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Neumann TLM 103, February 1998


Neumann’s newest entry into the professional and project
studio markets, the TLM 103 is part of the FET 100 series of condenser mics. The TLM 103’s heritage is
divided between two distinct and important Neumann technological eras:
the venerable U87 microphone and the modern Transformerless Microphone
(TLM) technology. As should be expected by the marriage of these two
pedigrees, the 103 is indeed a quality microphone well worth the
under-$1,000 price.

The TLM 103’s capsule is based on the K87 capsule used in the
famed U87 and tube U67 mics. Whereas the 67 and 87 use a dual-diaphragm
capsule (with two separate back electrodes) to create multiple polar patterns, the 103 uses the single, K103
large diaphragm capsule for cardioid-only operation. (This was acceptable to
me, as there are few studio situations where I would use an omni mic and even fewer times I would use a mic on

The 48 VDC-powered, fourth-generation transformerless circuit within
the TLM 103 has low self-noise (7 dBa) and a large dynamic range (131 dB SPL). The low noise figure makes the 103 ideal
for Foley/sound effects and ambient recordings. Withstanding sound
levels up to 138 dB (at 0.5% THD)—nearly the sound level of a
modern fighter jet exhaust in full afterburner—the TLM 103 is
ideal for close recording of drums and percussion without distortion.
There’s no attenuation switch, so you may want to verify that
your microphone preamp will handle this mic’s high 13dBu max output when recording close and loud
vocals (or close loud anything else for that matter).

Frequency range is 20 to 20k Hz. The mic has a flat response up to
5k Hz where a wide, 4dB presence boost begins. This is similar to the
U87, but the 103 remains sensitive down to 5 Hz due to the TLM
circuitry. An elastic-mounted internal structure reduces the influence
of external shocks on the sound of the mic. This is crucial, as the 103
does not have a bass roll-off switch. This was apparent when I used the
103 around a group of backing vocal singers and could clearly hear the
“thump” of foot tapping. The shockmount elastic suspension
holder (EA 103) accessory is a recommended investment, especially when
the mic is used onstage or around a drum kit. The mic includes the SG
103, a plastic swivel clip of minimal quality. After just a few mic
stand changes, the plastic threading looked worn. It would be better if
Neumann could have made this out of metal like the U87 mount.

The mic’s small size works well around drum kits or as an
unobtrusive mic for an acoustic guitar player. All the musicians I
recorded with the 103 were intrigued by the new “cool little

Subjective comparisons to the U87 are obvious, but I feel the
microphone really has its own identity. As a reference point, I did a
brief, A-B “comparison” with an AKG C-414 TLII (set on
cardioid). I placed both mics in front of a player with a
’60’s vintage Martin D-28. In the case of this song and
this particular guitar part, I liked the TLM 103 over the AKG. It has a
definite, more “forward” sound, but not in the sense of a
EQ’d sound. The guitar occupied a good “space” within
the track without much extra equalization or compression. I also liked
using the TLM 103 on electric guitar, making a midrange Vox AC-30 sound
bright and fat.

Due to the mic’s low self-noise and distortion, you could use
a hyper-EQ shape and/or an extremely squashed and spanking compressor
setting and not highlight any microphone shortcomings. I found
applications where I preferred the TLM 103 over anything else in the
mic cabinet. It was excellent on drums, harmonica and sax as well as
certain singers who would also sound good on a U87.

The TLM 103 is $995 (including SG 103 mount and a wooden storage
box), yet I never felt I was using a “budget” microphone.
The mic comes in either satin nickel or black matte finishes, and
Neumann also plans to offer the mic in stereo pairs.