Technology

Shure KSM44

The KSM44 multipattern condenser mic is the second offering in Shure's KSM microphone line. It follows on the heels of the cardioid-only KSM32, which 2/01/2001 7:00 AM Eastern

The KSM44 multipattern condenser mic is the second offering inShure's KSM microphone line. It follows on the heels of thecardioid-only KSM32, which was introduced a couple of years ago.Shure's intent was to optimize the KSM44's frequency response forvocal tracking, though the mic is well-suited for a variety ofother applications.

Considering its $1,340 list price, the solid-state KSM44 boastsa surprisingly extensive feature set. Its three polarpatterns—cardioid, omni and bidirection al—are selectedby a switch on the front of the mic body. A 15dB pre-attenuationswitch and a three-position low-frequency response switch are foundon the rear of the mic. Looking beyond these obvious externalattributes, however, it becomes clear that rigorous attention todetail went into the design and production of this microphone.

The side address KSM44 employs dual, 1-inch diameter, mylardiaphragms that are only 2.5 microns thick and are layered with24-carat gold via a vapor deposition process. The Class-A,discrete, transformerless preamplifier helps the KSM44 achievemaximum SPLs of up to 151 dB with the pre-attenuator switched inand the mic in Omni mode. Self-noise is rated at a mere 7 dBA, andsensitivity is a hefty 28 mv/PA in Cardioid mode, foretellingtracks with a rock-bottom noise floor. Omni and Bidirectional modesoffer a considerably more modest (yet respectable) 14 to 16 mv/PAoutput and a still hushed 10dBA self-noise spec.

The externally biased capsule works best with phantom poweringin the 44 to 52VDC range, but can tolerate juice as low as 11VDCwith only slightly decreased headroom and sensitivity. The KSM44 issomething of a current hog, typically draining 5.4 mA at 48VDC.Unless you have a really wimpy phantom power supply and use manymodern mics simultaneously, the 44's current drain will not pose aproblem.

The KSM44's frequency response in Cardioid mode exhibits asmooth boost between 2 and 8 kHz (culminating in a 3dB boost at 6kHz) and a still milder bump centered on 11 kHz. Response falls offfairly rapidly above approximately 13 kHz, ending 5 dB down at 20kHz. At a 6-inch distance from the mic, the proximity effect causesa gradual rise below 600 Hz, reaching a maximum +5dB boost at 50Hz.

Omni mode is virtually ruler-flat up to 9 kHz, rises +4 dB to 11kHz, and then it drops off in similar fashion to the Cardioid moderesponse. The response in Bidirectional mode is fairly typical of apressure-gradient, large-diaphragm condenser, with a more dramaticboost in the lower highs compared to that produced by Cardioidmode, twice the bass proximity effect and a gradual roll-off above9 kHz.

Shure took several measures to reduce the KSM44's sensitivity tovocal plosives and to allow creative tailoring of the mic'slow-frequency response. The aforementioned low-frequency responseswitch offers three passive EQ curves: flat (no bass roll-off), asteep 18dB per octave roll-off below 80 Hz, and a milder 6dB peroctave roll-off below 115 Hz. The mic also features a fixedsubsonic filter to eliminate rumble and structureborne noise below17 Hz. An internal shock-mount complements theShureLock elastic-suspensionshock-mount included with the mic (more on the shock-mount below).The head grille is a three-stage affair, featuring a nylon clothlayer inside two layers of hardened, low-carbon steel. The grilleis somewhat unusual in that the outermost grid offers far smallerapertures than the layer beneath, a choice made for cosmeticpurposes.

The zinc, die-cast mic body adds to the KSM44's reassuring heft.The mic weighs in at slightly over one pound and measures a littleover 7 inches long and 2.2 inches in diameter at its widest point.Internal and external connectors are gold-plated. The KSM44 shipswith a locking, foam-lined aluminum carrying case, a protectiveVelveteen pouch with Velcro closure, a mic stand swivel mount andthe ShureLock elastic-suspension shock-mount—a sturdy,polycarbonate plastic contraption that secures the base of the micvia a bombproof locking ring, assuring absolute confidence inhanging placements.

All of my critical listening tests were performed using aMillennia HV-3 dual-channel mic preamp. The KSM44's spectralbalance (in Cardioid mode) falls somewhere between that of aNeumann U87 and an AKG TL-II. The KSM44 is fuller in the low midsthan a TL-II, but not quite as full as a U87. The Shure mic offersa more detailed top end than a U87, but it is not quite asarticulate as a TL-II. The TL-II also has a bigger low end at theextreme bottom (around 50 Hz). The KSM44 produces a mellow, smoothmidrange response, resulting in a somewhat “neutral”sound.

The KSM44's transient response is excellent, which is notsurprising considering its 2.5-micron membranes. But the mic alsolacks depth and air compared to the U87 and TL-II, both of whichsound rounder and offer significantly more nuance.

Next up was a test of the KSM44's off-axis response. All threepolar patterns exhibited excellent rejection at their nulls.Cardioid mode sounded remarkably uniform out to 30° to eitherside of the front of the mic. However, I found off-axis colorationto be more pronounced in Omni and Bidirectional modes than thesupplied charts implied. In Bidirectional mode, the sound at therear of the mic was very muffled and dramatically different fromthat produced on-axis. This could be a problem when miking twobackground vocalists from different sides of the mic, as anyremedial EQ would have to be averaged for two decidedly differentsounds. Similarly, I found Omni mode produced noticeably greaterdepth and detail on-axis compared to at the rear of the mic.

On a happier note, another A/B test revealed that the KSM44 isconsiderably quieter than a Neumann U87A, even after mic preamplevels were adjusted to make up for the 44's slightly lower (yetstill very robust) output. With mic pre channels boosted near themax, the U87A picked up a bit of EMI buzz, while the KSM44 was assilent as a desert night. The KSM44's low self-noise and highsensitivity are clearly its main strengths.

I obtained good, if not awe-inspiring, results recording bothmale and female vocals with the KSM44 in Cardioid mode. Themicrophone's neutral timbre lent itself equally well to both typesof vocals. The Bidirectional mode's enhanced proximity effect lenthelpful support to thin-sounding female vocals; the trade-offs,however, were decreased high-end detail and increased sibilance. Onsoftly spoken voice-overs, the KSM44's subterranean noise floor andhigh output was a lifesaver, delivering squeaky clean tracksutterly devoid of perceivable noise.

The three polar patterns produced dramatically different timbresfrom one another. Omni mode is particularly well-suited forrecording acoustic guitar, producing a more open track with lessponderous upper bass content than many mics would provide. And themic's Directional modes dish out plenty of low-frequency supportwhen placed close to the source, yielding good results whentracking instruments such as electric bass guitar.

There are bigger sounding mics on the market at competingprices; nevertheless, the KSM44 is a high-quality microphone withits own unique sound and winning attributes. Thoughtful design,quality construction, an extended feature set and a generousallotment of standard accessories provide good value for the money.The KSM44's excellent transient response makes it a good performerfor tracking instruments as well as vocals. And the mic's smoothproximity effect, neutral mids and high-frequency emphasis inCardioid mode make it a versatile performer for recording variousvocalists. For applications where any added noise cannot betolerated, such as on exposed voice-overs or spoken wordrecordings, the KSM44 is a strong candidate for yourconsideration.

Shure, 222 Hartrey Ave., Evanston, IL 60202; 847/866-2200; fax847/866-2200; www.shure.com.


Michael Cooper is a Mix contributing editor and the owner ofMichael Cooper Recording. The studio is located outside thebeautiful resort town of Sisters at the base of the OregonCascades.