs

Audio-Technica
AT4050 ($700 street)

Audio-Technica AT4050

As we mentioned last week, Audio-Technica was among the first companies to make condenser mics ubiquitous with their AT4033. They would ultimately take what they learned from the success of that mic and apply it to the slightly more expensive, significantly more well-rounded AT4050.

This is a mic that repeatedly fails to sound bad. It may never have the shimmer of a C12, the body of a U47, or velvety response of a U67, but it was never intended to. The 4050 was designed as an affordable, transparent, swiss-army knife and at that, it succeeds without question.

It’s a workhorse of a microphone that’s become a staple at pragmatic studios, where it’s routinely used on percussion, voice and acoustic instruments. It now occupies a niche once monopolized by the AKG C-414, and although it’s a mic may not always dazzle, it will never disappoint.

AT4047 ($700 street)

Eventually, Audio-Technica decided to build a condenser mic that would offer a little more character and attitude than the decidedly neutral AT4050.

The resulting AT4047 is a design that’s loosely based around Neumann’s classic FET 47. This mic has a bit more midrange “push” than the 4050, and I like mine on kick drums, bass amps and guitar cabs. It also suits plenty of male vocals, especially when a little body and edge are called for.

AKG
C-414 ($800-$950 street)

There may be more distinct versions of the AKG C-414 than any other major microphone in history.

C-414 XLS

For those of you who are confused by all the models, I recommend the audio history of the C414 I wrote for Trust Me, I’m a Scientist. And for those of you who are in the market for a new mic, just know that there are currently two versions of the 414 available: the relatively flat XLS and the intentionally brighter XL-II.

I’m still a fan of my vintage versions of this mic, but the newest models are well-built, and address some issues I had with the original pattern switches. Their self noise has also been brought down significantly.

To my ear, these new versions sound a little leaner and tighter than some of the originals, but this might be well suited to modern tastes. It’s also worth remembering that the differences can sound slight to some ears.

However your tastes run, the 414 has been a studio staple since it was first introduced, and it’s still a natural choice on drum overheads, stringed acoustic instruments, horns, pianos, amps, and just about anything you can throw at it. I tend to like the brighter “II” versions on acoustic guitars and voice.

M-Audio
Sputnik ($700-800 street)

M-Audio Sputnik

The Sputnik is a funny-looking, affordable tube microphone that’s much better than I expected. According to its product literature, it was designed to sound like a hybrid of two of the most classic mics in history, and aims to deliver the upper midrange bump of the U47 and the high-end lift of a C12.

This can be a recipe for disaster in most inexpensive mics, but somehow the Sputnik pulls it off. It has a sound that’s forward and clear with just a bit of attitude and tube grit. It may not a great choice on already bright-sounding instruments, but the Sputnik can add life to dull-sounding tracks without taking them into the realm of irritation.

The Sputnik is a good character condenser for a mic locker in need of some zest on the cheap. It sounds more balanced than many affordable, bright condenser mics and there a closeout deals on this now-discontinued model at several dealers.

The SDCs

AKG
C 451 B ($580 Street)

For some reason, people seem to have forgotten all about the AKG C 451 B. It’s a small-diaphragm design that hasn’t changed too much over the years. At one time it was one of the best bets in small diaphragm condenser mics. Today, it still delivers a sound that’s pretty, clean, and crisp, and still does well on acoustic stringed instruments and in all sorts of tight places. The price hasn’t risen too much over the years, either.

Oktava
MK-012 ($380+ street)

Oktava MK-012

The Oktava MK-012 has become one of the most popular small diaphragm condensers of the past ten years, thanks in part to rave reviews in Tape Op Magazine and online. These mics are affordable, versatile and a great deal when purchased in pairs.

To my ears, the sound of the MK012s is a bit more broad and “throaty” than some of the other popular SDCs on the market. I like them on hi-hats, toms, and on sensitive acoustic instruments that don’t agree with brighter-sounding condensers.

Neumann
KM-184 ($850 street)

Neumann makes a few mics for under $1,500, but the one I think deserves serious consideration at most studios is the KM-184.

Detractors say that this mic isn’t as silky or smooth as the original KM84. That’s true, and by design, the KM-184 offers a bit more presence than the originals. This seems to be a general trend across microphone brands, and some engineers argue that using a slightly brighter mic saves them from applying the equalizers they’d reach for otherwise.

Despite the changes over the years, the KM-184 remains a well-balanced mic that can be great on acoustic guitars, string instruments, snare drums and others. If you can find an original at a good price – then yes – those are definitely nice too.

Also worth a look: the beyerdynamic MC 901 and 903, Earthworks mics, and anything from Schoeps.

The “Blue Collar Boutiques”

Bock 195

Bock Audio
195 ($1,000 street)

The Bock Audio 195 is a big, clean-sounding mic with a special “fat” switch designed to deliver extra heft. It’s a good deal on a good FET condenser from one of the best makers of high-end boutique microphones in the world.

Mojave
MA-200 ($1000 street)

Want a bright, airy, affordable microphone that sounds really good? The MA-200 has one tube, one polar pattern and one sound that works especially well on voice. This mic has quite a bit of lift in the high band, but it never sounds sizzly, spitty or harsh.

The MA-200′s silky, enhanced top-end is what I often want a mic to sound like when I’m done EQing it. It’s not always the right mic, but when it is, it can be the perfect mic. Try it on voice, overheads and acoustic guitar.

Peluso
22 251 and 2247 ($1,300 street)

Peluso 22 251

Peluso makes excellent re-interpretations of the classic Neumann U47, AKG C12, and others for a fraction of the price. Models start at a list price of around $1,500 and go up from there. In a similar vein, Lawson and Telefunken are also worth a look, although both companies tend toward at a higher price-point.

That’s it from us from now. Stay tuned for future roundups featuring favorite dynamics and ribbons. And as the economy continues to improve, don’t be surprised to see us run features on some of the most coveted condensers around.

In the meantime, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section below.

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn recording engineer and studio journalist. He is a regular contributor to SonicScoop and edits the music blog Trust Me, I’m A Scientist.

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