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ST - Pro
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May 11, 2020

Microphone Review / Comparison

Microphone Review

The Lineup
(These are ordered in descending order by list price in $US dollars and the links are to the manufacturers' web sites)
Condenser
Sony C48 $1675
Microtech Geffel UMT 70S $1,600
Neumann KMS105 $799
Rode S1 $599
Shure Beta 87a $462
AKG C535 $384
Dynamic
Beyerdynamic M88 $499
Shure Beta 58a $300
Audix OM5 $265

Quick Notes
I used the Sony C48 and the Microtech Geffel UMT 70S for baseline reference. These are both large diaphragm condenser microphones with switchable patterns; omni, cardioid, hyper-cardioid (figure 8). When I had a Neumann U87 and TM103, the Microtech Geffel sounded very similar (It is rumoured that they all use the same capsule).
I would probably not recommend these for frequent live, on-the-road applications because given their value and relatively fragile nature they are probably better suited for recording. Neither is particularly suited for hand-held use. If you don't mind treating them with care, I would use either of these for an ensemble where you want to use a single microphone. Here, the switchable pattern (omni-directional) might do very well.

I have used the AKG C535 and Beyerdynamic M88 for many years, and they are old friends. I included them in my testing to help me to "listen" to the others.

This leaves for comparison
Condenser
Neumann KMS 105
Rode S1
Shure Beta 87a
AKG C535

Dynamic
BeyerDynamic M88
Shure Beta 58a
Audix OM5

See the section at the end (Testing) for the details about how I tested.

Conclusions
I think that any of the remaining microphones would be good performers, at least as good as the Shure Beta 58a.

Application - High Volume - Gain before Feedback
Audix OM5
Beyerdynamic M88
Shure Beta 58a

For high volume applications where gain before feedback is the priority, the Audix OM5 comes first. The Beyerdynamic M88 has a slight edge for clarity and is very close in feedback rejection. I also know the latter to be extremely rugged. I would use the either if I was working a small stage and could not get at least 4 feet away from the L1, or if having difficulty with reflections leading to feedback. If you can't get enough gain before feedback, it doesn't really matter how good the microphone sounds under better circumstances.

Application - Hand Held Microphone - Soloist
Neumann KMS105
AKG C535 [edit - corrected typo on model no]
Rode S1
Shure Beta 87a

Where sound quality takes precedence over everything else, the Neumann KMS105 is first. It has very low handling noise so as a handheld unit or on a stand with lots of mechanical noise this would do very well. I also found it to have the best resistance to wind noise and popping "p"s when "eating the mic". I think you would find it very suitable for female vocalists or any vocalists whose voice holds plenty of nuance. This microphone can be very present even at lower volumes. In the hands of a skilled artist, there is plenty of room for dynamics while maintaining detail in softer passages.

There is a quality that is shared by the Neumann KMS105, the Microtech Geffel UMT 70S and the Sony C48. If it could be said that a microphone sparkles, shimmers, or glistens - then these microphones do that. Not being a sound engineer, I don't have the words to describe it, but I hope you understand what I mean. It is the same kind of difference you hear going from a dynamic microphone to a condenser only more so. Think of the difference between red, and the candy-apple red you get with many layers of lovingly applied lacquer.

The AKG C585, Rode S1 and the Shure Beta 87a sound very similar to me. Well defined, accurate, but lacking the lustre of the Neumann KMS105.
The AKG C585 comes ahead of the others because it has switches to provide -10 db attenuation and low frequency roll-off. This is good for controlling the proximity effect that occurs with condenser mics when you "eat" them.
The Shure Beta 87a is at the bottom of the list because, of all of the condenser microphones, it was the most difficult to control for feedback. This would be a concern in a hand-held situation.

Application - On the Stand
Neumann KMS105
AKG C585
Rode S1
Shure Beta 87a

The list remains the same. With good microphone technique the bottom three would be pretty much equivalent when mated up with presets that seemed right for them. The differences will be more dependent on the singer's voice and range than anything I can detect in testing.

General Comments
A consequence of getting the Bose Personalized Amplification System™ is that I can hear everything better.

This is a significant improvement at a qualitative level. This means that the quality of the sound (or lack of it) has become much more apparent to me. I am enjoying playing, and performing more than I have in years.

Since getting my L1™ I am playing more, performing more, and singing more.

In the past I practiced vocals using the Sony C48 and the Microtech Geffel UMT 70S, but since I couldn't hear myself anyway, there was no need to push the envelope (microphone quality) when performing live. I was singing harmony most of the time because I had not the confidence to take on lead vocals (couldn't hear myself). Now that I can get the same sound live as when practicing, it is time to find a way to closely get the same sound in both circumstances. This was relatively easy to do with my guitar sound, and now I'm ready to do it with the vocals.

What to do now
So for me, the Neumann KMS105 is a keeper.
The Rode S1 and the Shure Beta 87a are redundant, so I don't need to keep them.
The Audix OM5 would be a great addition to anyone's gig bag. I'll use the Beyerdynamic M88 (it's hypercardioid) when feedback is an issue. For the open stage type events, I'll probably continue to use Shure Beta 57s and Beta 58s.
For instruments I can use a couple of Neumann M184s or AKG C451s. There is even a preset for the latter to be used with acoustic guitar. I think there's a notch at 200hz to alleviate boominess from the sound hole.

Counterpoint
I'm not an audiophile. I don't have a trained ear. I will never be hired for my vocal skills. The primary expression of my musical voice is my guitar. Do I need to spend double the money on the Neumann vs. the Rode S1 (that I liked)? Probably not.

Why spend the money?
The difference is subtle. If I was still working through a conventional PA, much of the difference would be lost, imperceptible. I know from experience, I wouldn't be able to hear it in the monitors. But with the L1™, I can hear the difference. I used the Neumann last night at a gig. (Picked it up on the way there). I really enjoyed it.

A couple of days ago I traded in a beautiful 8 year old PRS McCarty to get a PRS Brazilian series Custom 24. Interestingly, the new guitar has the "sparkle and shimmer" that the other one lacked. This is a subtle nuance that could easily be lost in a conventional guitar amp. The L1™ seems to transparently make it louder. If you hear those kinds of differences in your instrument or voice, then you might make similar choices given the same options.

A Gentle Warning about the consequences
After you get your L1™, you will probably go through some changes.
Some, like parting with old gear that no longer seems appropriate are relatively easy.
You will probably play and sing more. But you may find that you end up upgrading the input since the amplification of it (the source), is so faithful. That was unanticipated, and the heart of the warning.

In closing
I hope that all of this is useful to you, and that I have provided a little of the experience in a meaningful way. I will have all of these microphones in my possession for another couple of days. So if there is anything specific I can try for you, or if this raises questions... just ask.



Testing
This is not all that interesting, but I thought you might want to know.

First - a disclaimer: I have no formal background in testing methods or sound for that matter. I was going to try to be scientific about this, testing and measuring with a sound level meter and a real time analyzer, but in the end, I just tried each microphone against its nearest competitors and listened.

Physical surroundings: 20' x 40' room. The L1™ was about a foot out from a fairly reflective wall facing into the long dimension of the room. The sides of the space are reflective too.

Settings: I had the L1™ running so the trims were set to only flicker red slightly (then backed off a little). I used preset 02 for most of the testing, but experimented with others. I turned down the gains at the remotes so at any given time, only one microphone was "live".

All the settings on the remote were set to 12:00 o'clock except for the master that was at 1-2 o'clock at times. It was loud! [edit - I took it up that high to find the threshold before feedback. I couldn't live with it that loud for long. The loudest I have ever taken the system running live is everything at 12:00 o'clock. I did some measurements today and this seems to hover at 100 db +- 5db. This is measured at ear level at 7 feet, same distance as the microphone ]

I tried the microphones several times set up at 7 feet from the L1™, and then for the feedback stress test I put the microphones 3 from the L1™. At 3 feet, I couldn't get the Shure Beta 87a to run higher than 12:00 for the master even when I was eating the mic. I could get the others a little higher. I had to turn things down below 12:00 o'clock if I wasn't standing between the microphone and the L1.

When listening for tone, clarity, and sound in general I turned the systems down to 12:00 o'clock on the master. The microphones were 7 feet from the L1™ units for this part. I had four microphones going into separate channels (1 and 2) in two L1™ units. I would sing the same phrases into each microphone and move them back and forth until I had them in an order I liked. Then to remove any "bias" inherent in the shape of the room or placement, I reversed the order (left-to-right) and listened again.

Not a trained singer, I can squeeze out a couple of octaves starting at the lowest note you can get from a guitar (E below middle C I think). I sang songs and scales, and just listened carefully. I had the microphones set up as you would playing live, so the L1™ units were behind me. The microphones were angled upward about 60 - 70 degrees. (Looking from the left side in profile - about 2:30).

--- Go make music ---

[edits - grammar, room size, candy-apple red analogy, more detail in testing section]
[edit - updated links]
[edit - replaced references to PAS to L1™ ]
[edit - updated link to Sony C48]
.......::: :::.......
-- click for details --
25 REPLIES 25
chuck-at-bose_2
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Nov 2, 2003

Re: Microphone Review / Comparison

Fascinating! Thanks, ST, for this highly informative summary!
quote:
Not being a sound engineer, I don't have the words to describe it, but I hope you understand what I mean.
Your words, though subjective, are based on real-world experience and, at least to me, speak volumes more than any marketing literature that I've read on these mics...
Kyle
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Feb 13, 2017

Re: Microphone Review / Comparison

ST-
It's great to have our customers talking about real world experiences with a variety of mics. After all, there always is a means of transfer from your music to sound pressure waves. The Bose approach is only one half of the equation. This is why we developed presets, to personalize the sound of microphones and instruments.

Something else you stated.. We have heard before that this system makes owners listen more carefully, it's almost like hearing things "for real" now, with more accuracy.

Thanks for the review.
acappella
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Mar 18, 2004

Re: Microphone Review / Comparison

A very nice microphone review, ST! I'll chime in with my opinions on the Shures, the Audix OM5, and the AKG D880.

I've been using my two PASes as the "mains" speakers at a weekly open mic for the past several months. The performers love them, for reasons you all know, and the pub owners love them because the sound is stellar throughout the oddly shaped restaurant and doesn't interfere with the waitstaff. But the stage area is tiny and the performers are usually about 3 feet from the speakers, so I have to be careful about feedback.

The Shure SM58 is a great mic, and is the workhorse of the industry. But the Shure BETA 58A sounds noticeably better (in my opinion) and has a tighter cardioid pickup pattern, so is much more resistant to feedback. If you want to buy Shure, the choice is obvious. Buy the Beta. It's worth the extra cash.

I picked up the Audix OM5 a couple weeks ago based on the recommendations I read this board, and I just ordered a second one. Yup, they're right: No feedback, ever. 🙂 The OM5 also has a low-end rolloff that really cleans up the "proximity effect", so getting right up on the mic doesn't muddy the sound. The high end "presence rise" starts about 1.5k lower than the Beta 58A, which can help add a little character to some voices. In the two weeks of use at the open mic, I find it works really work well for most male voices, and for women who belt. For more delicate female voices (e.g. those who use head voice instead of belting), I prefer the Beta 58A, unless they sing so quietly that I have to worry about feedback.

My a cappella group uses eight wireless AKG D880 mics that I bought long before I discovered the PAS. The mics work OK for us, but I don't recommend them for PAS users. The proximity effect on these mics is really muddy, so they sound best when you stay a couple inches away. Which means I have to turn the gain up a bit higher, which increases the risk of feedback. Anytime we perform in a space where I have to crank up the volume, I position the speakers to the sides and out in front of us. We still get great sound, and are able to balance and stay in tune much better than with a standard (archaic) sound system.
Ken-at-Bose
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Oct 13, 2003

Re: Microphone Review / Comparison

On behalf of all of us here in the Live Music Technology Group, and the thousands that read this forum, THANK YOU.
Oldghm
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May 25, 2004

Re: Microphone Review / Comparison

sub-jec-tive adj. 1. Relating to, proceeding from, or taking place within an individual's mind, emotions, etc.: opposed to objective. 2. Originating from or influenced by one's personal interests, prejudices, etc. 3. Introspective. 4. Of the mind or emotions only: illusory. 5. In literature and art, giving prominence to the subject or author as treating of his inner experience and emotion.

footnote: taken from Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary

Just for the sake of clarity, everything I post on this forum will be subjective.

Oldghm
jazzhorn1
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Nov 3, 2003

Re: Microphone Review / Comparison

Great real-life review, ST - thanks for your efforts!

As a long-time user of Audix OM-5's & 6's, I am personally interested in where the OM-5 might have fit into your "soloist" categories, both on stand and hand-held (compared to the mics you listed in your results). If I can use a significantly better mic for my performance applications, I'm willing to change over. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.
Ken Bausano
ST - Pro
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May 11, 2020

Re: Microphone Review / Comparison

Hi Ken,

Thanks for your kind comments.

I liked the Audix OM-5. My impression was that I would use it any place that a Shure Beta 58a would work. I already have a couple of Beta 57s and 58s.

I use them for at open stage events and emergencies (or occasionally when someone needs to drive nails). They are working fine, I don't see replacing them anytime soon. But when the time comes, I'll probably go with the OM-5.

I personally prefer the sound I hear with a nice condenser microphone. With that sound comes (usually) higher price and unless specifically designed for stage use (Shure Beta 87a, Rode S1, Neumann KMS105), condenser microphones tend to require more attention (physically fragile and you read in the documentation, warnings to avoid excessive heat, dust and moisture). The documentation for Rode S1 includes these warnings too.

In challenging environments (feedback, multiple users, hand-held or on a stand), I think it the OM-5 would be a good fit.

I occasionally play with an amazing trumpet player. She really likes the Beyerdynamic M88. I agree with her, she sounds great through it when she solos. We haven't tried anything else because she saw the M88 in my bag one night. No Shure Betas for her.

Since you are playing trumpet and flugelhorn I can't begin to suggest if going to a condenser microphone would be an improvement.

Would it fit your style to go with a wireless clip-on microphone? This could free you from the concerns of "working" a stationary microphone. On the other hand you lose the tone and dynamic variations you can get "working" the microphone.

So back to the question...

Since you are curious enough to ask, I'd say at least go and audition the Rode S1 and the Neumann KMS 105. You may like the sound, you may not.

Trust your ears - and enjoy listening and hearing in a different way while you are auditioning microphones.
jazzhorn1
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Nov 3, 2003

Re: Microphone Review / Comparison

Thanks again, ST - for your reply. I apparently mislead a bit here - I was asking about such mics for vocal use. My 10-piece band uses at least 4 vocalists including myself. All four of my horn players use clip-ons (Shure SM-98's (as I recall) for saxes, AKG C-419's for brass) and are all wireless. So my interest in your test was in following along the guidelines of your 'experiment' for vocal purposes.

And for your benefit, I've been a PAS adoptee since November. We use 5 systems in the above-mentioned band.
Ken
ST - Pro
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May 11, 2020

Re: Microphone Review / Comparison

Ken
quote:
I apparently mislead a bit here - I was asking about such mics for vocal use


Nope, mea culpa, I just missed the heart of your question - sorry.

Here's the answer to:
quote:
I am personally interested in where the OM-5 might have fit into your "soloist" categories, both on stand and hand-held (compared to the mics you listed in your results). If I can use a significantly better mic for my performance applications, I'm willing to change over.


I didn't put the Beyerdynamic M88, Audix OM-5 or the Shure Beta 58a into these "soloist" categories because they are all dynamic microphones. In my pre-PAS days, I would have been relatively happy to use any of them.

If I had included these in the soloist categories they would have appeared below the condenser microphones. The order among the three would be dictated by your priorities in going for a dynamic microphone (durability, familiarity, gain-before-feedback, fidelity, etc.) --- and that was the problem: I didn't want to put anything at the top or bottom of a list of seven microphones given that the rationale for choosing one condenser over another was different from choosing one dynamic over another. You would have a different set of priorities for choosing any condenser over any dynamic.

So Ken, I'm back to ... if you haven't heard yourself through a nice condenser microphone lately, then find a way to check it out (with the PAS of course). If you like what you hear, then choosing one from the crowd of contenders is going to be a highly subjective exercise.



More musings... Why segregate the condenser microphones from the dynamics?

With most three-way systems, I think you are living with the same kind of inherent "leveling of the differences" that someone (was it Wolf-at-Bose?) said about under-the-bridge pickups and acoustic guitars. Here I think the suggestion was that a mediocre guitar might sound better but an extremely fine instrument might sound like a merely good one. This strange effect was because the pickup system is inherently incapable of picking-up the worst features of the mediocre and the best features in the finer instrument. As an acoustic guitar player, I completely understood this, as I have chosen not to retrofit my nicer acoustic instruments with these pickups.

Okay - back to microphones: The PAS is, I find, much more capable of amplifying the strengths and weaknesses the inputs it receives (compared to the three-way systems I have used). Back in the days of "I can't hear myself", the nuances could easily be lost. Because you can hear the relative merits (and drawbacks) of the condenser microphones with the PAS, this led me to put them in a class of their own (soloist).

The dynamic microphones excel for their durability and gain-before-feedback. Because these are relatively inexpensive and have been the mainstay for vocalists for years, microphones like the ubiquitous Shures are the most familiar to vocalists who may wander across a casual stage. There are a lot of parallels here to piezo-electric under-the-bridge pickups for acoustic guitars. This set of features became the high volume, gain-before-feedback group.