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December 23, 2012 / Randy Coppinger

Mic #1 Answer

Yes, the ubiquitous Neumann u87 was the correct answer to Name That Mic #1. The microphone supports three polar patterns: omni, cardioid, and bidirectional. There’s a low rolloff (that doesn’t sound very good), and a -10dB pad (that doesn’t sound very good). Stephen Paul told me that a u87 likes to see a transformer input. I thought he was full of crap, but I’ve learned from experience he was right: a microphone preamp with a transformer input tends to sound better than a transformerless input on this mic. Sure, a u87 costs a lot of money, but it sounds good on almost anything.

Enjoy some more glamour shots of the u87. Click any image to enlarge.

Neumann u87 condenser microphone front view with logo in spider shockmount

Neumann u87 condenser microphone rear view with mic element reflection and spider shockmount

Neumann u87 condenser microphone profile view with mic element reflection and spider shockmount

Hear this microphone in action: Neumann u87 vs. Studio Projects, Neumann u87 vs. Gefell UMT 70, Stephanie Sheh AT5040 / U87 Mic Comparison

Follow this WordPress blog, or via Twitter or Facebook to to guess all of the microphones in this series.

Explore Neumann microphones (English).

Index to the whole Name That Mic series.

5 Comments

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  1. Slau / Dec 29 2012 12:16 pm

    Hey Randy,

    Your mention of Stephen Paul’s comment about the U 87 doing better with a transformer-coupled preamplifier caught my attention. It’s one of those things one files in the back of their mind somewhere: U 87s like to see a transformer-coupled pre. I’ve accessed that bit of data numerous times, never knew exactly where I had first heard it—perhaps school, perhaps another engineer—and I certainly repeated the concept on occasion. Our friend, Matt McGlynn, made it a point to say that he remembered me telling him this and I swear I don’t remember that but I gladly took the credit for the pearl of wisdom I somehow transmitted.

    That said, I never questioned the logic. So, the U 87 “likes to see a transformer-coupled preamplifier.” Why would that be? Would a transformerless mic pre be so bad? What is it about the transformer that would make the U 87 sound appreciably “better?” It shouldn’t change its frequency response, right? Or does it?If so, how much? Has anybody measured that? Does the manufacturer specify what they use when testing the mic? Is it the transient response that’s affected? I can’t imagine that would really be the case, at least not perceivably.

    To be honest, I can’t remember if I’ve ever actually put a U 87 through a transformer-coupled pre. I know I’m not particularly fond of the U 87 in general. I’ve never liked its sound when I’ve used it. Perhaps I should make it a point to try it through a bit of iron, eh?

    Curious to hear your thoughts.
    🙂

    • Randy Coppinger / Dec 30 2012 12:04 am

      Thanks for bringing this up, Slau. I think the short answer to, “Why would that be?” is because when the u87 was designed a mic preamp was expected to have a transformer input. I don’t believe there were any other options at the time (and if there were, they were considered rare).

      “Would a transformerless mic pre be so bad?” In my experience, yes. I used a Martech MSS-10 for over 10 years and I love the way it sounds with most mikes. But for the u87 I found the transformer coupled input of the Focusrite Red 8 sounded excellent, and the MSS-10 sounded harsh and awful.

      I’m not sure exactly why the transformer sounds better, nor have I tested every transformer coupled preamp against every transformerless preamp using the u87 to determine that this recommendation can be applied universally. But if you use an u87 in some situation and it sounds harsh on top, feel free to evaluate the preamp for a transformer and decide if that is a contributing factor.

      Another tidbit I picked up about u87s is that they like to see a full 48 volts phantom power. Many mikes are forgiving and may work fine well under 40 volts, but the u87 is very picky about it. If you are using an u87 and it distorts easily, try measuring the voltage of the phantom power on your preamp. If it isn’t a full 48 volts, the failure is the preamp, not the mic. I’ve been in sessions where an older console preamp was out of spec and the distortion was terrible. Most newer outboard preamps will not have any problem delivering 48 volts, but if an u87 easily distorts on an older and/or cheap preamp, suspect the phantom power.

      • Slau / Dec 30 2012 1:54 pm

        Hi Randy,

        As much as I enjoy getting into the minutiae of the interplay of gear, I’m just as likely to take a “who cares” attitude and just move on. As I mentioned, I’m not a fan of the U 87 to begin with. I find it to be too annoying in the upper mids. Of course, I realize that many people have used it quite successfully and with great results. I’m skeptical that a transformer-coupled preamp is necessarily the secret. Naturally, it could be one of many factors, not the least of which is simply the match between source and mic.

        I will surely make an attempt to finally practice what I’ve absent-mindedly preached all these years and try the U 87 through a transformer-coupled pre. Who knows, if it’s just the right source for the 87, I might even change my mind about the mic 🙂

        Always a pleasure,

        Slau

  2. Randy Coppinger / Dec 30 2012 5:40 pm

    I agree Slau — theory is helpful when you need it, but no need to get bogged down by it. I am certainly no crusader for the u87; I think there are plenty of other great sounding mikes available. However, for those with access to a u87, it seems useful to discuss how to make the most of one.

    More generally, the interaction between microphones and the preamps we plug them into can have a significant, noticeable effect. I like the ability to improve the performance of a microphone by choosing an appropriate preamp for a given sound source. Just like I believe there is no single, perfect microphone, I likewise believe there is not a one-size-fits-all preamp. The iron an an API 512 sounds awesome for rock drums, but I might want something more transparent and airy to record a string section.

    In the last decade I’ve enjoyed simplified “ribbon” paths in preamplifiers that eliminate the circuitry used to keep phantom power out of the signal path. Dynamic mikes don’t need it, so why not bypass it? I think the difference is probably subtle compared with the decision to use a transformer on the input, but I appreciate the intent.

    Ultimately, I champion the idea to use the tools that get the desired results: microphones, preamps, lava lamps, whatever. I like to discuss the details because *sometimes* out of the way ideas help find a sonic result when the usual approaches fail. Or as GI Joe put it, “Knowing is half the battle.”

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