Fast FactsApplications: Studio
Key Features: Pressure gradient small-diaphragm (20mm) condenser microphone; interchangeable omni and cardioid capsules; transformerless FET amplifier design; 10 dB pad and 6 dB/octave 150 Hz high-pass filter; includes wooden case, mounting clip and foam windscreen
Contact: MXL Microphones at 800-800-6608, www.mxlmics.com.Although it’s not exactly a newsflash, the fact is that inexpensive Chinese-manufactured microphones are improving on a yearly basis to the point that for non-critical work (and occasionally some more demanding productions as well) they are perfectly adequate for day-to-day use. These Superlux microphones up the ante with a two-year warranty, and full-featured packaging including accessories that most manufacturers do not usually include.
Along with the large diaphragm CM-H8BH, I received a pair of Superlux CM-H8K small diaphragm microphones (when bundled as a factory matched pair they are known as the SMK-H8K). Let’s take a closer look at this low-dollar bonanza.
During the course of this review I used the CM-H8BH ($308), a large diaphragm cardioid externally polarized condenser and a pair of the CM-H8K ($290), a cardioid small diaphragm electret condenser. By the way, one should keep in mind that these are list prices, street prices are much lower.
Both of the Superlux microphones came packaged in cases: the H8BH comes in a lunchbox sized plastic case with locking latches, complete with a shockmount, a rigid microphone mount, and an included foam windscreen. The CM-H8K pair arrives in a slim line plastic case complete with two shockmounts, foam windscreens, and a steel stereo microphone bar suitable for OTRF recording.
I’m a fan of small diaphragm condenser mics especially for the typical applications such as drum overheads and percussion. In this case the H8Ks proved to be a serviceable performer when miking the studio’s GMS maple drum kit. While they sounded good, there was a loss of depth of field compared to better microphones such as a Neumann KM 184 or an Audio-Technica 4051. On the other hand those microphones are between five and ten times more expensive than the Superlux mics.
Close placement of one of the H8Ks near a snare drum proved to be more than the microphone could take, resulting in obvious distortion. Backing it off a bit yielded a pretty good snap coming off of the Ayotte Keplinger 14-inch x 6.5-inch drum.
The microphones were surprisingly good when placed about 6 inches from Zildjian A Custom 16-inch and 18-inch crash cymbals, providing a nice sense of the harmonic complexity of these cymbals. The sounds of different sticks were easily distinguishable especially when riding either of the cymbals.
On lower volume instruments such as acoustic guitar (a Rainsong dreadnaught) the H8Ks sounded good as well, in a slightly 1970s solid state way. Think 1990s Radiohead for a sonic reference.
The included shockmounts are kind of clumsy but reasonably effective. To be honest I would have preferred standard microphone clips from an ease of use and security of mounting perspective. The included stereo bar is made of a nice gauge of steel, conforms to the OTRF specification for microphone spacing. It does, however, use Euro-spec (small-diameter) microphone mounts, so the included thread adapters are necessary items.
The Superlux mics could be used for ambient recording of fairly loud sources, but their 22dBA noise level will preclude them from being used for quiet (classical) applications. Still for around $70 a piece (street price) one could do worse!
The CM-H8BH is an interesting blend of features vaguely reminiscent of several other microphones, featuring a center terminated 1-inch diaphragm capsule with a 3-micrometer (reminiscent of the work of the late Stephen Paul), an overall design sort of like the Shure KSM series, and a soft black paint finish in the vein of a CAD E100II. In a nod to vintage microphones, the CM-H8BH is transformer balanced, which in my experience can sound really great (in the case of a good transformer, like in the Audio-Technica AT4047) smoothing out some rough edges along the way.
The included shockmount, while providing reasonably good isolation for the microphone, is mostly plastic, other than the retaining screw that fastens the base of the microphone to the mount. Unfortunately the plastic extends to the threads that mate the shockmount to the mic stand, so you’ll want to exercise caution when attaching the shockmount to the stand to avoid cross threading it. Interestingly the rigid mount for the microphone is all metalÉ go figure! The included windscreen added a really strange coloration to the microphone (and other mics I tried it with) I’d advise prospective buyers to throw it away immediately.
Using the CM-H8BH on male vocals yielded a clean but slightly lightweight presentation. While the microphone wasn’t shrill, in the way that many low-buck condenser mics can be, it was lacking low frequency extension. On the plus side, it might be great for those that like to “eat” the microphone as the natural proximity effect will fatten up the sound, without providing an overwhelming amount of low frequency information.
Similarly, used as a distant microphone (about 12 feet away from the drum kit) the overall balance was skewed towards the high frequencies. Also in this application the H8BH’s rather high noise level of 18 dBA was readily apparent compared to a microphone such as the aforementioned AT-4047 (9 dBA), but in the ballpark compared to other inexpensive microphones such as the Marshall MXL-V67.
Placed in front of a vintage Gretsch tweed guitar amp, the Superlux microphone did capture a nice representation of the transient snap of an EMG loaded Telecaster. As with the other sources, I found the low frequency extension to be a little lightweight again.
I have found that some microphones have improved once they are broken in, and most of this improvement takes place in the low frequency register, as the diaphragm of the microphone becomes more compliant. If that were to be the case with the H8BH, this microphone could become a stronger contender as its overall frequency balance would be more evenly distributed. In any event, this could be a good ‘go-to’ microphone when you need something to cut through a mix.
The Superlux CM-H8BH and CM-H8K microphones represent an interesting choice for the recordist on a budget. As opposed to most of the Chinese microphones on the market which are manufactured largely by one of two dominant firms, Superlux is the only US distributors of these particular models, meaning that they represent a different flavor than the usual fare.
UREI 809 and Fostex NF-1 monitors; Yamaha P-2201 and Bryston 4B amplifiers; Audio Developments AD-146 console, DAV Broadhurst Gardens mic preamp; Peavey VMP-2 tube mic preamp.