By Paul Vnuk Jr.
Sennheiser is one of the longest-standing brands in the pro audio industry, well known for wireless transceivers, headphones, and of course mics. Until very recently the company was mainly known for dynamic mics such as the classic MD 421 and MD 441, and for high-end small-diaphragm condensers like the MKH 8000 series (we reviewed the MKH 8040 in June 2008).
In our June 2012 issue, we introduced readers to the MK 4, the firm’s first large-diaphragm condenser mic. The MK 4 is a cardioid condenser with a 1″ capsule that offers great sound and solid build quality, made stem to stern in Germany with a respectably accessible $300 price tag.
This month we get our first look at the new MK 8. It’s more than simply a multipattern version of the MK 4, adding a few new features as well.
Meet the MK 8
Like its sibling, the MK 8 is entirely designed and built in Germany. From the front it looks exactly like the MK 4 — and with good reason, they share the exact same body and grille assembly. Both mics measure 6.3″ x 2.25″ and both weigh just over 1 lb. Visually the MK mics have a modern, sleek European look with a brushed silver body and black mesh grille.
The MK 8 comes in a modest package with a mic pouch and threaded mic mount. If you desire a shockmount, Sennheiser offers the beautifully designed MKS4 for an additional $99.
There are two ways to visually tell MK 8 and the MK 4 apart. The most obvious is the model number on the front of each mic, along with a cardioid symbol only found on the MK 4. Second is the healthy complement of slider switches found on the MK 8’s back!
Unlike most typical solid state multipattern microphones, which commonly offer two or perhaps three pattern choices, the MK 8 offers five — figure-8, supercardioid, cardioid, wide cardioid, and omni. The MK 8 also offers two levels of input padding at -10 or -20 dB, as well as two choices of lowcut filtering at 60 Hz / 18 dB per octave or 100 Hz / 6 dB per octave.
The MK 8 uses an 1″ externally polarized dual-diaphragm capsule that is 24-carat gold plated and edge terminated with a modern ribbon cable. Rather than chasing a vintage schematic, this mic makes use of an entirely modern circuit design.
The MK 8 has a 20 Hz-20 kHz frequency response, a sensitivity of 14.1 mV (-37 dBV) per Pascal, equivalent noise level of 10 dBA, max SPL of 142 dB, and dynamic range of 132 dB.
Spectrum wise the MK 8’s graphs show it to be very mid-neutral and essentially flat from 100 Hz to 1 kHz. There is almost zero low-end boosting, and on the high end the MK 8’s dominant peak is at 10 kHz. As with many multipattern microphones, this becomes the most pronounced in omni mode.
Comparing the graph of the MK 4 to the MK 8 would lead me to believe that the MK 4 is a touch more upper-mid-forward than the MK 8 in cardioid mode. However, in comparing recordings I have on file from my MK 4 review with new recordings of the MK 8, I could hear very little difference.
Hear the MK 8
In my MK 4 review I called that microphone clear, neutral, and while it has a modern top end it is nicely shy of being “cutting”. I stand by that initial assessment, but as I have had time to revisit and use this mic in the form of the MK 8, the words that come to my mind are clean, solid and focused. Thanks to the newly added control choices and the additional polar patterns, you can add “highly versatile” to the list as well.
My first use of the MK 8 was on drum overheads, and I was impressed with how real and clear the capture of the kit was and how focused it sounded. There was no smear or sizzle in the sound at all. Because of this I have been using this pair of MK 8s as drum overheads for live performance as well as live recording for the past three months and have had zero inclination to take them off the kit!
My friend David Blascoe, a professional drummer in the Top 10 charting Christian Contemporary band Citizen Way (on tour now!) was equally impressed when we used them as over heads for tracking some drum parts for demos he was sending to his label. His impression was that they sounded so good, he would be fine if these same tracks made it past the demo stage into the final upcoming album.
The MK 8 is one of those mics that is clear and neutral enough to excel on any source. Aside from drum overheads, it stands out as a particularly good choice for acoustic guitar as well as sung vocal duties.
On voice the mic is flexible and quite agnostic when it comes to male or female voices. It has a very close full proximity effect that is not overdone, and which is nicely tailorable through both pattern and filter choice. I will note, though, that this mic would not be my choice for big chesty voiceover work.
Also in the “not overdone” department, the lowcut filter does its job well. It gets rid of rumble and mud but leaves a full-sounding signal that does not sound thin or bass shy even when set to 100 Hz. This is one of the few mics at this price point where I was comfortable leaving the rolloff set to 60 Hz most of the time, yet without feeling like I was loosing oomph and weight.
The various polar patterns are also very well done on the MK 8. Cardioid has a nice even off-axis rejection that tightens nicely and noticeably as you switch to supercardioid. In figure-8 the front and rear lobes sound identical, and in Omni mode you can hold the mic in your hand and spin it 360 degrees without noticing any tonal change. Finally, the mic is very well damped against resonances, producing only the dullest of thunks when tapped.
This is a cleanly voiced modern versatile microphone that sits nicely in league with older all-rounders such the Audio-Technica AT4050 and Shure’s KSM44a. In other words, the Sennheiser MK 8 easily achieves workhorse status!
At a street price of $749 it fits in comfortably with the abovementioned mics as well. Yes, there are cheaper overseas entry-level mics on the market, but when you consider that “overseas” for the MK 8 means Sennheiser’s factory in Germany, that might add some substantial weight to your decision.
Interestingly, the MK 8’s biggest competition may be its German sister company Neumann! While the cardioid-only TLM 102 is a bit cheaper, to get the similarly equipped, multipattern TLM 107 (reviewed May 2014) would be significantly more.
I have zero reservations recommending the MK 8 to anyone and everyone looking for a great multipattern do-it-all microphone for studio and live work.
More from: Sennheiser, www.sennheiser.com