Beyerdynamic's range of microphones has grown at a very healthy rate over the last year or so. Hugh Robjohns provides a first opinion on their new general‑purpose studio condenser, the MCE90.
Beyerdynamic launched the MCE90 at the end of 1998, and their literature describes it as a general‑purpose side‑fire studio condenser cardioid microphone. It has been designed and priced to compete with popular alternatives such as the AKG C3000 and Audio Technica AT4033. In fact the new Beyer looks very similar to both of these mics, and though it costs a little more than the AKG, it's considerably cheaper than the AT model.
The microphone is supplied in a strong black plastic carrying case with a foam insert providing a great deal of security and protection. Also within the case is an elastic shockmount stand adaptor and the product information sheets. I don't suppose too many people bother to review the information sheets but they do, at least, allow me to inform you that the microphone weighs a modest 375g, is 160mm long and measures 57mm in diameter at the head. The stalk at the base of the microphone measures 25mm and houses the output XLR.
The microphone is presented in an unobtrusive gunmetal grey paint with a silk‑matt finish and a logo indicating the front. Under the base of the head section are two small slide switches and the serial number plate. These switches can only be adjusted with the aid of a pen or other small pointy implement; one inserts a 15dB attenuator and the second a 100Hz high‑pass filter — both standard facilities to be expected on a microphone of this type. Within the protective wire mesh grille is a thin layer of foam shaped as a dome, which adds considerably to the wind and pop resistance. The small side‑firing 15mm capsule is mounted on a slender stalk, with its centre just below the mid point of the grille.
The MCE90 requires between 12 and 48 Volts of phantom power to operate its internal head amplifier, but as the transducer is described as a back‑electret in the technical specifications, it presumably does not require electrical polarisation. That being the case, I would question the marketing use of the description 'condenser microphone' since most people understand that to mean a microphone employing an electrically polarised capsule, and the description used could therefore mislead as to the true nature of the microphone.
The polar response of the mic is extremely good, showing a very well controlled cardioid response between 250Hz and 4KHz. As expected, the response opens out at the rear for the lower frequencies, but still manages 15dB of rejection compared with the on‑axis sound. At high frequencies the polar pattern becomes rather more wobbly with 'bulges' in sensitivity at roughly 60 degrees, 100 degrees and 130 degrees off axis. The first two of these bulges are typically 2.5dB more sensitive than the mid‑band cardioid response for the same angles, but the bulges at 130 and 230 degrees are about 5dB more sensitive and resemble the lobes of a hypercardioid microphone.
In practice, these polar response variations with frequency (which are inherent with any directional microphone design) mean that if a sound source is allowed to go off‑axis to the microphone, the high‑frequency elements of the sound will vary slightly in level. This effect might be particularly noticeable if a pair of MCE 90s were being used for a coincident stereo recording of a particularly mobile band of musicians or actors in a radio play, but for normal studio close‑miking applications it is, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant.
The frequency response extends from 30Hz to 20kHz, although the bottom end starts to droop fairly rapidly from around 45Hz. The plot supplied in the product information leaflet suggests the response is ruler‑flat to 4KHz and then exhibits a series of mild fluctuations up to 20KHz. These form part of the character of the mic, with subtle lifts at 4.5, 8 and 12KHz, and equally small suck‑outs at 6.5 and 10KHz — the kind of variations which complement some sources but detract from others!
As an aside here, can anyone tell me why virtually all microphone manufacturers insist on plotting frequency responses on graphs with a +/‑16dB range, when the shown variation in response is typically less than 4dB? It might make the trace look ruler‑flat, but it is entirely pointless and not very helpful!
And now back to the plot... The high‑pass filter introduces a 6dB/octave cut below 100Hz (which gets steeper at lower frequencies as the electronic filter interacts with the mechanical filtering of the transducer itself). However, it also tilts the rest of the frequency response, lifting the range above 2kHz by roughly 3dBs, adding a degree of presence boost. The filter is intended to compensate for the inherent bass boost effect when the source is in very close proximity to the mic, as well as to help remove low‑frequency vibrations or wind noise.
The microphone outputs a healthy 10 milliVolts per Pascal and the self noise is 16dB (A) SPL — there are quieter mics around, but not many in this price range. At the other end of the scale, the MCE90 can handle sound pressure levels of up to 139dB without the pre‑attenuator switched in, and an enormous 154dB with it engaged. I certainly wouldn't want to be adjusting a microphone in front of a source generating that kind of level!
What all these specifications and figures mean is that this microphone can be used for virtually anything and everything. Beyerdynamic intended it to be used for a full range of applications in the home or project studio, as well as in the broadcast market, where falling budgets rule out the traditional expensive recording‑studio grade of transducers.
Rigging and adjusting the microphone presented no problems at all, and the completed assembly looks quite impressive. I used the mic in a variety of applications — as a presenter mic in a radio broadcast studio, for close miking on singing voices, and all manner of miking techniques on a wide range of soloists, including guitar and trumpet.
One of the most telling tests of any audio device is to listen to speech, because mechanical or electronic coloration introduced by the device under test tends to be very obvious — this applies equally to loudspeakers, equalisers, processors and microphones. We are all experts at listening to the human voice, we do it all day every day, and anything unnatural tends to grab the attention!
So my first tests were with a very familiar voice in normal speech. On axis, the mic sounded bright and wispy, tending to emphasise sibilants and the clicking of lips. Deliberately moving off axis just a little around the front of the mic (as a vocalist might tend to do) did not alter the sound quality to any significant degree. However, moving further around the sides revealed the small high‑frequency response variations indicated in the manufacturer's polar plots — quite pronounced peaks and troughs of HF sensitivity which were very obvious with a moving source.
On musical sources these frequency response anomalies were far less apparent, although the brightness was a characteristic which several listeners commented on (both positively and negatively, depending on the application). Repositioning the microphone always allowed the desired spectral balance to be found, however, and there were several occasions where the impression of detail which the microphone conveys helped the sound to cut through in a mix without needing equalisation.
The shockmount worked extraordinarily well, with virtually no vibration being transmitted to the capsule when the microphone stand was tapped, and the microphone also proved to be quite resistant to wind blasting and popping when used at a distance of six inches or more from a spoken voice or eight inches from a singer. The bass cut and attenuator switches both performed as expected, although I found the extra degree of top‑lift introduced when the bass cut is engaged rather unnecessary.
Overall, then, the MCE90 is a versatile microphone suited to a very wide range of applications. Although it does have a tendency towards a bright sound, this is not necessarily a bad thing as long as the microphone is positioned carefully. The shockmount is also surprisingly effective and a very welcome inclusion in the standard kit. Beyer have priced the MCE90 very keenly, and I'm sure it will give the competition something to think about. However, I would recommend potential purchasers compare it carefully with other mics in the price bracket (ideally in typical recording sessions) because although it will undoubtedly suit many users, others could find it a difficult microphone to live with.
The supplied EA90/MKV8 shockmount consists of a pair of concentric black plastic rings. The outer one measures roughly 100mm in diameter, with a stub arm carrying the stand adapter. This is a plastic device with a 5/8‑inch thread, but is fitted with a removable metal 3/8‑inch adapter ring. The knuckle joint allows adjustment over a vertical arc of around 170 degrees, and was nice and stiff on the review model — easily able to hold the microphone in any desired position. However, there is no obvious way of tightening the grip should it loosen with use.
The inner ring has three springy ratchet clips which latch into a recessed ring on the body of the microphone, holding it very securely but allowing it to be rotated within the shockmount if required. The inner and outer rings of the shockmount are linked by six rubber O‑rings which are located in grooves on each part of the assembly. The O‑rings are mounted such that they extend to the brackets on the inner ring alternately above and below the outer ring, thus providing firm and resilient support. In fact the arrangement has considerably more compliance in the horizontal plane than the vertical, but appeared to be very effective in practice.
- Stylish looks.
- Effective shockmount.
- Resistant to wind blasting and popping.
- Accurate mid‑band cardioid polar response.
- Ability to handle high SPLs.
- Tendency to sound bright.
- High‑frequency anomalies in polar pattern.
A versatile cardioid microphone with an effective shockmount but a tendency towards brightness.