Sennheiser MK4 Condenser Studio Microphone Review
t’s always seemed strange to me that the company who own Newmann in Germany, and have a big reputation in the headphone and live microphone market, have always seemed a bit under represented in the lower priced studio microphone marketplace. The MK4 should help to correct this misconception, especially as it sells for under £200 in the UK, which makes it a very strong German manufactured contender against a lot of the competitors manufactured in China or manufactured using Chinese sourced capsules.
The Sennheiser MK4 is a condenser microphone for professional studio recording with a large 24-carat gold-plated diaphragm and, importantly, the diaphragm is manufactured in the same clean room as all high-end Sennheiser and Neumann condenser capsules.
At 485 grams in weight, the MK4 felt weighty and solid when unpacked and has a really nice retained screw holder when used without the optional elastic shock mount.
The MK4 has a fixed cardioid pattern and the on-axis frequency response is substantially flat with a very mild presence rise between 3 and 10kHz.
As always, the first test I did was with the spoken word which is a great guide to the ability of a microphone to transcribe naturally.
I found that the ideal distance between the microphone and speaker was around 5” to 6” (130 to 150cm) which gave an extremely natural recording. There is some proximity effect, which of course has its uses, but even so I would avoid close mik’ing of vocalists with the MK4. The low self noise figure makes this practical to do.
Moving on to acoustic guitar the results were favourable, with the full frequency response of the guitar evenly reproduced, especially in the low mids where muddiness in inferior microphones is often evident.
And finally, for this first part of the test, on to electric guitar. In this case my Gibson Les Paul Standard playing though a VOX combo. The first thing to say, is that this microphone can deal with very high levels of input, certainly beyond my own limits of endurance when we pushed the VOX combo hard in a small room. The MK 4 is a real gem with electric guitar capturing both the body of the sound and the full harmonics that (for me) only the Gibson can produce. For close cabinet mik’ing, it’s important to point the MK4 directly at the centre of the speaker if you want to get that raw excited sound. Things dull down quite a bit if you mike off centre.
So after I’d had my fun, it was off to Alex Eden at his superb Factory Street Studio complex where the MK4 got the chance to feature in some of his recording sessions. Here’s what Alex had to say.
Sennheiser MK4 – Simple but effective
With a packed couple of weeks in the studio working on lots of very different projects from rappers through acoustic singer songwriters to rock bands the Sennheiser MK4 arrived at just the right time for me to put it through its paces.
Opening the sturdy box, I would not have any worries about damage if it was being posted to me, I found the mic well packed in bubble wrap and all the associated bits present.
The mic itself first struck me as modern looking without any attempt to look like something else, no U87 clone here then. It’s well made with no no frills, the absence of a pad switch or bass roll off didn’t bother me as I tend to avoid using them anyway, however if you are planning on running it straight into your converters built in pre then these may be features you would miss.
There is only cardioid pick-up pattern but for the price that’s fine by me. The mic runs on standard 48v phantom power and worked reliably without any problem at all for the whole of the time on test.
The clip is well made and functional, the angle adjustment tightens very firmly and there were no concerns about droop. The clip was a quite flexible between the mic and knuckle joint which was slightly disconcerting when trying to position it but this may work to absorb shocks through the stand. It comes with a brass thread adaptor a little sign of quality. The mic itself screws easily into the clip and it is easy to position at any angle. Now a shock-mount isn’t included with this mic and the optional extra is not very cheap at around £80, also the thread is different to the common far eastern mics and the body of the mic is to wide and tapered to fit any of my other cradles, so if a shock-mount is important to you this cost needs to be taken into consideration.
In the box is a very lightly padded drawstring bag which doesn’t offer much in the way of protection but is fine as a dust cover.
The manual is clear and well written with basic use instructions and some trouble shooting tips as well as a couple of hints about avoiding wind noise etc. Useful for the beginner.
So what does it sound like?
Open, smooth top end, versatile, neutral sounding, are some of the terms that spring to mind. The first thing I tried it on was a distorted electric guitar amp and what came out the monitors was an honest representation, it had no problems with the level so the pad wasn’t missed at all.
Next an acoustic guitar, again no surprises, no problems with proximity effect or boom, in fact for the rest of the fortnight whatever I pointed it at, piano, vocals, percussion, came out sounding like the source. A good result.
This mic works, I didn’t find one thing that came out sounding bad when I was using this mic, which surely means it’s the perfect mic….. not exactly. When I choose a mic more often than not it’s for some character it imparts to the source, to enhance it in a subtle way, make it “more real” somehow. The MK4 doesn’t really have a personality for me, which is great if you have only one or two mics, you need to be able to use them on everything, but if you have a collection of mics to impart flavour then the MK4 will often be left on the shelf.
However if you need one mic to do everything, you won’t do much better than the MK4.
Factory Street Studios
Reading back through my notes written at the time of the review, I notice me remembering that this is a sub £200 microphone with a high end German build quality and a detailed uncoloured sound.
It is not going to give you that larger than life tube sound but that makes the MK4 just fine for most applications, and for the project and home studio : you are getting an awful lot, for very little money; and, just like German automobiles, the MK4 is going to go on working for a very long time!