The Never-ending Question Keep in mind, I know very little about sound engineering, yet I’m constantly asked the question: “what microphone do you recommend?” In general, I recommend one of two microphones, the Neumann TLM-103 and the Sennheiser 416, with an overall preference for the Neumann U87. Unfortunately, I consider the U87 cost prohibitive for 99% of the voice community and absolutely unnecessary for anyone who is not doing significant commercial or narration work.
The Usual Recommendations
For the sake of this article, I’m assuming the performer is earning a living, making the cost of the TLM-103 and 416 (both between $1000-$1500) a solid investment and a positive step forward from a prior and less expensive mic. I am also going to grossly simplify my perception of the two mics. I think the Neumann is the warmer and more nuanced of the two. The Sennheiser is the more precise and cuts through better, especially if the talent is only a couple inches away from the “sweet spot.”
The Key Questions
When a performer approaches me about mics, I usually ask a series of questions and figure out a consensus depending on individual circumstances. Here, I will ask the questions I normally ask, answer them based on the most common answers, and then recommend which mic based on circumstances.
How noisy is your room? Noisy, such as an urban residency - Sennheiser. Relatively quiet - Neumann.
How large is your room? Large and relatively quiet - Neumann. Small such as Whisper Room - Sennheiser.
Do you sit or stand? Sit - Neumann. Stand - Sennheiser.
What kind of work do you do mostly? TV Commercials - Neumann. Radio Commercials - Sennheiser. Trailers - Sennheiser. Promos - Sennheiser. Narrations - Neumann. Radio Imaging/TV Affiliates - Sennheiser. Audio Books - Neumann. Political Advertising - Sennheiser.
Do you have a professional preamp? Yes - Neumann. No - Sennheiser.
Are you doing the majority of your sessions via ISDN or are you sending compressed files? Yes - Sennheiser. No (uncompressed) - Neumann
Do you travel often with remote gear and mic? Yes - Sennheiser. No - Neumann.
The Final Prognosis
As you can see the majority of the answers lean to the 416 even though I actually prefer the sound of the Neumann. My feelings, in general, are that the Sennheiser tends to hide deficiencies, so unless you really know your way around audio equipment, start with 416. As your business grows and you begin to upgrade your equipment, consider the Neumann.