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Neumann TLM 103D Digital Microphone System

An "intelligent" mic with a memory, the TLM 103D offers the best in A/D and audio DSP processing technology and lives up to its pedigree.

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.

In Use

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.

Summary

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

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