Friday, September 24, 2010

Review of the Telefunken M80

So I just picked up one of these new Telefunken M80 mics from my friend Michael Block over at the Church Studios here in Tulsa. When we did some records earlier this summer and we ordered ten or so M80s to record a horn section as well as some drums. When we first hooked them up we were all looking around saying to ourselves, I bet it just sounds like a fancy SM57. Truth of the matter is, it sounded absolutely incredible. On everything we tried! Later we used the mics on drums, guitar amps, vocalists male and female, upright bass, Leslie speakers, whatever we could find, and every time it passed the test. It was only a matter of time before I picked up one or two for myself.

This mic is only $250 US, which is impressive for the quality of Transformer that is in this mic. According to our friends at Telefunken, the transformer is about $100. If you know anything about components, you may know that $100 for a transformer is starting to get pretty pricey, which means it's of very high quality! A similar transformer is available from TAB-Funkenwerk  for about $90 that you can buy from Mercenary Audio to put in your SM57 as a mod. I believe you can also buy an SM57 with it pre-fitted with the transformer for something like $200 or $225, and I believe it would probably sound decently similar, but probably not as good.

The Telefunken M80 has a crisp, clear, accurate sound to it. Very tight low end, quick response to transients, and wonderful clarity in the mids and highs. Because of this, it's great for most sources I find myself recording! Drums, absolutely! Vocals, guitars, speaker cabs of any kind, completely! Now, it doesn't do too well where a condenser might usually shine (acoustic guitar, drum overheads, strings) but rightfully so, it's a dynamic mic that has a limited amount of sensitivity. For some that keep their guitar amps a bit brighter, the M80 might be a bit TOO bright. Consider really though that the top end on the M80 is probably much more accurate than the top end of an SM57. You know how you usually have to add just a touch of 10k or 12k to the top end of a 57 when you use it on snare drum? You don't have to do that with the M80!

Another thing that blew us away up at the studio was the rejection on these mics. The pattern is cardioid but it's extremely tight, and that makes studio recording easier for the engineer! The SM57 has a fairly standard cardioid pattern, so you often will get problems with hi-hat bleed into the mic, especially when you have to boost that 10k later on. The M80's pattern is so tight that you can place it on a vocalist standing in front of their amp, and you can hardly hear the amp. It's for this reason that I am nearly considering the M80 one of the best close mics of all time.

In the studio, we've got a large live room, something like 65x45x35, so a lot of times when we do bands, we do them completely live, everyone in the room at once, facing in a circle like they would at band practice. Since it's such a big room, they have plenty of room to spread out and have their amps and pedals set up in front of them. Usually that means their mic stands for vocals are in front of them, and this creates some problems. You've got direct sound from their amps and their vocals, but you've got reflected sound from the entire room, all around the floor, and when you've got guys in the room playing loudly, it's usually impossible to control bleed. The M80 changes that! Using them when tracking life in the studio, we had our jaws dropped when realizing how little bleed was in the tracks.

The price is a mere $250, and it rivals mics up in the $1000 range for sources usually requiring a hefty workhorse condenser like a 414 or even a nicer dynamic like an EV RE20 or MD421. Seriously. Before you get yourself three MD421s for toms, I'd consider these M80s. To me, they outperform the SM7 on vocals in a many cases, and that's hard to do! I don't mean to say that the RE20 and the MD21 are not useful, because they are both fantastic mics and they work very well, but for a different flavor similar to a condenser, try the M80. To me, they are like Telefunken's answer to the 57, and I must say they did a bang up job. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Various thoughts on Guitar Amps

Before you reach for the amp sims and PODS and all other sorts of similar gear, I will ask you to lend me your ears and take some time to think about the following thoughts.

When you walk into a professional facility, one of the things you will probably notice is a myriad of incredible gear. This fact goes unchanged when noticing their musical gear. Studios often have stacks of vintage amps, incredible guitars and basses, pianos and organs of all varieties, drumsets and snares collected over the years, and pedals strewn about. Why? Why is this stuff so important? I will tell you why. It ALL starts with the source.

As musicians get better, they usually (not always) but usually strive for better and better tone--especially the more they learn about the recording world. And yes, there is such a thing as "good tone." We're not just random particles floating in a microcosm where nothing exists and everything is just a subjective matter--if that's what you believe, then please continue--but what I sardonically allude to is this: in every genre there is good tone. Metal, folk, orchestral, rock, indie, pop, there is all "good tone." Tone that is pleasing to the ears, pleasing to audiophiles and consumers alike. Tone that is a staple. A Signature. A voice! You want your voice to sound good.

So that's where this stuff starts to come in. The guitars. The pedals. The amps and cabs and speakers. That stuff happens ALL before it hits the mic and preamp and converter. So before you start jumping over the digital bandwagon and getting amazing recording gear, take a look at your setup. Don't lie to yourself. Look at what you have and really do your homework. In professional situations, here are some common examples:

Drums - (Vintage) Slingerland, Ludwig, Rogers, Pearl  (New) Custom drums, DW, Pearl, some others.
Guitars - American Made Fenders, Gibsons, PRS, custom guitars
Basses - American made Fenders, Laklands, Warwick, custom basses
Pianos - Steinway D, Yamaha C7, Fender Rhodes, etc.
Amps - Vintage Marshall and Fender, Vintage Silvertone, Danelectro, Reeves, etc. new Orange, Top Hat, Hiwatt,  Matchless, Bad Cat, boutique brands
Pedals - Lovepedal, Xotic, Robert Keeley, Boss, ZVex

Why bother mentioning these? The point is to show you that most of the commonly used amps and instruments are all very good. Expensive, yes. Worth it? Of course! People make all sorts of excuses these days in home or project studio situations. "I can't be loud," or "I don't need to spend that much, I don't play live," blah blah blah. They say their guitar tone or drum tone suffers, yet they say they use XX instrument or XX amp and it's completely sub-par, and they lack the knowledge and fail to do research enough to realize that people just don't use that.

Often a factor that leads guitarists to get better tone is to look at what their favorite guitarists are using in professional bands. This will help them see what the pros use!

Think about tone. More soon.