Shure KSM44, February 2001The KSM44 multipattern condenser mic is the second offering in Shure's KSM microphone line. It follows on the heels of the cardioid-only KSM32 5/14/2004 8:00 AM Eastern
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 was introduced a couple of years ago. Shure's intent was to optimize the KSM44's frequency response for vocal tracking, though the mic is well-suited for a variety of other applications.
Considering its $1,340 list price, the solid-state KSM44 boasts a surprisingly extensive feature set. Its three polar patterns—cardioid, omni and bidirection al—are selected by a switch on the front of the mic body. A 15dB pre-attenuation switch and a three-position low-frequency response switch are found on the rear of the mic. Looking beyond these obvious external attributes, however, it becomes clear that rigorous attention to detail went into the design and production of this microphone.
The side address KSM44 employs dual, 1-inch diameter, mylar diaphragms that are only 2.5 microns thick and are layered with 24-carat gold via a vapor deposition process. The Class-A, discrete, transformerless preamplifier helps the KSM44 achieve maximum SPLs of up to 151 dB with the pre-attenuator switched in and the mic in Omni mode. Self-noise is rated at a mere 7 dBA, and sensitivity is a hefty 28 mv/PA in Cardioid mode, foretelling tracks with a rock-bottom noise floor. Omni and Bidirectional modes offer a considerably more modest (yet respectable) 14 to 16 mv/PA output and a still hushed 10dBA self-noise spec.
The externally biased capsule works best with phantom powering in the 44 to 52VDC range, but can tolerate juice as low as 11VDC with only slightly decreased headroom and sensitivity. The KSM44 is something of a current hog, typically draining 5.4 mA at 48VDC. Unless you have a really wimpy phantom power supply and use many modern mics simultaneously, the 44's current drain will not pose a problem.
The KSM44's frequency response in Cardioid mode exhibits a smooth boost between 2 and 8 kHz (culminating in a 3dB boost at 6 kHz) and a still milder bump centered on 11 kHz. Response falls off fairly rapidly above approximately 13 kHz, ending 5 dB down at 20 kHz. At a 6-inch distance from the mic, the proximity effect causes a gradual rise below 600 Hz, reaching a maximum +5dB boost at 50 Hz.
Omni mode is virtually ruler-flat up to 9 kHz, rises +4 dB to 11 kHz, and then it drops off in similar fashion to the Cardioid mode response. The response in Bidirectional mode is fairly typical of a pressure-gradient, large-diaphragm condenser, with a more dramatic boost in the lower highs compared to that produced by Cardioid mode, twice the bass proximity effect and a gradual roll-off above 9 kHz.
Shure took several measures to reduce the KSM44's sensitivity to vocal plosives and to allow creative tailoring of the mic's low-frequency response. The aforementioned low-frequency response switch offers three passive EQ curves: flat (no bass roll-off), a steep 18dB per octave roll-off below 80 Hz, and a milder 6dB per octave roll-off below 115 Hz. The mic also features a fixed subsonic filter to eliminate rumble and structureborne noise below 17 Hz. An internal shock-mount complements the ShureLock™ elastic-suspension shock-mount included with the mic (more on the shock-mount below). The head grille is a three-stage affair, featuring a nylon cloth layer inside two layers of hardened, low-carbon steel. The grille is somewhat unusual in that the outermost grid offers far smaller apertures than the layer beneath, a choice made for cosmetic purposes.
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 little over 7 inches long and 2.2 inches in diameter at its widest point. Internal and external connectors are gold-plated. The KSM44 ships with a locking, foam-lined aluminum carrying case, a protective Velveteen pouch with Velcro closure, a mic stand swivel mount and the ShureLock elastic-suspension shock-mount—a sturdy, polycarbonate plastic contraption that secures the base of the mic via a bombproof locking ring, assuring absolute confidence in hanging placements.
All of my critical listening tests were performed using a Millennia HV-3 dual-channel mic preamp. The KSM44's spectral balance (in Cardioid mode) falls somewhere between that of a Neumann U87 and an AKG TL-II. The KSM44 is fuller in the low mids than a TL-II, but not quite as full as a U87. The Shure mic offers a more detailed top end than a U87, but it is not quite as articulate as a TL-II. The TL-II also has a bigger low end at the extreme bottom (around 50 Hz). The KSM44 produces a mellow, smooth midrange response, resulting in a somewhat “neutral” sound.
The KSM44's transient response is excellent, which is not surprising considering its 2.5-micron membranes. But the mic also lacks depth and air compared to the U87 and TL-II, both of which sound rounder and offer significantly more nuance.
Next up was a test of the KSM44's off-axis response. All three polar patterns exhibited excellent rejection at their nulls. Cardioid mode sounded remarkably uniform out to 30° to either side of the front of the mic. However, I found off-axis coloration to be more pronounced in Omni and Bidirectional modes than the supplied charts implied. In Bidirectional mode, the sound at the rear of the mic was very muffled and dramatically different from that produced on-axis. This could be a problem when miking two background vocalists from different sides of the mic, as any remedial EQ would have to be averaged for two decidedly different sounds. Similarly, I found Omni mode produced noticeably greater depth and detail on-axis compared to at the rear of the mic.
On a happier note, another A/B test revealed that the KSM44 is considerably quieter than a Neumann U87A, even after mic preamp levels were adjusted to make up for the 44's slightly lower (yet still very robust) output. With mic pre channels boosted near the max, the U87A picked up a bit of EMI buzz, while the KSM44 was as silent as a desert night. The KSM44's low self-noise and high sensitivity are clearly its main strengths.
I obtained good, if not awe-inspiring, results recording both male and female vocals with the KSM44 in Cardioid mode. The microphone's neutral timbre lent itself equally well to both types of vocals. The Bidirectional mode's enhanced proximity effect lent helpful support to thin-sounding female vocals; the trade-offs, however, were decreased high-end detail and increased sibilance. On softly spoken voice-overs, the KSM44's subterranean noise floor and high output was a lifesaver, delivering squeaky clean tracks utterly devoid of perceivable noise.
The three polar patterns produced dramatically different timbres from one another. Omni mode is particularly well-suited for recording acoustic guitar, producing a more open track with less ponderous upper bass content than many mics would provide. And the mic's Directional modes dish out plenty of low-frequency support when placed close to the source, yielding good results when tracking instruments such as electric bass guitar.
There are bigger sounding mics on the market at competing prices; nevertheless, the KSM44 is a high-quality microphone with its own unique sound and winning attributes. Thoughtful design, quality construction, an extended feature set and a generous allotment of standard accessories provide good value for the money. The KSM44's excellent transient response makes it a good performer for tracking instruments as well as vocals. And the mic's smooth proximity effect, neutral mids and high-frequency emphasis in Cardioid mode make it a versatile performer for recording various vocalists. For applications where any added noise cannot be tolerated, such as on exposed voice-overs or spoken word recordings, the KSM44 is a strong candidate for your consideration.