Cardioid Capacitor Microphone
Paul White studio tests Neumann's newest baby, a serious cardioid studio mic at an accessible price.
While there are numerous excellent microphones on the market today, Neumann are still the undisputed leader when it comes to studio vocal miking and their U87 is a mainstay of studios throughout the world. Because the U87 is a switchable pattern mic offering cardioid, figure-of-eight and omni modes of operation, it is a costly mic to build — but the majority of the models in circulation are left set to cardioid mode for close vocal recording. Over the past couple of years, there has been a trend for the major mic manufacturers to launch cardioid-only models in the mid price range, no doubt in the hope of attracting a greater number of sales, especially in the buoyant project studio and home studio markets.
Neumann's contender for mid-market supremacy is the TLM193, designed for vocal and general purpose applications in recording, broadcast and even live sound. Unlike many fixed pattern cardioid mics, this model retains the dual diaphragm capsule construction of the multi-pattern modules, the capsule being around 1 inch in diameter. The diaphragm construction and geometry has a profound influence on the tonal character of a microphone, so Neumann's engineers have doubtless been careful not to flush the baby out with the bath water.
Physically, the newcomer looks like a slightly undersized U87 and comes with a simple stand adaptor, though the optional suspension cradle is far preferable, both for sound isolation and pose value. Unlike its more costly counterparts, the mic casing is entirely devoid of switches; there's no pad switch, no LF roll-off switch, and of course no pattern select switch. The casework for the microphone is all-metal, including the double-layer grille basket, the whole thing having an attractive, non-reflective grey finish. Connection is via standard XLR connector with gold-plated pins, and the mic operates from 48V phantom powering. The solid-state preamp within the microphone is transformerless and turns in a respectable, if not sensationally low, equivalent input noise of 21 dB (CCIR Weighted).
Looking closer at the technical specification of the TLM193, the mic has a useful frequency response from around 8Hz to 20kHz plus, though the extended low response might mean you have to use the LF roll-off switch on your console to exclude stand-borne vibrations or distant traffic rumble. The shape of the response is generally very flat with just a hint of a dip in the upper midrange, followed by a broad but subtle rise at the top end.
Large diaphragm microphones tend to be reasonably sensitive, and the TLM 193 generates 11mV/Pa, which is simply a way of stating how much signal is generated for a known change in air pressure. This figure is typical of this type of microphone, and given that most applications involve use at close or middle distances, noise is unlikely to become a problem, even when using consoles with relatively unsophisticated mic input stages. The microphone will accept sound levels of 140dB without clipping, which provides it with a practical dynamic range of around 130dB. In theory, this should enable it to tackle anything, with the possible exception of a very close miked bass drum played by a madman wearing lead diving boots, but in any event, few engineers would consider using this type of microphone for bass drum work. A pair would be ideal as drum overheads, and in this application, the maximum SPL (Sound Pressure Level) encountered is likely to be well within the capability of the microphone. Sadly, the fiscal level of buying two may prove to be beyond the capability of my credit card!
This microphone shows its pedigree as soon as it is switched on; it has a refined, warm sound with plenty of definition but no really obvious coloration. Used with acoustic guitar, it turns in a confident performance combining detail with solidarity, and though it gives the impression of being pretty accurate, it still has the ability to flatter in a subtle way. However, I feel that most people will buy this mic primarily for its prowess at handling vocals, and here it turns in a classic performance without appearing to change the natural character of the sound by any significant degree. The overall character is warm, but with less sizzle than produced by mics like AKG's 414 or Beyer's MC740. Whether this is a good or bad thing is entirely a matter of taste, and it pays to audition as many competing models as possible before making a choice. (Other large diaphragm, cardioid mics in this price range include the Beyer MC834, the Audio Technica 4033, the Microtech Gefell UM70 and the Groove Tubes MD1.)
Technically this mic is very quiet used at the kind of distances we've come to expect in studios, and has around the same sensitivity as other good quality large diaphragm mics I compared it with. In addition to its role as a vocal mic, the TLM193 is a very capable all-rounder.
Buying a microphone is not quite the same as choosing a synthesizer, where the price difference between an entry level model and a real flagship workstation might only be around four times. A top studio mic might cost 30 to 40 times what you'd pay for a passable, entry-level dynamic microphone, and even the relatively low-cost TLM193 represents a significant investment to the private individual. Having said that, you can't make a good recording without a good microphone; it's the very first link in the recording chain, and using a cheap mic in an otherwise quality studio is about as foolish as using a cheapo lens on a professional Leica camera.
The TLM193 isn't without its competitors, but as most large diaphragm mics have their own distinctive sound, the final choice is largely dictated by personal taste. In the case of this model, it's Neumann's transparent yet warm quality which will sell it. Quality mics such as this one tend to wear well, and with minimal maintenance, a useful life of a couple of decades or more isn't out of the question. That equates to less than a pound a week — so the price of quality isn't really that high after all.
TLM193 £958.80 inc VAT.
Sennheiser UK, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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