* Prices may differ from that shown
The Neumann u87 is in no way a budget microphone, with a price tag of £1500 most people will not be able to afford one as it is quite an investment. However if money is no object or you have saved up enough here are some of my personal experiences with this mic along with some technical info which may persuade or dissuade you from getting it.
The u87 is a large diaphragm condenser mic. The condenser aspect of the mic means a charge is applied to the diaphragm and changes in current are measured rather than the excursions made by the diaphragm like in dynamic mics. This means the mic is sensitive much more so than dynamic mics. The mic has three separate polar patterns cardioid which picks up mainly at the front, bi-directional (figure of 8) which picks up front and back and lastly omnidirectional which picks up 360 degrees.
The construction of the mic is very classy with its metal chassis and a soft grill protecting the diaphragm. The U87 also comes in a very nice wooden box. I would suggest you purchase a bespoke cradle for the mic to sit in as it is quite chunky and you will have a hard time fitting it into a normal clip.
The sound of this mic is either amazing or uninspiring depending on what you want. If you want a super realistic representation of what has been recorded this mic will be right for you. This mic is so sensitive upon replaying the recorded part, provided played back through decent speakers, the original and recorded event will sound identical. Which is great however if you have ever used a tube microphone you hear extra tone on recording from the mic itself. This extra character is missing from this mic, you are left with a very good sound reproducer, nothing extra is added.
Having recently finished a degree in music technology at leeds metropolitan university! i had the pleasure of using all of their very high standard equipment and studios for the 3 years that i was there.
There was always a lot of choice and for the first year i really just experimented with different microphones. I mainly recorded chilled acoustic tracks. After i read that jeff buckley used a u87 on his album grace (one of my favourite albums) I thought i have to try out this mic.
To my suprise the studios had one and i began experimenting with it. I was very impressed with the smoothness and clarity of the vocals, and i soon started using it every time i did vocals in the studio.
The u87 is an industry standard microphone for a reason, if you can afford to purchase one you will not regret it as the sound quality is brilliant!
With a wide selection of microphones on the market there can be difficulty choosing the right one. This will give an insight into the Neumann U87Ai and whether it would be a suitable purchase.
Section 1: How It Works
1.1 Capacitor/Condenser Technology
The Neumann U87Ai uses capacitor technology making it a condenser microphone. The microphone has a moveable diaphragm positioned parallel to a fixed back plate both of which are charged creating a capacitor. A sound wave is created when vibrations cause the diaphragm to move. Sound On Sound magazine states "The electrical capacitance of the capsule changes whenever variations in air pressure cause the distance between the diaphragm and backplate." (White, P. 1998). This then creates a charge to make a signal. Depending on how much the diaphragm moves will depend on how much charge is stored within the capacitor. Paul White then follows to say "This small signal voltage is amplified by circuitry within the microphone." The actual diaphragm is microns thick making it very light and sensitive. For all of this to happen the capsule needs charge from a source as it cannot create its own power, therefore phantom power is needed.
1.2 Phantom Power
Phantom power is a +48 volt charge given from a source to power a microphone. Having a separate power source makes the microphone smaller and lighter. F. Rumsey and T. McCormick explain if the microphone needed to power itself it would consist of having more wires built in (F, Rumsey, T, McCormick. 2009).
Section 2: Microphone Features
2.1 Polar Patterns
The Neumann U87Ai comes with a choice of three different polar patterns selectable from a three way switch.
Omni-directional responds as best as it can for 360 degrees. 'Sound Engineering Explained' states, "...to respond to sound waves arriving from behind (180), the sound wavelengths must be appreciably longer than the dimensions of the microphone if they are going to diffract round it." (Talbot-Smith, M. 2002, p.45). Therefore any sound sources coming from behind will drop in level when higher frequencies are reached resulting in a duller sound.
Being able to pick up from all directions however, emphasizes the room in which the recording is taking place, without the need for multiple mikes.
The cardioid pattern has a strong response at the front which eventually goes close to zero response at the back, making it perfect for close miking and avoiding bleed-through from other instruments. This is ideal for vocal situations if a dead recording is wanted.
Bidirectional, also known as figure-of-eight, allows the sound source to get to both sides of the capacitor in the microphone making it possible to have a high signal from both the front and rear, but very little at the sides. This is an ideal pattern for situations in radio with a speaker on either side of the microphone.
2.2 Frequency Range
The frequency of the mike matches that of the human ear ranging from 20Hz to 20KHz. This adds warmth to vocals with lows and low mids.. However it also has a great high frequency range being able to pick up breathe and air from vocals, or sparkle from cymbals or acoustic instruments.
With an omni pattern, it starts with a 5dB cut at 20Hz then quickly flattens out, until it gets to the 5KHz where it raises about 5dB until 15KHz. The cardioids pattern starts lower with about an 8dB cut from 0 at 20Hz and peaking a little later at 7KHz making it a good choice for cymbals. Finally the bidirectional starts at -10dB with only a slight rise of about 2dB at 3.5KHz but with a longer time to flatten out from the start, not reaching 0dB until 150Hz.
2.3 Other Features
* Sound pressure level (SPL) of 127dB making it suitable for most recording situations except some extremes such as kick drums.
* 10dB attenuation switch on the microphone so if a sound source does have a high SPL will not distort as much with the pad on.
* Low frequency roll-off switch up to 50Hz. This can be used to prevent rumbles such as from microphone stands.
Section 3: Summary
* A wide frequency range being able to record lows for warmth as well as bright recordings such as cymbals.
* Very versatile getting used in many applications from studio, radio, live and used on a variety of instruments.
* Selectable polar patterns giving a greater choice when recording depending on the application.
* Attenuation and roll-off filters idea for getting rid of rumble noise or recording sources with a higher SPL.
* A high output with such sensitivity from the capacitor makes less need for gain on the preamp, resulting in less noise added to the recording.
* Very high priced due to capacitor technology used and construction.
* Fragile and can easily be broken due to sensitivity of the capsule. This leads to very expensive parts and costs for repair.
* A lot of competition on the market with microphones make very similar but extremely cheap in comparison.
* May pickup any unwanted background noise due to sensitivity which adds noise to the track compared to a dynamic microphone.
If price is not a worry then it makes a perfect versatile microphone for studio use. Being able to be used on a huge range of instruments makes it cheaper than many different purchases. With such a wide frequency range it also has a great character with both highs and lows. If price is a problem however being that its RRP is around £1,500-£2,000, it is not a recommended microphone due to cost of purchase and repair.