So, with Neumann deciding to once again echo their glorious past with a modern product — the TLM49 — borrowing the body and capsule of the highly regarded M49, but with a modern transformerless, surface mount circuit, the recording community is asking: Is this truly a return to glory, of just a genius stroke of marketing? Well, let’s find out.
The TLM49 is a fixed cardioid mic, which uses Neumann’s venerable K47/49 capsule (as found in the classic U47 and M49), and ships complete with the EA3 elastic suspended shockmount. The head grill is identical to the M49 and TLM149, and the body shape is almost identical to the M49. There are no pad or bass rolloff switches.
As to electronics, the TLM49 uses the latest surface mount technology, housed on a high quality ceramic board. With this technology, resistors can be laser-trimmed during assembly to match tolerances with an exceptional degree of precision. Also, the small size and light weight of these surface mount amplifier boards allow them to be mounted elastically, which reduces structure- and handling-related noise.
The SMD preamplifier design is incredibly small, and while it offers benefits such as reduced stray capacitance, it’s clearly not intended for modification (it’s also not conducive to quick repairs unless you have the proper tools and training). As with many SMDs, rather than replace one of the components, it would likely require swapping out the entire board if an IC or other component failure occurs; which is a problem only if you have an aversion to your gear being worked on by the manufacturer.
I decided to put the mic through the paces of miking various instruments against its historical ancestor, my own M49 (with a K47 capsule and Telefunken N52a tube PSU), and against a U87, to gain some perspective if nothing else. For convenience’s sake, I recorded to Pro Tools HD at 88.2kHz using my Apogee AD-16X converter, with no soft limiting, so that I could get the most accurate reproduction possible.
The TLM49, M49, and U87 were all tested on male and female vocals, in a variety of styles, and on electric guitar — with positive results. I didn’t prefer the TLM49 to the M49 or the U87 in a mono piano application, nor would it be my first choice for acoustic guitar; but given the intention behind the mic’s design (recording vocals), this was no great surprise. As a mono drum overhead the TLM49 wasn’t particularly flattering to the cymbals, but did stand up well in capturing the drums as a single overhead (Neumann recommends trying the TLM 49 on kicks; users also report that the mic, when placed directly in front of an upright bass, achieves a very finished sound). However, as it was designed for specific applications, let’s be fair and take a look at how it holds up in respect to its intended usage.
Neumann states clearly that this mic was designed primarily for vocal use. One look at the response curve shows you that from the presence peak at 5kHz, there is a gentle slope all the way down to 20Hz, with everything under 1kHz registering below 0dB — which shows their clear intention to optimize the mic for voice.
For both vocalists, I went through my trusty Inward Connections Vac Rac tube mic pre, as it has the least coloration and most headroom of any of my pres. I didn’t use a pop stopper, so as to avoid high frequency loss, and I did not use any compression to disk.
The female had an upper range, thin voice, with some great power, a hint of rasp, and a sheen of air over the top. For a singer like this, the M49 would be one of my considerations, along with other mics with open top end (AKG C12, Telefunken ELA M251 or a Manley Gold Reference, for example). In both gentle, breath-y singing and powerful rock singing contexts, there’s a clearly diminished low end on the TLM49 but, in a mix, these might not necessarily be the frequencies that you want to utilize — and with a high female voice there’s not much going on below 400Hz anyway. On the high side of things, her voice sounded very similar on all three mics, with the U87 being a hair “boxier,” and an added touch of sparkle in the 10kHz region with the M49. But with her naturally compressed voice, the difference between the TLM49 and the M49 was not particularly significant.
On the male vocals, where the singer’s range was lower, those differences were more noticeable. As the air on the top of his voice was a greater interval from the note he was singing than it was with the female, that extra sparkle on the M49 really made it sound magical — and I preferred having those lower frequencies in there. But on the male vocal, as with the female vocal, I really favored the TLM49 to the U87. It sounded nice, had detail, and captured the flattering portions of both voices.
One thing that I’ve noticed when mic testing is that sometimes mics recorded without compression respond very differently as you begin to compress them. I have encountered mics that sounded okay without compression, but became awful with it. Because compression is an important element in vocals, I decided to see how the sound would change by applying the Urei 1176LN to the recorded signals of all three mics. The tone of all three remained fairly consistent, with the TLM49 still sounding very good; at a 12:1 compression ratio with fast attack and release, the high end of the transients became accentuated and made things seem a bit breathier. This was encouraging, because I have found that with the current trend of EQing extra high-mid frequencies in internal mic preamps, sometimes the pleasant aspects of the mic’s sound collapse when compression is applied. Fortunately, this was not the case with the TLM49.
Recording a ’69 Gibson SG Special (with P90 pickups) through a ’53 Fender Deluxe, I ran the mics through an API 512b. This is a mic pre with a great deal of headroom, is punchy and clean, and generally doesn’t seem to need any EQ when paired with the right mic. I placed the mics near where the cone and the diaphragm meet, about 4" off the cone. I played a rocking, distorted part in the bridge pickup, and then used both pickups with the guitar volume pulled way back to see how a clean, “jangly” part recorded — the TLM49 held up great. I didn’t encounter any noticeably unpleasant distortion coming from the mic’s preamp; it was a little sharp and very aggressive. The U87 was very meaty and had more authority in the midrange, and thus would be my first choice, but the TLM49 was pretty good. It seemed to want some EQ to fill in those low-mids a couple of dB, and maybe roll out a hair of that 5 to 8kHz that was “harshing up the sound,” but that extra brightness and diminished bottom worked just fine for the cleaner section.
I was actually expecting to hear the mic break up, from what the people at Neumann told me to expect, but the mic handled the high SPLs with what seemed like room to spare. With the guitar sounds that are in vogue today and wind up in many final mixes, that presence peak in the highs, combined with the rolled off lows, might really work for somebody who doesn’t have access to a first-rate guitar EQ. And as no plug-in really seems to provide that crunch in the 3–5kHz range that a good analog EQ can give you, this mic could be very attractive to some people. Provided you have a good sound at the source, I could see it fitting into the landscape on a Lord-Alge type mix. And if you wanted to thicken it up? Pair the TLM49 with a good ribbon, or go ahead and EQ in those lower frequencies, being mindful of staying away from anything above 1kHz.
While the TLM49 has, arguably, a rather singularity of purpose (namely vocals) and a few limitations due to its fixed cardioid design, it strikes me as being a good choice for the project studio or post-production ADR facility. It held up very well for recording electric guitars and vocals, although it did pale in comparison to other “golden age” Neumann products in other applications. Then again, given the cost, those who know what to expect in its price range certainly won’t be clogging up internet forums wondering why it doesn’t sound like other higher-end Neumann products that cost considerably more.
The TLM49 looks serious, is affordable, and all in all is a really good solid-state vocal mic. The only caveat is if what you want is the exact sound of a U87, M49, or U47 . . . well, you know where you need to go!
Target market: Project studios, post-production ADR facilities; those who want a solid, yet affordable mic for vocal and electric guitar application.
Strengths: Cost-effective. Heavy-duty design. Elastic mounting protects against structure-borne and handling noise. Great for vocals/voiceovers.
Limitations: SMD preamp design makes modifications and DIY repairs difficult.
Price: $1,499 list