by Graeme Hague
It seems like only yesterday that you’d never, ever see anything except a Shure SM58 as the live vocal microphone of choice on any stage. Shure had a stranglehold on that market (along with the equally ubiquitous SM57 as an instrument microphone) and even Shure took a while to make inroads with its own BETA versions of these models. Mind you, the main prerequisite of a live performance microphone was the ability to hurl it across the stage and it would still work—check out Roger Daltry of The Who for the best microphone chucking antics.
But for some time now companies like Sennheiser have been offering alternatives—it’s almost cool to not be using a Shure—and a part of the reason is that modern concert sound systems, large or small, produce a high audio quality that encourages selecting microphones suited to different individuals and applications. It’s no longer a “one size fits all”.
The latest to come from Sennheiser are the Sennheiser 435 and 445 dynamic models, and in these designs are microphones not only suited to live shows, but features that make them handy all-round mikes worth considering by anyone looking for solid, versatile performance.
First, I’ll stick with the live gigs. The 445 in particular boasts a supercardioid “high rejection” polarity pattern (the 435 is no slouch rejecting feedback either, but with a cardioid pattern) that ignores all the extraneous noise you might get on a crowded stage. More to the point, for mine this makes it an ideal choice if you’re using the increasing popular, portable “column-plus-sub” type of PAs. These small PAs can create an audio dispersion pattern that embraces the audience and performers alike, and eschews the standard setup of speakers being in front of the performer and often negates the need for a foldback speaker. They’re pretty damned impressive, but you still need to be careful about microphone positions. The 445 will excel in this type of environment with its extra feedback rejection technology.
The 435 has similar features, and some of these come from being a hard-wire version of Sennheiser’s well-known MD 9235 wireless microphone (or to be correct, the microphone “head”, since it can be attached to a variety of transmitter bodies). The differences between the 435 and 445, albeit minor I’d say, are those cardioid patterns and slightly varying frequency responses. Rather than crunch the numbers—although I reckon the 435 has the edge—trialling them as what’s best for your voice always works best. They both also have very low handling noise.
The high level of noise rejection, along with the superior sound reproduction, makes the 435 and the 445 suitable for uses away from the stage. When it comes to podcasting and voice-over or narration work, why bother hiding in a cupboard or nailing mattresses over the windows? If your “studio” is a corner of the house, and the kids are going nuts outside and the telly’s deafening in the next room, a microphone that will reject all that racket makes things way easier. Of course, it’s not that simple, but the theory is certainly there and these microphones will go a long way towards relatively clean (as in background noise) recordings in challenging environments without paying in tone and quality. If you’re podcasting with friends or guests, swapping the microphones around will be quiet with that low handling noise.
There is a downside of sorts with the high noise rejection. Both these microphones require working close—and I mean close, less than 50mm from the capsule for normal speech with your preamp driving quite high, which isn’t unusual for singers but maybe for narration if you’re used to condenser microphones. The SPL drops off quite abruptly as you move away from the microphone. If you’re hoping to pretend “TV Presenter” and wave the microphone somewhere around your navel, forget it. This can create plosives, so the provided pop filter will get plenty of use too. However, the proximity effect of close miking isn’t an issue and you’ll get the best of the microphones’ great reproduction.
At a RRP of AUS$799 for each, these microphones are an investment not to be sneezed at for most budgets, but they are a cut well above your bog-standard stage microphone.
The biggest question I’m sure you’re asking is; can you hurl them across the stage without breaking them? They’re ruggedly made, have a nice weighty feel to them that vocalists will appreciate, and I’m sure they’ll survive some rough handling. Especially if they hit something soft, like someone in the audience.