The author's evaluation setup featuring two standard TLM 103 microphones (via GML mic amps and Digi 002R, 003R, and RME ADI-8 A/Ds) and the TLM 103D, each recorded to Pro Tools|LE. Photo: Ty Ford The Neumann family of digital mics currently includes the TLM 103D, the flagship D-01 Solution D and the KM D series (KM 183 D, KM 184D and KM 185D). The TLM 103D has an internal 24-bit/192 kHz A/D converter and channel strip DSP. The TLM 103D may be used by itself without the channel strip if coupled with the connection starter kit, providing power to the mic and a simple AES or S/PDIF output. The full-blown, three-part system is comprised of one or two TLM 103D microphones, RCS-remote control software that operates and remotely controls the mic, and the two-input DMI-2 digital mic interface.
The channel strip is accessed via the high-functioning, Mac- and PC-compatible RCS software. There you can see each mic's polar pattern (and if adjustable, which patterns are available), preattenuation (-6, -12, or -18 dB), gain (0 to 63 dB), variable lowcut, de-esser, test signal with tones, comp/limiter, peak limiter, mute, polarity reversal, LED on-mic light intensity, sync, AES 42 info, and other features. The software settings are stored in the mic. As such, the TLM 103D is an "intelligent mic with a memory." The DMI-2 interface can support two AES42 digital mics, each of which has its own preamp and channel strip.
The Neumann TLM 103D in matte black The RCS software is a great idea: a software-adjustable channel strip built into each microphone. There's also an undocumented built-in limiter that makes the TLM 103D virtually un-crashable. It'll sound pretty gnarly when you push it too hard, but it's almost impossible to overload. The only part I'd tweak is the de-esser built into the compressor; it turns the comp/limiter into an EQ dependent limiter with selectable 1, 2, or 4 kHz corner frequencies. Most of my deessing needs are above 4 kHz; shelving takes too much off the top.
I first used a standard four-foot XLR cable between the TLM 103D and the DMI-2 and an AES to S/PDIF balun (transformer for converting balanced to unbalanced signal) from the output of the DMI-2 to the S/PDIF input on a Digidesign Digi 002R Pro Tools LE system. That worked without problems, and when I switched to a Mogami AES/EBU cable between the mic and DMI-2, I heard no difference. [According to Neumann, "This is in accordance with the AES42 standard, as the bi-directional communication between the microphone and interface requires the use of a standard XLR. This is necessary to prevent studios and theaters from having to rewire their facilities." — Ed.]
I put up one of my analog TLM 103 mics using an Aphex 1100 preamp and compared the analog TLM 103 to the digital TLM 103D. With both mics up together, I noticed that the TLM 103D was not as bright as the TLM 103; I discovered that the analog mic's brightness was added by the Aphex 1100 preamp. I summed the mics together and heard some high-frequency loss. After recording separate tracks into PT|LE V. 7.4, I zoomed in and found the TLM 103D was 21 samples later on the timeline than the analog TLM 103. [The difference in time is attributable to the latency of the 103D A-D compared to the PTLE A-D converters, something that is crucial to know if you are mixing and matching analog and digital mics and converters. Combining them without adjusting for timing differences could result in a time-smeared, comb-filtered mess. — Ed.]
I switched to a Digi 003R using a GML mic pre and RME ADI-8 DS A/D converter together, both with and without word clock. By themselves, the analog and digital mics sounded more similar than on the Digi 002R rig. When I summed them to mono, I could hear the phase cancellation. Relative to the Digi 003R A/D converters, the RME ADI-8DS was 31 samples later and the TLM 103D was 46 samples later. Neumann reported that they too had experienced similar timeline shifts. If you know your rig, this is a minor inconvenience, similar to the one faced when trying to resolve the timing differences due to a source's differing distances from two or more mics.
The rest of the evaluation was uneventful, and the TLM 103D performed very well. I have heard the TLM 103 sound "spitty" when mated with a few unflattering preamps. Well, not this time. Spoken word and singing vocals were crisp and clean with the TLM 103D. Using the RCS software's high-pass filter I was able to get the TLM 103D within five inches of the sound hole of my D28S Martin to record some exceptionally nice tracks.
I also found I could alter the thickness of the sound with its compressor/limiter by choosing the three different de-esser frequencies and adjusting the ratio and threshold settings.
Having owned two analog TLM 103 microphones for a number of years, I can't help but like the TLM 103D. Maybe you don't already have a rack full of external preamps, and/or you're generally only recording one or two tracks at a time. Maybe you're just starting out and want something better than the preamps and A/D conversion in a stock DAW. If you just need a stereo pair of mics and don't have or want to invest in a separate preamps and ADC and word clock, this may be a more appealing option. Either way, the TLM 103D may be just the ticket. With it, Neumann has set a firm digital path. Others will follow.
Ty Ford has been writing for PAR since the first issue.www.tyford.com