Shure KSM44 Studio Condenser Microphone

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Shure KSM44

Intro

Shure's initial foray into studio condenser microphones began with the KSM32 side address, cardioid microphone that uses Class A transformerless preamp circuitry. The KSM44 is a new multi-pattern microphone that expands on the established qualities of the KSM32.

Ratings

Ease of Use: 5
Functionality: 5
Value: 5

KSM32 and KSM44

Like the KSM32, the KSM44 has an extended frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz and retains the Class A transformerless head preamp. If I compare the cardioid frequency response curves published for the two microphones, it is easy to see that the 44 is smooth up to about 3kHz with a presence "bump" centered at about 6kHz. The curve then returns flat to about 10kHz for a slight lift and then on to a smooth roll-off out to 20kHz. The KSM32 has a slight rise at the 3.5kHz and then another an octave up at 7kHz. A slight dip in response at 9kHz is followed by a rise at 10kHz. My overall impression: the KSM44's frequency response is smoother and is where the two microphones depart from each other; because the KSM44 uses dual-diaphragms to achieve linearity and multi-pattern pickup.

Two Diaphragms, Three Patterns

The dual diaphragms are Mylar®, one inch in diameter and 24kt gold-layered. The larger diameter improves low frequency response and the 2.5 micrometer thickness allows accurate reproduction over a wide range. With diaphragm design, there is a delicate balance between mass (and inertia), diameter and thickness when it comes to flat high frequency response.

The three pickup patterns are: cardioid, bi-directional aka figure-of-eight, and omnidirectional. Again, published response curves show that in omni, the KSM44 has a very slight rise in the bass, otherwise it is ruler-flat to about 8kHz and then ascends to a lift at 10kHz. Omnidirectional microphones exhibit no "proximity effect"...a lift in bass frequencies as the sound source gets closer to the capsule. The response in bi-directional shows essentially flat to 2.5kHz where a long presence lift starts and culminates at a 4dB boost at 6.5kHz. I should think this mic will sound great set to this pattern for two opposite-facing singers or musicians sharing and balancing their sound on one mic.

A Complete Package

The KSM44 comes complete with a locking (with keys) aluminum carrying case heavily filled with cutout foam pockets. The mic itself is further protected in a maroon, Velveteen pouch but the real protection is the hardened low-carbon steel grille encasing the dual capsules. A great idea if you have ever seen what happens to beautiful microphones during their lives in public recording studios.

There are two mounts included: a simple hard mount and one of the best elastic suspension mounts I've seen. Both of these mounts have a single, captive nut at their base that threads into the end of the mic's body. Shure calls this design ShureLock™. The mic's XLR connector is accessed through the center of this nut. With the shock mount, the mic's body is cradled in a precision-shaped basket suspension system. I like that, unlike some other suspension mounts, once the mic is attached in the basket, there is no way it can fall out no matter how the mic is positioned, even upside down. Furthermore, the microphone can be rotated freely along its vertical axis without having to undo the mount. This is a very successful mount and Shure should make and sell them to fit other manufacturers' mics.

Unique Features

Two unique features are the attenuator and two low frequency roll-off choices. Instead of the usual -10dB attenuator, there is a -15dB attenuator. I have often wish some of my favorite mics had a -15dB attenuator pad. The old Telefunken/Neumann U-67 had a -14dB pad and that (I think) made it more popular for miking loud musical instruments than some others made at that time that either had no pad or only -10dB. I used the KSM44 on a close tambourine recording and the -15dB was perfect.

There are two low frequency roll-off choices. The steepest is the 18dB per octave starting at 80Hz. This is great for eliminating stage or floor rumble and A/C noise. I used this when doing a close-miked narration recording with the KSM44 where I used the cardioid pattern and had some proximity to lose. The more gentle low frequency roll-off is the 6dB per octave curve beginning at 115Hz. This could almost be left in all the time for most close-miking jobs. The KSM44 is a very warm and fat sounding microphone that needs little help in giving singers a big thick sound. Singers are very used (in the studio) to "eating the mic" to add more low frequencies to their sound. If you have a singer with this habit, you may have to use one of these filters to compensate. For the most part I used the mic in the flat position since the shock mount isolates the mic from floor noise or any other mechanical coupling. I also use an electrified pop screen to keep those mic-eating singers at bay. (Just kidding!!)

More Facts and Figures

For all you comparison shoppers out there, here are some other facts, figures and specifications. All of these are when the microphone is in cardioid. With exception of output clipping level and maximum SPL (Sound Pressure Level), all performance measurements are better than the KSM32. One of those "tradeoffs" in microphone designs concerns balancing sensitivity versus maximum output clip level versus dynamic range: the KSM44 is more sensitive so it tested slightly lower in output level clip. I would prefer to have a microphone with extra sensitivity and a lower noise floor any day!

The 44's self-noise is improved to just 7dB versus 13dB for the KSM32. Not to belittle the 32 at all, any self-noise figure below 20dB I would considered excellent for any condenser microphone! Signal-to-noise ratio for the KSM44 is 87dB and the dynamic range is rated at 125dB into a 2500 ohm load (that's the input impedance of your mic pre-amp). Input impedance is a new mic pre-amp buzz phrase these days with the introduction of the Groove Tubes Vipre Variable Impedance Microphone Pre-amp. Maximum SPL, again with a 2.5K load is 132dB or 149dB with the pad on. Finally, sensitivity is rated at -31dBv/Pa and phantom power current drain is 5.4ma at 48 volts. The microphone will operate on phantom voltages down to 11 volts if you are OK with decreased headroom and sensitivity.

In The Studio

Whenever I use a new piece of gear in the studio, I start out using it for less critical recording tasks. After "passing" my appraisal in these situations, I deem the unit ready for more important recordings. As I mentioned before, I used the KSM44 successfully on a tambourine recording first so next I tried it on acoustic guitar. I like the 44 for recording guitar as it has a very neutral quality: it did not emphasize or diminish any of the frequencies present. I generally like a brighter acoustic guitar sound that'll "fit" into most of the pop records I work on...(certainly since this particular record already had ten electric guitar tracks.) The microphone immediately revealed that our first guitar choice didn't "mesh" with the track. It is a good sign when a microphone makes decisions easy in the studio. We went with a Gibson J45 that worked wonderfully without changing any of my initial settings. I could "shape" the sound of that guitar anywhere I wanted with mic position, pattern, EQ and compression. I ended up about 18 inches directly in front the guitar at the last fret before the soundhole, cardioid pattern, 80Hz roll-off, no pad, a little upper midrange boost and a good amount of squash.

Vocals

Next, I used the mic on an even more critical application: recording vocals. A lot of popular condenser microphones, both new and especially vintage, have reputations built on a particular tonal tilt. Shure's designers could have made the 44 with a large, built-in treble lift making the microphone instantly brighter when A/B'd against another mic. However, this "feature" makes the microphone less universal and more specialized. Engineers and producers use those kinds of microphones for brighter sounds...not true sounds. The whole purpose of the KSM44 design as printed in the manual is "...an extended frequency response specially tailored for vocal tracking and instrument recording."

This design philosophy worked out for my vocalist who sounded great in the verses but tended toward shrillness in the choruses. The KSM44 without EQ and a little compression sounded better than our usual favorite microphone that I had to processed. The 44 has an internal pop filter that works great for singers who stay about a foot away negating the need of a pop screen. Close-miked singers would require external pop filter and/or the 80Hz roll-off. I used cardioid, no pad, no roll and no pop filter. My singer stayed about a foot away and I had only one big pop on a take we didn't use. I used a Manley EQ-500 pre-amp, about 30dB of mic gain, bypassed the passive equalizer (flat EQ) and a TubeTech CL1-B compressor at 4:1 ratio that averaged 3 to 6dB of gain reduction...great sound!

Good Choice

A great choice for a super all-purpose microphone that will sound great for recording vocals or instruments, the KSM44 lists for $1,340 MSRP. Shure Incorporated, at 222 Hartrey Avenue, Evanston, IL 60202. Call them at 847-866-2200 or WEB at: www.shure.com



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