Over the past few years, there has been a substantial increase in new microphones aimed at the home/project studio market. Compared with the professional studio market of a few decades ago, this market is huge, and building microphones for it has become attractive to numerous companies. Many of these mics are designed and built to a low price point, using inexpensive Chinese capsules and parts. Some of them do, however, provide respectable value – especially when you consider how much a good condenser microphone cost 10 to 20 years ago.
Product PointsApplications: Studio; broadcast
Key Features: Dial-diaphragm condenser mic; cardioid, bidirectional and omnidirectional patterns; two-position rolloff and 15 dB pad; carrying case and shockmount
Contact: Shure at 847-866-2200; Web Site: www.shure.com.
+ Excellent sound quality
+ Multipattern versatility
The Score: An extremely quiet multipattern condenser vocal microphone that sounds equally good on musical instruments.
Just two years ago, Shure introduced the KSM32 studio condenser microphone (PAR, 1/99, p. 16). Known best for its rugged live performance microphones, the company entered the high-end microphone market with its KSM designs. The KSM32 is a side-address, single-diaphragm, cardioid-only microphone with what I would call a medium-sized 3/4-inch capsule.
I have used the KSM32 on every one of my recording sessions since I heard the first prototype. In fact, I own 12 of them – many of my projects have been recorded with just KSM32s.
The latest in the KSM series is the KSM44, which is also side-address, but with a large capsule, dual-diaphragms and multiple patterns (cardioid, omnidirectional, bidirectional). Whereas the 32 is self-polarized or permanently biased, the 44 is externally polarized, which some people like to think makes a true condenser.
With the exception of the pattern switch on the front of the microphone, the KSM32 and 44 look almost identical. The 44 – like the 32 – has both a two-position, low-frequency rolloff switch and a 15 dB pad, each located on the back of the mic. These lever switches are recessed and, while not easily moved by mistake, can be switched with a fingernail.
The KSM44 is the quietest microphone I have ever used; Shure specs the self-noise at 7 dB in the cardioid position with slightly higher figures in the omni or bidirectional pattern settings. The output level is a fairly hot ö31 dBV/Pa.
One of the design goals of the KSM44 was to build a great vocal microphone while simultaneously making it versatile enough for use with many different kinds of instruments. I can only report on the instrument side of the KSM44 since vocals are not something I record with any regularity these days.
The 44 has a slight rise in response around 6 kHz, giving it just a bit of that sought-after coloration engineers and producers have loved about the old Neumann U47. Another thing that makes the KSM44 so attractive for vocals is the way proximity enters into the equation.
All cardioid microphones are subject to a proximity effect, which is the build-up of low frequencies as the microphone gets closer to the source. Single-diaphragm capsules have more proximity effect than dual diaphragm capsules, which, in some cases, may prove to add too much low frequency emphasis when working up close. The amount of low-frequency boost with a dual-diaphragm just happens to work out great with vocals. Another advantage to using a dual-diaphragm design on vocals is that popping is a smaller problem because of less low frequency build up.
Shure engineers Guy Torio and Jeff Segota presented an interesting AES paper last fall on the subject of proximity and polar response with respect to distance, comparing single- and dual-diaphragm designs. One of their conclusions was that dual diaphragm designs were better suited for nearfield applications, whereas single-diaphragm microphones had superior polar and on-axis response characteristics better suited for far-field work.
On a recent Bob Mintzer Big Band session I used a pair of KSM44s on four trombones. I set the pattern switch to bidirectional with one player on each side of each microphone. Of course you have to start with great players, which we did, and the results were the best I’ve heard trombones sound in the studio.
The microphones were approximately three feet from each trombone, so the balance was just right for ensemble playing while there was still enough presence for soloing. At that distance a slight, low-frequency lift due to proximity gave the horns just a bit of warmth while the 6 kHz rise in response resulted in a nice sheen without getting edgy.
I recently recorded a guitar trio using KSM44s on both acoustic bass and electric guitar. One KSM44 was set up about two feet in front of, and about a foot up from, the bridge of the bass. Because both the guitar and the drums were set up in the main room with the bass, I used a cardioid pattern and the results were wonderful. The bass was full and fat without boom; the definition of the fingers pulling the strings made it sound like the bass was in the room with you. I also used the cardioid pattern on the guitar and can only say the KSM44 made the guitar sound just like it did in the room.
While the KSM44 and the KSM32 are two mics that look alike and are definitely related, they are different enough that you need both in your microphone collection. The KSM44 comes with both a Shure Lock swivel mount, a matching elastic shockmount, a velveteen pouch and an aluminum carrying case. It carries a retail price of $1,340 (street price should be well below $1,000, which is great value).