Review of the Neumann TLM 103 Studio Microphone
by Rich the Tweak
The search for the all around best home studio mic inevitably leads on the the high end of microphones. The name Neumann has been associated with quality microphones since the 1920's. The German company does not make inexpensive budget mics, though they are often imitated by other microphone makers. Yet the imitations are never able to achieve the classic Neumann sound. To get a Neumann is to take part in this lineage of great microphones. Even though the TLM 103 is more affordable than other Neumanns, it is afforded the same level of respect as others in the line. Just a quick browse through Neumann's message board reveals that Neumann owners are generally fanatically satisfied with their TLM 103s.
The TLM 103 is described by Neumann as a "universal cardioid mic". As you may remember from other articles here, "cardioid" refers to the directional pattern of the mic, the "heart-shaped" pattern that accepts sounds from the front and rejects them at the back. There are no switches at all in the TLM 103, so you can't switch it into omni mode where it picks up from all sides. There is also no pad to lower the sensitivity of the mic. While this may seem like a limitation on paper, in reality it is not. The mic handles high SPL with a maximum of 138db and it does so with extremely low self noise. It seems to resist overload. I find the mic to be exceptionally sensitive, even with low level sources coming from adjacent rooms. It will pick up ambient noise, so you will need to quiet the recording room as much as possible. If you have computer hard drives grinding away in the recording room, ambient noise will be trouble. Put the computer in another room, use weatherstripping on doors and windows and record as far away from air vents as you can. Welcome to the world of recording with a quality microphone.
As a large diaphragm condenser mic, the Neumann TLM 103 can handle most recording situations one will come up against. It shines as a vocal mic with pleasing coloration in the high frequency realm. It's proximity effect is nearly perfect in my opinion. It gives you that extra bass you want without being overbearing. Neumann recommends it for broadcast, sampling, foley, and as a spot mic for strings, winds, percussion, amps and as an overhead for drums. I'd suggest that the TLM 103 not be used for recording drums close-mic'd. It's not to hard to slam a snare or tom and exceed 138 db. Back off a bit and it should be fine.
Using the mic is simplicity itself. Get it as close as you can to the recording source, adjust the level on your preamp and go. The sound of the TLM 103 is exceptional. It is smooth with a definite hi frequency rise at about 5khz that extends upwards to about 18 khz, then rolls off. This characteristic provides for a sense of clarity and natural brilliance. The mic does not sound "hyped" or peaked, but remains gentle on the ear. Perhaps that is characteristic of the TLM 103's overall sound. It's quality. The bass end has a gentle roll off that begins about 60-70hz. It doesn't get boomy.
The TLM 103 comes in an attractive wooden box with a swivel mount. There also is an optional shock mount available. Neumann recommends using a pop filter when recording vocals.
So who needs a TLM 103? Those who need a superb high quality mic and can cover the cost of admission. Keep in mind that while that may seem high, this is the least expensive of the large condenser Neumann mics. Also keep in mind that a great mic needs a decent mic preamp as well. Yet if you already have or plan to get that, the this mic can deliver a uncompromised professional sound to your home studio's projects. Indeed, with a nice preamp, excellent digital audio converters and a good digital reverb, your sound can rival that of a professional studio. That is the draw of the TLM 103, the classic Neumann sound in your studio.
Check out the Neumann Pinboard (discussion group)