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Vocal Mic Shootout
Author: Posted by Justin Peacock
Date: 04/07/2004
Hey Folks,
Warning! This turned out to be a bit long-winded...
This past saturday I did a shootout with a variety of different vocal mics, and thought everyone might be curious of the results. The recent discussion about the M-147 as a vocal mic, and comparing it to the U-87 brought me to do a little more experimentation myself. We were fortunate to have a good female singer who was quite consistent and patient with our technical shenanigans. I setup all of the mics in an arc and had our subject sing into each one. We used a Grace 801R mic pre and Cardas mic cables on everything for consistency.
The microphones we compared were:
Shure KSM-32 AKG C-414 Neumann TLM-127 Neumann M-147 Neumann U-87 Neumann M-149
These were all of the 'obvious choice' vocal mics in our locker. My TLM-103 was loaned out to someone, so I unfortunately did not have that as a part of the shootout.
Shure KSM-32 - This was quite good considering the price. It was pretty smooth, and I was pleasantly surprised. I've come, however, to not like this mic so much, mostly because there are so many tools that --for me-- do a substantially better job. I wanted to get it out again after being reminded of a famous engineer (who shall remain nameless) who loves this mic and uses it on everything. After hearing the other mics in the shootout, I found that it was lacking any sense of depth or character. The frequencies were smooth, but it didn't have any life.
AKG C-414 - There are some things that I like these on, and I've heard of people using them quite successfully for vocals, so I wanted to try for myself. There are several varieties of this mic (that sound different from each other), but this particular one was an older P48. My initial observation was that it was relatively flat sounding. It didn't seem to have any lifts, but was a bit aggressive in the midrange. It had more depth than the Shure, but was lifeless. The vocalist commented that though it wasn't bad, it sounded 'like it was just there, and nothing more.'
Neumann TLM-127 - This was immediately a big step up. All of the sudden things sounded musical, and the upper high frequency extension was silky smooth. There was a really wonderful depth and fullness with this microphone. I'm still learning this mic, and was glad to hear it work so beautifully on female voice. It's probably the world's greatest acoustic guitar mic, but hasn't worked so well on voice-overs, where you need that proximity buildup and larger than life sound. This was something really special with her voice...
Neumann M-147 - I've used this as a vocal mic quite a bit, and had some nice success with it. I've used it on dynamic singers like Jason Mraz and amazing vocalists like Marc Cohn. It always has done nicely, and it's small size is favorable for my live radio work, when singers are often playing guitar or piano at the same time. The sound was very similar to what others were describing in some other posts... The frequencies were beautifully extended from high to low, and had a very open sound that was true to her voice. It didn't have, however, the same fullness as the other dual-diaphragm mics. But, I wasn't complaining!!!
Neumann U-87 - After hearing the lifts of previous 2 mics, and the lack of depth in the first 2, this was a jaw-dropper. I was actually surprised at how dark it is, especially in comparison to the others. It was great, and not a surprise why people love it on vocals. For our singer and the pop music she was singing, it was a bit pedestrian when we wanted more lift, especially high frequency.
Neumann M-149 - $1,000,000.00!!! Instant pop music here... As the other engineer, Michael said, it had everything. The body and fullness of the 87, the high frequency extension of the 127, and the beautiful top end of the 147. It was in your face, smooth, musical, and full of character. There's a reason this microphone costs twice as much as the others... We then put this through a Millennia Media Origin pre/EQ/compressor, set to its tube mode, and the track was huge.
The comparison was very enlightening, and I'm hoping to do the same with a male vocal sometime soon. I don't mean to be resting on Neumann's laurels here, but I can't find another company that has the same depth of product, and microphones that are as musical. Next time I'll try to add the TLM-103 and Solution-D into the test. Any other great vocal mics that anyone suggest I try? We don't have vintage 47's and 67's sitting around, so we're talking modern stuff here, folks.
To see a picture of the setup point your browser here:
http://www.americandigitalrecording s.com/.VocalMicShootout.htm
Best, Justin Peacock American Digital Recordings www.americandigitalrecordings.com



 
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