Sennheiser is a name in the audio world that you can just trust. If a product has the Sennheiser name on it, you know it will do the job and it will probably do it very well, though usually at a price. My main studio headphones are usually always made by Sennheiser. That’s not by plan. When I was shopping for the last couple sets, I would get lost trying on the different brands, so when I decided on a set, it was based on sound and comfort. Each time that happened to be Sennheiser models.
The MD431-II is designed for the stage and probably the engineers set out to create the ultimate dynamic stage mic. This is, if nothing else, a solid competitor for the title. Rock this mic a bit and there’s no excessive handling noise. Crank it up and despite its bright top end, there’s more resistance to feedback than many handhelds. The integral pop filter does the job, and overall it’s a sharp looking mic. The MD431-II is clean enough to use in the studio and in fact is great on snare drums.
All around, this is a Very Good Mic. The question remains, though. Is it worth $450?
IS IT WORTH $450? DEPARTMENT: Yes, it is, if you’ve got it to spend. Otherwise, your personal performance/value equation may suggest differently and I won’t blame you.
Setup and Usability
Nothing unusual in the setup department. It’s an XLR mic connected via a standard mic cable. I’ve mentioned before that an on/off switch on a mic usually says “cheap” to me. Well, the MD431-II has an on/off switch and it ain’t cheap. The switch is recessed to prevent accidental switching. Singers have a reputation for not being particularly technically inclined, and when the banter starts, some less than charitable souls may suggest that operating an on/off switch is beyond the grasp of the vocally inclined. Speaking for myself, I’ve NEVER teased a singer (citation needed). It is the engineer’s job to always make the musicians look good, so I appreciate the fact that the on/off switch on the MD431-II can be locked in the on position. It helps me save singers from themselves.
I go on and on about the larger-than-life quality of the large diaphragm condenser mic. Well, here is a dynamic mic that approximates that effect quite nicely in a stage setting, without the drawbacks of a condenser used for live work. Around 2,500Hz, a lovely curve starts on the MD431-II’s frequency response chart. It peaks around 6,000Hz with a little upwards blip around 14,000Hz, before dropping off sharply at 15,000Hz. In the real world, this means that the MD431-II provides an open, clear and intimate top end that, despite the emphasis on some pretty sensitive feedback frequencies, doesn’t seem prone to squealing in practice. The MD431-II is similar and possibly somewhat better than a Shure SM58 for feedback suppression. This is not a mic for a punk band. This is for jazz or singer/songwriters, where intimate nuance is important for putting across emotion in an amplified setting.
Rather than being flat across the midrange frequencies, the MD431-II has a slow decline between 2,000 and 200Hz. The net effect there is a smooth, warm feeling and combined with the mic’s internal electronics, which keep proximity effect at a moderate level, give the impression of a very natural sound in a live setting when, in fact, the mic is actually coloring things up a fair bit. It’s doing it in such a nice way, though, that it’s easy to forgive. I forgive any mic that makes me sound better without me actually doing anything.
The MD431-II is at home in the studio as well, but probably not as a first-choice vocal mic. That comparison with condenser mics doesn’t really hold up in the unforgiving confines of the studio. There’s an engineer’s trick, though, that the MD431-II is perfect for.
You’ve got a client and limited time, and this singer is terrified of being in the studio. There’s a name for it: Red Light Fever. It comes from the days when a big red sign lit up whenever the tape machine was set in recording mode. Tape and studio time were expensive, so wasting either was a no-no. The light would come on and tom-foolery would, in theory, stop. Also, more than one singer took on the persona of a deer in car headlights.
Red Light Fever.
It’s easy to understand. The singer is used to a club full of semi-drunk people with only a tiny hand-held mic between her and near-certain death. That’s an easy place to sing. In the studio, on the other hand, she’s behind a stand with a huge microphone, worth about the gross national product of several third-world nations, facing a window behind which is a control room full of semi-drunk engineers, many of whom have not been outside since the late Reagan era, and then these red lights come on, indicating completely-certain death is upon her.
Sometimes there’s just no way around the panic. Or is there? I would pull out the MD431-II and give it to the singer to hold. Comfort zone partially restored, there’s a chance of getting a performance from the singer. While you haven’t got the vocal through the large diaphragm condenser (unless, like me, you’re a horrible monster and recorded that mic too, after telling the singer you wouldn’t), you will have the vocal through a very good-sounding dynamic mic. It makes for a lot of editing sometimes, but if it salvages an otherwise dead session, the singer may forgive you for being semi-drunk.
NOTE: I am kidding about drunkenness. Audio equipment should never be operated under the influence of any substance. I am certain Rebecca Black’s “Friday” was recorded under the influence of cheap, fruit-flavored wine. This sort of horror must not be repeated.
It’s Sennheiser, man. It’s the real thing, and it feels like quality. Did I mention I forgave Sennheiser for that on/off switch because I can lock it on? Lock it and watch the singer try and fail to turn it off. Ah, good times…
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are not a lot of reviews online about the MD431-II, probably due to its cost. Of the reviews that are there, all are 5-star with the exception of That One Guy who thinks the MD431-II is totally over hyped. Unfortunately, he uses an apostrophe incorrectly, so I can’t take his review seriously. The plural of “mic” is “mikes.” I know, it’s weird, but it’s English.
That One Guy does have a point, however. He suggests saving $300 and buying a Shure Beta 68 or an Electro Voice 767. Both are great mics doing a similar job. Believe it or not, your wallet has a big effect on what you hear. If you’re not comfortable with paying $450 for a stage mic, it’s going to be hard to hear the results impartially.
There’s no rating at the start of the review to factor in price and with good reason. Every mic is different, and one of those differences is how a person perceives the mic and its cost. Elsewhere I reviewed The Fin from Heil (Read it here) that probably is not the best mic value in the mid-$200 range, but it has LEDs! It lights up! I have trouble believing anyone would not be impressed with that, but probably some people are not impressed with that. If you decide the MD431-II delivers what you want and you’re happy to pay almost five big bills for it, I defend your decision. Value is personal. If That One Guy pulls attitude on you for it, send him my way. I’ll get him semi-drunk for you.
Drop us a line in the comments below. I refuse to confirm or deny when the last time I was out of the studio was, but human interaction through hearing about your recording exploits is fun and desirable, so form your own opinion on that.