Saturday, April 28, 2012

Neumann TLM 103D - Intelligent Mic with A Memory

Neumann TLM 103D
The Neumann family of Solution D digital mics currently includes the TLM 103D, the flagship D-01 and the KM D series (KM 183 D, KM 184 D and KM 185 D). The TLM 103D has an internal 24/192 kHz A/D converter and channel strip DSP. The TLM 103D may be used by itself without the channel strip, if used with the connection starter kit that provides power to the mic and a simple AES output. The full blown three-part system is comprised of one or two TLM 103Ds, RCS software and the two input DMI-2 digital mic interface.  

The channel strip is accessed via high-functioning, Mac and PC-compatible RCS software. From it you can see each mic’s, pattern (if adjustable, which pattern), pre attenuation (-6, -12, -18dB), gain (0-63dB), variable low cut, de-esser, test signal with tones, comp/limiter, peak limiter, mute, polarity reversal, LED on-mic light intensity, sync, AES 42 info and other features. Settings are stored in the mic. The TLM 103D, then, is an “intelligent mic with a memory.” The DMI-2 interface can support two AES42 digital mics, each of which with it’s own preamp and channel strip.

Neumann DMI-8 interface and RCS channel strip software
The RCS software is a great idea; a software adjustable channel strip built in to each mic. There’s also an undocumented built in limiter that makes the TLM 103D virtually uncrashable. It’ll sound pretty gnarly when you push it too hard, but it’s almost impossible to flat top. The only part I’d tweek is the de-esser built into the compressor. It turns the Comp/limiter into an EQ dependent limiter with fixed 1kHz, 2kH, or 4kHz. Most of my de-essing needs are above 4 kHz. Shelving takes too much off the top. 
I first used a standard 4-foot XLR cable between the TLM 103D and the DMI-2 and an AES to S/PDIF baluns from the output of the DMI-2 to the S/PDIF input on a DIGI 002R Pro Tools LE system. That worked without problems and when I switched to a Mogami AES/EBU cable between the mic and DMI-2, I heard no difference. 
Neumann DMI-2 back panel
I put up one of my analog TLM 103 mics, using an Aphex 1100 preamp, and compared the analog TLM 103 to the digital TLM 103D. With both mics up together, I noticed that the TLM 103D was not as bright as the analog TLM103. This turned out to be brightness added by the Aphex 1100 preamp. I summed the mics together and heard some high frequency loss. After recording separate tracks into PTLE 7.4, I zoomed in and found the TLM103D was 21 samples later on the timeline than the analog TLM 103. 
I switched to a DIGI 003R using a GML mic pre and RME ADI-8 DS A/D converter together, both with and without Word Clock. By themselves, the mics sounded more similar than on the DIGI 002R rig. When I summed them to mono I could hear the phase cancellation. Relative to the DIGI 003R A/D converters, the RME ADI-8DS hit the timeline 31 samples later and the TLM 103D hit 46 samples later. Neumann reported that they too had experienced similar timeline shifts. If you know your rig, This is a minor inconvenience; similar to the one faced when trying to resolve the timing differences due to a source’s differing distances from two or more mics. 
The rest of the evaluation was uneventful and the TLM 103D performed very well. I have heard the TLM 103 sound spitty when mated with a few unflattering preamps. Not this time. Spoken word and sung vocals were crisp and clean. Using the RCS software’s high-pass filter I was able to get the TLM 103D within five inches of the sound hole of my D28S Martin to record some exceptionally nice tracks. 
I also found I could alter the thickness of the sound with the Compressor/Limiter by choosing the three different de-esser frequencies and adjusting the ratio and threshold settings.
Having owned two analog TLM 103 for a number of years, I can’t help but like the TLM 103D. Maybe you don’t already have a rack full of external preamps. Maybe you’re just starting out and want something better than the preamps and A/D conversion in a stock DAW. If you’re only adding one or two tracks at a time, The TLM 103D can make even an mBox sound better than it would otherwise. A firm digital path has been set. Others will follow.
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Ty Ford has been writing for PAR since the first issue. He no longer does. He may be reached at
Fast Facts:
Applications: Commercial Studio, Project Studio 
Features: 24/192 digital cardioid condenser mic with DSP channel strip.
Price: TLM 103D sold separately, $2,650. With a Neumann EA1 suspension mount and basic Connection Kit, $3,298.00, list. With DMI-2 interface box and RCS software $4,100. 
Neumann USA
1 Enterprise Drive
Old Lyme, CT 06371
Tel.: +1 (860) 434-9190
Fax.: +1 (860) 434-1759
Product Points:
+ 24-bit 192 digital mic, quiet, virtually clip-proof, channel strip.
- Latency issues, pricey unless you add up all the parts.

“The Score”: Inclined and designed to make analog preamps insecure and jealous.


  1. Sounds like (pardon the pun) an amazing system that sets a new standard.

  2. Yes, Mak, I think you're right. Kudos to Neumann for taking such a large step. I'm sure they never expected to sell a lot of these out of the box, but the person hours required to make this system happen were not short and the hardware manufacturing was not cheap.