We’ve been talking on the team about what microphone we would choose if we could only keep one?
Some of the Expert team have a lot of microphones, I own about 20 and have some others on loan. Among my mics I have quite a lot of dynamics a few ribbons and a handful of large and small diaphragm condensers.
Of my mics, the majority are aimed at drum recording, after all in a typical band tracking session this is where the majority of the mics will end up. Condensers see use on vocals and acoustic instruments and ribbons are the first choice for anything loud and bright.
However if I have to choose one microphone to be a ‘jack-of-all trades’ then it has to be my TLM103. The first “proper” microphone I bought about 20 years ago. It is a cardioid only, large diaphragm condenser which I bought hoping it would be cardioid only U87. I had used U87s back then, though not often, and while I quickly realised that the TLM103 doesn’t sound like a U87 it does sound very good indeed.
While it sometimes attracts criticism for sounding “boring” I would say it sounds fairy neutral (maybe that’s what the critics mean?) and it has the midrange “meat” of a Neumann with a sweet top end, though not as airy as an AKG. Its off axis response is uncoloured, a really important and very overlooked aspect of cardioid mics. It doesn’t have the characteristic “rub” of a U87 - that’s the best description I can come up with for the very distinctive timbre of a U87. People who haven’t used them assume that because U87s are high quality and expensive they are going to sound clean. They really don’t! Its self noise is extremely low (unlike the U87) and also unlike the U87 the max SPL is a very healthy 138 dBSPL.
So the TLM103 is a neutral, good sounding condenser which is suitable for very quiet sources due to its low self noise and very loud sources courtesy of its high maxSPL.
Isn’t A Cardioid Only Microphone Limiting?
Well yes, but if you only have one mic then I’d say its not that much of a big deal. I would argue that when using a single mic then the demand for alternative polar patterns falls off a cliff. I find having a pair of cardioid mics very limiting. No spaced omnis, no MS, no Blumlein arrays, you get the idea. But while I can think of times I might want a single figure 8 mic to capture two singers or a single omni for ambience, in reality I can’t think of a time I’ve ever done this without another mic or mics being used at the same time. As this hypothetical challenge is for a single mic then I’m sticking with my TLM103. After all, a nice sounding, neutral mic leaves plenty of options for adding colour with mic preamps!
This is what Neumann say about the TLM103:
In 1997 we surprised quite a few ears with our large diaphragm microphone TLM 103. Its technical performance set new standards and, for the first time, the Neumann sound became affordable for private customers, too.
The extremely quiet self-noise of the TLM 103 is regarded a milestone until today. In technical terms: a noise level of just 7 dB(A). In other words: the TLM 103 is so low noise that even the faintest nuances become audible. Thus, it is perfectly suited for vocals and audio drama productions in high definition as well as for demanding samples production and instrumental recordings.
Once The Small Brother – Now A Modern Classic
We equipped the TLM 103 with a very broad presence boost in the area of 6 to 15 kilohertz which helps the voice to cut through the mix. The TLM 103 offers everything demanding users could wish for: nuanced vocals with precise reproduction of sibilants and excellent speech intelligibility. The sound character of the TLM 103 cannot deny its origin: Its role model in the development process was our U 87, which is regarded the reference microphone in studios around the globe. After almost two decades, the TLM 103 has become a modern classic itself which sets new standards with its characteristic presence and its extremely low self-noise.
Our TLM series works with a transformerless output stage. This means: a clean and direct sound, very “close” to the acoustic source, and a powerful bass transmission all the way down to the lowest frequencies. Its transformerless output stage also makes the microphone resistant to electromagnetic fields and minimizes transmission losses.