Neumann TLM 102 Review

Neumann TLM 102 Microphone reviewed by EM author Myles Boisen in EM October 2010 issue
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The TLM102 packs a big microphone sound into a compact body.

Neumann''s latest updates a microphone line that spans the history of professional recording. The TLM 102 ($699) is the company''s most affordable large-diaphragm studio mic to date.

The TLM 102 is built around a large-diaphragm cardioid condenser element and transformerless solid-state electronics. For studio recording, the smaller housing offers ease of placement in tight spots such as between a floor tom and cymbal, or inside a piano. The mic is available in a black finish and the traditional Neumann matte-nickel look.

Comparisons with Neumann''s popular TLM 103 are inevitable. The two models share a common style in terms of grille shape, overall construction, and mounting around the threaded XLR stem via the supplied all-metal mount. The TLM 103 does have more impressive noise and sensitivity ratings, while the 102 offers a slightly higher SPL tolerance (144dB compared to the 103''s 138dB). Contacts at Neumann confirmed that the electronics and capsule design of these two mics are different, dispelling any notion that the 102 might be a Mini-Me 103 mic.

A pair of TLM 102 mics got a thorough workout on a variety of instruments on composer Dan Plonsey''s Daniel Popsicle big-band project. On baritone sax, the Neumann''s character was a bit bass-lean at times, but the mic delivered a usable sound. Off-axis bleed was greater than the other dynamic, ribbon, and condenser mics I had up on the session. On the other hand, leakage from the back of the microphone (primarily drums) was uncolored, which is a plus in a multiple-mic situation. In addition, this reed player tended to move around a bit, so a more open pattern had its advantages.

The TLM 102 seemed well suited to higher reeds, and was also used on soprano sax, clarinet, and piccolo during the session. The mic''s hint of brightness was ideal for piccolo and soprano sax, and, again, the open cardioid pattern was complementary to the complicated tone production of the soprano.

On floor tom, the Neumann gave a nice balance of low-end punch and transient attack. It also captured clear and sharp transients when used on a variety of percussion sources. On acoustic guitar, the TLM 102 yielded a good balance of lows and highs from about a foot away, and it had enough high-end sparkle to satisfy me.

Engineer Bart Thurber, who shares my Guerilla Recording studio in Oakland, Calif., took the TLM 102 for a spin on some rock recording sessions. Here, the Neumann excelled on close-miked electric guitar amp, yielding an exemplary in-your-face sound. In addition, we liked the 102''s low-end response when miking electric bass amps. Thurber also tried the 102 pair as drum overheads, but he noted that it picked up too much room sound and not enough cymbal definition for his tastes.

On two vocalists—female singer/songwriter Zoe Boekbinder and male rapper Frank Stickemz—the 102 was crisp and detailed. Boekbinder said she felt like she could have used a little more low-end richness from the Neumann mic on her voice, while rapper Stickemz required some additional high-end EQ for his rapid-fire delivery to cut through properly.

During testing, I found the TLM 102 pair to be sufficiently matched for critical use as a stereo pair. However, when tapping on the stands and the mic bodies, I thought that the internal shockmounting of the mic could have been better implemented.

The TLM 102 delivers a neutral and usable sound without too much fussing over placement. In general, I would say that this model has less lower-midrange warmth than a lot of more expensive large-diaphragm mics I use in the studio. This may be due to its near-omnidirectional pattern at low frequencies, which yields less proximity effect than some transducers. But on critical low-end sources such as floor tom and electric bass, the 102 performed admirably. Although Neumann has found ways to make its signature large-diaphragm condenser sound available for less than $1,000, there''s nothing cheap or small about the sound of the TLM 102.

Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4
Neumann TLM 102 Product Page