Sennheiser MD Series Microphones
MD511 • MD512 • MD515 • MD516
By introducing new materials and new manufacturing methods, Sennheiser have managed to develop a budget microphone worthy of the Sennheiser name. Paul White puts the new MD range through its paces.
Until now, Sennheiser have never really addressed the budget microphone market; even the Black Fire series was based on their existing pro models but with an additional discount to help compensate for the tacky red logo. But the new MD series is brand new throughout, with new dynamic capsules and a new, moulded housing. Though the mics look fairly conventional, both the body and grille are manufactured from a glass-fibre reinforced synthetic resin which appears to be extremely tough.
The models we're looking at here are designed primarily for use as live vocal mics, though they are also suitable for studio recording and instrument miking. The MD511 and 512 are cardioid versions, the 512 having the benefit of a lockable switch, and the MD 515 and 516 are super-cardioids — the 516 gets the switch. Other than the switches, the external appearance of the mics is very similar and only the shape of the holes in the grille gives the game away — the 511/512 have oval slits while the 515/516 have hexagonal holes.
To facilitate cleaning, the grilles are attached by a simple bayonet mechanism which allows them to be removed for cleaning. Inside the grille basket is a thin foam liner, and it's quite in order to put the whole basket under the tape and then dry it with a hair dryer. Apparently the pros use a solution of Lysterine for cleaning mics!
Sennheiser's cunning use of plastics also extends to the capsule suspension, which comprises a plastic helical spring with the capsule fixed to the centre. This provides several millimetres of well-damped, vertical travel and includes a little lateral 'give' to help minimise handling noise. Sennheiser call this suspension SCS, which stands for Synthetic, Calibrated Spring. The output is low impedance (350 ohms) and balanced on a conventionally wired XLR connector, though no lead is supplied. Both mics come with a soft carrying wallet and include stand-mounting clips. The capsule itself is based around a Neodymium-ferrous boron magnetic assembly which is designed to promote high efficiency, a slightly extended HF response and the capability to handle SPLs in excess of 160dB.
Both models are electrically similar, other than their directional characteristics, with a claimed frequency response of 50Hz to 18kHz, (though no frequency plot is provided). Subjectively, the mics sound as though they have a presence peak to help them cut through in a mix, but not to the extent that they sound over-coloured. Because the MD 515/516 has a Super-cardioid response, it is actually more sensitive to sounds coming from directly behind than it is to sound coming from the side, though it shows a high degree of rejection of sounds at 120 degrees off-axis — which is usually where stage monitors are located. On the other hand, the 511/512 offers a much higher rejection of sound coming from behind, but is still quite sensitive at the 120 degree position. It is a sad fact of life that you can't have a cardioid mic that offers maximum rejection in both areas simultaneously, but in practice, both models exhibit an adequately high degree of rejection to all sounds outside a nominal +/- 40 degree window.
The basic sound of these mics is very good, and the sensitivity is just as good, or in some cases slightly better than, some of the more established dynamic models. There's plenty of tonal warmth, and though the sound isn't as obviously cutting as that of some mics, it still punches through a mix nicely without sounding harsh or forced. As with any dynamic mic, there's a considerable bass boost caused by the proximity effect when working close up, a fact that's emphasised by the position of the capsule, which is very close to the top of the basket. I found there was little to choose between the sound of the cardioid and super-cardioid models, but because of the slightly wider usable window of the cardioid, I'd probably go for that one when recording. The other side of the coin is that the super-cardioid is less likely to give feedback problems in situations where stage monitoring is being used.
"The tonality of these mics is a good balance between intelligibility and neutrality, with a smooth presence characteristic and plenty of warmth."
Handling noise is reasonably low, though some popping is evident when working close to the mic; for recording, a simple pop shield would cure this completely.
The moulded construction of these microphones makes a lot of sense for a mass-produced model, because although the initial tooling costs are very high, the unit manufacturing costs are relatively low. As far as the user is concerned, there are no metal parts to rust or discolour and no paint work to scratch or chip, yet the physical finish resembles that of the anti-reflection enamel used on more conventional mics. A side-benefit of the moulded construction is that the mics are lighter then you might expect, and unlike models with metal baskets, these won't dent.
The tonality of the mics is a good balance between intelligibility and neutrality with a smooth presence characteristic and plenty of warmth at the bottom end to balance it. There was none of that nasal character that comes through from a mic that has excessive presence boost, and I found the mics handled most vocals well with little or no EQ. For home recording, any of the models would also cope happily with electric guitar or brass as well as general percussion and bass.
The budget mic market has become more crowded in recent years, with Sennheiser being one of the last companies to take it seriously, but I feel that they've come up with a range that's genuinely different from the competition while still being traditional enough in appearance to be acceptable. If you're looking for a good all-round mic that doesn't cost the earth, that sounds good, and that's built to keep its good looks, even on the road, the MD series deserve your close attention.
MD511 £79.90; MD512 £85.78; MD515 £99.88; MD516 £105.75. Prices include VAT.
Sennheiser UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
Gear in this article:
Review by Paul White
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