The Sennheiser MKH 800 is the first microphone to target the high-definition recording market specifically. This multipattern microphone has an amazing frequency response of 30 Hz to 50 kHz and a dynamic range of 126 dB (A-weighted). The mic also exhibits outstanding transient response and extremely low distortion in the 20 Hz to 20 kHz range, making this mic a natural for acoustic and classical recording.
Product Points
Applications: Studio, location recording, live sound

Key Features: Five switchable polar patterns; frequency response of up to 50 kHz; low inherent self-noise and distortion; switchable preattenuation, roll-off filter and treble emphasis; transformerless floating balanced output; one year warranty

Price: $2,950

Contact: Sennheiser at 860-434-9190, Web Site

Features

The 4.75-ounce MKH 800 ($2,950) incorporates a double push-pull pressure-gradient transducer and has a sensitivity rating of 40 mV/Pa +/- 1 dB (-28 dB re 1 V/Pa). The 7-inch-long by 1-inch diameter mic handles a maximum SPL of 136 dB (142 dB with the preattenuation activated).

Along the side of the microphone are a recessed LED and four switches. The LED glows red when the microphone receives the required 48 volt phantom power. This clever idea makes me wonder why every condenser isn't equipped with an LED - no more wondering if the microphone is receiving phantom power. In addition to phantom power indication, due to the amount of recess, the LED visually indicates the "on axis" line of the microphone-a convenient way to tell vocalists that if they can't see the LED, we will not be able to hear them properly. This feature is also useful when doing critical placement, such as in classical recording.

The first switch selects the microphone's pickup pattern (omnidirectional, wide-angle cardioid, cardioid, super cardioid or bidirectional). The second switch adjusts preattenuation to either 0 (no attenuation), -6 or -12 dB. The third switch adjusts treble emphasis. It can be set to 0 (flat), +3 dB or +6 dB (at 8 kHz). The fourth switch adjusts bass roll-off. It can be set to 0 (flat), -3 dB or -6 dB (at 50 Hz).

The included MZS 80 shockmount does an excellent job of vibration isolation while providing both quick and stable placement. The microphone, its shockmount and a non-shock mic clip snugly fit in a durable mini-flight case, which should provide the owner a lifetime of storage and protection. Disappointingly, the microphone has only a 12-month warranty. Though this should catch any manufacturing error, I would expect two or three years of coverage from a mic that costs nearly $3,000.

In Use

I put the MKH 800 to work recording session ace Chris Graffagnino's Larrivee acoustic guitar. The results were remarkable. The top-end detail and sparkle matched that of my Earthworks SR-77 while maintaining the warmth and richness of my Sony C-800G. I found the mic's proximity effect, in general, to be minimal, allowing microphone placement to rely more on the room's acoustics than on the mic's proximity effect.

The microphone worked exceptionally well recording percussion (tambourines, shakers and hand drums) and vocals. To record vocals, I made use of the included foam windshield, which worked well. In the super-cardioid position, off-angle rejection is so effective, I was able to use the mic to record vocals in the control room.

The only instrument I was unable to get an adequate sound from was electric guitar. The microphone's high-definition seemed to work against itself when capturing the sound of a guitar cabinet; in every instance I ended up reverting to my trusty Royer R-121.

Fellow engineer Chris Grainger and I spent time using the MKH 800 to record identical acoustic guitar parts to an iZ RADAR 24 at both 48 and 96 kHz. I was already sold on using the mic to record acoustic guitar, so I was excited about the comparison. I have done several listening tests over the last year or so, comparing the sound between recordings made at 96 kHz and those made at 44.1 or 48 kHz. I know the perceptible difference is relatively small, yet it is still significant. Using the Sennheiser MKH 800, I noted a surprising difference in recordings made at 96 kHz compared to those at 48 kHz. I presume this is because of the MKH 800's reproduction of high-frequency detail. I am now more convinced than ever of the benefits of recording at 96 kHz.

Summary

The Sennheiser MKH 800 is an extremely quiet microphone with virtually no masking effects. This, combined with the extremely broad frequency response, results in a versatile recording tool with superb sonic characteristics.