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Monday, December 22, 2008

Shure KSM141

Shurely you'll like its 'in-your-face' sound

You can't have enough flavors of microphones. As a drummer, I am always curious to see how this and that will sound on my Arbiter maple drum kit and mix of Zildjian and Sabian cymbals. I had the chance to check out a matched pair of Shure's KSM141 mics, and have found these to be another desirable color for recording.

The KSM141s arrived in a rugged plastic case which held everything nicely. They ship with windscreens and standard clips. You could trust the clips in any position. The mics have a mechanical polar pattern switch which opens a port to the mics capsule to allow omni-directional pickup as well as cardioid. The diaphragm is a 3/4 inches diameter (medium sized), 2.5 micron, made of 24-karat gold-layered low mass Mylar. There is a three position bass roll off switch, and a three position pad switch (0, -15db & -25db). The mic features a Class A transformerless preamp, and is made in the good old USA.

The mics have a nice solid feel, and the light bronzelike finish is very attractive. Pattern selection is performed by turning the ring which exposes or covers part of the diaphragm. The action is smooth and clicks into place so you know you're not between settings. Shure recommends never using the mic between settings as it will create a poor frequency and polar response that is unpredicatable.

I found the sound of these mics to be very much an "in your face" type of sound when used on drum overheads. In omni, these mics seem to reach down and grab the low to low-mid detail of cymbals, drums and room reflections and force them to the surface. It's a very unique sound, a big change if you're using many of the mid to low priced condensors that hype the high end. The snare's ringing overtone is very present, as is the rumble of toms. Cymbals are very strong sounding, not your typical sizzly hyped response. The high end is not overly pronounced in this application, and should require very little or no EQ in a mix. The attack could best be described as "fat" (I know I know, that word that word!), sort of a very quick-release compressed type of sound.

The X/Y cardioid sound was more balanced overall, with a noticeable loss of low end response when compared to omni. Imaging is decent but the "in your face" sound doesn't create a very big sense of space. Again, nothing bad, it's a different sound that I like. There is some more snap and punch to the snare and toms in cardioid as well. Cymbals make their way through a little thinner sounding without such a broad midrange response, and would fit easily in a loud mix.

For those engineers using a "butt mic," you will get a lot of that detail simply by using these as overheads.

Close mic'ing a snare with the KSM141 in cardioid proved to be undesirable for me. The transient response of the mic was a little slow for this application. Mic'ing a tom wasn't much better, the sound was boxy and just wouldn't open up. I don't think this is the intended use of this mic but it might work for someone else.

On kick drum they really accented the mids, which enhanced the "basketball bouncing" sound we've all had to eq out of many a mix. I'll stick with my big dynamic mic in this application. Sucking those mids to the surface isn't working here. Again, the KSM141 is not marketed as a kick mic but curiosity got the best of me.

On hi-hat, the KSM141 mic picked up all of the nice detail and overtones. It sounded very nice in this application. The ring is somewhat pronounced and the cardioid pattern is tight enough to keep out much of the bleed from other drums. I could see the KSM141 being the "go to" mic on most hi-hats.

I had to engage the -25dB pad on these close mic'd sources when playing loudly. Overhead use did not give a problem without the pads.

The area where this mic sort of surprised me was vocals. Whether on dialog or singing, the KSM141 showed some promise when mic'ing the voice. I compared it to a couple of large condenser mics. I thought it did a respectable job and even sounded better than one of the large condensers.

On acoustic guitars, I found these mics to put across more of their "in your face" character. The KSM141s performed solidly in matched pairs whether omni or cardioid. One even performed fine in this application. However, the best sound came from putting one in cardioid and the other in omni on different ends of the guitar. I put the cardioid where the neck meets the body and the omni about 12 inches from the bridge. I blended the sounds together. No, it's technically not stereo but it put the biggest, up-front acoustic guitar sound in the monitors I've ever experienced. I wouldn't pick these out to stereo mic a nice solo Classic guitar piece but for harder Country and for Rock the KSM141s will put the acoustic guitar up front.

I did not find the KSM141s to impart any real sense of space to a source or the room. If you want that sort of sound, then look elsewhere.

The Bottom Line: The KSM141 mics by Shure are versatile mics that excel at the "in your face" sound. Recommended.

--Warren Dent


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