The Neumann M150 ($5,300) is a new transformerless tube omnidirectional microphone that is the successor to the coveted M50. It combines all the integrity of the original design with the technical developments of the past 50 years to faithfully capture acoustic fields.
Product Points
Applications: Studio, location recording, broadcast

Key Features: All-Titanium capsule, 12mm (diameter) diaphragm, outboard power supply/tube amplifier, modified omni pattern.

Price: $5,300

Contact: Neumann at 860-434-5220 Web Site

Plus

+ Rich, open sound

+ Stellar for stereo recording

+ Beautiful design and construction

Minus

- Expensive

The Score: If they are within your budget, you cannot go wrong with a pair of M150s.Europe's Audio Pedigree

Features

These boys are huge, weighing in at 1.75 pounds each. Inspecting one under a bright light, I spied the black sphere inside the grille, the front of which has an opening revealing a diaphragm even smaller than those used in the KM series.

The M150 capsule is an all-Titanium true pressure type, and the diaphragm is a tiny 12mm in diameter. The microphone features a low noise floor of 15 dBA and outstanding frequency response, especially in the lower range (only -3 dB down at 16 Hz!).

I mounted it in its familiar TLM-style shockmount cage and paired it up with a U87 on our evening newscast anchor at National Public Radio. I started with the 87, listened to it for a minute, then switched to the M150 and my mouth dropped open.

In use

Folks, I have to tell you, size really does matter - at least when it comes to recording audio. The bigger the sound, the better. This mic is capable of bone conductance, a term I use to describe when the audio is so focused it makes your skeleton shift underneath your skin. Switching back to the U87, this phenomenon disappeared. The anchor's voice became one-third smaller. The change in size was like switching from control room monitors to a pair of bookshelf speakers. The result: crisp and clear, warm, fudge-rich midrange, yet tight. Yum.

Next I tried it out on music. I wanted A-B comparisons with familiar tools, so I paired the usual suspects in a near-coincident setting with the M150. First, a stock U87 on a pop female singer, one foot away, mouth level. I ran each microphone to separate tracks of an RDAT through Focusrite Red Series mic preamps into a Prism A/D converter. This allowed me to switch back and forth between tracks of the tape with the same performance on a variety of monitoring systems.

On each set of speakers, the M150 sounded, well, more expensive. I noted that it was not only bigger, but also distinctly clearer than the U87. Not exactly a scientific test - more like comparing apples to pomegranates - both fruits but each in a different genus.

Next I tried something more reasonable - a close-miked piano. I near-coincided a "Mr. Big" M150 with a "Ms. Sleek" KM63, two Neumann tube mics peeking over the side of a Steinway B piano's waist, aimed at the hammers. In this application I noticed distinct similarities; both were bright and full. Here I determined what it is about the M150 that I like so much - the tight midrange. It is a sonorous richness in the frequencies I usually want to get rid of - that tubby area between 180 Hz to 300 Hz. The bass was also tighter than the KM 63 - perhaps because of the 16 Hz filter that is employed even when linear is selected on the M150.

I sent one M150 over to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where NPR engineer Brian Jarboe used it on our guest's saxophone for a "Billy Taylor Jazz at the Kennedy Center" concert. We tight-mike everything, like in a recording studio. Dr. Taylor's group uses the same piano, acoustic bass and drum kit for each show - the only variation is the guest artist. Since this NPR program is a series, the same microphones (a mix of AKGs, Neumanns, Sennheisers, Earthworks and B&Ks) and setup are used for consistency.

We make it sparkle with tons of violent EQ (+8 at 10 kHz on some things, -16 at 1200 Hz on others), compression and effects. The M150 was so big and clear that it made the rest of the mix sound somewhat "veiled," as though there was a gauze sheet between the instruments and their mics. A little 7 kHz was rolled off the M150 just so it could play with the others! I'm keeping this show master in my portfolio.

My last test was to use the M150s for what they have actually been designed for: stereo pickup from a distance. I spaced my pair 15 feet from the Steinway, six feet up. I also set up a pair of my standard choice - identical location - plugged directly into the Studer D950S mic preamps and A-to-D converters. I listened to all these recordings in the studio, at home, in my car. I played the tapes for a few of my music engineer pals. Like myself, all were impressed.

Summary

While I have attempted to convey the sound of the Neumann M150 microphone to you in both familiar and technical terms, I believe that one colleague's response is the most important information I can pass on to you. He said, in an awed voice, "They sound lovely."