With the Telefunkiest name in music, the company’s history goes back to 1903. As an electronics manufacturer, its products were all over the spectrum, though early work in amplifiers gave the company a strong background in broadcasting. Over the years a number of classic mics bore the Telefunken name, and in 2000, Telefunken USA was founded as a licensee to re-create a number of these mics. In 2009, the company was renamed Telefunken Elektrakustik and acquired rights to produce a wider range of products.
That brings us to the M81. There’s something Art Deco and retro about the look of this mic. The vintage logo has a very RKO Movies vibe happening. Despite that, this is a contemporary mic design with a target in mind. From what I can tell, Telefunken hit the bullseye for which they aimed.
Giving It To You Straight Department: Give this mic a serious listen. It’s not for every voice, but when it’s right, you could fall in love.
A standard XLR dynamic mic, plug in a regular mic cable and you’re ready to go. No switches or pads, just a basic plug-and-play mic.
Output may be slightly lower than a Shure SM58, so you may need a bit more gain to get the same overall level, but it’s nothing drastic and any mixer or audio interface will have plenty of headroom for this. Proximity effect – if you’re not familiar with the term, check out a great explanation here – is tuned out of this mic. As that’s usually done with the ports and baffles within a mic’s head to create a cardioid polar pattern, it’s not hard to imagine that the steps taken to reduce proximity effect may coincidentally lower the output as well. It’s hardly a flaw, and, as mentioned, easily compensated.
The M81 is a companion mic to Telefunken’s M80. These mics are similar, but with slightly different frequency responses, or what I like to call voicings. (What is frequency response?)Each singer has a number of factors combining to create their unique sound. Some qualities need reigning in, and some need boosting. Telefunken voiced the M81 as a less-bright alternative to the M80. Some sound sources are loaded with top end and high-frequency emphasis doesn’t flatter these. Yet, high-frequency emphasis often provides clarity and sparkle, so it’s not unusual to have some sort of boost up top, playing to the majority of users, singers and instruments. The M81 is targeted to the sounds that aren’t flattered by such emphasis.
Dynamic handheld mics also have a general tendency to accent midrange, a quality often described as boxy. Despite less high-frequency emphasis, this doesn’t come at the cost of increased boxy mids. In fact, this mic sounds surprisingly extended range for a handheld stage mic. Bright vocals are smoothed out. Guitar amps won’t feel as harsh or strident as they would through an SM57. I can see the M81 used as a mic on brass or sax, downplaying the less flattering top-end noises that these create.
I love the feel of this mic. A bit heftier than an SM58, there’s also an upscale feel to the M81. Hand a singer a ’58 and she won’t look at it twice. Hand her an M81 and I guarantee she will. Why? Not sure, maybe the non-round ball head of the mic, or the smooth transition of shape between head and body.
It’s a little thing, but I like the flat face at the top of the mic grille, particularly in a mic useful for recording guitar amps. It’s something I like about the SM57 too, versus the SM58. The reason is something called off-axis response. When you’re singing directly into the front of a cardioid mic, you’re singing on-axis. That’s how the mic is designed and measured. With many mics, as you move a little around the sides, the frequency response changes. That is, the sound of the mic changes a little bit. A singer who moves around the mic a lot drives a sound guy nuts as the changes in location and distance make the job of keeping vocals clear much harder.
However, in the studio, off-axis response is often used to get a sound before an engineer starts playing with EQ. A general rule about recording good sounds is to pick the right mic and put it in the right place. If your sound can cut through a mix without compression, EQ or other effect, think of what you can do with it with these enhancements. When you’re using EQ and other modifiers to correct deficiencies in the original signal, you’re not working efficiently and you’re putting your efforts into the wrong places.
I digress, but there’s a few good lessons in here and I always need to hear them again as I’m as guilty as anyone about throwing a mic up and fixing it with knobs. That off-axis tendency is one of the “right place” rules for a mic. For example, you’re recording a guitar amp. The M81 is a great mic so you set it up and listen. The sound is great in the room, but a little boomy in the recorder. You need to keep the mic close to the amp for isolation purposes. This is where a flat-headed mic comes in handy. Right now, your M81 is parallel with the amp’s face. Rotate the mic a bit so that the flat part of the mic is no longer parallel, it’s now off axis. Listen to the sound at the recorder and, wow, boom gone. With a flat head, you can see the relative angle of mic to amp. With a round head, such as a ’58, um well… not so much. Maybe you can read from the angle of the mic body, but I’m a simple guy so I like flat mics. Seems more precise. So there’s off-axis miking, your first line of EQ adjustment.
This is not a well-reviewed mic in terms of quantity. It’s a very well-reviewed mic in terms of results, though one reviewer got a little confused in his enthusiasm, comparing the M81, which he loves, to the M81, which he thinks sounds unnatural. Obviously a typo on the second M81 there, but as he is a baritone singer raving about the M81, the natural mic for his voice. While he does go off a bit on compressing this and EQing that, there’s good information in there, such as engaging the low cut switch on the mixer strip to cut handling noise. That’s a good rule for any vocal mic in a live situation.
I found only positive reviews for this mic.
If you are buying a first mic for home recording, I recommend large diaphragm condenser mics like the Rode NT1000. If you’re going to use a mic for both vocals and instruments, then the M81 may be a candidate. Finally, if you’re building a mic closet to handle a variety of voices and instruments, I wholeheartedly recommend this mic as a very useful alternative, one of those mics that can completely change the emotive quality versus another mic. A very handy tool to have on hand.
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