Polar Pattern: Super-cardioid.
Frequency Repsonse: 50 - 16,000Hz.
As I mentioned, I find the SM57 is a good microphone for non-critical
voice work (i.e. non-broadcast). With some EQing, the sound is warm
and flattering, and highly directional (= no room noise). The Shure
Beta 57A is the 'new and improved' version of the SM57. It has more
of a sturdy grille and a smoother frequency response with an extended
high. I bought one but unfortunately didn't find it particularly inspiring, especially
compared to the SM57, and so after some tests I sold it on. Popular now
with some big rock groups as their main vocal mic.
Shure Beta 87A
Polar Pattern: Super-cardioid.
Frequency Repsonse: 50 - 20,000Hz.
The Shure Beta 87A (below) is a condenser mic with
a supercardioid pattern and a wide frequency range. I had one and yes,
it does have a nice sound, but I didn't use it as much as other mics
I had so decided to sell it and let someone else enjoy it. The 87C (cardioid) is the one Michael Bublé
used to use on every performance. He clearly loved it as he was almost never
seen without it, wherever he performed.
Frequency Repsonse: 40 - 18,000Hz.
The Beyerdynamic M201 is a dynamic mic,
and before the country-wide digital conversion re-fit seemed to be much used by BBC radio stations
- mainly BBC Radio 4 (speech based) as a main studio microphone and
for panel games / round table discussions and also in all BBC local
radio studios. It is still used as guest mics, often mounted on goosenecks in local BBC radio studios (with brightly coloured windshields for easy channel identification). Hypercardioid, small physical size, metal body, and rarely
seen for speech without a windshield (supplied), it gives a condenser
type sound with rich tones. Because it's a dynamic, you don't need phantom
power so it's a good option for podcasters. It gives a very nice tone
and includes high-ends that most dynamics miss. I'm actually very pleased
with it and I'm surprised it isn't used more in speech recordings. I
use the big windshield I got for my SM57 on it, which totally eliminates
The M201 without and with windshield. This is the windshield you get
with it, not the A81WS I mention.
(not sure why he needs 5 though - seems a bit greedy)
Sennheiser MD421 II
Type: Dynamic. Polar Pattern: Cardioid. Frequency Repsonse: 30 - 17,000Hz.
I bought a Sennheiser MD421 II. A famous dynamic mic, around for over 40 years, it is almost
as popular as the SM57 in terms of popularity in recording studio arsenals.
My first impression, cosmetically, was, "Oh, it is made of plastic".
[in 1996 Sennheiser stopped producing the MD421 and introduced the MD421 II which was made of different materials to the original]. My next impression was, "Oh, the frequency response print out looks
different to the official one published on the internet".
For a £250 dynamic mic, I suppose I was expecting a bit more. I didn't think it sounded better or different enough to keep amidst my other mics,
so I sold it to someone in a band to use on their kick drum.
MD421 without and with windshield. It looks like it's got an 'afro'!
MD421 wiith windshield
All with windshields: MD421 (biggest), M201 (top) and SM57
As supplied, but I ordered the windshield too.
My unique frequency response graph above, and the published one below.
Upon reflection, maybe it doesn't look that different.
Sennheiser MD431 II
Type: Dynamic. Polar Pattern: Super-cardioid. Frequency Repsonse: 40 - 18,000Hz.
I also have a Sennheiser MD431 II, Sennheiser's premium
dynamic mic with super cardoid pick-up. Sennheiser used the same mic
casing for a great number of different models including the Blackfire BF5032P
(condenser), BF431 (dynamic), BF531, a range which had specific types
of singing in mind (pop, rock, and loud rock which had a moisture resistant
capsule!) and a number of radio microphone versions which were the standard
seen on Western European TV in the early 1990s. In the UK, they were first seen on Top of the Pops as the presenter microphones from around June 1988 onwards replacing wired SM57s and SM86s. A silver radio mic was even used on Rio's
performance at the end of the London 2012 Olympics, much to the amusement
of sound engineers around the world on twitter (as they hadn't been manufactured for many years - photo right). The casing design appears to have
been used before 1982 - so quite a classic shape. Sennheiser really did stick with these popular mic chassis for decades and decades.
This model has an oddly popular niche
as a computer voice-recognition microphone on some websites due to its directionality, but also perhaps because
of its long association with voice recognition software - it was supplied as standard with the IBM Personal Dictation System
in 1993. But it isn't available everywhere and it's by no means a cheap
dynamic mic - in the UK it was £360 in 2007. I got a stonker of a deal from a US dealer in 2007 and paid about £225 for a new one with MZW4032 windshield. If you're using it for
voice recognition only, you'd need a USB interface or small USB mixer to get the best sound
gain for it to be usable. I use the Black Fire 531 version for my voice recognition and it is very good and directional. But I do sometimes switch to my MD441 (see next mic, below).
Tests I have done have proven its high directionality
leading to excellent feedback rejection and rich tone with little proximity
effect. I have the MZW 4032 windshield for it with the coloured bands
(which is an incredibly tight fit and takes some time and care to get fitted on). It's
the first mic I've had in many years which actually has an 'on/off'
switch on it! As an aside, it was used as the main on-air microphone on Europe's
Radio Luxembourg in the 1980s.
An obscure moment when a US president visited the Phillippines in 2014 and used Sennheiser MD431s instead of the SM57s ubiquitous with the presidential podium. Same holders, different mics. Quite unheard of! (but I think it's what the president of the Phillippines uses). I have done this on mine - they are very difficult to get off!
Neumann recently introduced the BCM705 which is a dynamic microphone (quite strange for Neumann who are usually manufacturers of nothing but condenser microphones) aimed at radio station studios. The design of the microphone casing is geared towards this. But I found an interesting article online that effectively suggested that this microphone was little more than a new casing around a Sennheiser MD431 microphone capsule, with a virtually identical frequency response. These are currently retailing at around £450. Inside the case, the mic capsule is neatly suspended in elastic, which I would imagine would give less handling noise compared with the MD431. Is this Sennheiser/Neumann’s version of the Shure SM57/SM7B affair?! (see page 1). Maybe Radio Luxembourg were ahead of their time in using an MD431 in the 80s!
MD431 II laid bare on my mixer (see next page in this article for info
on the mixer)
MD431 with windsheild. Other coloured foam rings are included.
A different version, the Sennheiser Black Fire 531.
Very similar to
the MD531, but with a proud (and detachable) reed switch.
The above mentioned Sennheiser Black Fire 531 in the foreground, with my SM57 with windshield in the background
There's quite a swathe of models in the Sennheiser BlackFire range - I've never been able to find anything very helpful (even the 1994 Sennheiser microphones catalogue, which has just 5 BF models mentioned). So this is a scan of the side of a box containing a BF511 I got on an auction site, which helps identify which model is which....
As an aside, the BF511 and BF516 have the following spec:
Frequency Repsonse: 30 - 20,000Hz.
The MD441 completes all the Sennheiser MD dynamic mics
I've owned. Like the MD421 and MD431 models above, the design of this
microphone is instantly recognisable worldwide because it's been around and virtually unchanged for literally 50 + years. Manufactured with only
minor cosmetic changes to the design since the 1960s, distinctly rectangular
and looking a bit like the front end of an American car from the 50s,
the MD441 has been sold with numerous letter suffixes after the name
over the years. Few know what they all mean. As far as I can tell, it's mostly to do with whether they have the ring near the XLR plug that rotates to give
different bass roll-off settings. There was even a 'Black Fire' model
which was all-black and had no bass roll off ring piece which was mass produced as opposed to being 'hand made' like the standard variant. My Sennheiser
catalogue from 1994 shows the price as being £404, but currently
(in 2014) the RRP is £665. So about inline with inflation.
In a flourish of extravagance, and in part acceptance
that I've realised I'm now a microphone collector, I bought one in August
2014. I plugged it in and was immediately disappointed. Very thin, tinny
sound. What rubbish! Then I realised the bass roll-off ring was set
all the way round to 'speech'. I turned it round a few notches to the other extreme - 'music'
- and wow - what a lovely microphone sound! Especially for a dynamic. It's early days yet - I
need to test more to present an informed review on here that you've
come to expect (stop laughing), but I'm very pleased with it. You don't see
them on TV these days, and when you do it's usually in multiples on
some wacky dictator's podium.
Two MD441s at the podium when Disney opened the Maelstrom ride at the Norway pavilion in Epcot Center, Florida in 1988. The ceremony was broadcast on Norwegian television at the time.
You know me and windshields,
and so I purchased the MZW441 which was horrendously expensive (as all
windshields seem to be for older microphones - why?!) and so it's now
un-poppable. It was used as the main on-air mic at Europe's Radio Luxembourg
in the mid 1970s to early 1980s (with windshield), at KFRC San Francisco in the same era, and in Japanese radio station studios this century too. I've always been one of these people who saves things 'for best'. But in 2017 I changed my mind and now often use this mic for my voice recognition software on my PC.
A non-Sennheiser windshield on an MD441 in the studios of radio station 82.5 North Wave, Japan, and my MD441 with MZW441, right.
For scale, l-r: SM57, M201 and MD441
UPDATE - I get the distinct impression, writing in Feb 2019, that Sennheiser may potentially stop manufacturing classic microphones such as the above MD441 and MD431 soon. There aren't a huge number of outlets that seem to actually sell them these days when you try to find them, especially the MD431 (very few in fact - even the largest professional audio suppliers in the UK don't seem to list them). Plus the Sennheiser spare parts website listing available parts for both these models is starting to look particularly threadbare, with disconcertingly few parts still available. Seemingly common spare parts like the MD441 clip mount for a microphone stand (a square mic, so rather hard to find alternatives), or a replacement wire mesh basket for the MD431 are no longer available, it seems! Even the standard MZW441 windshield for the MD441 is listed as discontinued on major broadcast audio websites in the UK. Looking back at a Sennheiser catalogue from 1994, they even used to produce windshields in numerous different colours for these microphones. Perhaps they are relying now on other manufacturers who specialise in windshields with custom coloured foam and screen printing onto them to fill the gap? Will Sennheiser be launching a revised version of these classic microphones? Or just quietly kill them off after 40+ years?
Late one night, I was reading lots of online reviews of
microphones and quite a number of people were extolling the virtues
of the EV ND767a microphone (what a catchy name...!), saying that they
preferred it over the SM57! "My goodness!", I thought to myself as an
SM57 fan, "can this really be true?". So I bought one. It's certainly
a nice mic, but perhaps a little too 'bright' for my liking, with a lot
more top-end that I'll need to test further to see if I can tone it down a bit to make it
sound more to my liking. It does have a nice rubberised shaft, stop laughing,
and looks very sturdy. Frequency response is quoted as going up to 22khz,
which seems insanely high / incorrect for a dynamic mic (but again,
is that just EV's different methodology for frequency testing?). It was around
the same price as an SM57.
Frequency Repsonse: 80 -
Whilst not a voice-over microphone, the RE50 has a very
clear and transparent sound. An omnidirectional pattern means it will
pick up sound from all around, it is very popular with reporters on
TV and radio. I bought one of these too and will be testing it soon
and posting the review on here. More for your interest really, it's
not a voice-over microphone by any means, but may be good for location
work or interviews if you want some ambiance to be picked-up in the
recording. If I don't like it, they seem to keep their value on eBay
if it's in new condition. The RE50 used to
be all the rage on 1980s local TV news in its 'champagne' paint finish. The RE50B (with B suffix) is the black version.
Condenser. Polar Pattern: Cardioid. Frequency
Repsonse: 20 - 20,000Hz ? (no data available)
For less than £35 (in 2009), you can now own a good condenser
mic with a near ruler-flat frequency response! Spend another £20
on an elastic suspension, and you have a really nice condenser mic set-up.
It has a larger pick-up area than the AT2020, so you may need more acoustic
treatment in your room. But for that price, it's pretty faultless. I
find it has a very rich, warm sound to it without capturing too much
of the old 'moist mouth' noises that condensers can sometimes over-do.
DO NOT buy Studiospares' windshield for this mic. It is a mere 7mm thick
and costs £14.38 - YOU WILL BE THOROUGHLY DISAPPOINTED, trust
me. I was, and I sent it back. Instead, I bought a Rode WS2 windshield which also fits my AT2020 which is a proper rough rescinded foam windshield and only cost about £19.
You can buy this as a kit in a flightcase, and also another
version, the S1100 (with a flat grille top) which has two switches -
a bass roll-off and an omni switch (effectively converting the mic into
an omnidirectional one).
UPDATE: Studiospares no longer sell these exact models (S1000, S1100) any more, but a single updated version. In 2018, the S1005 model which comes with the suspension mount was on sale for just £39. That's got to be worth a try at that kind of price!
I'm not sure whether this is available in the USA - the way
Studiospares describe it sounds like they specified each component themselves
eg. material for the grille, etc. and had it made in Asia, but you know
what factories in Asia are like and could have similar versions re-branded
for other companies. Who knows.
Clockwise from top left: AT2020, S1000, SM57
Polar Pattern: Super cardioid / Shotgun.
Frequency Repsonse: 40 -
I really tortured myself about buying this one. So many experienced voice artists and sound engineers say this is not a good mic to use for voice over work. Whilst the MKH416 was never designed for voice-overs studios (it is for TV and film work with a camera, often outdoors), it appears to be the Americans who have persisted with this misnomer and so converse to its critics you hear people rave about it too.
Legendary VO Ernie Anderson can be seen on a YouTube video voicing promos for ABC television in 1989 with one of these inches away from his mouth, no headphones and instead the audio track of the promo he's voicing blaring loudly out of speakers in the same room! But what a voice he had - he'd sound good with any microphone! I had seen it as the main on-air mic on BBC Radio 2 in the 1990s (although I think they'd fitted it with a windshield from a much longer shotgun mic to act as a bit of end distance 'buffer') and with royals interviewing each other (below) to reduce room resonance and atmos even from the open window, etc. If you have a wonderful deep chocolatey voice, maybe this isn't the mic to choose to get the full rich sound of your pipes. Now I own one, I can appreciate why it is used for VO work - it is very 'direct sounding' and 'clear cutting' - despite a flat frequency response - which is indeed mentioned by its critics. I suppose they like it because it allows the voice to cut through any background music without having to EQ it.
So purchasing possibly my most expensive microphone (£700) was something I thought about for many months before deciding to do it. The reason I took the plunge was because of its directionality. I hoped it would give me the quality of a condenser but without the huge pickup area you'd get with a large diaphragm condenser that would pick up the computer fan and any room reverberation. Initially, I wasn't that convinced I'd made the right decision when putting it through my Mackie mixer and into my DBX 166xs compressor before going through my Audient iD14 and into the PC via USB. I couldn't seem to get a particularly fantastic sound out of it, and the gate of the compressor kept 'pumping' with every slight 'clunk' the microphone heard in the room. So I had to stand absolutely still when recording so that a knocked cable or rustle of clothing didn't open the gate. I regretted purchasing the microphone and introducing it to my setup at the same time as a new compressor and USB interface, because I was having to master 3 new modules in the chain - effectively the entire chain! However, I had an idea to plug the microphone directly into the Audient USB interface instead, bypassing the Mackie mixer and compressor/gate analogue side of the chain. What a difference! This was it - the magic combination to [possibly] rival my beloved SM57 analogue chain (mentioned on page 1). Then I thought I'd try plugging in my SM57 directly into the USB interface as well. Blam! Perfect sound. So this was the eureka moment when I realised that this was the way to do it from now on (early 2018). No more Mackie mixer and analogue compressor/limiter/gate. Just the microphone signal going directly into the computer via the USB interface, raw and unaltered. Then using the compressor/limiter functions of the audio editing software to make it sound just as good, if not better than before with the analogue chain. (Re: software - after 21 years of using Cool Edit, I started using Sound Forge Audio Studio which came free with some Sony video editing software)
I appreciate I've wandered off the point of this microphone review, but think the above chain setup is worthy of mention because it made such a difference to the sound of the mic. The MKH416 is a long microphone - a little longer than my full hand span, and thin. Initially I used the windshield with it, but because it is so very directional you can simply talk slightly off axis and you don't need the windshield. Just like Ernie Anderson! But without that voice...
I bought an elastic suspension mount for it, as it is mounted on a long gooseneck and clamp in my setup. With its directionality, you do have to remain fairly still in the 'sweet spot' of the pick-up. I would say it doesn't 'reject' sound from behind it / the sides as much as an SM57 or MD431 dynamic mics do, as it's generally more sensitive with being a condenser.
I must admit, I actually use the MKH416 now as my main voice recognition software microphone for my daily work writing hundreds of e-mails in place of the microphone I had used previously for this task - the Sennheiser Black Fire 531, above. I didn't have to retrain the software switching mics, and the accuracy is very good. I originally had it on a weighted desk stand with an 18 inch black gooseneck which has an XLR connector built into its end, but because of desk vibrations it's now on a gooseneck coming from a G-clamp stuck to a shelf near my desk. Because it's a condenser and needs phantom power, and my small Beringer Xenyx 502 mixer I had previously used for voice recognition does not have phantom power, I purchased an Allen & Heath Zed 6 mixer (shown right) specifically for this microphone to use for voice recognition. I spent a long time researching which mixer to get as I didn't want one with a huge 'wall-wart' mains transformer. It's a very nicely built mixer, and I leave the microphone plugged in and mixer powered up and on 24/7. It also produces nowhere near as much heat as my Mackie mixer. The only downside is it doesn't have something like a 'tape out' to plug into my PC soundcard (like Mackies do) so I have to take the signal from the headphone output instead as the line level output is obviously too high a signal.
specifically for podcasting, Australian company Rode have invented an
innovative microphone that negates the need for a mixer altogether.
It's called the Rode Podcaster, costs around £149,
and is a dynamic microphone that plugs straight into your PC's USB socket.
It has a built-in headphone amp and volume control, so you just plug
your headphones into the side of the mic itself. Certainly borrowing
some aesthetic design from the EV RE20 but in Apple-style white, it
has a generous 5 metre USB cable. It certainly seems to be the most
convenient way to record podcasts direct to your PC if you don't want
to buy a mixing desk, but does lack flexibility of control (e.g. tone,
compression, limiting) for more critical applications, and the frequency
response is quite limited at the high-end.
Legendary voice-over artist Corey Burton once posted on his message
board, "I do not recommend "plug'n'play" USB output
microphones, except for the most rudimentary news or podcasting applications,
where fair reproduction of plain speaking voices and location sound
"actualities" is all that's necessary. For character voices
and VO work, even an old Shure SM-57 with a high fidelity preamp will
do a better job at capturing a range of tone and texture, than the dry,
lackluster, or sometimes "murky" qualities I've heard from
even the better USB microphones currently on the market."
Corey does a lot of work for Disney animations and theme parks, and
whilst he understandably uses the best equipment available, his
mention of an SM57 as a starting off point is worth noting. Please see
page 1 for my review of the SM57.
My prediction back in 2005 was that audio equipment manufacturers would
begin to offer 'bundles' of equipment and software in a convenient box
to appeal to podcasters - an ever-increasing market. Behringer had already
announced a bundle that includes a microphone, mixer and headphones.
The mixer plugs straight into the USB port. It's a new market for them,
and in a similar way that blogs seemed to go, many creators will sign up to do podcasts
to begin with, then after realising only 2 people downloaded it, they won't be bothered to continue after the initial
excitement (unless you're a geek on a particular topic or an experienced
talk radio presenter, I really don't know what people talk about on
them!). As I write this particular paragraph at the end of 2009,
podcasting wasn't such an in-term anymore, with most amateur podcasters
fading away, and edited radio programmes or discussions from newspaper groups being the mainstay of podcast
The Rode M3 is a new low cost condenser mic from Rode.
Looking a lot like the AKG C1000S, it uses a PP3 9v battery and at £75
sounds like pretty good value for anyone wanting a low cost mic for
their podcast recordings, although it's not USB direct.
Rode also introduced the Procaster (picture left) in 2009,
a black version of the podcaster body above, but seemingly going straight
after the RE20 market. It has an attractive price, but again not USB
Even EV introduced the RE320, a lower cost mic based on their RE20. It's not USB, but for folks who want an RE20 but don't want to spend quite that much, it's the next best thing.
Audio Technica have introduced the BP40 (pictured right), a dynamic broadcast microphone that delivers rich, natural, "condenser-like" sound. Perhaps aimed as an alternative to the Shure SM7B? It's hypercardioid with a frequency response of 50-16,000 Hz.
Beyerdynamic's M99 is another large diaphragm dynamic aimed at broadcast, with the same polar pattern and 30 - 18,000 Hz frequency response. (below right)
And Neumann are getting in on the 'dynamic' act with their BCM 705. Using the same housing as one of their condenser mics aimed at the radio studio market and taken up with enthusiasm by BBC local radio it seems (well, it's not their money, is it!?). 20 - 20,000 Hz response. Neumann describe the mic's pop screen "efficiently prevents unwanted particles, from respiratory moisture, nicotine, to food remnants, from settling on the diaphragm." Yuck!
See my previous review of the Sennheiser MD431 to find out where the mic capsule comes from!
Retro Style Microphones
L-R: Shure 55SH II, DAP VM-60, DM-065 'Nostalgic' vocal mic
Whilst they do look very nice and shiny, and I am certainly
partial to them aesthetically, I'm not really sure if they're great
for voice-work. As they have so much solid metal caging around the
microphone capsule, they tend to be, in my opinion, quite 'metal'
sounding and not very 'warm'. They're most often used as props or period
mics on occassional vocal stage performances on stage or TV. They're
pretty cheap to buy if you do want one. I've certainly found them to be a great talking point
in your studio - everyone homes in on mine as they first thing they
notice in the room. They can also look like awards! (see below)
50 Hz - 14,000 Hz
My most recent purchase is an MXL CR77 (pictured right) which
looks great. It's actually aimed for stage use, as it's in fact
a dynamic capsule inside, although the design would suggest it is a vintage ribbon mic. The pick-up pattern is quite wide even though
it's a super-cardioid and you do have to be pretty close to the grille.
black chrome finish is not for those who have OCD about fingerprints!
(although MXL do provide a polishing cloth with the mic!)
Its look (and possibly even model name) are surely inspired by the
RCA 77DX which Larry King used on his desk (albeit as a prop in his case).
Frequency Response Graphs
You can see why the C414 is a popular mic.
45 - 18kHz
AKG C414 in hypercardioid pattern
20 - 20kHz
30 - 20kHz
20 - 20kHz
50 - 20kHz
40 - 15kHz
Shure Beta 87A
50 - 20kHz
20 - 18kHz
20 - 20kHz
Sennheiser MD431 II
40 - 16kHz
Sennheiser MD421 II
30 - 17kHz
40 - 18kHz
It's truly amazing to see prices for some microphones drop by literally 80%
over the course of 10 years.
- in conclusion...
From those I know, most full-time voice-overs in the UK use Neumann U87
/ 89s, Rode NT2, AKG C414 TLII, or AT condensers for true pick-up of their
voice which can then be EQed and processed later using software or outboard
processing boxes. Then at BBC Radio 4 and BBC local radio they mostly
used Beyerdynamic M201s (hypercardioid) which is a unique choice. There's
a huge selection of condensers manufactured in the Far East whose prices
are around that of popular dynamic stage mics. This has brought accurate
sound recording within reach of many more people than 15 years ago when
the cheapest good condenser would have cost four-figures (£). I've
used Neumann U87s (pictured left), M149s (which cost more than my car)
in voice-over booths, and really didn't find them hugely different in
clarity to my AT2020 to warrant spending such a large amount more on them
to initially purchase - but perhaps my ears are not as trained as recording
and sound engineers - there must be a reason why people have 'favourite'
mics they prefer over others.
My current favourite microphones are the AT2020 and the MD441, but if
you're starting out or just doing podcasts, an SM57 is an excellent buy.