Click here for a PDF of the specifications for the Neumann TLM 49
FIG. 1: The Neumann TLM 49 (shown here in its shockmount) combines a K 47 capsule with solid-state electronics to approximate the vintage character of a tube mic.
While its competitors try to duplicate its most famous creations, Neumann is maintaining a steady balancing act of affordability, quality, and innovation as it mines new designs from its substantial historical legacy. With a nod to the past, the TLM 49 is Neumann's latest entry.
Although its chunky vintage look is quite similar to that of the original multipattern tube M 49, the TLM 49 is a solid-state cardioid microphone. There are no highpass or attenuation switches, and as with all TLM-series mics, the TLM 49 is transformerless. Its large triple-mesh grille encloses a K 47 capsule, as used in Neumann's original M 49 and U 47 as well as its newer M 147 and M 149 mics.
A sturdy metal-and-elastic suspension shockmount comes with the mic, increasing the value of this package (see Fig. 1). The TLM 49 is secured to the swiveling mount by a threaded metal ring and can be rotated from side to side within the shockmount basket. The shockmount can also be inverted, making it easy to position the mic at almost any angle. The microphone's diaphragm is internally shockmounted as well.
The 8-page manual that comes with the TLM 49 is basic and doesn't highlight any special qualities or suggested applications. But in a conversation with Neumann product manager Dan Radin, I learned a few things about the mic that haven't yet been mentioned on the company Web site or in ads.
Radin explained that Neumann's goal was to “come as close to a tube sound as possible, but with semiconductors and phantom power instead of a tube” in order to avoid the cost of the tube power supply. According to Radin, the TLM 49's electronics provide an increase in even-order harmonics and will also break up like a tube mic would when faced with high sound-pressure level.
It is also worth noting that the TLM 49's polar response is very directional with respect to high frequencies. This gives the mic a more focused and tight sound, which tends toward supercardioid pickup, making it a good candidate for close-miking in ensemble situations.
In one respect, Neumann has broken with tradition by not including a wooden case. The TLM 49 arrives in a heavy-duty cardboard box. The mic slips inside this box easily with the shockmount attached, and a protective inner box with a thick foam lining fits securely over the head grille.
With Voices and Winds
A pair of TLM 49 mics (serial numbers 208 and 222) were provided for this review, and over a period of a month, I used them in sessions at my Guerrilla Recording studio in Oakland, California. My first test was with vocalist Aurora Josephson, a classically trained singer. I set up the TLM 49 alongside a Blue Bottle mic with a B6 capsule — one of my first-call tube vocal mics — and recorded into a Digidesign Pro Tools workstation.
Comparing the results of this session, I was surprised to find that the two mics conveyed a similar overall timbre and flattering balance of warmth and presence. The Blue mic was a bit crisper and bigger sounding, sometimes adding lush airiness but also exaggerating sibilance in this case. The TLM 49 rendered sibilant consonants much more smoothly and realistically, which became a distinct advantage once digital reverb was added to the program.
The TLM 49 pair also scored points as a stereo room configuration up against a pair of vintage Schoeps 221b small-diaphragm tube mics. On a session with the Rova Saxophone Quartet, I picked the Neumann pair for its superior low-midrange tone, natural highs, and minimal coloration when the room pair was blended in with close mics.
The TLM 49's smooth tone was evident on an assortment of female singers, including one vocalist whose strong midrange doesn't usually fare well on presence-boosting tube microphones. On a variety of vocal sessions, the Neumann impressed me by consistently delivering a winning combination of warm tone and unhyped clarity. Fellow engineer Bart Thurber achieved good results on male rock singers as well, and characterized the mic as “neutral and on the warm side.”
The TLM 49 does need to be used with a windscreen, however. Despite its multiple-layer grille, the mic was prone to popping when used in close proximity with one singer-songwriter.
Around the Drums
Another role in which the TLM 49 excelled was as a room mic for drums. On a few different sessions in my wood-floored drum room, this mic delivered a huge ambient sound that mixed perfectly with the close-miked kit. When placed close to and outside the kick drum, the TLM 49 added low-end heft without muddiness or a lack of focus. Thurber gleefully described this bass drum effect on one of his rock sessions as a “wallop.”
In the wake of these successes, I also tried the TLM 49 on a live drum tracking session with the Afro-beat band Aphrodesia. On djembe and conga drums, the Neumann delivered woody, natural tone and also displayed above-average rejection of a full drum kit just 10 feet away. When mixing, I did have to add minimal high-frequency shelving EQ to bring out the attack on these hand drums.
On a later Aphrodesia date, the TLM 49 provided one of the best baritone sax sounds I've ever gotten in the studio. It also did a nice job as a room mic for a 4-piece horn section. Once again the distant TLM 49's timbre mixed beautifully with close mics and needed little or no equalization. On other sessions, the TLM 49 got high marks when used to record tambourine and a Leslie cabinet.
Speaker in the House
To gain further insight into the sound of the TLM 49, I conducted some controlled loudspeaker tests. For these trials, test tones and mixes were played through mastering monitors (Dynaudio BM 15s), which were miked at a distance of 15 inches. A Millennia Media HV-3 preamp was paired with the test mics, and the audio was recorded through one mic at a time into a Pro Tools workstation at 24 bits, 48 kHz.
The two TLM 49 mics were very closely matched during sweep tone and full frequency mix tests. In my judgment, this mic pair could be used without reservation for critical stereo recording. Neumann's M 147 and TLM 103 microphones were also included in the loudspeaker tests. Output levels and self-noise were very similar for all these Neumann models.
The TLM 103 is a good all-purpose mic that I use frequently around the studio. Compared with the TLM 103, the TLM 49 had a flatter response with a more detailed midrange and less presence boosting. Depending on the application, it could be heard as having either a fuller or duller sound relative to a brighter mic like the TLM 103. On a hip-hop mix, the TLM 49 also possessed a punchier midbass response, bringing out a desirable range of electric bass and kick drum without adding muddiness.
Relative to the tube M 147, which also uses the K 47 capsule, the TLM 49 was a closer timbral match throughout the frequency spectrum. Each of these two mics treated the midrange a little differently, emphasizing distinctive aspects of vocals, snare, and chordal instruments on a variety of mixes. Overall I found the TLM 49 to be more open, airy, and dimensional — more hi-fi, if you will — while its tube-based cousin yielded more of a colored and compressed sound.
The published frequency chart in the booklet shows the TLM 49 to have a flat response from 100 Hz to 15 kHz within ±2 dB, with the exception of about a 3 dB boost at 5 kHz. The response is down roughly -6 dB at 30 Hz and 20 kHz. An individual frequency trace was not provided with each mic. My experience with the TLM 49 is that it is, indeed, very flat and particularly smooth in the high end compared with most condenser mics designed for vocal use.
I noticed no distortion or tube mic-like breakup under any conditions, including close-miked vocals and the aforementioned drum recordings. Impressive specs like a 98 dB dynamic range (at 0.5 percent distortion) for the mic amplifier make audible distortion a fairly remote possibility.
The TLM 49 is heavy and bulky, weighing in at almost 2 pounds. The addition of the suspension mount makes the unit a little awkward to handle. As with heavier ribbon and tube mics, extra care is recommended when mounting this mic, especially on a boom arm.
During the review period, I used the TLM 49 on a wide variety of sources and never once felt compelled to change it. Overall, Neumann's new model sounded remarkably natural, conveying exceptionally smooth high-end clarity and plenty of tone.
Normally I wouldn't compare tube and solid-state transducers in a review, except to illustrate a point. And in the case of the TLM 49, the point is that regardless of whatever electronic magic Neumann has concocted, this mic can indeed hold its own alongside top-dollar tube mics on revealing sources such as vocals and saxes.
That's not to suggest that the TLM 49 is capable of replicating the quirks or coloration of an old tube mic. Rather, the TLM 49's major strength — though it is undeniably warm and easy on the ears — is a realism that makes it as versatile as it is sweet sounding. Contributing factors in this mic's stellar performance include ultraclean electronics, excellent specs, good off-axis rejection, and neutral off-axis pickup.
My only gripe with the TLM 49 package is that a wooden case is not included. For those like me who are hooked on the old-fashioned Neumann touches, an M 149 case is a perfect fit and still available as an optional accessory for $195. Of course, the included shockmount is an attractive bonus and arguably more useful than a fancy box for those who have to keep an eye on the bottom line.
Despite (or perhaps because of) all the quality-oriented small microphone companies nipping at its heels, Neumann is still finding new and exciting ways to improve microphone technology. Its TLM 49 is a winner, and I expect to be raving about it for a long time.
Myles Boisen transduces frequently at Guerrilla Recording and the Headless Buddha Mastering Lab in Oakland, California.
GUIDE TO EM METERS
5 = Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology
4 = Clearly above average; very desirable
3 = Good; meets expectations
2 = Somewhat disappointing but usable
1 = Unacceptably flawed
Specifications tables for EM reviews can be found atwww.emusician.com/specs.
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Warm sound without exaggerated presence. Excellent specs. Suspension shockmount included. Vintage styling. Consistency of the unmatched pair was sufficient to allow for critical stereo recording.
CONS: Comes in a cardboard box instead of a wooden case.
Electronic Corp. (distributor)