Sennheiser caught up with Jim Anderson, professor at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University and past-president of the Audio Engineering Society after he put the groundbreaking MKH 8020 digital microphones through a short--but convincing--trial period in both student and professional applications. Anderson also spoke about his experiences with the Neumann Solution D microphone.
How familiar are you with Sennheiser and Neumann's digital microphones?
"I think Sennheiser is an innovator in this technology. I was introduced to the Neumann Solution D system a few years ago and have been very impressed with the performance of Sennheiser's digital microphone technology ever since. Since receiving the MKH 8020s, which are small diaphragm/omni mics, I have used them on my last three or four projects as a prominently featured microphone."
Describe your first experiences using the Neumann Solution D digital microphone.
"I remember using the Solution D when it first came out in 2005. At this point in time, I had never tried a digital mic because I don't believe there were any others out there available on the market to try. I was recording a film scoring session at NYU and I had a 30-piece orchestra, live to 2-track, comprised mostly of musicians from the New York Philharmonic. I used a pair of the Solution D's and recall that the system was remarkably stable and sonically outstanding.
In fact, there was a point where we had a break and I said, 'Let's solo the Solution Ds,' at which point everyone in the control room looked at each other and said, 'Why are we bothering putting all these other mics up?' The sound had spectacular depth and reach, and the sound staging was fantastic. We didn't even need the center channel like you would have in a Decca tree."
How would you describe the sound of the Neumann Solution D, and what were some of its useful applications?
"I would describe the Solution D's sound as being full, open and unhampered. It was perfect in the orchestral application I described, but it is also a wonderful vocal mic. Additionally, it is very good for recording solo instruments where you are not looking for too much color, since a mic that introduces too much color could potentially cloud the image of the instrument.
Overall, my experiences with the Neumann Solution D really set up my expectations when I received the 8020s. I thought if it is anything like the experience I had with the Solution D, I knew I was going to be in good shape."
Let's shift now to the Sennheiser MKH 8020. What were your overall impressions?
"As soon as I received the MKH 8020, I did some listening tests with the students. I had them on a piano up against 6-8 of the very best microphones we owned, and honest to God, they decisively blew everything else away. I was so impressed with the bloom of the bottom end of the piano. As with the Solution D, the MKH 8020 does not introduce any color and seems to be sonically faithful to the original source; this pure response tends to make the mixing process much easier."
Can you describe how the MKH 8020 performed in student applications?
"As soon as I got the MKH 8020s, I brought them into class. I explained, 'I am going to do something really dangerous and open up some brand new technology none of us have ever tried or heard before.' We recorded a rock/jazz ensemble using the MKH 8020 digital mics as drum overheads, and the impression was, 'We just don't need a snare mic.' The snare had such a depth and fatness from just the overheads that it was as if there was already a mic on the snare.
The first thing we noticed was that when the gain was tuned up, the signal just got louder. You didn't hear the thermo noise of the microphone increase whatsoever and the noise floor was non-existent."
Did you use the MKH 8020s in a professional recording session?
"Yes--and every time I've used them, artists and engineers alike have been blown away. I just completed fabulous project with a Latin artist named Pedro Martinez for Calle 54 Records, recording at Avatar. We used the 8020s on all the percussion instruments, and Pedro, who plays the congas and uses a lot of percussion, came over and said, 'I can't believe the sound of the congas. They sound amazing and this is the most natural I've ever heard them sound.' His new record is very percussion heavy, and the 8020s captured all the air, all the attack and all the power we needed to hear off every instrument. It all comes right off the mic and we didn't even have to apply EQ to achieve a great sound."
How complex are these digital mics to set up?
"Having used the Neumann Solution D before, I remembered how simple it was to set up a digital mic during an existing recording session. When you introduce a brand new piece of technology into a room or working musicians and engineers, the response is almost always skepticism. They see hours potentially being impacted just to make everything work properly. But these digital mics are huge time savers in the studio. You are able to control every parameter of the microphone through a remote interface on the desktop and can manage everything from polar patterns to filtering to sibilance control. Also, with these mics, you don't even need a preamplifier--we go digitally into ProTools."
Do you plan on using Sennheiser and Neumann digital microphones in the future?
"Absolutely. They have quickly become a go-to microphone for me, and are now a permanent part of my repertoire. I am now sold on the whole idea of using digital mics, and also using them in concert with other mics. They are just amazing."