Rushes: Neumann TLM103
Copyright 1998, Rick Chinn. All rights reserved. Originally published in AudioMedia magazine, American ed., April 1998.
Word count: 731.
Neumann has done it again! A large-diaphragm condenser microphone for the rest of us (who couldn’t afford the M149). Berlin has gotten the message and they’re busy developing new legends for the audio industry.
At a Glance
The TLM103 is a newly designed microphone, looking physically somewhat like a TLM 170 (approximately same physical size) or a shrunken M149. The capsule’s lineage evolved from the K87/K67 capsules used in the U87 and U67 microphones. Neumann includes an attractive wooden "jeweler’s box" as well as the SG 103 stand adapter. Accessories include a birdcage-style shock suspension, various power supplies, popscreens, and windscreens. The TLM 103 requires P48 phantom powering.
Like its brother, the TLM 193, the TLM 103 is a single-pattern microphone and there are no switches or controls on the microphone. Internally, the capsule stands inside the grille-screen on a rubber stem, and the microphone’s electronics are mounted on a moisture-proofed printed circuit board. The electronic components are all surface mounted (indicating automated assembly).
The K103 capsule was derived from the U87’s dual-membrane design. Since the K103 is a single pattern microphone, one of the membranes can be dispensed with (contributing to lower cost). The holes in the backplate must be altered because of the missing membrane. The K103 has increased output over the K87 because of the reduced membrane to backplate distance, resulting in higher output for the same SPL. This contributes to the 7dBA equivalent noise spec, making the TLM 103 one of the quietest microphones available today. At the other extreme, the microphone can handle 138 dB SPL at 0.5% THD.
The frequency response curve shows a broad, 4dB presence rise centered around 8kHz and a 6 dB/octave LF rolloff beginning at 60HzHzHz. The presence rise makes for a bright sound without excessive sibilance and the rolloff helps combat proximity effect caused by close miking.
The polar patterns show a textbook cardioid pattern in the mid frequencies getting progressively more towards supercardioid at the highest frequencies. At the highest frequencies, the frontal pattern narrows, which may make positioning more critical. Of course, you can use this to advantage by deliberately positioning the microphone somewhat off-axis to a given source, giving you a bit more control over tonal coloration.
A DC-DC converter creates the -60V polarization voltage for the capsule. The impedance converter is a very low-noise design using discrete components (no integrated circuits) and the connection to the outside world is transformeless.
The SG 103 stand adapter is constructed with molded filled-plastic. In use, when mounting and dismounting it from a stand, I was in constant fear of cross-threading. It’s reasonable to assume that you would not be frequently mounting and dismounting the microphone from the stand. Perhaps this is a good reason to use a quick-disconnect adapter.
The TLM 103 has a warm sound, without being dull. On acoustic guitar, the overall tonal balance is excellent without any EQ. The string jangle is pleasing, and the overall sound sits easily in the front of the mix. In comparison, the U87A sounds middy and a bit thin; decidedly a different sound that might work in a different context. The C414-TL-II is a bit closer sounding; with a similar high-end texture: present without being exaggerated.
On female vocal, I got a similar impression: warmth, presence, no hype. By comparison, the U87 was a bit dark and boxy sounding, with a midrange boost that might work sometimes. The TL-II was clear and breathy and even a bit brassy, however this helped it cut through the mix. To accomplish the same thing with the TLM 103 required some upper mid boost to give it the same ‘cut.’
The TLM 103 breaks one of Neumann’s own barriers by bringing us a large diaphragm condenser microphone for under $1000. At this price, you might consider the mic’s feature set a bit Spartan; it is. Considering that the majority of microphones used in studios today are cardioid, and that many engineers eschew using any sort of onboard attenuation, I don’t believe that this represents that much of a limitation. There are other large diaphragm mikes in this price range with more features. In that regard they may be a better value, but they are what they are, and the TLM 103 is a Neumann. Bank on it.
----Polar plot Frequency response Picture