Voice-over / Podcast Recording
Microphones Part 2
Polar Pattern: Hyper-cardioid.
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
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.
It was often used as the main on-air mic in American radio studios before the RE20 became popular. I understand Rick Dees still uses one in his studio.
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.
However, about 8 years later I recanted after seeing them in lots of videos of 1980s CHR DJs on YouTube and bought another one! But instead of the proper windshield am using a Neumann U87 windshield instead which works fine and fits perfectly, although it does cover most of the mic and slightly over the clip.
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 shown on the left too.
My unique frequency response graph above, and the published one below.
Upon reflection, maybe it doesn't look that different.
Sennheiser MD431 II
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, maybe even a mistake, 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
With Rycote suspension mount fitted. Who needs a BCM705?!
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:
Polar Pattern: Super-cardioid.
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
The Blackfire version without bass roll off ring piece.
What was that about wacky dictators?
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 for purchase, 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 (and only) MZW441 windshield for the MD441 is listed as discontinued on many 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?
UPDATE 2 I may have erroneously plugged my MD441 into phantom power, as it now sounds like a telephone! Oh dear. Sennheiser charge £279 for a repair, whatever the repair happens to be, which is more than I paid for it originally.
From bottom to top - BF531, S1000, MD441, MKH416
Shure Beta 57A
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.
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