There’s something for everyone in beyerdynamic’s classic M Series microphone range.
In the 38 years this magazine has existed, its pages have paid witness to many seismic changes in music recording. Yet there are still products that SOS has never reviewed — because they’ve been around for even longer than we have. When Sound On Sound was launched in 1985, beyerdynamic’s M 160 ribbon microphone was already approaching its 30th birthday, and the M 88 and M 201 dynamics were also established classics.
Some time in the 1990s, the M Series microphones were folded into beyerdynamic’s TG line, which was targeted at live sound — the TG stood variously for ‘touring group’ or ‘touring gear’. One or two have fallen by the wayside, notably the M 69 stage vocal mic and the M 380 kick‑drum mic, but the core line‑up has remained in continuous production. As we saw in last month’s factory tour, they’re still largely handmade, exactly as they always have been.
The distinction between stage mics and studio mics has always been a porous one, and even in their TG incarnations, many of the M Series mics were popular choices for recording. The M 88 was Phil Collins’ vocal mic of choice, Phil Ramone used an M 160 to track Billy Joel’s singing on numerous hits, and countless instruments have made their way to tape through one or other of these mics.
In recognition of this, beyerdynamic have now refreshed and re‑branded the M Series. The microphones themselves are unchanged, but they’re no longer being marketed primarily at live sound applications. The M Series mics are now being positioned primarily as studio tools, with smart new paint jobs to suit. So this seems a good time for a very belated Sound On Sound review!
There is a total of seven microphones in the M Series. The odd one out is the MM 1, an omnidirectional back‑electret microphone intended primarily for measurement. This is equalised for a flat response in the diffuse field, so exhibits a high‑frequency boost when used close up on‑axis, and a flat response at 90 degrees off‑axis; you can request on‑axis and 90‑degree off‑axis calibration files for your individual mic free of charge from beyerdynamic. However, as it uses a miniature capsule, self‑noise is sufficiently high that you probably wouldn’t choose it for typical recording tasks.
The other two capacitor models, by contrast, are right at home in the studio. They are the MC 930 and MC 950, both true‑capacitor, small‑diaphragm ‘pencil’ mics. These are identical in many ways, and both have a switchable high‑pass filter and 15dB pad, engaged using recessed slide switches on the side of the body. The key difference is that the MC 930 is cardioid and the MC 950 is supercardioid — they are not modular, so the capsules cannot be swapped around. The MC 930 is available as a matched pair, but not the 950.
The M Series also includes two moving‑coil dynamic microphones. The M 201 and M 88 are both hypercardioid models, and on paper, they have similar specifications. In practice, as we’ll see, they are quite different. The M 88 is a large and rugged mic with a relatively broad diaphragm, surrounded by a strong mesh headbasket. The M 201 more closely resembles the MC pencil mics, and has an unusually small capsule.
Last, but very much not least, are the two passive ribbon mics in the range. The M 160 and M 130 are the oldest designs in the M Series, and they’re still unique even today thanks to the ‘double ribbon’ technology pioneered by beyerdynamic back in the ’50s. By stacking two ribbons on top of one another, the designers were able to miniaturise the ribbon motor whilst retaining a decent level of sensitivity. As well as being unusually compact, the M 160 is also notable for being one of the very few ribbon mics that doesn’t have a figure‑8 pickup pattern.