Technology

Field Test: Neumann KMS105

CONDENSER MICROPHONE 7/01/2000 8:00 AM Eastern

The Neumann name is synonymous with fine studio microphones. However, Neumann is no stranger to live sound microphones; in fact, its KMS140 and KMS150 handheld condenser models have been available for nearly a decade. Unfortunately, at approximately $1,500, the KMS140/150 is a little pricey for the average band or sound company. Now Neumann has addressed the affordability issue and has produced a competitively priced live mic: the KMS105 cardioid condenser.

Available in either nickel matte or black matte finishes, the 105 retails at $595. Included in the package is a clever, nylon-and-Velcro padded bag that wraps around both the mic and the stand clip, offering a high degree of protection. Speaking of the clip, the 105 fits snugly into a standard-sized clip, which simplifies onstage setups/breakdowns. Unlike the more costly KMS140/150, the 105 does not include switchable highpass filters or pads. SPL handling is rated at an ample 150 dB (at less than 0.5% THD), while the mic employs an internal (nonswitchable) bass roll-off circuit that attenuates a gentle -3 dB from 120 Hz downward. A steeper filter cuts signals below 100 Hz to keep handling noise to an absolute minimum.

The phantom-powered condenser capsule is a supercardioid design, based on the K 50 capsule used in the KMS150, KM150 and KM185 mics. Featuring the proven electronics used in Neumann's FET 100 Series, the KMS105 offers a wide frequency response and low (18 dBA) self-noise spec. The output is transformerless, which is well-suited for the ultralong cable runs frequently encountered in sound reinforcement applications.

A four-layer acoustic pop filter not only protects the capsule from grit, saliva and other road hazards but does a superb job of handling pops and breath blasts. No foam material is used in this application: The outer grille is formed of woven hardened steel, with a tight, inside metal-mesh dome and a fine-weave, mesh-covered basket. The outer screen assembly unscrews easily for cleaning, and the inner mesh basket is removable for a light dusting or replacement.

In use, the 105 proved to be an impressive mic with a character all its own. Its high-SPL reproduction capability and effective plosive handling (combined with the on-board highpass filtering) are characteristics ideal for vocalists, and the controlled proximity effect suits singers who like to work the mic close. The mic has a full sound but is free of boominess or overload distortion-no need to worry about exaggerated low-frequency buildup or destructive vocal pops. Handling noise was unnoticeable.

Overall, the 105's supercardioid pattern is remarkably consistent at all frequencies, a feature that reduces the chance of feedback. With a pair of wedges set about 45Degrees off-axis from the rear of the mic, feedback was nearly nonexistent and was easily tamed with minimal monitor mix EQ. In terms of polar response, the 105 strikes a nice balance: The tightness of the pattern offered plenty of off-axis rejection, while the width of the pattern afforded a comfortable sweet spot for the performer.

The capsule provides an uncolored sound with a wide, even frequency response. A slightly rising HF peak centered around 12 kHz brings out the sound of the voice, rather than the mic. But the 105 does not have the huge upper-midrange boost that's common to many handheld vocal mics, and singers that depend on that presence punch will probably be disappointed with the 105's sound-or lack of "sound." However, for the performer with clarity and articulation, the open and natural character that the 105 imparts to an outstanding vocal will be appreciated by those with the ears to hear it.

Neumann USA, 1 Enterprise Dr., Old Lyme, CT 06371; 860/434-5220; www.neumannusa.com.