Field Test: Sennheiser MKH 8040 Series Microphone

May 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Kevin Becka

DETACHABLE CAPSULE, LOW PROFILE, EXTENDED BANDWITH

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Sennheiser's MKH 8000 line offers three models and a range of accessories that allow for many extension and placement options. The Nextel black finish is camera- and stage-friendly, offering low visual impact. Three capsules are offered: The omni MKH 8020 offers a frequency response from 10 Hz out to 60 kHz and handles SPLs up to 138 dB; the MKH 8040 (tested here) is a cardioid model; and the MKH 8050 is supercardioid. The latter two boast a 30 to 50k Hz response and handle 142dB SPLs. All three are transformerless.

The MKH 8000's design lets you separate the capsule from the MZX 8000 XLR module; both are available separately or as a single-capsule package. With the XLR module attached, the mic measures just under three inches long and 0.75 inches in diameter. For tight-placement situations or hanging applications, one of the extension options can place the XLR connector up to 30 feet from the 1.6-inch capsule. There are nearly 20 available accessories, including a floor stand, stand clip, extension tubes, shock-mount, cable extenders, crossbar mounts, table stand and ceiling mount. The MKH 8040 I tested came in a sturdy, lockable aluminum case with clip, the capsule with XLR module and a pop filter.

COMPACT AND COMPLEX

The 8000's design is officially listed as a radio-frequency (RF) condenser with a symmetrical push-pull transducer. In addition to the back plate, the mic is fitted with an extra front plate with the “business” diaphragm placed in between. This offers a fixed acoustic impedance, high output, low noise and low distortion. RF condenser mics use a comparatively low RF voltage generated by a low-noise oscillator. This voltage is modulated by the changes in capacitance produced by the sound waves that move the capsule diaphragm. Following the demodulation, a low-noise audio frequency signal with very low source impedance is available, and this can be used to directly drive bipolar transistors that produce less random noise than the field-effect transistors that are usually needed.

AROUND THE STUDIO

I first heard the MKH 8040s used as spaced pair of overheads on a drum kit. My first impression was that they sounded “dark,” lacking top end. Upon further listening, I decided the mics were flat rather than lacking in HF response. My go-to overhead mics are Blue Bottles, which sound open at the top end and are a beautiful choice as overheads. In comparison, the MKH 8040s lacked the “oomph” that I seek from the cymbals. However, in this application the midrange toms and snare sounded great with beautiful transients, lots of presence and no sign of pooping out, even when the drummer was playing at full strength. For the next test, I used them as close-in tom mics and I wasn't disappointed. Both high and middle drums were represented perfectly, offering the same transients and presence I heard when I used them as overheads. They did need a bit of help in the top end, which was easily achieved by applying a bit of EQ.

Used as a spaced pair on a wooden Leslie cabinet, the MKH 8040s sounded phenomenal. Placed left and right at a corner of the cabinet to get the full benefit of the spinning horn, they sounded perfect in the midrange, making the organ sit right where it belonged with the rest of the band.

I had an epiphany when I used the mics as a spaced pair on congas to determine how well they could isolate the on-axis signal. I used the MKH 8040s with the Blue Bottles and placed all four mics identically, about a foot from the drums. The Bottles have 1-inch cardioid capsules and sounded great as a stereo pair for percussion. Although the MKH 8040s were placed and panned in the same way, they sounded much wider due to their scaled-down off-axis response. The result was so isolated that when A/B'd with the Blue Bottles, the MKH 8040s sounded starkly wider. The 8040s sounded flat in the top range but offered a nice midrange response that I would have trimmed down in the lower midrange for the mix. They were a bit too realistic in regard to the drums' bottom end, which made them sound tubby in the mix.

Last, I heard the mics on an acoustic guitar placed as an X/Y pair. They served this instrument well, providing a nice stereo picture due to their ability to isolate on-axis signals, and the top sounded as flat as I'd observed on other instruments. The only thing I would have changed for the mix was to boost the top a bit. Compared to a spaced pair of larger-diaphragm mics, the MKH 8040s brought the guitar right out in the midrange, prompting me to turn them down until they sat perfectly in the mix.

SOLID, VERSATILE CHOICE

Generally, I had good results with the MKH 8040s. My only complaint is that they often needed a bit of help in the upper audible frequency range. They did provide a nice midrange presence no matter what I tried them on, specifically making the organ, guitar and drums pop in the mix. I could see the accessory package and the ability to place the capsule remotely from the XLR connector as real pluses. The MKH 8040s retail at $1,948.50, but their street price is much less. These versatile mics might just be the ticket for use in studio, live and broadcast situations, and giving them a listen is a worthwhile investment in time.

Sennheiser USA, 860/434-9190, www.sennheiserusa.com.


Kevin Becka is Mix's technical editor.






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