First Impressions: Neumann KM184 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone Matched Pair

This year (2021), I’m on a mission. I’m learning how to record acoustic guitar at home, so that I can record some of my older, original music.

Earlier this month, I picked up the Roswell mini K47 large diaphragm condenser. Now, I’ve added a set of Neumann KM184’s to my mic locker too. How am I getting on with them? Read on for my First Impressions.

Table of Contents

What Did You Buy?

I bought a matched pair of Neumann KM184 small diaphragm condenser (SDC for short) microphones.

Why Did You Buy Them?

At the start of the year, I began to learn how to record acoustic guitar. (I have a long way to go before I’m any good at this!) I started out using the mics that I had: my Neumann TLM 49 and a pair of Rode M5 small diaphragm condenser mics.

It quickly became apparent that the Rode M5’s were not the long-term choice for me. I’m going to be recording fingerstyle guitar, and my playing technique is very soft and very quiet. The Rode M5’s are both low-sensitivity and high noise-floor. I have to crank the input gain on my audio interface to pick up my playing, and when I do, that makes for a recording that includes a fair bit of noise.

I decided to upgrade sooner rather than later, so that I could learn with whatever microphones I’d eventually be using to record with. That turned out to be a good decision.

Yes, But Why These Microphones?

As part of my research, I watched as many demonstrations of recording acoustic guitar as I could. And then I watched as many demonstrations of people playing acoustic guitar as I could.

Time and time again, the KM184 stood out. People were getting consistently good results with it regardless of where they were recording, or the guitar that they were recording with.

It just sounded right to me. It sounded like a recorded acoustic guitar should sound *vaguely waves arms in the air in a futile attempt to explain what that means*.

Why Did You Get A Matched Pair?

A matched pair gives me options.

I’m going to be recording pieces that feature a single acoustic guitar as the main instrument. I want that to be appropriately big and lush. That probably means presenting the guitar in stereo in some way.

Am I going to use a stereo recording? Am I going to use reverb and delay to widen a mono recording? I don’t know. I’ve got a lot to learn – and a lot of experiments to do – before I can answer that.

Buying a matched pair means that I can practice XY, spaced pair, ORTF or even more exotic stereo mic placements. I get to try all these things for myself, to hear them with my own guitar and performance, and to settle on a final choice through personal experience. For me, that’s worth the cost of a matched pair of mics.

And in the future, when it’s safe to see other people again, I’ve got two microphones for when other guitarists visit and I want to record us jamming together.

Did You Consider The Rode TF-5’s?

Yes I did. And I’m still thinking about getting a set of them in the future.

For readers who are not aware, Rode’s top-of-the-line SDCs are the Rode TF-5’s. They were designed in conjunction with legendary sound engineer Tony Faulkner (the ‘TF’ in the ‘TF-5’ name), and they appear to be Rode’s attempt to challenge the KM184’s position as the industry-standard SDC for recording acoustic instruments.

Because I’ve got a very soft, quiet fingerstyle technique, I’m really interested in the TF-5’s exceptionally-low noise floor, greater sensitivity and hotter output signal. Those are features that seem tailor-made for my needs. On top of that, written reviews consistently cite that they sound ‘natural’, and that they handle room reflections exceptionally well.

On paper, they seem fantastic.

Only two problems: they’re 40% more expensive than the KM184, and there are currently very few useful demonstrations of them available for folks like me to evaluate.

The lack of demonstrations made it hard to be confident that the TF-5’s were a good choice. I didn’t find any that directly related to my situation – amateur / hobbyist musician recording fingerstyle acoustic guitar in a room with terrible acoustics. By comparison, there were plenty of KM184 demonstrations that cover that ground, simply because the mic has been available for many years now.

Price was a factor too, because of Britain’s current situation.

At the time of writing, there’s a big shortage of high-end music gear in the UK. Imports in general have been down for the last 9-10 months due to the pandemic, and they’re down again now that Britain’s transition period with Europe is over. As a result, when I was making my purchase, I could find only one set of Rode TF-5’s in stock in the UK, and only one set of Neumann KM184’s.

I didn’t want to end up returning one set of mics, only to discover that the other set had since sold out. So I played it safe, and went with the microphones that I had no doubt at all would do the job for me.

I’m still intrigued by the Rode TF-5’s. Maybe in a year’s time, there’ll be more common, and there’ll be enough demonstrations out there to catch the ear like the KM184 already does. And maybe the price will have settled down to be more competitive too.

Did You Consider Any Other Microphones?

Yes I did.

The Warm Audio WA-84’s were also on my research list. My understanding is that they’re basically modern reproductions of the Neumann KM84 (the predecessor to the KM184).

In my research, I did come across some folks who prefer the KM84 to the KM184, which certainly caught my attention. Unfortunately, I didn’t really find any demonstations of the WA-84’s that were helpful, and written reviews left me with the impression that these mics would be darker than the KM184. They could well be a good choice in the future, if I find myself playing a particularly bright acoustic guitar.

I also considered the Rode NT-5’s. They’re affordable, readily available, and they’re solid performing microphones – especially for the money. While they’re definitely an upgrade over the Rode M5’s, I wasn’t convinced that they’d be the right long-term choice for me. The KM184’s, I can see me using for decades to come. The NT-5’s? There was too much doubt.

What Do They Sound Like?

Here’s a short demo: two KM184s as a spaced pair, one pointed at the neck joint, one pointed at the bridge area. Each mic was about 8 inches from my Auden.

The recording is processed. There’s EQ to reduce the boominess of my recording space, added delay and reverb, and light compression on the master bus.

This is my first attempt at recording with the KM184’s, and with the new studio monitors. With practice, I’ll only get even better results.

Final Thoughts

Do you know how sometimes, you buy a tool to do a job, and you get that comfort of never having to think about needing another tool for the job? That’s how I feel about the KM184.

I have no doubt that the KM184s will capture my acoustic guitar performances well. They’re not going to get in my way. I’m going to be the weakest link in the recording chain. And it’s up to me to rise to that challenge.

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