I recall the first time I saw an MD 421 and the impact of the mic’s eternal cool was immediate and deep. I instantly wanted to use this mic on everything, though sadly there was just one in that first studio.
This is timeless engineering, as the mic looks as cool and futuristic as ever. Over the years, the MD 421 and its update, the MD 421 II, which is currently available on the market, have a reputation as the mic to use on toms. A couple of mics recently reviewed have characteristics in common with the MD 421 II, namely un-hyped high frequencies combined with detailed low-end reproduction. Like the Telefunken M81 and the Shure Beta 27, this is not a vocal mic for everyone, but it is the perfect vocal mic for others, as well as useful in so many situations you should probably buy two.
What You Need To Know Department: It’s useful in so many situations, you should probably buy three.
Setting this mic up is a bit different. It still connects via a XLR mic cable. However, it doesn’t share mic clips. The mic stand adapter slides into a groove on the bottom of the mic, giving it the look of a starship nacelle when set up. The adapter locks in place and more than one singer has tried and failed to remove mic from stand in mid-song. By the same token, many an engineer has just bumped the clip the wrong way and sent the mic crashing to the floor.
One other quirk of its design is the mesh head. You sing into this mic as you would a handheld dynamic mic, into the end. More than once though, I’ve come into studios to see the MD 421 pointing up to the ceiling and singers were aiming as though it was a side-address condenser mic. Engineers were scrambling too, trying to find why the mic was so weak and thin. It is an end-address mic, however. Beware of the engineer who sets it up otherwise.
In use, as mentioned this is a great mic on toms. The MD 421 II can also be used as a bass drum mic in a pinch, and the mellow top end is suitable for guitar amps, horns and even bass amps. Voices needing top end sparkle and clarity might be somewhat underserved, however the five-position bass roll-off permits tuning that could provide the balance you need.
It’s interesting to cycle through the reviews and hear MD 421 II described as “sharp” and “crisp,” because to my ear, it’s not, it’s “smooth” and “articulated.” That’s the thing about trying to describe audio equipment in text, though. You could call it “purple” and “with sprinkles” and it’s still valid.
There aren’t any frequency response charts on the Sennheiser site, though they do provide custom printouts for the mic you order. From my collective experience with 421s over the years, I’d guess it’s flat a little bit higher than most mics and any high frequency emphasis is about 5,000 Hz. Dynamic mics use a coil attached to a diaphragm to create signal and the mass of the coil/diaphragm assembly has an impact on sound as mass means energy is used moving things, and inertia means things keep moving because of that mass. Since this is a large-diaphragm dynamic, it’s a different beast in the physics department.
The personality of the MD 421 II suits it as a broadcaster’s mic, particularly with five settings of bass roll-off. Get close to this mic and there’s lots of boom added. By itself it may be distracting, but by turning the collar near the XLR socket of the mic, you have another four levels of increasingly reduced low frequency reduction. Therein lies the beauty of this mic. Between the five-position setting and off-axis mic adjustments (see the review on Telefunken M81 for more on that), you have an eminently tune-able mic, capable of delivering a myriad of sounds, just with a little repositioning. That, my friends, is the essence of a mic you will use a lot.
This is a great video showing the flexibility of this mic using it in different positions:
The MD 421 II itself gets a zillion out of ten rating.
Its mic clip gets a minus zillion out of ten.
Oh my god is thing awful. If only it weren’t so cute. As mentioned, it holds when it should let go, and it lets go when it should hold. It is top-heavy when the mic is attached, and it breaks, requiring a particular special order replacement of between $30 and $40. If the MD 421 II were the only product Sennheiser made, I’d accuse them of keeping this mic clip design to boost company sales. There’s no explanation why such an iconic mic has such a dumbass clip.
Still, it’s not reason enough on its own to bypass this mic. But, dayum, Sennheiser!
The reviews agree with me all the way here. Nothing below a four-star review and nothing good to say about the mic clip. Several reviewers called it a desert island mic. I could argue that, but my heart wouldn’t be in it. My true love is the AKG C414 XLII. I only wonder how they will get replacement mic clips on their deserted island.
The MD 421 II is a studio standard due to its sound and versatility. With a street price around $380, it’s not cheap. It’s another mic that may not be your first serious mic, but could easily be your second or third. Test it against other mics if your intention is vocal use for yourself only. Otherwise, it’s difficult to go wrong with a Sennheiser MD 421 II on hand.
Raise your hands, how many of you have either knocked an MD 421 on the floor or been unable to take it off the clip? Add a comment below if you’ve had experience with this or any product we review. Perspectives add value for other users in the community.
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