Let’s start with the obvious: the TLM 102 and TLM 103 sound very different. The TLM 102 is relatively flat with a tighter focus on midrange frequency details. I really like that Neumann has swung the pendulum back from the trend of making mics brighter and brighter. Brighter is not better, especially when using dynamics plug-ins aggressively.
The TLM 102 is made at Neumann, in Germany. The new singlesided, backplate-charged K 102 capsule borrows raw materials from the U 89 and BCM Series. The TLM 102 was designed to be more “road-worthy” than the TLM 103, meaning you could use a TLM 102 at a live event.
The TLM 102’s head grille is only two layers of metal mesh (not three), but there’s a thin, washable foam liner inside the mic to stop plosives. The foam liner may be removed for more transparency. The chrome-plated ring around the middle of the mic unscrews, allowing the head grille to be removed.
The predecessor TLM 103 has a rubber surround encircling the PCB. The TLM 102 doesn’t. Thus, tapping the TLM 102’s body produces a noticeably louder thump. The TLM 102 uses the same optional suspension mic mount as the TLM 103, etc. A simple rigid mic clip is included. A more affordable suspension mount is in the works.
The TLM 102 cardioid pattern has soft shoulders and is slightly narrower than that of the TLM 103. That can be very helpful to “tune out” unwanted nearby sound sources. The TLM 102 sounds thicker than the TLM 103 and doesn’t have quite the “air.”
There are some pretty rude-sounding and not very full-bodied acoustic guitars around these days. The smooth response of the TLM 102 without the emphasized top end works nicely to make those guitars sound better. I would like to try it on banjo, strings, and reeds.
With guitar and amp, I positioned the TLM 102 up close—it took the assault and gave me back a meaty track. The highs were there, but they didn’t shred. I’ve got humbuckers on the Tele, so it seldom gets really nasty.
In VO applications, even with a beefy sound, the TLM 102 has enough top end to cut through without EQ. I was able to get a neutral NPR-ish sound at a distance of six inches, but preferred a working distance of 3-4 inches with some proximity effect. The TLM 102 is sensitive to plosives, but no more than any other good LDC.
Neumann’s TLM 102 makes things sound a little meatier than the source when working it close, but not drastically different. At a distance, it’s just very clean and quiet with a smooth top end. I like that. Its smaller size means it’s less visible and is more positionable for drum miking. I think the TLM 102 will be many people’s “My First Neumann,” although owners of other Neumann mics should also give it a listen.
Ty Ford has written for PAR since our second issue.www.tyford.com
TLM 102: A Versatile Little Neumann for the Uninitiated
by Rob Tavaglione
I broke in a TLM 102 pair on ride and hi-hat, where bell hits were present and clear without any nasty overtones and only a little shrillness on peaks. Hi-hat was crisp with only a little brittleness, and the snare bleed was rather musical. Surprisingly, tom bleed was round, plump, and sounded better than the toms did in the overheads (where I used a TLM 103 pair for some perspective). I later tried a TLM 102 in close on a snare; it handled the levels no problem (thanks to its maximum SPL rating of 144 dB), required 0 dB gain (20 dB pad, 20 dB gain) from a Millennia HV-3R preamp, and added a 100-ish Hz bump that was a little too thuddy for my tastes.
On a “rock-raga fusion” track, I tried out the TLM 102 pair on tambourine, mini-tambo, cabasa, and vibra-slap. Not bad at all as the TLM 102s captured adequate detail without being excessive and showed good response on transients, only getting harsh on the mini-tambo. In fact, the mics picked up what little bottom end there was on this high-pitched ensemble quite nicely.
Close-miked electric guitar cab overdubs didn’t fare so well. A little proximity-enhanced bump in low-end response was not at the right place for musicality, lending a woofy tubbiness to the tracks that wasn’t really there. The top end was pretty good and smooth though with response that would work especially well with cleaner tones.
I tried the TLM 102 out on male vocals (with both the HV-3R and an AMS-Neve 4081 for preamplification) and got mixed results. I liked the overall frequency balance (when in tight enough for some proximity effect) and timbre of the high end, as this was a quite flattering sound in the cans that would inspire a singer, more flattering than a TLM 103 (which sounds completely different, really). The TLM 102 did have a little bump at around 600 to 800 Hz that was slightly nasal and needed to be scooped out. Although I didn’t cut any keeper tracks with the TLM 102, many folks could surely use the 102 for lead and backgrounds, male or female, and get more than adequate results. Later tests with a Manley TNT preamp gleaned better results with a smoother, “voice of God,” big-bottomed VO sound.
With the TLM 102, acoustic guitar showed some proximity effect and treatment of transients at about 10 inches away and revealed a smiley-face voicing with accentuated response at 100 Hz and 10 kHz. This sound was too EQ’d for me, but might work well for solo acoustic guitar or “thinner” guitar models.
The TLM 102 is a versatile little mic that can handle loud sources, has pleasant off-axis response, offers some low-end color, and is a good introduction to Neumann mics for the uninitiated. I do think that $699 street is a little high for the TLM 102; at this price point, it should include a storage box and shock mount of some kind. Rob Tavaglione has owned and operated Catalyst Recording in Charlotte NC since 1995.