Mic Test

March 1, 2005

This is for all the guitarists out there who are intimidated by expensive, fancy microphones. I feel your pain. Although I often record with the finest microphones in the world when I do studio sessions, I own just two workhorse dynamics: a Shure SM57 and an SM58. I’ve resisted expanding my mic collection, because I can’t talk comfortably about polar patterns, proximity effects, and presence peaks like my producer and engineer friends. But I do know great acoustic tones and righteous electric tones when I hear them, so here’s the bottom line: Everything I recorded with the Neumann TLM 127 ($1,799 retail/$1,499 street) sounded amazing.

The TLM 127 is a large-diaphragm condenser with switchable omni (captures sound from all directions) and cardioid (picks up sound mostly from the front of the mic) patterns. With the optional N 48 R-2 power supply/remote control you get three more polar patterns: wide-angle cardioid, hypercardioid, and figure-8.

I tracked everything through the Focusrite mic preamp on a Digidesign Mbox, and went straight into Pro Tools. For acoustic guitar, I set the TLM 127 to cardioid, engaged its low-end roll off, aimed it at the 14th fret, and hit Record. The sound was full, vibrant, and pretty astounding—on fingerpicked passages you can practically see the individual strings on playback. Switching to the omni pattern made the acoustic tone airier and a little less detailed, but gorgeous nonetheless.

Then I overdubbed a high-strung guitar (with the bottom four strings tuned an octave above standard). Mic placement didn’t seem to be much of an issue—anywhere I placed the 127, it worked beautifully. The resulting timbre added zing and clarity to the primary track, even when I mixed in just a touch.

Because it still hadn’t gotten pretty enough for me, I recorded an old psaltery—a little table harp that I tuned to the key of the track and played with a pick. The results were the same. The psaltery sounded awesome, and it sat in the mix perfectly no matter what I did. I now had a set of tracks that were so damn clean and luxurious that I felt the need to dirty them up somehow. So, without even moving the 127, I set the mic to its omni pattern, and dialed in a distorted tone on an amp that was about six feet away. I bashed along with the tune, and the 127 reproduced everything I did in glorious fashion. And, after hearing so many close-miked guitar tones in my lifetime, it was very cool and refreshing to hear what an amp sounds like through just a great-sounding room mic—raucous, open, and full of classic-rock vibe.

I tried the TLM 127 on many other sound sources—vocals, shakers, sound effects, etc.—and guess what? It ruled for all of them. This microphone makes me feel like I can do no wrong. As much as I would love to know about the intricacies of mics and their proper usage, sometimes I just want to mic stuff and have it sound amazing. Is that too much to ask? With the TLM 127, the answer is, “Of course not!”

Neumann USA (860) 434-5220

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