Technology

Field Test: MBHO MBP 604 N Microphone

FLEXIBLE, COMPACT AND CLEAN STUDIO CONDENSER 3/01/2005 7:00 AM Eastern

MBHO may not yet be a household name in the audio industry, but the company has been building capsules and complete microphones for other manufacturers since 1962. A stark contrast from the inexpensive offshore microphones flooding the studio market during the past few years, MBHO mics are manufactured in Germany, almost completely by hand.

THE FACTS
The MBP 604 N is a descendant of MBHO's MBP 603. The MBP 604 N may be used with a variety of capsules from the MBHO line (purchased separately), including the KA 100 LK (linear omni), KA 300 NB (wide cardioid), KA 800 A (figure-8) and KA 1000 N (large-diaphragm cardioid). I reviewed a matched pair of MBP 604 Ns (available at no extra charge) fitted with KA 200 N cardioid capsules.

The MBP 604 N features transformerless output, compact design (only three inches long) and operates on phantom power ranging from 24 to 48 volts DC. Frequency response with the KA 200 N is stated as 40 to 20k Hz. Preamp and capsule housings are constructed from solid brass and are nicely finished in matte black. Capsules screw smoothly to the preamp tube, and once secured, appear to be made from one piece.

TOP PERFORMER
In the studio, the MBP 604 N and KA 200 N proved to be excellent, versatile performers. First up were drums, with the MBP 604 Ns used as overheads on a jazz session. The mics were set approximately six feet above the center of the kick drum — eight inches apart — and patched into a pair of Focusrite ISA 110s. The MBHOs effortlessly delivered the entire frequency range of the kit and very clearly presented the location of each component without generating hot spots.

This strong stereo imaging no doubt stems from the fact that the two KA 200 N capsules were sonically indistinguishable. The mics captured the sonic detail of the drummer's brushes on the coated snare head and provided a great sense of “being there.”

On other sessions, I close-miked individual components of the kit including snare (top and bottom), hi-hat and floor tom. The MBP 604 N's compact body made it unobtrusive in tight spaces. On snare top, the 604 was clean and crisp but didn't have much personality. If you're looking for the artificial “chunk” that some dynamic mics deliver when close-miking a snare, you won't find it here.

On snare bottom, the lack of color was a virtue: You could practically count the snares as they rattled. On floor tom, moving the MBP 604 N within about two inches of the head produced a subtle distortion that was present, regardless of the mic preamp in use or its settings. Apparently, this distortion was due to the floor tom approaching the mic's 130dB SPL limitation. Backing the mic off to a distance of around four inches eliminated the distortion. (MBHO offers the 9DZ 40 inline pad to reduce sensitivity by 10 dB.)

Close-miked hi-hat was well-defined without the high-frequency “spit” often produced by lesser microphones. Leakage from the remainder of the kit was a bit on the high side, partly due to the reflective nature of the room and because the KA 200 N's cardioid pattern is a bit on the wide side.

GUITAR AND VOCALS
For an acoustic guitar overdub, I used the MBHOs in a near-coincident pair and the results were gorgeous: The mics provided a shimmery attack, tight lower mids and reproduced a solid image of the room sound. Switching to a single mic placed a few inches from the neck/body joint, the MBP 604 N was a touch on the lean side, pleasantly emphasizing the pick against the strings. In other applications in which the guitar was played softly, the mic's self-noise was inaudible. Miking a 2×12 guitar amp yielded a clear, bright “jangle” without harshness, provided that the MBP 604 N's SPL capabilities were respected.

I was favorably surprised by the sound of the MBP 604 N on a male lead vocal. The mic sounded much more like a large-diaphragm condenser than its diminutive size suggests. Its subtle proximity effect emphasized the chesty-ness of the vocalist while still allowing breath and air to come through. The vocal easily sat on top of the mix with immediacy, yet no sibilance. Within ±45 degrees, response was very consistent, with perhaps a touch more fullness in the low mids at 0 degrees. Past 45 degrees, off-axis, there was a slight loss of high frequencies, and as the source moved toward 90 degrees off-axis, response became dull and the bottom end began to droop.

WINNING RESULTS
The MBP 604 N is a welcome addition to MBHO's excellent line of condenser microphones. Combined with the KA 200 N capsule, the mic offers clean reproduction, quiet operation and tremendous flexibility in studio applications. Any studio seeking to expand its mic locker to include a great all-around performer would be wise to audition the MBP 604 N and KA 200 N.

Prices: MBP 604 N (including case and clamp), $699; and KA 200 N cardioid capsule, $369.

MBHO (www.mbho.de), dist. in the U.S. by Music Trade Center, 718/963-2777.


In addition to contributing to Mix, Steve La Cerra is the tour manager and front-of-house engineer for Blue Öyster Cult.