Affordable, small-diaphragm condensers are now as common as mushrooms after a rain, and many models on today’s flooded market simply don’t sound that great or perform that well. The Sennheiser 8040 elegantly satisfies a number of needs with its focus on sonic accuracy and a simplistic, flexible design. Like its brethren from the new MKH 8000 Series — the omnidirectional 8020 and the supercardioid 8050 — the 8040 is modular with a separate mic head and XLR module, allowing interchangeability, remote mounting and hidden placement. The 8040 has an MSRP of $1,295 with stereo kits (as reviewed here) coming in at $2,599 MSRP; this pair is available for about $2,200 street.
Wine me, dine me, accessorize me.
Yes, the MKH 8040 is part of an enticing stereo microphone kit made up of all high-quality components. The 12- x 7- x 3-inch aluminum carrying case is sturdy and stylish with foam cutouts for two mics, two clips, two windscreens, and two shockmounts (and all package components are included here except the shockmounts). The clips are particularly strong and very snug, holding the little 19mm x 75mm mics so securely that you couldn’t shake them out if you tried. They wouldn’t even budge if an artist tripped on the cable. The windscreens are superior to typical ones these days, with a dual-layered, two material design that is amply large, effective and durable. The complete range of accessories includes floor stands, table stands, ceiling mounts, extension tubes, shock mounts, remote cables and various mounting fixtures. In addition, all the MKH 8000 series microphones are covered in black Nextel coating that minimizes visual reflections, making the 8040 an ideal choice for on-camera TV work.
The transformerless MKH 8000 series curiously uses a symmetrical push-pull transducer (the capsule’s diaphragm is fitted between two acoustically transparent plates, not just a single backplate). This results in “an unchanging, acoustic impedance, extremely low distortion figures, a higher capsule output with much lower noise, thus a very clear signal,” according to Sennheiser.
Frequency response is listed as a wide 30 Hz to 50 kHz, with a max SPL of 142 dB, self-noise of 13 dB (A-weighted) and a low 25-ohm impedance. This extended frequency response and low self-noise makes them suitable for high-res formats, “allowing them to record even the finest details for high sampling rate digital audio formats.” OK, let us see …
The audio world is abuzz over these MKH 8000 mics; I found lots of Internet interest from recorders of classical music, sports broadcast, and live concert “tapers,” and I eagerly jumped into testing. I didn’t have access to any of the older MKH mics from Sennheiser — in which some users report problems with low-mid distortion and smearing — but I have used them on location shoots and sports broadcasts. I figured that a comparable baseline would be the similar KM184 from Neumann and the C451 from AKG, both wildly popular and sonically familiar choices.
Studio, broadcast, field, and audio post recording
Cardioid capsule; 30 Hz to 50 kHz, with a max SPL of 142 dB, self-noise of 13 dB (A-weighted) and a low 25-ohm impedance; 19mm x 75mm dimensions; black Nextel coating; available microphone kit with 12- x 7- x 3-inch aluminum carrying case and many accessories
$1,948 and $3,897 list; mono and stereo pair, respectively
Sennheiser USA | 860-434-9190 | www.sennheiserusa.com
- Small size and accessories make for easy placement
- Neutral and accurate response, in both dynamics and frequency
- Modular design allows variety of capsules and mountings
- No HPF or attenuation
- No figure-8 heads available (yet)
- Shockmounts not included with stereo
The MKH 8040 is recommended for all standard professional small-diaphragm condenser applications, especially on percussion, drum overheads, audience miking, and acoustic instruments.Upon using the 8040s with their solid feel, diminutive size, and modularity, I immediately got the feeling they were Schoeps-like. Upon listening, such a comparison became more valid, as the 8040s were smooth, pleasant, and articulated without being harsh. In general, the 8040 was much flatter than the 451, especially in the top end (the 451 hyped while the 8040 remained accurate) but also in the bottom end (the 8040 had depth where the 451 was too lean). The KM184 proved to be a very close comparison, with similarly “hot” output levels, similar dynamic detail, and similar frequency response, although the KM184 sounds a little brighter.
I recorded some clips with my True Precision 8 preamp, Apogee converters and MOTU’s Digital Performer 5.12 DAW at 24-bit/96 kHz to bring out all of the 8040’s detail and range. The always revealing, transient-laden test of tambourine found the KM184 sounding quite nice, but the 8040 captured more inner detail and nuance. I close-miked a snare drum, and the 451 had the most exciting crispness but the 8040 had more attack and punch — even more than the KM184. Djembe will always reveal a mic’s lack of bottom-end response and detail, especially with small-diaphragm models. However, the 8040 did admirably well with djembe; it had more depth and fullness than any of the mics tested, sounding more like a large-diaphragm condenser like I would normally apply here.
I tracked a five-piece drum kit and used the 8040s for overheads; I often use a Neumann KM184 or TLM103 pair here, and I was pleasantly surprised. The imaging was simply fantastic; cymbals avoided any harshness or “pingyness,” and the snare sound (when blended with the close mic) was lively, wide and larger than life. The mild presence rise and extended high-end response of the 8040s was just what I needed. (I am going to really miss these mics on my next drum session!)
A modern country session called for some piano overdubs; here, the 8040s clearly excelled. I settled on an ORTF configuration, but the 8040s still gave me a nice, full middle of the soundscape. The sound was neither bright nor dark, but perfectly balanced, especially throughout the sensitive mids. I wouldn’t hesitate to use these on a classical piano session, although I would use many more mics in addition.
Solo vocal tracks with the 8040 yielded mixed results. A husky baritone sounded a bit thick and lacking in sibilance; a mic with more coloration proved to work better. However, a peaky and unpredictable alto who sounded a little harsh on the Violet Amethyst Vintage condenser sounded much better on the 8040, with smoother hard consonants and better dynamics on the higher notes. Some group “gang vocals” had realistic imaging and sounded quite full, especially after some doubling and tripling, but I’m guessing the omni 8020 would have worked better.
Acoustic guitar is another fine test of a condenser’s fidelity, whether one is pursuing a tight sound for mixing in with an ensemble or a large sound for solo guitar. I could achieve either sound with the 8040s and some EQ. Some overdubs with the 8040 pair yielded a sound that was fuller and more musical, like large-diaphragm condensers, with the top end detail and transient realism of small diaphragms. With either an X/Y, ORTF or spaced setup, the 8040s showed accurate imaging, good frequency balance, and smooth pick attacks.
Fans of the older MKH mics will surely be pleased with the 8000 series. Both studio and live sound engineers can take advantage of the 8000 series’ range of accessories to ideally place the 8040s for classical vocalists (with an extension tube), choirs (with ceiling mount), or any number of stereo apps with various bars and joints. With its remote cable capabilities, muted finish, small size and smooth off-axis response, the 8040 is a natural for many broadcast applications. Its audio purity, realism, and depth of imaging will surely make the 8040 useful for Foley, sound FX, and ADR work.
A high-pass filter or pad would be welcome, but the simplicity of the 8040 surely contributes to its lack of coloration and pleasant neutrality. For high-resolution recording, the 8040 is a natural, especially if 2008 sees the release of the digital module accessory (transmitting 24-bit digital audio, sample rates up to 192 kHz, and adjusts pre-attenuation, HPF and compressor/limiter settings).
I can confidently recommend the 8040 for all the standard small-diaphragm condenser apps — percussion, drum overheads, audience miking, and acoustic instruments. Considering its accurate bass output, lack of character, dynamic range, and extensive accessories, the MKH 8040 could become one of the most versatile mics in your closet.