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. 

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