Sunday, April 15, 2012

Neumann TLM 102 - The VolksMikrofon



Neumann TLM 102

The Volkswagen is named so because it was designed to be "a car for the "volks" or people." Neumann makes world class microphones that typically cost more than most personal budgets can support; until now.

Should you wonder, after a very quick listen, the TLM 102 and TLM 103 sound very different. The TLM 102 is relatively flat with a closer focus on the midrange than the TLM 103. What does that mean? It means that the TLM 102 can be less problematic in environments that aren't designed as recording studios. 

The TLM 102 is considerably smaller than the TLM 103, but that difference in size does not mean the TLM 102 is a proportionally lesser microphone.

I really like that Neumann has taken a leadership position in swinging the pendulum back from the years long industry trend of making mics brighter and brighter. Brighter is not better, especially when you start using dynamics plugins aggressively or record in a non-optimal acoustic environment.

FEATURES

The TLM 102 is made at Neumann in Germany. The new single sided, backplate charged K 102 capsule borrows raw materials from the U 89i and BCM series. The working surface of the gold sputtered diaphragm is slightly less than an inch in diameter, but as with the U 89i, TLM 170 and TLM 93, is still a large diaphragm. 
The TLM 102 was designed to be more road-worthy than the TLM 103. Which is to say, you can actually consider using a TLM 102 at a live event. To increase the roadworthyness, Neumann engineers have designed a “crash helmet”; an absorptive plastic fitting that sits atop the capsule so that should the mic do a header, the fitting will absorb some of the impact. Although given the clearance between it and the headgrille, I cringe at the force required to make that happen.
The headgrille is only two layers of metal mesh, not three, but there’s a thin, washable foam liner inside the mic to stop plosives. Where plosives are not an issue, the foam liner may be removed for more transparency. That’s easily done because the chrome-plated ring around the middle of the mic unscrews, allowing the headgrille to be removed. 
TLM 103 has a rubber snuggie that surrounds the circular PCB, reducing vibration to the capsule. The TLM 102 doesn’t. As such, tapping the TLM 102’s body produces a noticeably louder bump. If you don’t have the bucks for a new EA 1 suspension mount, check your mic locker. The TLM 102 uses the same suspension mount as the TLM 103, 127, 193 and m147 tube. A less expensive suspension mount for the TLM 102 is in the works.
The TLM 102 cardioid pattern has soft shoulders and is slightly more narrow than that of the TLM 103. That can be very helpful in efforts to “tune out” unwanted nearby sound sources. The TLM 102 sounds thicker than the TLM 103 and doesn’t have quite the “air.”
IN USE
As a rule, you never stick a LD cardioid condenser mic in front of the soundhole of an acoustic guitar. The TLM 102 is much less boomy and with a little high-pass filter, you could track with it. My D28S Martin, through GML preamp, did very well. In fact, I could get a lot closer then with other mics. This may be helpful if you’re recording in a less than optimal acoustic environment. 

I used to use my Mackie 1604 preamps as a test option. The high end of the TLM 103 sounded pretty nasty through them compared to better preamps. I sold the 1604 this year so I can’t make the  same test with the TLM 102, but given its HF response, I’m betting it will be a better match.
There are some pretty rude and not very full bodied acoustic guitars around these days. The smooth response of the TLM 102 without the emphasized top end works nicely to make those guitars sound better.
I plugged my thinline Telecaster into my Vibrolux and let the TLM 102 have it up close to see what would happen. It took the assault and gave me back a meaty track. The highs were there, but they didn’t shred. I’ve got Humbuckers on the Tele, so it seldom gets really nasty, but I don’t want it to. That’s why I have it set up that way. 

I couldn’t crank the amp up all the way and close mic because the GML preamps start at 25 dB of gain. Years ago, during my review of the TLM 103, someone from Neumann mentioned that the mic was so sensitive that, provided you could get it some Phantom Power, you could plug it into a line input for really loud sources. I did and it worked quite well. The TLM 102 is only about 3dB less sensitive, so you may be able to do the same.
VO
Even with a beefy sound, the TLM 102 has enough top end to cut through without EQ. When crowding the mic to get the proximity effect working, I got three inches away without getting too much bottom. I was able to get a more neutral NPR-ish sound at a distance of six inches, but preferred a working distance of 3-4 inches with some proximity effect. The TLM 102 is poppable, but no more than any other good LD condenser.
SUMMARY
Street priced to sell at $699 ($1099 list) in silver or black with the black SG 2 sturdy metal mic clip, Neumann’s TLM 102 can’t help but draw attention to itself. It sounds good and its smaller size means it’s less visible and may also be considered for drum micing. For some $699 is still a lot of money to throw down for a mic. I’ve heard a lot of $699 mics that don’t sound nearly this good. 

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