Thursday, February 16, 2012

Neumann TLM 67 - Everything Old Is New Again, Or Is It?

Neumann’s most recent mic, the TLM 67, was a welcome visitor when it arrived. The mic is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum, and constrained within a riddle. To wit. How can a mic with no vacuum tube or transformer be positioned as the evolution of a mic with a tube and transformer? Is this not heresy? Let the impassioned fist-pounding arguments begin about how close to the original U 67 (or prototype U 60) this TLM 67 could be. Leave it to the Neumann marketing department to find a way to brew a controversy.

The TLM 67 uses the K67 capsule. A bit of background from Neumann’s Juergen Breitlow: “The capsule K67, K87 and K870 (The K87 and K870 are used in the U 87i and U 87Ai) are acoustically identical. There is an electrical difference between the K67 and K870 on one side and the K87 on the other side: The "half" electrodes in the K87 are isolated against each other which requires four wires to connect the capsule to the circuit. In the K67 and K870 the electrodes are electrically connected.”

What we have is a three-pattern, FET, condenser microphone with two, large Mylar diaphragms, switchable 10 dB pad and high-pass filter. The patterns are the typical omni, cardioid and figure of eight. In that relative order, the sensitivities at 1 kHz into 1 kohm are 10/18/9 mV/Pa. The rated impedance is 50 ohms with a load impedance of 1 kohms. Equivalent noise levels, CCIR are 29/24/30 dB. A-weighted selfnoise are 16/11/17 dB-A. Maximum output voltage is -1 dBu.

Inside the TLM 67, Neumann is using surface mount technology similar to that in the TLM 103. As such, the insides are very tidy. Selfnoise is not a problem. The TLM 67 sounds even quieter than its quoted figures. The figure of eight nulls are very deep. The omni is mildly beamy at high frequencies, but most are. The cardioid is fairly wide.

In any of its three patterns, the TLM 67 doesn’t sound particularly thick or “tubey” to me. It’s crisp and clear, with just a hint of something going on in the lower mids or upper bass. I think it’s probably better not get too caught up in the tube/not tube thing and, instead, listen to how the TLM 67 makes things sound in its own right.

The TLM 67 is smoother than the TLM 49 I reviewed a few years ago. There’s less proximity effect than I expected in either the cardioid or figure of eight pattern. Normally I have to pull out some low end when I work a mic at about three inches for voiceover. Not so much with the TLM 67. The low end is more balanced and there’s only a small presence lift, which means the source cuts though without getting edgy. After briefly auditioning the TLM 67 on my own voice, I felt comfortable using on “real work”; a recording of someone else’s voice for a narration and a workout with one of my voiceover students.

I found that it wasn’t what the TLM 67 brought to the party I liked as much as what it didn’t; no nasty edges, no hyped bottom or top, just a clean and balanced sound. If you want a mic “with character”, I’m not sure what that means other than a mic that changes the way things really sound. Sure, there’s a case to be made for that kind of creativity, but I find it’s frequently a ploy to cover up design inadequacies. The TLM 67 is not inadequate.

On my D28S Martin and 314 Taylor, I liked the high-pass filter on because these instruments have a plenty of LF energy. If you have thin sounding sources that you’re trying to beef up a bit, then run without the filter. I found recordings of both guitars were accurate and with nice attention to mid range detail.

From this relatively light workout, I went further, micing my vintage pre-CBS Fender Vibrolux and strapping on my ’72 thinline Tele to record some nasty rhythm tracks. Using the TLM 67's figure of eight pattern, I found a good spot about six inches from the cabinet that gave me a nice chunk, good mids and a nice clean top. I didn’t need the high-pass filter, but did need the 10 dB pad, even though the Vibrolux was only cranked up to 2 3/4 out of 10. The TLM 67 captured that classic slightly overdriven Vibrolux tubey edge very accurately, without adding any edge of its own. Later I had the Vobrolux volume up to “7” and the TLM 67 took it very easily with no breakup.

For about 6 years, I’ve been suggesting that mic design needed to change because, with good digital recording, the extra HF boost needed to overcome analog tape HF loss is no longer needed. The TLM 67 does exactly that. It’s audibly more linear, more neutral, than the U 87, with more attention to the mid range. Pricey at $3,858 with EA 87 suspension mount (about  $2,600 street, $2,300 without suspension mount). 
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