It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a Gearhead post, but a conversation I was having at the office recently reminded me about a great piece of gear that deserves some attention. The Neumann KM 185 MT is a microphone that flies pretty far under the radar for video production. The Schoeps CMC6/MK41 has long been the industry standard hypercardioid microphone for capturing indoor dialog, and deservedly so. It’s an outstanding mic that you’ll find in the kit of almost any pro audio mixer worth his or her salt. This article certainly isn’t a knock on that mic, but I do think the Neumann deserves to be a part of the production audio hypercardioid conversation for a number of reasons.
Reason #1: Price Tag
Coming in at $900, it’s definitely a lot of bang for your buck, especially when you consider that a single Schoeps unit (CMC6 amplifier + MK41 capsule) is going to set you back nearly $2,000. I think one of the main reasons it’s overlooked as a production mic is that it’s traditionally used for mic-ing instruments – something that it’s certainly excellent for. What many people don’t realize is that it’s also outstanding for recording indoor dialogue, particularly if it’s mounted on a stand, just out of frame, for seated or standing interviews. The great advantage of hypercardioid mics in general is that they’re fantastic at rejecting room noise and reflected sound. If you’re in a room with lots of hard surfaces, or with air handling that can’t be turned off, it’s going to capture the subject’s voice beautifully while capturing very little of the off-axis and reflected sound, provided it’s placed nice and close to the speaker (ideally 2-3 feet away, max). Often the Neumann will even capture cleaner audio than a well-placed lav, simply because the lav is an omni by definition and picks up more of the room. We usually have both in the mix, but more often than not I find myself leaning much more heavily on the Neumann when I get into the post audio mix.
I’ll frequently see folks using shotgun mics for similar indoor scenarios. This is definitely NOT the right mic for the job. Shotguns are great for lots of things, but indoor dialogue recording is not one of them. Adding a hypercardioid (or better yet, a matched pair) to your kit adds a ton of flexibility so that you can tackle a wider range of indoor and outdoor audio recording situations. With that in mind, the Neumann is a very cost effective solution that produces great results. We own three of them at ECG: a matched pair in our main field audio kit and one that lives permanently on a stand in our studio. They are absolutely outstanding interview mics that can go toe-to-toe with just about any hypercardioid out there as far as sound quality. Unless we’re shooting MOS, these mics are literally on set with us every single time we go out in the field.
Reason #2: Microphone sensitivity is just right
The other thing I really like about this mic is that it’s sensitive, but not TOO sensitive. Having used the Schoeps many times, the main issue I’ve run into is that it has a hard time in situations where you don’t have full control of the audio environment. It’s absolutely the best choice for a soundstage or other controlled audio environment, but when you have to shoot an interview in an office or busy cafe, for example, the mic can pick up sounds as “minor” as the wind from a shutting door or someone briskly walking by the scene, causing the need for another take. On set you’re frequently under tight time constraints and unable to fully control the audio environment, so that extra sensitivity can really hamstring you.
I should also mention that the Neumann, like all hypercardioid microphones, is very susceptible to handling noise – so if you’ve got it on a boom pole, make sure your boom operator is experienced enough to know the limitations of the mic, has a light touch and keeps the cans on at all times to monitor the audio and call out takes that have issues. The rigid plastic clamp mount that’s included with the the mic isn’t good for much, so make sure to buy a solid shock mount for stand and pole mounting. Neumann does include a decent foam windscreen that slips right over the mic, but this is certainly far too sensitive a unit to use in windy situations. The KM 185 is a condenser mic, which means you’ll need to feed it phantom power from your mixer, digital recorder or camera.
So there you have it. The Neumann KM 185 MT is an incredible microphone at an outstanding price, and one that definitely deserves to be a part of the conversation for video production field audio. Have you used this mic? Do you have another microphone or piece of gear that you think doesn’t get the attention it deserves? Let us know in the comments below!
As always, thanks for reading!