Four years ago I reviewed the KSM32 side-address cardioid, medium-sized capsule, condenser microphone (PAR 1/99), the first of Shure’s new KSM series of studio condenser microphones. Two years ago I reviewed the KSM44 large-capsule, multipattern condenser mic (PAR 1/01). Now among the KSM family are three new end-addressed, medium-sized capsule instrument microphones: the cardioid KSM109, KSM137 and the dual-pattern KSM141. This review will concentrate on the KSM141 ($770).
Product PointsApplications: Studio, live sound
Key Features: Low-frequency rolloff; 15 dB, 25 dB; stand adaptor, windscreen and carrying case
Contact: Shure at 847-866-2200, Web Site.
I have been pestering the folks at Shure for several years to make a no-compromise, end-addressed omnidirectional microphone. Not only did they listen, they created a mic with a mechanical pattern switch that makes it possible to go from omni to cardioid without the usual compromises associated with multipattern.
In my opinion, single-diaphragm microphones have the ability to sound more natural or closer resembling the real live sound of musical instruments. Electrically switching dual-diaphragm microphones to achieve polar patterns might look good on paper, but often does not sound right to me. Maybe I am crazy, but this is an observation I have made time and time again over the years.
The KSM141 is a permanently biased condenser microphone with a smooth honest frequency response from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. A low Q rise in amplitude of approximately 2 dB centering around 7.5 kHz gives the 141 an openness without sounding overly bright or harsh. The published response curve shows the mic absolutely flat (+ or ? 0) at 20 kHz, which is another reason why this KSM sounds so open. On the other end of the spectrum, 20 Hz cardioid response is somewhat extraordinary.
Like the other KSM microphones, the 141 uses a Class A, discrete transformerless preamplifier. I personally believe this to be the most transparent solid state impedance converter/mic amplifier out there. Self-noise on the 141 is rated at 14 dB, while sensitivity is rated at ?37 dBV/Pa, which is very good for this type of microphone. A 17 Hz subsonic filter is used to reduce low-frequency rumble caused by mechanical vibration. A three-position pad switch (0 dB, 15 dB and 25 dB) allows the KSM141 to handle levels as high as 170 dB! Headroom is increased significantly when used with a microphone preamplifier whose input impedance is 5 kHz or higher so a transformerless mic preamp is a good idea here if you are after max headroom.
Another three-position switch is used to select flat, low-frequency cutoff that is 18 dB per octave at 80 Hz, and low-frequency rolloff, which is 6 dB per octave at 115 Hz. The latter is useful to compensate for proximity effect while in the cardioid mode.
Switching polar patterns between omni and cardioid is a matter of turning a nice heavy-duty collar a quarter turn to lock it firmly into a detented position.
Recently I recorded a gospel group called The Broadway Inspirational Voices at Clinton Recording in New York City. This was a multichannel DSD project where I used a pair of KSM141s in the omni pattern for my surround channels. Clinton Studio A is a nice size room, measuring 50 feet x 55 feet x 24 feet and has rotating wall panels that are hardwood on one side and absorptive on the other side. We set all the panels wood side out to make the room as live as possible, which turned out to be just under a one second decay time. I mounted the KSM141s on Starboard mic booms and positioned them on the sides of the choir and two thirds of the way back into the room about 10 feet high. When you listen to this recording the sound from the surround speakers is made up entirely from the 141s capturing the nuances of the room, without any signs of coloration – totally natural and unhyped as if you were sitting in the middle of the studio.
On a recent Bob Mintzer Big Band project at Ambient Recording in Stamford, Conn., I used a single KSM141 on a 9-foot Steinway grand piano in the omni pattern and have to say that the 141 is my new favorite piano microphone. When you can use a single microphone with no EQ on a piano, everything in the chain has to be right, starting with the instrument. On this same session I tried a KSM141 in the bridge of Jay Anderson’s acoustic bass, this time with a cardioid pattern, since the bass was in the room with the rest of the band and I could not get enough isolation with the omni pattern. Switching in the rolloff to compensate for the proximity effect due to the close mic/instrument relationship worked out well. The bass sounded fat without getting boomy, and with a nice amount of attack when Jay’s fingers came off the strings. There was still a fair amount of leakage of other instruments into the bass mic, but it was nice leakage and added to the dimension of the multichannel SACD end product. I also used a pair KSM141s for the surround channels on this project with the same kind of success.
On an even more recent project at Ambient Recording, owner/engineer Mark Conese used the KSM141s on an orchestral session where he recorded strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, acoustic guitar, piano and harp all at separate overdub sessions. He used a pair in omni about two feet apart just over the conductor’s head on each session. He also set up my Shure KSM32s for highlights, but used them sparingly because overall the pair of KSM141s did such a great job on their own. Now Mark is almost as enthusiastic about these microphones as I am.
At its retail price (even lower at street), the KSM141 is a steal. The entire line of Shure KSM studio microphones are true price/performance champions. I never leave for the studio anymore without them.