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Field Report: Neumann KMS 105
Neumann's recent addition to the stage micro phone category has provided the broadcaster with a new and effective tool. The Neumann KMS 105 is a handheld supercardioid condenser mic. It's the latest advancement in the line that goes back to the Neumann K 50 capsule used in the earlier KMS 150 handheld and the KM 185. The designers have devoted particular thought to the special requirements of the stage vocalist: ruggedness, resistance to popping and wind noise, and reduced suceptibility to feedback. That thought has paid off and lends itself well to handheld radio applications.
|Performance at a glance
The KMS 105 performs with virtually no handling noise, is comfortable to hold, and has a very solid feel. Though this Neumann is about the same size (slightly longer) as other popular handheld mics, it weighs about 30 percent more. I won't give the embarrassing details, but it also passed the “Oops! Uh-oh…,” drop-test I occasionally perform.
The 105 is designed to be worked closely, and careful and innovative attention has been paid to the design of the integral pop filter system. Unlike most other mics, no foam elements are used in its windscreen. Instead, four mesh baskets constructed of differing gauge wire are stacked in the head assembly in an effort to eliminate plosive blasts without altering natural tone color. The effort is successful, although as we'll discuss later, nothing is perfect.
There are no pads, roll-offs or other switches on the KMS 105. They're not necessary. Very little will overwhelm the mic volume-wise: maximum input sound pressure level is 150dB (THD 0.5%) and self-noise is rated at 18dB-A, which computes to a dynamic range of 132dB. Directional hand-held mics are worked fairly closely, and proximity effect can cause boominess and bass build-up. The KMS 105 compensates with an always-on bass reduction circuit that attenuates bass response in the free field but keeps things flat when the announcer goes right up on top of the mic. (Put differently, the mic is built bass-shy, until proximity raises response up to normal.) A slight presence bump just 4dB at about 12KHz gives the mic a little air.
The mic's supercardioid pattern is tight but not overly so, unlike other mics possessed of a maddeningly elusive sweet spot. Staying on-mic was never an issue for our test subjects. With onstage monitors, the narrower pattern helps provide a higher level of feedback protection. The 105 really gets the job done with its remarkably even, and therefore predictable, off-axis response.In the studio
A vocal performance is an excellent test for a handheld mic, because singers typically provide a greater dynamic and frequency range than a radio announcer. Our first stop was the performance studio at KNPR in Las Vegas, where Steely Dan backup singer Victoria Cave was busy recording a set of standards with her bassist father, Jay, and his jazz trio. She graciously auditioned the mic for us, first as a handheld. This application is home turf for the KMS 105, and it performed much as expected: well-balanced and highly-detailed when worked close. We then tried the mic on a stand with the singer backed away about 18-24 inches, much as she would approach a large-diaphragm studio condenser. The built-in low frequency reduction was apparent, and we found about four inches was a good working distance.
Cutaway drawing of the mic showing the multiple mesh screens.
Off-axis coloration, so often present in directional mics, was minimal with the KMS 105. The physical setup in the studio was intimate: The group set up all in the same room, and Vickie stood just a few feet to the right of the pianist facing him, a placement allowing some piano leakage through the back side of the vocal mic. Though attenuated by the potent supercardioid pattern, the piano sound was uncolored and natural-sounding, and didn't clash with the piano mics.
I also had a chance to try the new Neumann during one of KNPR's monthly live in-studio classical music broadcasts. The format of this show calls for the host to provide live continuity from a fixed position, and I generally prefer a large-diaphragm condenser. Once per show, however, the host is supposed to walk about in-studio and interact with the performing ensemble or members of the live studio audience. The KMS 105 is ideal for this. At the appropriate time, the host turns away from the stand mic to pick up the handheld and continues for a seamless live-mic swap. The 105's decided lack of handling noise is an appreciated characteristic here. In the future, I'll probably forego the other mic entirely and use the Neumann throughout.
The compact design, rugged construction and trademark Neumann sonics all suggest this could be a strong on-air announcer mic. The list price brings it into the same general range as the most popular radio-studio dynamic mics. I also put the KMS 105 on the air for a few days at the small university station across town. Because the experience level at the volunteer station runs from veteran to novice, this trial turned out to be the acid test. In short, they loved it. The on-air staff openly appreciated the flattering new mic and didn't want to give it back. Even the general manager noticed a difference. The only problems we encountered were some pesky “P” pops from some of the most inexperienced announcers.
Granted, we didn't use an external foam windscreen (available from Neumann in six colors as an accessory), but the inevitable conclusion is that not even Neumann's new design, by itself, is a match for a novice college radio announcer. Fortunately, that's a consideration for very few.
The Neumann KMS 105 combines the sound of a condenser with the advantages of a handheld. While its primary market will be live stage reinforcement, it will also be attractive to broadcasters who seek a rugged, affordable studio-quality condenser mic that is equally at home in the air studio, the production studio, or on the road.
Brian Sanders is a morning announcer at KCRW.com, and a freelance producer based in Southern California.
Editor's note: Field Reports are an exclusive BE Radio feature for radio broadcasters. Each report is prepared by well-qualified staff at a radio station, production facility or consulting company.
These reports are performed by the industry, for the industry. Manufacturer support is limited to providing loan equipment and to aiding the author if requested.
It is the responsibility of BE Radio to publish the results of any device tested, positive or negative. No report should be considered an endorsement or disapproval by BE Radio.
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