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Vocal Microphones


Vocal Microphones for the L1 Review

This is a review of several vocal microphones to be used with the Bose L1 Portable PA Products.
This article is applicable to all L1 and L1 Pro models.

Last updated July 2021 to include


Originally posted to the Bose Community in 2004 and updated in 2015


ST Tiger Eye Hands squarew1024.jpg

This article expresses my opinion and experience. Please post comments to Twitter @ST_Muso or LinkedIn @STPro. Thank you — ST.

Introduction

We examine several vocal microphones for:

  • Suitability with the Bose L1® Portable PA systems
  • Performing in front of the L1 as intended by the engineers at Bose
  • Singing with the close microphone technique using ToneMatch Presets where available

There are several microphones that perform exceedingly well with the Bose L1 systems. You will want to consider the type of music you are performing and the accompaniment as part of your selection criteria. Dynamic microphones may be a better choice for loud music with a busy mix. Condenser microphones are often better for conveying nuanced performances where the vocal is the central theme of the music.

I have split the review and comparison into two groups: Condenser and dynamic microphones.

The Singer and the Stage

As a singer, I am looking for a microphone for a male lead vocalist with a darker tone. I struggle to be heard in a loud, busy mix. With the wrong microphone, my voice is inarticulate and muffled. I prefer the detail and articulation I get with a good condenser microphone, over most lower-end dynamic microphones. However, for a loud stage, I will sacrifice fine-grained detail for projection and presence.

The Lineup

These are listed in descending order by list price in $US dollars.

Condenser

Studio Microphones

I used the Sony C48 and the Microtech Geffel UMT 70S for baseline reference. These large-diaphragm condenser microphones with switchable patterns; Omni, cardioid, hyper-cardioid, and figure 8. The Microtech Geffel sounds similar to a Neumann U87. It is rumoured that they use the same legendary M7 capsule. I would not recommend these for frequent live applications. Neither is suited for hand-held use.

Conclusions

Any of these microphones will perform well with the L1®. Use the matching ToneMatch Preset and close microphone technique (lips brushing the windscreen). Note that all but one of these microphones have supercardioid or hypercardioid polar patterns.

Application - High-Volume - Gain before Feedback

We are considering high-volume applications where gain before feedback is the priority

  1. Sennheiser MD 445
  2. Sennheiser MD 435
  3. Beyerdynamic M88
  4. Audix OM5
  5. Shure Beta 58a

The Sennheiser MD 445 is my first choice. Sennheiser released this microphone in late 2020. It has an extremely tight supercardioid polar pattern. The gain before feedback sets it ahead of everything else on the list. It has a lift in the upper midrange and details in the highs that comes close to sounding like a good condenser microphone. This also helps me to project, compete, and be heard in a busy stage mix.

The Sennheiser MD 435 is perhaps the only microphone with a cardioid polar pattern I would happily use with an L1 . Like its sibling (MD 445), the MD 435 has a vocal flattering EQ, and the off-axis rejection is very good for a cardioid microphone. The sound is excellent, with less emphasis in the upper midrange compared to the MD 445. For a female vocalist, I would consider this instead of the MD 445.

The Beyerdynamic M88 has been around since 1962. For decades it has been one of my go-to dynamic microphones. It has a slight edge for clarity over the Audix OM5 and is very close in feedback rejection. I would use either if I was working a small stage and could not get at least 4 feet away from the L1 , or if having difficulty with reflections leading to feedback. If you can't get enough gain before feedback, it doesn't matter how good the microphone sounds under better circumstances.

The Audix OM5 sounds good, has a tight hypercardioid polar pattern, and there is a ToneMatch Preset for it.

The Shure Beta 58a is a fine upgrade from a Shure SM 58 (cardioid polar pattern). However, the others on the list sound better to me.

Application - Soloist

  1. Neumann KMS 105
  2. Sennheiser e 965
  3. Audix VX-5
  4. AKG C535
  5. Rode S1
  6. Shure Beta 87a

Where sound quality takes precedence over everything else, the Neumann KMS105 is first. It has very low handling noise, so as a handheld unit or on a stand it works well. I also found it to have the best resistance to wind noise and popping "p"s when "eating the mic." It has been my first choice for a microphone for my voice since 2004. It has also been great for female vocalists or any vocalists whose voice holds plenty of nuance. This microphone can be very present even at lower volumes. There is plenty of room for dynamics in the hands of a skilled artist while maintaining detail in softer passages.

There is a quality shared by the Neumann KMS105, the Microtech Geffel UMT 70S, and the Sony C48. If it could be said that a microphone sparkles, shimmers, or glistens, these microphones do that. I don't have the words to describe it, but I hope you understand what I mean. It is the same kind of difference you hear going from a dynamic microphone to a condenser, only more so. Think of the difference between red and the candy-apple red you get with many layers of lovingly applied lacquer.

The Sennheiser e 965 was introduced in 2008 at close to the same price as the Neumann KMS 105 (above). In 2020, Sennheiser dropped the price as part of a 75th-anniversary promotion, and it is now an exceptional bargain. It is interesting because it has a switchable polar pattern (Supercardioid/Cardioid). This gives you the flexibility to use it with a vocalist who cannot consistently sing directly into the microphone. The others on this list are less forgiving. It also has a built-in -10 dB pad and a low-frequency roll-off for controlling the proximity effect that occurs with many directional microphones when you use the close-microphone technique ("eat the mic").

I got the Audix VX-5 in 2018. It is an excellent microphone that took the number two spot on my list. Since then, the Sennheiser e 965 has bumped it down to number three.

The AKG C585, Rode S1, and the Shure Beta 87a sound very similar to me. Well defined, accurate, but lacking the lustre of the Neumann KMS105 and Sennheiser e 965.

The AKG C585 comes ahead of the others because it has switches to provide -10 dB attenuation and low-frequency roll-off. This is good for controlling the proximity effect that occurs with many directional microphones when you use the close-microphone technique ("eat the mic").

The Shure Beta 87a is at the bottom of the list because it was the most difficult to control for feedback of all of the condenser microphones. This would be a concern in a handheld situation.

General Comments

A consequence of getting the Bose L1 is that I can hear everything better.

This is a significant improvement at a qualitative level. This means that the quality of the sound (or lack of it) has become much more apparent to me. I am enjoying playing, and performing more than I have in years.

Since getting my L1 I am playing more, performing more, and singing more.

In the days before the L1 I practised vocals using the Sony C48 and the Microtech Geffel UMT 70S, but since I couldn't hear myself anyway, there was no need to push the envelope (microphone quality) when performing live. I was singing harmony most of the time because I had not the confidence to take on lead vocals (couldn't hear myself). Now that I can get the same sound live as when practising, it is time to find a way to closely get the same sound in both circumstances. This was relatively easy to do with my guitar sound, and now I'm ready to do it with the vocals.

What to do now

So for me, the Neumann KMS105 is a keeper for most of my gigs, but I could be very happy with the Sennheiser e 965. If I routinely played on louder stages, I'd want the Sennheiser MD 445.

The Audix OM5 would be a great addition to anyone's gig bag and an expensive alternative to the Beyerdynamic M88. For open stage events, I have several EV N/D767a microphones. Unfortunately, they've been discontinued. I prefer them to the Shure Beta 57s and Beta 58s.

As Time Goes By

In 2004 I wrote:

I'm not an audiophile. I don't have a trained ear. I will never be hired for my vocal skills. The primary expression of my musical voice is my Guitar. Do I need to spend double the money on the Neumann vs. the Rode S1 (that I liked)? Probably not.

2021 Update:

My musical path has changed and I am as much a vocalist as a guitarist. I attribute this to my time performing in front of my L1 . Once I could hear myself clearly, I was able to develop my confidence and grow in this direction. I also believe that working with a great microphone (Neumann KMS 105) helped immensely.

Why spend the money?

The difference is subtle. If I was still working through a conventional PA, much of the difference would be lost, imperceptible. I know from experience, I wouldn't be able to hear it in the monitors. But with the L1, I can hear the difference and it makes a difference.

A Gentle Warning about the consequences

After you get your Bose system, you will probably go through some changes. Some, like parting with old gear that no longer seems appropriate are relatively easy. You will probably play and sing more. But you may find that you end up upgrading the input since the amplification of it (the source), is so faithful. That was unanticipated, and the heart of the warning.


Testing

Testing - How it was done

This is not all that interesting, but I thought you might want to know.

First - a disclaimer: I have no formal background in testing methods or sound for that matter. I was going to try to be scientific about this, testing and measuring with a sound level meter and a real-time analyzer, but in the end, I just tried each microphone against its nearest competitors and listened.

Physical surroundings: 20' x 40' room. The L1™ was about a foot out from a fairly reflective wall facing into the long dimension of the room. The sides of the space are reflective too.

Settings: I had the L1™ running so the trims were set to only flicker red slightly (then backed off a little). I used preset 02 for most of the testing, but experimented with others. I turned down the gains at the remotes so at any given time, only one microphone was "live".

All the settings on the remote were set to 12:00 o'clock except for the master that was at 1-2 o'clock at times. It was loud! [edit - I took it up that high to find the threshold before feedback. I couldn't live with it that loud for long. The loudest I have ever taken the system running live is everything at 12:00 o'clock. I did some measurements today and this seems to hover at 100 db +- 5db. This is measured at ear level at 7 feet, same distance as the microphone ]

I tried the microphones several times set up at 7 feet from the L1™ , and then for the feedback stress test I put the microphones 3 from the L1™ . At 3 feet, I couldn't get the Shure Beta 87a to run higher than 12:00 for the master even when I was eating the mic. I could get the others a little higher. I had to turn things down below 12:00 o'clock if I wasn't standing between the microphone and the L1.

When listening for tone, clarity, and sound in general I turned the systems down to 12:00 o'clock on the master. The microphones were 7 feet from the L1™ units for this part. I had four microphones going into separate channels (1 and 2) in two L1™ units. I would sing the same phrases into each microphone and move them back and forth until I had them in an order I liked. Then to remove any "bias" inherent in the shape of the room or placement, I reversed the order (left-to-right) and listened again.

Not a trained singer, I can squeeze out a couple of octaves starting at the lowest note you can get from a guitar (E below middle C I think). I sang songs and scales, and just listened carefully. I had the microphones set up as you would playing live, so the L1™ units were behind me. The microphones were angled upward about 60 - 70 degrees. (Looking from the left side in profile - about 2:30).


--- Go make music ---

See what others had to say about this review on the Bose® Musicians' Site


Updates and thoughts

July 2021

I can now add to the list of great microphones for the L1 the Sennheiser e 965. It displaced the Audix VX-5 for number two spot, immediately below the Neumann KMS 105.

The Sennheiser e 965 is an extremely flattering vocal microphone, and it performs just like you would expect a high-quality condenser microphone to sound. It has two polar patterns (Supercardioid/Cardioid), a -10 dB pad, and a low-frequency roll-off. The pad can help with an extremely loud live stage. The roll-off can tame an excessive proximity effect (low-voice, aggressively eating the mic).

The Sennheiser MD 445 has the best performance for gain before feedback, beating everything else on this page, with a high-end clarity and presence close to the top condenser microphones. The Sennheiser MD 435 sounds just as good in a different way, and it is more forgiving for vocalists who stray away from the microphone.

The Sennheisers MD 445 and MD 435 perform exceptionally well with the S1 Pro system. They have displaced the EV N/D767a as my favourite microphone for that application.


May 2019

Fifteen years later:

  • I now sing lead vocals in most of my musical collaborations and enjoy that immensely. I attribute this directly to:
    • Being able to hear myself well through the Bose L1 systems over all this time
    • Having found my microphone
    • You can't fix what you can't hear. The L1 systems let me hear better.


I'm still using the Neumann KMS 105. It is my vocal microphone.

I've used several other microphones that weren't available for the comparisons above. Today I would include the Shure KSM9 among the top contenders for a stage-worthy condenser microphone. Having used both it's not a matter of one being better than the other. They are outstanding microphones. It comes down to person preference and the combination of the singer and microphone.

One more comment about the Neumann KMS 105. It makes singing effortless. Of all the microphones I've used over the years, it is the easiest to sing into to get the sound I want to hear. That's not something I can identify quantitatively with specifications, but it's real and it makes a huge difference. The Shure KSM9 is very close in this regard.

Since the introduction of the L1 Compact and S1 Pro System I've had to consider dynamic microphones because these two units do not provide phantom power required for my Neumann KMS 105. Today I would add these microphones to the comparisons of dynamic microphones.

Reference Notes

Microphone Polar Pattterns

There are two basic types of microphone — omnidirectional and unidirectional[1].

Omnidirectional Microphone

Omni icon.gif

Omnidirectional mic. It is sensitive to sounds from all directions.

Best to use when more room ambiance is the goal. Direct and ambient sound can be adjusted by moving the mic closer to or further from the sound source.

Unidirectional Microphone

Uni con.gif

These are sensitive to sound coming from only one direction – let’s say from a guitar amplifier.

Cardioid

The most common type of unidirectional microphone is called a “cardioid” because its pickup pattern is heart-shaped. It picks up most sound from the front of the microphone and some from the sides.

Supercardioid / Hypercardioid

Superhypercardioid icons.gif

Supercardioid or hypercardioid microphones offer even greater sound isolation through narrower pickup patterns.



Recommended Reading

10 Statements on Condenser Microphones vs Dynamic

What is a Dynamic Microphone

What is a Condenser Microphone

Why Do Microphones Have Different Pickup Patterns?

What is the Proximity Effect