Although German microphone manufacturer MBHO has been making hand-built microphones for quite a while, not many people in the U.S. have even heard of the company. Part of the reason is that much of the MBHO microphone design work has been for other, better-known manufacturers.
Product PointsApplications: Recording studio, sound reinforcement, theater, broadcast
Key Features: Cardioid pattern; condenser element; gold-plated connectors; made in Germany; available in matched pairs
Contact: MBHO/MTC at 718-963-2777, Web Site.
MBHO President Herbert Haun and chief engineer Manfred Schneider are well-established mic experts in Germany, having been on the scene for more than 40 years. In the recent past, MBHO has partnered with Telefunken, Schoeps and others. MBHO manufactured the capsules for the impressive Brauner VM tube microphone series.
MBHO manufactures a wide range of products including large- and small- diaphragm condensers, sound reinforcement-oriented dynamics, PZMs, Jecklin discs and interchangeable capsule systems. Reviewed here is the MBNM-440 CLS cardioid condenser mic.
The MBNM-440 CLS ($439) is a small-diaphragm, single-pattern instrument microphone. MBHO also manufactures an omnidirectional version called the MBNM-410 CLS ($439). Both versions of the mic are available in consecutively numbered matched-pair sets for $878. The matched set includes the two mics, two microphone clips and a black vinyl-covered vintage-style hard case. According to MBHO, the 440 CLS, like all its microphones, is 95 percent hand-built in its facility in Germany.
The 440 CLS is short, stocky and built like a rock. The matte-black, all-metal casing measures 3.75 inches by 0.75 inches, including capsule and gold-plated XLR connector. Etched into the metal casing are the company logo, microphone model and serial number.
The mic features an automatic current switching circuit that enables consistent operation with phantom power ranging from 22 volts to 48 volts. This feature makes the 440 CLS ideal for location work with battery power sources.
The MBNM-440 CLS features a switchable 10 dB pad and high-pass filter (no cutoff frequency or slope is specified for the filter). The manufacturer’s stated specifications for the 440 CLS are a flat frequency response from 40 Hz to 20 kHz and a sensitivity of 7 mV/Pa. (1 Kohm at 1 kHz). Signal-to-noise ratio is 80 dBA (A-rated at 1 Pa.), maximum SPL is rated at 126 dB and the mic’s impedance is 200 ohms.
For this review, I received a matched pair of MBNM-440 CLS microphones. The accompanying case and mic clips were of good quality, but I was very impressed with the build quality of the mics themselves. The mics are fairly heavy for such a small size and are built in the same tradition as classic high-end German-crafted mics – not a lot of frills and built to last. In fact, MBHO provides a limited lifetime guarantee for all of its products.
Over the course of several months, I had the opportunity to use the MBHO pair on numerous recording sessions and in a variety of settings. It was not long before certain favorite uses emerged, and comparisons to other mics I own became appropriate.
The MBHO MBNM-440 CLS can be generally and favorably compared to the sound of the AKG 451 (original), the AT4051 and even the Neumann KM184 (which it most closely resembles). The fact that these mics all cost at least $200 more than the MBHO mic is definitely a bonus for those on a budget looking for a high-quality mic.
There are some important differences, however, between the comparison mics mentioned and the MBNM-440 CLS. When used in specific ways, the mics sounded very similar – similar enough to render choosing one over the other a difficult proposition.
But in other applications, the MBHO would be the last mic of the bunch I would reach for. I state this for two reasons: first, the other mics can handle high SPLs much better than the MBHO. The 440 CLS tends to distort much easier (yes, even with the pad in) with high SPLs and with sources having severe high-frequency transients (tambourine, claves etc). The second reason is that the MBNM-440 CLS, when used outside of its proximity range, loses far more bass response than the other mics.
The bottom line is that the MBHO MBNM-440 CLS is a very good mic – and sounds quite close to the others mentioned – when used for close miking and on instruments that do not require reproduction of very low bass frequencies. The range from the low mids to the top end is fully and accurately reproduced by the 440 CLS.
For many applications this is exactly the type of mic that is called for. With that in mind, I frequently reached for the 440 CLS for miking mandolins, acoustic guitars, lap steel guitars, flutes and piccolos, oboes, concertinas and so on. In all these cases, the mic was an excellent performer and I did not need to worry about shelving out rumble and low-frequency bleed after the fact.
An associated property of the 440 CLS’ specific characteristics was that sources destined to be part of a mix (i.e. not a solo recording) fared very well in the mix without use of additional high-end EQ sweetening and low-end roll-off. Instruments sounded present and had no trouble playing nice with the other players in the mix.
I have one minor quibble that many other manufacturers are also guilty of: although I did not use the low shelf often, why is the knee frequency not labeled on the mic (let alone in the documentation)? I admit this is a pet peeve of mine, but independent engineers should not have to guess or ask or open a manual to find out such a basic property of the tools we use.
Overall, this mic is an excellent performer – when used on sources appropriate to its characteristics, it really shined. Considering its very economical price, the 440 CLS is an affordable way to significantly improve the quality of recordings made by those on a limited budget.
Steinberg Nuendo and Digidesign Pro Tools; API 212L mic preamp; Westlake 8.1, SP Technology Timepiece studio monitors; Hafler, Carver amplifiers; Audience audio cables; TASCAM DS-M7.1 monitor controller.