Neumann''s BCM104 was designed for broadcast applications but also sounds great for various recording tasks.
Neumann recently introduced the BCM104 ($999), a transducer designed primarily for broadcast applications yet versatile enough for the recording studio. The large-diaphragm cardioid condenser mic is the first arrival from Neumann's new Broadcast line. Sporting jaunty angles, a rear-protruding XLR connector, and an integrated mount, the BCM104 makes quite an impression with its stout yet sleek profile and classy satin-nickel finish.
The BCM104 was designed for the broadcast announcer, and its open-weave cylindrical grille can be twisted off for cleaning (a handy hygiene-promoting feature in multiuser environments). An internal mesh pop screen (also removable) provides further protection of the capsule from plosives, moisture, and airborne detritus.
The BCM104's mount, which incorporates an elastic suspension to guard against structure-borne noise, is not adjustable. That makes the mic difficult to place in certain recording situations. Fortunately, the optional SG5 swivel adapter (available from Neumann) enables the mic to pivot on a 90-degree axis for more flexibility. The plastic threading on the stand adapter doesn't inspire confidence in its long-term durability, but the rest of the apparatus feels sturdy.
The mic features a selectable -14 dB attenuation pad and a low cut-filter that slopes off at 12 dB per octave at 100 Hz. The switches are hidden within the recesses of the XLR jack. It takes a screwdriver and a delicate touch to pull the insert from its moorings in order to activate the switches. Ready access to these functions is not that important in a broadcast installation, but in a recording studio I found reaching the selectable switches cumbersome. Nevertheless, once all was set to go, this mic showed true chutzpah.
Out of the Gates
During the test period, the BCM104 performed admirably on a number of sessions. It picked up a tenor saxophone in a jazz quintet, captured kick drum on rock sessions, did justice to three male vocalists singing pop and folk tunes, and sounded fantastic on upright bass. I also examined the mic in some controlled tests with acoustic steel-string guitar, male and female spoken word, bass drum, and key chimes.
I recorded the results to 2-inch analog tape and a Pro Tools TDM system using Neve VR Legend, SSL 6000 Series, and Yamaha DM2000 consoles. I also recorded to a Pro Tools LE system using an M-Audio Octane preamp and a Focusrite ISA series preamp.
Tearing Up the Turf
The BCM104 sounded great from the start, exhibiting a tight low end and the typical Neumann airiness above 10 kHz. It is a superb vocal mic and provided a clean, present, and natural sound for five voices and styles ranging from husky male pop vocal to female spoken word. The sound is similar to Neumann's TLM 103, though the BCM104 is brighter in the top end and has a tighter, more contained low-end sound. Both mics feature low self-noise rating of 7 dBA and a maximum SPL rating of 138 dB, which the pad switch can extend to 152 dB.
I especially liked the mic on upright bass; it captured a good balance of overall tone with plenty of low end and great definition. The BCM104 also excelled on kick drum, picking up a sound that popped through the mix like nothing else. With a tight low end, great presence on the beater attack, and plenty of depth, the BCM104 offered an exceptionally full, punchy sound with good balance between beater and low end on three different kick drums.
On sax the BCM104 was smooth, mellow, and airy, although during honky passages the mic tended to accent a brasher sound in the sax player's tone. The mic exhibited great off-axis rejection, barely picking up a drum set and a trombone in the same room during the jazz session. While the BCM104 was bright on a steel-string guitar, it still had a usable sound after a little taming with EQ in the high mids between 2 and 3 kHz. Key chimes came through clean and clear, though a bit bright.
The Home Stretch
While its shape and features are optimized for the broadcast announcer, the BCM104 proved its mettle as a viable studio condenser mic. It's especially effective on vocals and upright bass and can pack a punch on a kick drum. The hidden low-cut and pad switches, the rigidity of the mount, and the plastic threading on the stand adapter notwithstanding, the BCM104 has a natural, articulate sound. It offers great detail, good tonal balance, and a tight, neat low end along with an airiness that makes it suitable for a number of studio applications. With a suggested list price of $999, this is an affordable, large-diaphragm Neumann that is well worth a listen.