Thursday, May 22, 2014

Getting US Service on a Neumann U 89 i

Five weeks ago during a session here in my studio, my client's head grazed the suspension mount for my Neumann U 89 i. A minor "bonk" was heard. The U89 i stopped working! My client didn't bang into it, just a slight bump and my favorite mic was gone!

I got the mic in a straight across trade for an RCA 44B ribbon mic over 15 years ago. Neither mic was new at the time. The serial number, C 615, on the Neumann seems to indicate that it has quite a few years on it. After emailing Neumann, I found out that my mic was made in 1980. Because of logos on the box, I do know it was sold by Gotham Audio in NY.

I sometimes think of the U 89 i as the "bastard step-brother" of the U 87 i or current U 87 Ai. It seldom gets the respect it's due. While I have other multi-pattern mics, I like the U 89 i for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its sound. It has a smaller diaphragm than the U 87; about 3/4" instead of 1". It has a 6dB pad and an 80 Hz and 160 Hz high pass filter. All of these have come in very handy since I've had it. It also has a flatter response and five polar patterns. It'll take 140 dB SPL with the pad in. That's more than the U 87. Both 87 and 89 have FETs and transformer outputs. Unlike the U 87s on which the diaphragm is charged, the backplate of the U 89 is charged. I always imagined that not having the diaphragm charged would reduce it's tendency to attract "schmutz."

U 89 i Omni
U 89 i wide cardioid
Here's Neumann's description of the U 89 i.  The Neumann TLM 170 and TLM 193 are based on the K89 capsule. Some people have characterized the sound as "dark." Relative to the peak in the U 87 frequency response, perhaps, but not really dark at all. I think less aggressive and more natural are better terms.

When you look at the frequency response and polar plots here, you can see the mic is very well behaved.
U 89 i cardioid
I find the U 89 i very useful on voiceover and vocals, especially those in which the singer has a peak around 6 kHz that's not very flattering.

Apparently this is more common than most people expect, or I'm getting more than my share of them here at my studio.

U 89 i Hypercardioid
The figure of eight pattern is very useful for recording guitar-playing singer songwriters.

U 89 i figure of eight
I position the U 89 i horizontally in the suspension mount and have the musician play the guitar. Then I rotate the mic in the suspension mount to null out the guitar.

I try to get them to sing straight out and position the mic about forehead high and out about a foot; angling down slightly catch their voices. This works very well unless the musician needs to look at their left hand for finger and grip changes on the guitar.

Usually, I have a CMC641 Schoeps on the guitar; aimed almost straight down and somewhere off the neck joint. That puts their voice off the back of the Schoeps. The result is improved separation; less voice in the guitar track, less guitar in the voice track. Not enough separation to apply pitch control to the vocal mic, but more than enough to do some helpful EQ unless the musician is singing REALLY LOUDLY, in which case the entire space is energized and the Schoeps picks up its share of that as well.

Anyway. When I went to the Sennheiser/Neumann web site, I found a repair link. There's also a phone number: 860-434-9190 option 2

After registering online, I was presented with two options. Send it in and wait for someone to look at it and tell me how much it would cost to repair, or send approval for up to $1200.00 USD of work to be done. Ouch! Well, wait a minute. This mic has allowed me to make a very nice living for at least 15 years when plugged into my GML and Millennia Media preamps. Even my Acura RSX needs an oil change and a tuneup at least every 10K miles.

Sennheiser's Christopher Currier
Sennheiser's Product Specialist Christopher Currier offers clarification and details for the repair process you'll find on the service website. "The amounts listed for each microphone are suggested preauthorization levels. The amount listed typically assumes a worst case scenario and would allow our technicians to work completely uninterrupted UP TO that level. 

It's the fastest and most efficient way to do things. But we get a lot of people who think it means that either a) it's a flat rate repair price - - which it's not or b) we're going to repair and replace all sorts of things that aren't needed since you've given us permission to charge up to a certain amount - - also not the case. Frankly, our Service Department is so busy that it's all about efficiency - - what's most efficient for the technician and, therefore, the customer. If a tech doesn't have to stop to give an estimate, wait for approval and then resume their work at a later date, the turnaround time is SO much faster and the tech can stay fully focused on the job at hand. And, as you've indicated here, it's not required - - customers can bypass the preauthorized amount and request an estimate."

Knowing I was going to keep the mic, I filled in my credit card info and other details and soon received a UPS sticker by email. Off it went. The shop at Sennheiser was pretty busy (Spring 2014) and turnaround time was five to six weeks. I did get a call from Mary Jo Iandoli, Service Adminsitrator at Sennheiser. She told me the capsule had died and needed to be replaced. I don't know if she calls everyone or if there's a repair cost limit above which customers are called. Mary said the repair would be $550 and change. So, not $1200! I told her to go for it. They did the work and let the circuit burn in for a day after replacement to make sure there were no other problems. About five days later, there was the sound of UPS truck brakes outside and a subsequent "thump" on my doorstep. The U 89 i had returned, along with the problematic capsule for my archives.

I was involved with other business and didn't get to it for about a day, but after plugging it back in, I determined that it sounded very close to the way it sounded before it stopped working. And I had a new audio artifact; my original capsule in a nice little box.

Somewhere, I recall the U 89 i was a less expensive than the U 87 i (or Ai). No longer. Now, both are running at $3199 with no suspension mount or around $3599 with suspension mount.

And Then………..I sent the old capsule to Jim Williams @ Audio Upgrades in Carlsbad, CA. He determined that one side of the U 89 capsule was still quite functional. He makes a board mod for the MXL MCA SP-1 and suggested that I try the U 89 capsule on that, in an SP-1 body. $262 later I have a new cardioid only mic with the U 89 capsule that sounds very nice and it's quieter than the original U 89 due to component changes on the boards inside the SP-1; scary quiet.

Jim removed one of the two layers of grille on the front side of the mic to make the sound more transparent. That opened the HF response up some and made the HF pattern more obvious. The low end is pretty big as well. The overall sensitivity is up considerably. I only need 25 dB of preamp gain for spoken word recording!

Jim still has some SP-1 that have brass shells. He says the new ones coming out are aluminum. I'm waiting to try the mic on my Martin, but wanted to report as soon as possible.

Here's a link to a wav of spoken word recorded through a GML mic pre into Pro Tools with the new mic.  or here. You have to download it to hear it.
Reach Ty Ford at
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  1. Replies
    1. Thanks!. The U89 with new capsule sounds great and the Jim Williams mod with the old U89 capsule does as well.

  2. Great info!
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    1. Thanks for stopping by Ellana, Please let me know if there are other pieces of gear you're curious about.