Shure KSM313, KSM353 Ribbon Mics ReviewVERSATILE, STURDY TRANSDUCERS EXCEL OVER A RANGE OF APPLICATIONS 12/01/2009 7:00 AM Eastern
With its acquisition of Crowley and Tripp Microphones, Shure enters the ribbon mic arena with the KSM313 (Crowley and Tripp's Naked Eye) and the KSM353 (El Diablo). They are made in the U.S. in the same way, with Shure continuing support for all original Crowley and Tripp mics.
Both of these mics use Roswellite™ ribbon material, a super-elastic conductive and magnetic composite with shape memory and low mass. Invented by Bob Crowley and Hugh Tripp, Roswellite — unlike conventional aluminum ribbons — is stronger, yet instantly responds accurately to high frequencies and returns to shape after being physically deformed by windblasts, plosives, phantom-power jolts and high-SPL sources.
The KSM313 has what is called a dual-voice design because the two sides of the figure-8 polar pattern are exploited to offer two distinctly different frequency responses and sound. The front (logo) side has the classic thick and creamy ribbon sound, while the backside is significantly brighter — almost like the rising high-frequency curve of a good vocal condenser mic.
The KSM313 has a steel body that's painted black, and its red mesh screening covers the machined sound-entry ports. It feels hefty, and a threaded nut attaches it to a “monocle” swivel bracket that allows for any microphone orientation. The 313 uses direct point-to-point wiring, gold ribbon connections and a high-efficiency, custom-wound transformer. It comes in a foam-lined mahogany “cigar box” case that's expertly built using finger joinery and fancy hardware.
The KSM353 is a “no expense spared” microphone crafted for pristine audio in studio and concert hall applications. Like the 313, it's also handmade but comes in a tall wooden box that looks like it should hold a delicate astronomical instrument or a nuclear fuel rod.
The mic has a highly polished, machined stainless-steel tube containing the double-shielded transformer and ribbon motor rigidly joined together for minimal magnetic and RF interference, lowest noise and highest output. Both sides of the 353 are symmetrical in frequency response to minimize off-axis coloration.
In the studio, I recorded both electric guitar and vocals using these mics. I used a GML 8302 mic preamp, AEA's RPQ preamp or the studio's API console pre's, and found that both mics produced more level than old vintage ribbon mics or a Royer R-121. As with all of the ribbon mics I tried for this review, I found that mic placement and source distance were very critical to the sound. When close-miking, moving a few inches up, down, back and forth yielded huge sonic changes.
In separate tests, I placed both the KSM313 and KSM353 close to one speaker of a Marshall Hendrix reissue cabinet. I used an Orange Tiny Terror Top set to 15 watts and did tests with both the guitar player and re-amped direct guitar recordings coming from 24-bit/96kHz Pro Tools HD sessions. I found the KSM313's logo side to sound full and round, reminiscent of the RCA 44 ribbon with the RCA sounding slightly “honky” in the midrange. The backside sounded very close to the front of AEA's R84 ribbon — more extended high frequencies, yet it retained most of the fat low end. I liked the option of turning the 313 around for a different sound, but if you carefully aim the mic at the speaker's center, you'll always get enough highs if you require. By way of comparison, a good-sounding Royer R-121 was slightly “scooped out” in the midrange relative to all these mics.
Compared to the 313, the 353 sounded bigger in the low end and exhibited smoother high frequencies on both vocals and guitars. For voice-overs, it has a good neutral sound without special emphasis on any particular frequency area, such as the Coles 4038 with its brontosaurus bottom end. For vocals, the 353 has a near-condenser sound but is smoother in the high frequencies and never seemed to overload, making it a good choice for sibilant or shrill-sounding singers. The only downside was that I could not trust the included shock-mount to keep the KSM353 from nearly sliding out and hitting the floor — this mount seems all wrong for a mic of this caliber and price point. (Shure acknowledges this and promises a better mount soon.)
The KSM313 and KSM353 are rugged, worry-free ribbon mics that you don't have to baby. Their warm and clean sound make them great all-around sonic alternatives to a studio's or live stage's workhorse condensers and dynamics.
Barry Rudolph is a Los Angeles?based recording engineer. Visit him at www.barryrudolph.com.