MBHO MBNM 608 C-L

Seated snugly in die-cut blue foam rubber inside a black, vinyl-covered storage case, MBHO's MBNM 608 C-L large-diaphragm condenser microphone makes a
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Seated snugly in die-cut blue foam rubber inside a black, vinyl-covered storage case, MBHO's MBNM 608 C-L large-diaphragm condenser microphone makes a powerful first impression. The round enclosure that houses the diaphragm is perched, headlike, on a narrow barrel; the mic resembles a lollipop, albeit one with a flat-black Stealth-fighter finish. Cradling the 608 in my hands for the first time, my response was an unbridled "Wow."

The MBNM 608 C-L's list price of $1,299 also makes a strong first impression-that's not exactly chump change. But the 608 does offer three polar patterns-cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8-so it's considerably more versatile than any of the single-pattern cardioid condensers that have inundated the market in recent years. On the other hand, the 608 does not provide a highpass filter or an attenuation pad-typical features on multipattern condenser mics. Both the 608's price and its mix of features position it somewhere between the low and high categories, making this mic an attractive option for the upward- leaning personal-studio owner and a great value for the professional engineer.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCKI used the MBNM 608 C-L for several weeks in a variety of environments and applications. In addition to cutting sessions in my personal studio, the mic clocked time at various other studios, recording vocals, drums, percussion, and an assortment of instrument overdubs. The 608 made its imprint on ADAT, DAT, hard disk (via DAW), and analog tape. I also ran it through a number of mic preamps and processors- including the Avalon VT737 SP, SPL Micman, Focusrite Platinum, dbx 1086, and A.R.T. Pro MPA-as well as the onboard preamps on several mixers.

I took care to be consistent when cutting with the 608: no EQ tweaks were done on initial recording passes, and compression was used sparingly, if at all. When the 608 was pitted against other mics (such as a Neumann U 87 or an AKG C 414), the signal path was duplicated precisely, down to the mic cable.

YOUR RESPONSE, PLEASEDifferent polar patterns typically yield different frequency responses, and these are indicated in the literature accompanying the MBNM 608 C-L. Both the omni and cardioid patterns boast impressively wide responses, from 20 kHz down to 10 Hz (cardioid) and 5 Hz (omni). The figure-8 pattern provides a more modest response, ranging from 40 Hz to 18 kHz.

Overall, the 608 tends to sound brighter than the mics that I compared it with, particularly from around 3 kHz up. It also has a slightly hotter output, which necessitated attenuation of the signal at the preamp stage in some instances. As for proximity effect, the 608 retains more low end at greater distances than most of the comparison mics.

PLAINLY SPEAKINGA good measure of any mic is how well it captures spoken-word performances-just ask anyone who records TV or radio spots. With that in mind, I tried the MBNM 608 C-L on several male and female voice-overs, cutting to hard disk via DAW.

On male narration, the 608 was breathtaking. Time after time, it captured mile-wide voices with exceptional presence and detail. And I didn't need to apply EQ after the fact, either. For comparison, I tried identical readings with two popular high-end mics, but both sounded darker and less exciting than the 608. In short, the 608 seized the day.

On female narration, the 608 tended to sound a bit thin, with too much emphasis on the highs above 5 kHz. (In one instance, the same reading through an Audio-Technica AT4047 sounded fuller.) When I switched the polar pattern from cardioid to omni, however, the 608's sound plumped up nicely. In all cases, the omni pattern captured richer vocals and smoothed out the harshness in the high frequencies.

YOU'VE GOT MALEAfter the voice-overs, I was eager to see the 608 handle singing chores. First, I tagged along for a jingle-recording session featuring a male vocalist. The 608 performed stunningly. The singer found the mic flattering to his voice and a joy to track with. From the engineer's standpoint, the 608 proved to be a "set and forget" mic, producing perfect tracks without EQ and with only the slightest bit of compression during recording. The clients, too, were happy with the results-in the crucible of the "get it done" jingle session, the 608 showed itself to be the mic for male vocals.

I also used the 608 to record some of my own vocals for an upcoming CD. I was not disappointed: when it was my turn to step up to the pop filter and hit a homer, the 608 delivered the goods. I liked how my voice sounded in the headphones while recording, and both the lead tracks and layered background vocals sounded terrific on playback. There was a ton of high-end sparkle, helping my voice cut through the mix- every male singer's dream.

GIRL TROUBLEThe 608 didn't fare as well on female vocalists. At a jingle session, the mic was quickly ditched for another large-diaphragm condenser after the vocalist complained that the 608 was too "crispy"-sounding in the headphones. Indeed, the track sounded brittle on playback. Because the clients were present and the clock was ticking, I had no chance to experiment. (Such is the tyranny of the equation "time equals money.")

I tried the 608 on another female vocalist a few days later at a demo session. This time things were more casual, so I was able to experiment. Again, though, the 608 proved to be less than ideal. A pronounced bump between 5 to 8 kHz overshadowed the mids and low frequencies; accordingly, the vocalist felt that her voice sounded too thin. We salvaged the track with EQ, reining in the problematic highs and goosing 200 Hz by 2 dB or so. However, the effort spent tweaking the track left us all feeling a little drained-to paraphrase B. B. King, the thrill was gone. In the end, we recut the track with an AKG C 414, which provided a warmer, fuller sound.

BATTLE OF THE SAXESAt another demo session, I used the 608 to cut both tenor and baritone saxophones (separately) for a song that needed a sax section. While I got usable results by rolling off some high end, the 608 didn't knock me out. As with the female vocalist, the 608 made the tenor sound thin and edgy. The bari fared better-I didn't mind the mic brightening up the lower pitches, but it still made the horn sound harsh in the upper register.

I ended up using a fuller-sounding mic to record the first passes, but, on a hunch, I went back to the 608 for doubling tracks. Here the 608's brightness made the doubles stand out in a way that complemented the original tracks. That quality helped create the illusion of an entire horn section instead of just one guy dubbing away. And because I was miking only one musician, I was able to use the fuller-sounding omni setting on the 608, which helped.

ZING OF STRINGSThe 608 proved an excellent choice for miking acoustic guitars with both steel and nylon strings. Though I had to spend time positioning the mic to locate a spot where it didn't sound too boomy, the effort paid off handsomely. On steel-string overdubs, the 608 sounded terrific, capturing both the bite (800 Hz to 2 kHz) and airiness (above 10 kHz) critical to acoustic-guitar tracks. There was plenty of warmth down low (200 Hz), as well.

As good as the 608 sounded on steel strings, it was absolutely spellbinding on a nylon string guitar. The high end of the darker-timbred classical guitar sparkled, while the overall tone retained its realism and warmth.

As for which polar pattern worked best, it depended on the desired final result. The omni pattern emphasized the low end slightly more than the cardioid pattern, and the figure-8 worked best if I wanted to round off the upper highs and eliminate boominess. Of course, by using those patterns I lost the rejection provided by the cardioid pattern, but with a little effort spent isolating the guitar, I was able to craft killer tracks.

In omni mode, the 608 also proved adequate to the task of recording an upright acoustic bass. On a walking bass line, it captured a focused midrange; full, round low end; and more than enough high end for pizzicato playing. Although the high-end zing-particularly around 3 to 5 kHz-made for a sound more modern than vintage, the bassist on the session remarked that he liked how the 608 captured his instrument's "growl" in the midrange without sounding thin.

Although the 608 did a passable job on a plucked performance, arco was another story. I asked the bassist to bow a few notes, curious about how the 608 would react. Pleasant-sounding bowed-bass tracks are notoriously difficult to capture with condenser mics, especially those that lean toward being bright. Not surprisingly, the 608 sounded a little too scratchy for comfort.

TOTALLY AMPEDIt took me a while to find a good spot for the 608 in front of a cranked guitar amp-I've had a much easier time finding that magical position with other mics. With the 608 up close to the grille cloth, small changes in position yielded dramatic shifts in overall timbre, particularly at higher volumes. However, none of these close-to-the-grille positions really worked-the mic was simply overwhelmed by the roar, sounding boomy and bass-heavy.

When I moved the mic 1 or 2 feet back from the cabinet, though, I was rewarded by a variety of tasty tones. Moving the mic got rid of the boominess and brought the guitar's lower mids into focus without losing the high-end bite.

I also got good results when miking the amp from across the room, 15 to 20 feet away. Of course, room ambience played an increasing role the farther back I got, but the 608's "crispness" kept secondary reflections from sounding boxy. I took advantage of the room's acoustics and forged an array of great- sounding guitar tracks.

KEYS OF LIFEPiano is my main instrument, so I was keen to hear the 608 on my acoustic grand. I set up with a dbx 1086 mic preamp and an ADAT XT20 and proceeded to position the mic, trying it both beneath the grand's propped-up lid and placed in various points around the room. I also auditioned all three polar patterns.

After getting a sound that I liked, I recorded some improvisations in various styles. I also used the mic to overdub piano tracks against reference tracks of a song that I had written and recorded previously.

Although with some strategic positioning the 608 could be used effectively "under the hood," it really excelled when placed a few feet back from the piano. The omni polar pattern, in particular, captured the piano's majesty, beautifully blending the sound with room ambience. The figure-8 pattern also yielded good ambient tracks, with less brightness on top and a tighter-sounding low end.

I got my best results by positioning the 608 outside the piano in omni mode, augmented by a near- coincident pair of small-diaphragm condenser mics suspended above the harp and pointing slightly forward toward the hammers. The deep, realistic ambience of the 608 track combined with the drier stereo image from the two condensers to yield a gorgeous sound.

ROAM THE TOMEIf there were a book called All the Ways You Can Mic a Drum Set, it would probably make the Bible look like a pamphlet. Though I didn't get a chance to audition every conceivable drum-miking technique, I did employ a variety of miking methods on drum sets, usually with stellar results. As the drum tracks made clear, this mic has excellent transient response and a very realistic sound.

As an overhead, the 608 proved to be an ace performer, equally capable of capturing the bright plash of the cymbals, the detail of the ride-stick work, and the punch and timbre of the toms. When compared with a popular large-diaphragm mic in this application, the 608, impressively, sounded both brighter and fatter. Whether as an overhead or a room mic, the 608 would be among my first choices for capturing the raw energy of a drummer thrashing the kit.

As a close drum mic, the 608 again yielded aural gold. I especially liked it on hi-hat, where it did a great job of capturing the attack of the sticks on the closed cymbals as well as the nice midrange "chick" sound made by closing the cymbals with the foot. The 608 sounded beautiful, too, on some snare drum brush work.

Capturing backbeats and rim shots from the snare was trickier due to the 608's hot output. But with careful mic positioning and a little peak limiting, I tamed the spikes and got nice, fat snare tracks.

The 608's cardioid polar pattern is not the tightest available, so finding the position that best minimized leakage from the rest of the kit took some work. Even then, I had to spend more time setting a gate to sufficiently de-emphasize the bleed from adjacent sources-not atypical for a condenser mic on snare, of course, but worth noting.

PERCUSSION, PERCHANCE?The 608 scored high marks on percussion, too. Positioned close and set to cardioid, the mic captured plenty of attack and high end from both congas and bongos without sacrificing the drums' resonance. When moved back a bit and flipped to omni to catch some room sound, the 608 really impressed me-both sets of drums retained their snap and resonance without being muddied by the darker sound of the room.

The 608 did justice to most other small-percussion overdubs-claves, shakers, cabasa, and maracas-especially in capturing the high end and in helping the tracks cut through the mix. A notable exception was on tambourine, where the 608 proved too harsh-it overexposed the instrument's "jangly" character, sounding cold and ultimately rendering the track unusable.

OTHERS AND DRUTHERSI also took advantage of the 608 to record a few out-there samples for my personal sound-design library. On large tubular wind chimes, the 608 accurately caught the clangorous attack and hollow ringing of the copper tubes. The trickling of a large rain stick also benefited from the bright cast that the 608 imparted to the sample.

Using the 608 with an A.R.T. Tube MP mic preamp cranked to 10, I created an intentionally distorted voice-over for a special effect. Here, the 608's hot output and cutting high end served to overdrive the preamp's tube for a warm and fuzzy approximation of an old TV broadcast-perfect for the application that I had in mind. Sure, I could have created this effect any number of ways-for instance, by patching in an effects unit and notching the EQ on a pristine vocal track-but the 608's convenient size and bright tonal characteristics offered a quick, one-step solution.

FINAL VOTEWhile there will always be the bittersweet ache that comes from wanting the legendary large-diaphragm condenser mic (which costs as much as the car you own), it's nice to know that a sensibly priced option like the MBHO MBNM 608 C-L occasionally comes along. For male vocals especially, the 608 is a stunner-it stood its ground against some steeply priced (and steeped-in-legend) competition. The mic was also a first- rate performer on acoustic guitar, drums, and percussion, and as a room mic.

I like having the cardioid, omni, and figure-8 polar patterns available; they make the 608 quite a flexible player. Both the omni and figure-8 settings are great for capturing room ambience. I also like the different frequency responses made available by the multiple polar patterns-having a palette of tonal options to play with is a plus.

The 608 gets high marks for convenience. For one thing, its narrow barrel eliminates the need for a special (read costly) clip or shock-mount. Indeed, I was able to get by with the mic clip from a small-diaphragm condenser mic in my collection-a good thing, because the 608 ships without a mic clip or shock-mount. I also appreciate the slim profile and light weight of the 608. This mic is easy to position in tight spaces, making it a sensible choice for location recording, too.

I do have a quibble with the 608's polar-pattern selector. The selector is small and deeply recessed-I had to use the tip of a ballpoint pen to change patterns-and I had some difficulty verifying which pattern it was set to. In the mic's defense, the hard-to-reset switch makes the 608 less prone to unintentional pattern changes during handling and positioning. Moreover, although I was initially apprehensive about the 608's lack of a low-end rolloff or attenuation pad, I barely noticed their absence while using the mic.

Given its tendency to sound too bright on some applications, the MBHO MBNM 608 C-L is not the ideal candidate for every occasion-but then, what mic is? I still found it to be incredibly versatile, and I give it a ringing endorsement.

John Ferenzik is a multi-instrumentalist who has played with Todd Rundgren and other noted artists. He recently completed a solo project-Zero Points for Zeus-which was released in May. You can e-mail John at frnzk@pond.com or visit his Web site at www.ferenzik.com.