Beyer MCE81 Condenser Microphone
Beyer's MCE81 condenser mic is their latest addition to a long line of sturdy, high quality studio and stage microphones. Gareth Stuart finds out just what it records best.
Q: What do Paul Young, Phil Collins and reviewer Gareth Stuart have in common?
They've all used Beyer's new mic and liked it!
Beyer's MCE81 condenser mic is their latest addition to a long line of sturdy, high quality studio and stage microphones of both the dynamic and condenser variety. Its predecessors include the M700 (dynamic) and MCE80 (condenser) which you may have read about in the Feb '87 edition of Sound On Sound.
Appearance-wise, the MCE81 is sleek and similar to the M700, though most like the MCE80 sensitivity-wise - my immediate 'in the hand' impression was that the mic felt solid and sturdy with good balance.
I think it's worth noting precisely what Beyer had in mind when designing the MCE81, after all, there are many possible uses for a mic - from PA, through location recording, to general and specific use in the studio. According to its spec sheet, Beyer see the MCE81 as a "studio quality unidirectional condenser for high quality sound reinforcement and vocal applications". Why 'studio quality', you might ask? Well, possibly the simplest answer is that condenser mics dominate the professional recording scene. The sensitivity of condenser mics compares very favourably with dynamic mics, basically because they respond by giving a higher electrical output for a given sound pressure level. Since this is the case, condenser mics produce a higher ratio of signal-to-noise than dynamic mics and the less the source signal is affected by the mic's inherent noise, obviously, the more accurate the reproduction of that source signal.
Like other condenser mics, the MCE81 requires a supply voltage of between 12-48V (commonly known as phantom power) in order to work. I plugged it into my Soundcraft desk and was immediately impressed with the sparkling clarity and resistance to feedback. The MCE81 has a quoted frequency response of 50-18,000Hz and it's that sensitivity to the higher frequencies, especially around the 12-14kHz mark, that gives it that bright and sparkling sound. I'll come to the lower end of its frequency response a little later.
Its high resistance to feedback is due to its cardioid (heart-shaped) polar pattern. Sounds at the rear of the mic, especially those below the 8kHz mark, are attenuated by more than 20dB. This means that it wouldn't be my first choice for location recording of classical music, say, as it has been specifically designed to be insensitive to distant sounds in order to keep feedback to an absolute minimum. That factor alone dictates that the mic is probably best suited to close-miking applications, on-stage or in the studio. So, with that 'all-round specification' in mind, I got cracking on a few tests.
First, it was used as a guide vocal mic in the studio to give the vocalist enough volume over the rest of the band during a live take. It passed that test with ease, and it's really a pretty tough test. Due to the MCE81 giving such good gain-before-feedback, you'll be sticking your fingers in your ears with the sheer volume long before feedback sets in. Next, I moved on to record everything in the studio that I could hit or blow. I tackled a drum kit first, starting with the bass drum (kick drum, if you prefer), but I must say that I wasn't absolutely convinced with the sound I got back before or after equalising it. I placed the MCE81 where I'd normally position an AKG D12 - about a foot from the inside skin. I recorded the sound flat (that is, with no equalisation - in order to keep my options open for any treatment necessary on playback). What I normally like to hear for a good bass drum sound is a warm, fat bottom end, with lots of click at the top. However, as the MCE81's response starts to tail off gradually below 200Hz, it's simply not capable of recording the lower frequencies which generate that warm bottom end. However, the hi-hat, toms, crash and ride cymbals sounded great. The MCE81 gives a clean, bright sound. The snare drum I whacked for the test, a Ludwig, came back through the monitors with such a crack that I was involuntarily blinking in time to the beat.
Likewise, acoustic guitar sounded fine and distorted electric had a lovely crisp attack. Alto sax sounded bright and punchy - I used a Yamaha sax with a Dukoff D7 power chamber mouthpiece, coupled with a Rico plastic cover reed which produces a biting sound at the worst of times. It was so satisfying to hear this accurately reproduced that I thought I'd try the mic on a B-flat clarinet. The resultant recorded sound was round and dark, and I was very pleased.
I didn't get round to the 'drop test'... well, I mean, it's not the sort of thing you do on purpose is it? And anyway, the idea of dropping an MCE81 along with, say, my AKG 414 - to find out which one still worked afterwards - didn't grab me as such a good idea!
Looking at the MCE81 in perspective, its closest rival is perhaps the Shure SM58 at £160 (rrp) - the MCE81 retails for £195 by the way. Interestingly, people who've already been using the MCE81 have commented that it has a certain 'dynamic mic' sound about it. Beyer, however, haven't developed the MCE81 with current SM58 buyers in mind - their angle has been more towards producing a rugged, high quality condenser mic at a reasonable price, which should appeal to young, hard-working bands.
To date, the MCE81 does seem to have been best received by the rock 'n' roll fraternity, which is fair enough - it's a really tough microphone. But this studio quality microphone for PA and vocal applications did such a great job in the studio for me that I even used it in preference to an AKG 414 to record main vocals. Outside the studio, I'm sure most PA people who get their hands on it won't want to put it down, or turn it down, too quickly. And certainly if I get around to owning one or more, which I'm seriously contemplating, I'm sure the Beyer MCE81 would very soon be my number one choice for studio recording.
Price £195 inc VAT.
Contact Beyer Dynamic (GB) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Gareth Stuart
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