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The name Neumann tends to conjure up images of venerated large diaphragm condenser microphones. Still, the company has consistently offered small-diaphragm condensers that have been no less beloved by engineers for decades. Their current line of small-diaphragm condenser mics continues to uphold the same standard, and are worth a look for any serious recordist’s mic locker.
In this buyer’s guide, we’ll break down some of Neumann’s most popular small-diaphragm condenser mics. Continue reading to learn more about the Series 180, KM A and KMS microphones.
Neumann was founded by Georg Neumann in 1928 in Berlin, Germany. That same year, the brand introduced the first commercially available condenser mic, the CMV 3, and their microphones have been standouts ever since, even in formidable mic collections. In addition to microphones for studio and broadcast use, Neumann developed phonograph record-cutting machines, rechargeable batteries, and sound production units for theaters, concert halls, and radio studios.
In 1953, Neumann released the KM 53, the brand’s first small diaphragm studio microphone, followed by a cardioid version (the KM 54) the next year. In 1955, Neumann introduced the KM 56, which featured switchable polar patterns. Like all microphones of its time, these models operated with tube electronics.
Nearly a decade later, Neumann introduced a new line of small-diaphragm condenser microphones, including the KM 63, KM 64 and KM 65. While these mics were still driven by the classic AC 701 tube circuit, they featured an updated capsule design with a new Mylar diaphragm.
The following year, in 1965, Neumann introduced its first solid-state microphone, the KTM. This small-diaphragm microphone used the same capsule as the KM 64, but was replaced by the KM 74 in 1966, which featured a smaller body. Neumann also released the KM 83, 84 and 85 small-diaphragm condenser mics in 1966, which introduced the now-standard P48 phantom power technology to the world. To this day, the KM 84 remains one of the most popular Neumann classics.
Over the years that followed, Neumann released updated versions of these classic mics, such as the KM 76, KM 86, KM 88 and more. The company became part of the Sennheiser Group in the early 1990s and introduced the best-selling KM 184 small-diaphragm condenser mic (based on the iconic KM 84) in 1994.
Today, Neumann continues to produce microphones, studio monitors, and headphones to the same exacting standard they have maintained for generations.
Neumann’s “Series 180” microphones - the KM 183, KM 184, and KM 185 - are an updated take on the classic KM 84 small-diaphragm condenser. These three studio staples have a characteristically flat midrange frequency response, with a gentle bump around 10 kHz that makes them brighter and livelier than their predecessor.
Series 180 SDCs all feature the same transformerless circuit but differ in their capsules and pickup patterns. All three are capable of handling high-SPL sound sources, with very low self-noise. They are suitable for a wide range of studio, live sound, and broadcast applications, and are a standard in commercial and project studios alike.
The KM 184 features a cardioid pickup with no off-axis coloration. It has the flattest frequency response of the Series 180 mics when used in close placements, with a less pronounced high-frequency bump.
The KM 184’s cardioid pickup pattern makes it a versatile choice, rejecting bleed and feedback in the studio and onstage. It excels in a wide range of applications - drums and percussion, acoustic guitar, strings, woodwinds, and brass. Pairs can be used for stereo recordings of ensembles as well as instruments like piano, marimba, and drum set.
The KM 185 is the 184’s hypercardioid sibling. It features the same neutral midrange response with a steeper and more pronounced high-frequency bump.
This mic is ideal for similar applications to the KM 184 but shines any time tighter directionality is required.
The KM 183 is the omnidirectional counterpart to the KM 184 and 185. It offers a flat frequency response when recording in the diffuse field (placed far from sound sources). In close-mic applications, it features a similar high-frequency bump to the KM 185.
Omnidirectional mics are a great way to bring more of the character of a room into a recording, and the KM 183 is a particularly strong example of the creative potential of this pickup pattern.
As opposed to the directional 180 Series mics, the KM 183 has a “limitless low-frequency response,” according to Neumann. Coupled with its transparent off-axis behavior, the KM 183 is capable of producing full, accurate, and nuanced recordings in stereo and surround sound setups.
Neumann’s modular KM A series of microphones offer similar sonic characteristics to the Series 180 mics, but with more versatility. These mics are updated versions of Neumann’s earlier KM 100 mics.
The KM A Output Stage features a 10 dB pad switch that expands the SPL handling and functionality of these mics. Additionally, the modular design allows the capsule to be separated from the output section and connected via a special cable spanning up to 100 m (330 ft).
Separating the capsule and body opens up a range of new possibilities when microphones need to be placed discreetly, or in especially tight spaces. A range of accessories allows the KM A series of mics to be used in stereo configurations like MS, X/Y, Blumlein, and ORTF with an extremely minimal footprint.
The Neumann KM D Digital Output Stage is part of the modular KM D miniature microphone system. Together with a KK series capsule, it constitutes a complete microphone of the KM D system.
The KM series of microphones can be coupled with eight different capsules with varying pickup patterns to suit different sound sources and applications:
The KM 184 A combines the same cardioid capsule found in the KM 184 with the modular KM A output stage. It features the same directionality and transparent sound as the KM 184 but with enhanced flexibility.
The KM 183 A features the same omnidirectional pattern, sonic transparency, and extended low-frequency response as the KM 183. Its sonic qualities coupled with the modular functionality of the KM A make it ideal whenever additional flexibility is needed to capture spacious, full-range sounds.
To learn more about the many different applications of Neumann’s 180 Series and KM A small diaphragm condenser mics, check out the bran’s KM-A-D-Applications page.
The latest addition to Neumann’s line of small diaphragm condenser mics, the Miniature Clip Mic System provides musicians with a compact electret condenser mic that clips on quickly and delivers studio-quality sound. Each bundle includes an MCM 100 Output Stage XLR, KK 14 cardioid capsule, SH 150 MCM Gooseneck and nine instrument-specific mounting clips for a wide variety of acoustic instruments, giving you everything you need to streamline your sound check and still sound your best.
The perfect choice for live performance applications, the MCM system is available in a variety of models tailor-made for close-micing acoustic instruments—including brass, woodwinds, strings, percussion and more. Plus, MCM’s modular construction allows for easy replacements, making them ideal for touring. And thanks to the newly developed KK 14 cardioid capsule, which delivers balanced lows and mids with unparalleled high-end transparency, the MCM is equally at home in modern broadcast applications.
With the KMS line, Neumann offers robust handheld vocal mics with all the clarity and brilliance you’d expect from a studio-grade condenser. Though visually reminiscent of dynamic mics frequently used for live sound, KMS mics are indeed phantom-powered condenser mics, complete with all the sonic characteristics you’d expect.
These mics are designed to tame sibilance, mitigate plosives, and reject handling noise. They have very high SPL tolerance and are intended for close-mic applications. Neumann’s KMS mics will excel anywhere you’d use a dynamic mic onstage - vocals, guitars, harmonica, saxophone, brass, drums and percussion - but with the definition, balance, and extended top end you’d expect from a condenser. These mics have a detailed transient response that lends immediacy to a vocal performance. The uncompromising sound quality of KMS series mics means they can hold their own in studio and broadcast applications as well.
The KMS 105 is a hypercardioid handheld condenser. Its tight pickup pattern means it offers superior rejection of noise and feedback onstage. Its foam-free pop filter means it can reject plosives without a “muffling” sound. It features robust but detailed low frequency response, flat, extended midrange, and accentuated top end that will make vocals sparkle.
The KMS 104 features a cardioid pickup pattern. Its frequency response is balanced and transparent, with a gentle treble lift.
The KMS 104 Plus has a similar design and sound to the KMS 104, but with an extended bass frequency response that adds emphasis from 100-150 Hz. The “weight” added by the KMS 104 makes it a great choice for female vocalists, or anyone whose voice might otherwise sound “thin” or “light.”
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