Paul White studio‑tests Sennheiser's new range of affordable vocal microphones to see if they really can give the established models a run for their money.
Sennheiser are one of the big names in microphone manufacture, but like all the other big names, they've chosen to launch a budget range in order to capture a larger share of the cost‑conscious gigging musician and home studio market. Launched at the Los Angeles NAMM show at the start of the year, the complete Evolution Series comprises 10 models, six of which are dedicated vocal mics, the E825s, E835, E835s, E845, E845s and E855. An "s" suffix simply means the model has a switch, so only the E825s, E835, E845 and E855 are reviewed here. For recording and miking instruments, there are also the E602, E604, E608 and E609 models, which we'll be checking out in a separate review.
Despite the fact that the lowest model in the range is extremely inexpensive, all the mics are finished to the same high standard of engineering and feature a heavy, blue/grey metallic‑painted body combined with a very tough wire basket that can be unscrewed for cleaning. Virtually every mic manufacturer claims to have done something special in the way of capsule damping to minimise handling noise and Sennheiser are no exception. The handling noise is acceptably low for live use but, as ever, hand‑held use is not recommended in the studio as some low‑frequency noise still gets through.
Each of the vocal mics comes in a presentation box complete with soft plastic zip‑up pouch and a stand clip, but the cable is not supplied. All the models in the Evolution series have a low impedance balanced output on a conventionally wired XLR connector.
The cardioid E825s is unashamedly an entry‑level cardioid vocal microphone, but you wouldn't guess its price from looking at it, or from listening to it for that matter.
Origin Of A Species
The fact that most vocal microphones now look very much alike is a result of evolution — a tapered handle with a ball‑shaped wire grille on top is easy to handle, it looks OK and it protects the capsule from physical damage as well as affording some protection against breath blasts that cause popping. Occasionally, mic designers try to break away from the 'ball on a stick' norm by using an egg‑shaped basket or by flattening the the top of the basket, and something of the sort has been tried here. While the baby of the series, the E825(s) has a traditional appearance, the remaining three vocal mics have flat topped baskets.
The cardioid E825s is unashamedly an entry‑level cardioid vocal microphone, but you wouldn't guess its price from looking at it, or from listening to it for that matter. It has the smooth lines and impeccable finish of a top‑quality European microphone. Of the Evolution vocal mics, it has the most restricted frequency response, specified as 80Hz to 15kHz, augmented by a broad, gentle presence peak centred around 6kHz. This lends the sound a slightly middly quality, but it's not excessively nasal or unnatural and actually cuts through extremely well in a crowded mix. The switch operates smoothly and is positioned so as to make unintentional operation unlikely.
The cardioid E835 has a similar shaped body, but this time the basket has a flat top. The frequency response is rather wider than that of the E825s, at a quoted 40Hz to 16kHz, but it still has a solid sound that projects well. It's also electrically more efficient than the E825s, producing a noticeably higher output for the same input. As with most vocal mics, there is a presence peak, though it's actually quite subtle sounding, so once again the result is fairly natural.
Unlike the previous two models, the E845 has a supercardioid polar pattern. This is designed to help reduce spill and feedback under live performance conditions, but may also help in the studio when you have two or more players working at the same time and you want to keep the spill level down. As with all hypercardioid mics, there's a rear‑pointing lobe that makes it more sensitive to sounds coming at it directly from behind than a regular cardioid, so you need to be aware of where the rear of the mic is pointing.
Again the response is 40Hz to 16kHz, and this time the presence boost is between 4kHz and 5kHz and is fairly gentle, which avoids the nasal honkiness some vocal mics produce. The overall tonality isn't much different to that of the E835, and if I had to compare it with the ubiquitous Shure SM58, I'd say it was slightly more open and brighter sounding, but otherwise not dissimilar.
Also featuring the flattened‑basket styling of the previous two models, the supercardioid E855 is the top vocal mic of the range. Itsfrequency response extends from 60Hz to 18kHz, and a slightly modified presence peak gives the mic a little more clarity under difficult conditions, but without sacrificing warmth and depth. In deference to the superiority of this mic, it comes without a switch.
As you might expect, the performance improves as you move up the range, but the entry level E825(s) works a lot better than you'd imagine it would for the price. It's a little less sensitive than the other mics in the range, but it actually sounds quite natural, and once you get close up the proximity effect provides the necessary warmth. This would be a suitable mic for vocal recording on budget multitrackers and similar systems, as well as being an acceptably good live vocal mic, though it also works well on electric instruments such as guitar amps.
As soon as you move up to the E835, the sound warms up a little and the efficiency improves, while at the same time the middly character is reduced. It's always hard to describe the way a mic sounds, but I did direct comparisons with a number of other dynamic models, and found that the overall character came close to that of my ageing SM58, but with slightly less low end warmth and better high end detail.
The two supercardioid models performed extremely well, which isn't surprising considering they're at the more expensive end of the price scale, but there's generally little benefit in using a supercardioid for vocal work in the studio as the timbre can change as the singer moves relative to the mic while performing. Even so, the E855 sounded exceptionally nice, and as with all the mics in the range, it doubles quite happily as an instrument mic.
The dynamic microphone market is hugely competitive, and there's also a lot of inertia that tends to push people towards buying tried and trusted models. Occasionally, however, a new range comes along that pushes the boundaries a bit further. Being honest, I don't think that, measured by performance alone, the Evolution range really does offer anything new, but what it does achieve is a remarkable balance of build quality and performance at a very attractive price.
Most dynamic vocal mics are designed with the live market in mind, and these are no exception, but they all work fine for recording, even the budget E825. If you're looking for quality dynamic mics but don't have a big budget, then the Evolution range should meet your needs and exceed your expectations.
- Clean, articulate sound.
- Excellent build quality.
- Cheaper model lacks a little warmth.
Sennheiser have managed to built a properly engineered, good sounding range of microphones starting at a very aggressive price. The intense competition between microphone manufacturers means that only the fittest models will survive in the marketplace, but from what I've seen, the Evolution range is in with a very good chance.
E825 £50; E835 £70; E835s £80; E845 £90; E845s £100; E855 £130. All prices include VAT.