The relatively inexpensive KSM27 joins the cardioid KSM32 and the multipattern KSM44 as the latest in Shure's KSM series of studio condenser microphones. The KSM27 is a general-purpose mic designed to sound good in a variety of applications. Shure describes the mic as having a more full-bodied sound than the KSM32, with a frequency response more like the KSM44's. According to the manual (which is written in six languages), the KSM27 can handle vocals and broadcasting; acoustic, electric, wind, and low-frequency instruments; drums and percussion; and choral and orchestral ensembles. Oh, and it can be used as an ambient room mic. I didn't have a chance to use the KSM27 in quite that many ways, but I did try it on several typical sources and a few less typical ones. The microphone comes in a thick red velveteen pouch. A little more than six inches long and two inches wide, the champagne-colored KSM27 looks like a slightly smaller version of its more expensive siblings. At nearly a pound and a half, the mic has a nice heft, and its die-cast zinc housing gives it a solid feel. A Shure nameplate identifies the business side of the mic.
The KSM27 is a side-address, large-diaphragm condenser mic with a fixed cardioid polar pattern. Its ultrathin one-inch-diameter Mylar diaphragm is sputtered with 24-karat gold and feeds a Class A, discrete, transformerless preamplifier. High-quality electronic components and gold connectors are used throughout. The mic requires 48V phantom power to perform optimally, but it can be used with as little as 11V — as long as you don't mind some diminished sensitivity and headroom.
Two small switches on the rear of the KSM27 control a 15 dB pad (the mic can handle SPLs as high as 153 dB with the pad engaged) and two highpass filters: a mild 6 dB-per-octave rolloff at 115 Hz and a steeper 18 dB-per-octave cutoff at 80 Hz. A subsonic filter, which is always functioning, eliminates frequencies below 17 Hz entirely, and an integrated three-layer mesh grille reduces unruly sibilants, plosives, and other undesirable breath sounds.
A really nice touch is the included ShureLock Rubber Isolated Shock Mount. Most mics in this price range come with a marginal shockmount if they come with one at all. The KSM27's shockmount is sturdy, well designed, and simple to use. It connects to the KSM27 through threads at the base of the mic and uses four fairly rigid rubber bands to suspend the mic.
Optional accessories include the A32SC aluminum carrying case ($88.40), the A32WS foam windscreen ($13.26), the PS-6 Popper Stopper ($43.67), and the A32ZB padded carrying bag ($29.17).
I had the opportunity to use a pair of KSM27s for more than a month. I used them most with an Aphex 1100 discrete Class A tube-mic preamp going directly to digital media (ADAT or MOTU Digital Performer) and analog tape, though for comparison I sometimes also used the preamps on my Yamaha 03D digital mixer. Connections were made with various Mogami cables, and I monitored sources and playback on JBL LSR28P powered monitors.
I noticed first that the KSM27's output level was generally a little lower than that of the average large-diaphragm condenser. I also noticed, over time, that differences between the two KSM27s were negligible in all applications.
During my tests, I tried engaging the highpass filters at various points and found that they both worked quite well. I didn't use the mic in any live applications, but it is easy to imagine that the 80 Hz low cut would come in handy for eliminating bass-amp rumble and other stage vibrations.
The KSM27's manual indicates that the mic has a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 Khz. The response is basically flat, but with a slight bump at 50 Hz and a rise of nearly 5 dB at around 5 and 6 kHz. This “presence boost” remains 2 or 3 dB up from there until dropping steeply at around 15 kHz (see Fig. 1). That gives the KSM27 a little extra sparkle in the highs and high mids, and the boost at 5 kHz makes it a natural for acoustic and electric guitars.
I recorded two vocalists. First up was a female vocalist who had a thin voice with a slightly annoying edge in the upper mids. Given the KSM27's steep boost at 6 kHz, the mic theoretically should have exacerbated the edginess. Instead, it actually mellowed out the sound and added some much-needed fullness and warmth to the low mids. It turned out to be an excellent match for her particular voice.
The other vocalist, a man, sang and read some poetry. His voice was fairly deep with lots of resonance, and he worked the mic closely, particularly during the spoken-word session. Unlike the first vocalist, he really understood microphones and had great technique, which enabled him to take full advantage of the KSM27's forgiving proximity effects. At one point, when it looked as though he was going to swallow the mic, I engaged the low-frequency filter — a move that allowed the mic to be “eaten” yet still produce successful results.
Despite the contrast in the qualities of the two voices (and the difference in their technical skills), the KSM27 captured both performers with a surprising amount of clarity. The highs were light and airy, the mids well represented, and the lows smooth and tight. The mic didn't impart a lot of character, but the sound was pleasant and satisfying, and both vocalists were happy with the results. The KSM27's integral pop filter (the three-layered mesh grille) worked well, but not perfectly — in both cases, I wound up having to use an external pop filter.
When placed about six or seven inches directly in front of a Martin D15 steel-string acoustic guitar's sound hole, the KSM27 produced a warm yet balanced sound — perhaps a little too warm for a gentle fingerpicker who wants to hear ultrabright highs, but about right for a player using a pick and strumming chords. In a more conventional position, about six inches from the intersection of the neck and the body, slightly off-axis, the KSM27 accentuated even the most subtle finger sounds in a pleasing manner while still retaining a significant amount of low mid warmth. The imaging was equally well defined in both cases.
The results were even better on electric guitar. When placed a half inch away from the single 12-inch speaker in a Rivera Thirty Twelve, at the edge of the cone, the KSM27 sounded great on clean and distorted amp settings. Placing it about 20 degrees off-axis removed a little of the bite and emphasized the roundness of the mids. My favorite location, however, was back about a foot away from the speaker. That position let in just the right amount of air and ambience to capture what I was hearing in the room.
SKINS AND WINDS
Though I didn't have the opportunity to use the KSM27 on a drum kit, I did record several hand drums and other percussion instruments with the mic. The KSM27 sounded great on a large ceramic dumbek, particularly when I used the pair of mics, one on either end of the drum, to capture the high bek sounds coming off of the head and rim and the low dum sounds from the other end. There was just the right amount of finger sound to give the image a natural presence, and when I moved my hand in and out of the drum, raising and lowering the bass pitch, the mic tracked the air movement with impressive accuracy. I got similarly good results with conga, tar, and other hand drums, as well as with a slot drum and an assortment of shakers.
To further test the KSM27's versatility, I used it to record three instruments modified by Michael Masley (aka the Artist General; www.artistgeneral.com; see Fig. 2). In all cases, the modifications were in fact significant enough to qualify the instruments as original creations.
The Bandrum is a large metal dumbek with two half-inch-wide rubber bands stretched around it lengthwise and a large cork at the center of the head that serves as a bridge for the “strings.” Inside is a large spring that acts as an acoustic reverb unit. Hitting the cork produces a kick-drum-like sound, tapping the rim produces snarelike sounds, and “plucking” the rubber bands produces “bass” notes; in addition, the internal spring acts as a reverb for all three sounds simultaneously. The KSM27 did a remarkable job of capturing the complex cluster of sounds generated by the odd instrument, keeping each distinct and in balance, including the subtle “reverb” tails.
The Reedslide and the Lakota Slide are variations on a theme — modular instruments that use a clarinet and a flute mouthpiece, respectively. The mouthpieces are attached to the bodies of an Irish flute, a silver C flute, or a recorder through a trombonelike mechanism that allows you to slide between pitches mechanically while fingering the airholes. The Reedslide produces throaty timbres ranging from rich low notes to high squawks, and the Lakota Slide produces woody, flutelike sounds. The KSM27 handled them all, including the more bizarre variations, reproducing each sound with no distortion and little, if any, coloration. I've tried pricier mics that didn't fare nearly as well, so the KSM27 got high marks in this difficult application.
The Shure KSM27 isn't a mic with lots of personality; rather, it is a solid general-purpose microphone that can be used on a wide variety of sources with good results. Its versatility makes it a great choice for personal-studio owners looking for an affordable yet good-quality large-diaphragm condenser, and the included shockmount really sweetens the deal. Indeed, given the KSM27's low price, you might want to consider buying two of them — these mics work really well as a stereo pair. Two thumbs up.
Barry Clevelandis a Bay Area-based recording artist, engineer, and producer (www.barrycleveland.com). He is the author of Creative Music Production: Joe Meek's Bold Techniques (artistpro.com, 2001), a book about the visionary British producer's contributions to the art of recording.
Elementexternally polarized, DC bias capacitor (“true” condenser)Diaphragm1", 2.5 μm, 24-karat-gold-sputtered MylarPolar PatterncardioidFrequency Response20 Hz - 20 kHzDynamic Range124 dBSensitivity-37 dBV/PaSignal-to-Noise Ratio81 dBSelf-Noise14 dBPower48V phantomMaximum Sound-Pressure Level138 dB; 153 dB with pad (for <1% THD)Highpass Filters(1) 17 Hz (fixed); (1) 80 Hz, 18 dB/octave (switchable); (1) 115 Hz, 6 dB/octave (switchable)Attenuation Pad(1) 15 dBDimensions6.5" (H) × 2.2" (D)Weight1.41 lb.
large-diaphragm condenser microphone
AUDIO QUALITY3.5VALUE4.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Solid construction. Versatile. Class A, discrete, transformerless preamplifier. 15 dB pad. Two switchable highpass filters. Subsonic filter. Comes with high-quality shockmount.
CONS: Output level slightly lower than average.