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This article was originally published in issue #29
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I like microphones. You can reasonably expect a decent analogue mic to last a lifetime without worrying about operating system or interface upgrades turning it into a paperweight, and that means that there’s some point in investing in good quality kit and looking after it.
If you need a microphone to do one specific job really well (and accept that it may be pretty bad on some other things) then you’ve got a bit of work to do for yourself; select a number of mics that fit your budget and try them with THAT voice or THAT guitar, perhaps in your own studio, and listen for yourself for one that has the glimmer.
A great multi-purpose mic, on the other-hand, will tend to have a mostly neutral sound that slightly flatters most things that it’s pointed at. It takes some experience to get to grips with these mics, and the first recording session is often followed by a bit of an “oh, is that it?” moment, when stars don’t shoot out of the speakers and we realise that we’re actually hearing just a “nice” version of what we put-in. Given time and use, these are the mics that often end-up being used on every session, and I believe that the Sennheiser Mk8 is one of them.
Back in GI issue 22 I reviewed the stunningly pretty Sennheiser MK4 microphone and noted that it has a “Hi Fi real” sound to it - it’s in that “neutral plus a bit flattering” list, (and it also happens to be the best microphone I’ve ever used to record my daughter’s vocals). Well the Mk8 is the Mk4’s bigger, better equipped new playmate, so what’s it got?
Actually, the Mk8 is the Mk4’s identically sized, better equipped new playmate, because Sennheiser has managed to squeeze the dual, one inch, gold spattered, shock-mounted capsules, along with five switchable polar patterns, three levels of switchable trim, and two levels of low frequency roll-off, into an enclosure that appears to be identical except for the three switches around the back. What they’ve done is to make a very flexible mic even more so.
For me, the really exciting new feature is the choice of five selectable polar patterns, from full-omni (records from all around) through various types of cardioid (rejection of sound from the back) to figure-of-8 (records front and back equally with strong rejection to the sides). I used the mic for spoken word and sung vocal, as a room mic for a full band session, as a mono overhead, a kick-drum mic, on acoustic guitar and on several electric guitar cabs, trying different polar patterns to either focus on the sound that I did want, or to cut the sound I didn’t. It worked well on everything (not great up-close on dirty guitar cabs - I rarely use LDCs for this - but very nice as a distance mic about six feet back from the cab).
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sound doesn’t get unduly phasey as you move around the edges of the polar patterns, and it has a reasonably consistent quality across the different selections (bearing in mind that the different patterns are picking up different parts of the sound in the room and experience different amounts of proximity effect). You might expect that all multi-pattern mics would just work this way; they don’t, it takes good design and engineering, and it’s one of those things that makes a better mic worth paying for.
You also get low-cut filters at 60 and 100Hz which cover both bottom-end rumble and proximity effect bass-bloom on close-mic positions and the -20 and -10dB pads are useful for trimming the output to suit your pre-amps (mine coped fine at the flat setting at the levels I used the mic at so I didn’t really do much with these).
I really like the original Mk4, it has a quality that makes it an easy and safe go-to when you just need to get recording but the Mk8 takes the flexibility to a new level, and if you’re not used to multi-pattern mics you can simply start-out with it set to cardioid as a grab-and-go setting and experiment from there. If you’ve used a Mk4, I’ll mention that I did notice a couple of differences; levels from the twin-capsule Mk8 are a little lower than the Mk4, and although the Mk4 is described as having a cardioid pattern, I thought that the Mk8 cardioid sound was a little darker with the super-cardioid setting being more subjectively similar.
The microphone market is pretty-well saturated at all levels, from mics that cost as much as a takeaway to ones that cost as much as a car. At some point you need to decide how much a microphone can be worth to you; will you use it a couple of times a year for hobby recording, or will it need to stand-up to constant every-day use? If you’ve got a space in the mic locker for a high quality, German made workhorse mic then stick the Mk8 on your shortlist.