Recently, I was asked to record a private concert featuring acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Paul Cantelon (who is also an accomplished violinist and composer). The concert took place in a New York City loft as part of a birthday celebration. Given the nature of the performance, I didn't want to bring a whole lot of recording gear, and I certainly didn't want to spend any time futzing with my gear. So I chose to bring with me to NYC a large Rubbermaid tote filled with the absolute minimum that I felt would give me the recording quality deserving of this special event. In that tote were only six microphones: a matched-pair of M930 cardioid condensers, two UMT70S multi-pattern condensers, and a backup pair of Earthworks mics.
In the early 1990's, I had the fortune of recording Yo- Yo Ma in many different environments. From small, studio iso-booths to fantastic-sounding halls like the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. At the time, the best mics at my disposal were Neumann and Schoeps condensers, and I learned very quickly how to use proximity-effect and pickup-pattern to my advantage. Therefore, when it came time to select mics for the NYC loft session, I chose the best-sounding mics from my closet that would offer me the control I needed. Here's why I find the M930 and UMT70S microphones so versatile.
Because the M930 is a cardioid mic, it "suffers" from proximity effect. In other words, as you put it closer to a sound source, its low-end response goes up. The mic is voiced for flat low-end response at 1m, which is quite a bit of distance when you think about it. As the sound source gets closer to the capsule, the low-end response goes up slowly, while the midrange stays steady and focused. I have not found another large-diaphragm cardioid condenser that does this as smoothly as the M930 does. Why is this worth mentioning? Think of this effect as an EQ on the low-end. Then consider that the M930 has an incredibly musical, easily-controllable low-end EQ built into it-just vary its distance to what you're recording. Sure, you can say that all cardioid mics have a low-end EQ built into them. But the "EQ's" in other mics don't sound as good to me as the M930's. And when you're mic'ing an instrument like a cello that can get boomy way too easily, especially as the instrument moves with playing style and the relative mic placement changes, you better hope your EQ is musically appropriate and it changes smoothly, like the M930's. The M930 is my go-to condenser when I need a mic with a little-bit of that upper-end presence bump that's associated with the sound of a large-diaphragm but gives me control of low-end oomph and let's me turn it up when appropriate, without getting "strainy" in the midrange. It's a no-brainer for stringed instruments. It's also my favorite mic on my Yamaha U5 upright-I get plenty of that signature Yamaha percussive attack while still picking up tons of body and resonance. And again, varying the distance gives me the EQ I need. It also works great for distance-mic'ing an acoustic guitar. I find that the mic gets too muddy on acoustic guitar and upright bass at distances below 18''. But a vocalist with good mic technique will love how the M930's low-end response ramps up smoothly and really flatters the voice. By the way, output of the M930 is so hot that you can really go "direct-to-tape" if you have a tape machine with a variable line input. On the other hand, if you're going the normal route through a mic preamp, make sure your preamp has an effective pad.
My matched-pair of M930 mics came with an XY mount onto which the mic clips attach. The clips have graduated degree-markings on them to provide precise alignment between the mics for stereo recording. I rarely use the mount for two reasons. First, the mount only works for true-XY mic'ing when the "pickup plane" is perpendicular to the mic stand's boom arm because the XY mount can not be angled off of the boom to which it's attached. Second, the mount requires that you put the included DIN inserts into the mic clips, and the only "tool" that I've found to thread/unthread the inserts is a dime. No other US coin will work (and a dime barely does) nor will anything on a Leatherman or similar multitool, because the inserts go too far into the clips. Contrast this to the DIN inserts for Sennheiser MD504 and E604 mics; these can be conveniently removed using the wire-clip portion of the drum mic-clip that requires the inserts-without special tools.
While the M930 has an easily-controllable low-end EQ due to proximity-effect, the UMT70S, in cardioid mode, is entirely different. At distances greater than a couple inches, the UMT70S seems to attenuate the low-end. Perfect for close-mic'ing acoustic guitars-or any sound source that gets too boomy. Great when you really want to stuff the mic up to a speaker cone but you don't want the "mud" (which some might call "warmth" or "fat") associated with that technique. Or if you want to side- address the top of a floor-tom without picking up "grunt." But if you get too close with the UMT70S, the low-end will suddenly swamp everything else, so extreme care is needed when adjusting for that final inch or two of movement towards the source. Not surprisingly, this mic, in cardioid mode, is not my favorite for recording vocals. Where the UMT70S really excels is in figure-8 or omni mic'ing. Yes there's that high-end presence peak that most large-diaphragm condensers have. But along with that is a strange sense of the low-end and midrange being perfectly blended and coming from the same place. Pair this mic with a Neve preamp, and you're in midrange heaven. Use as overheads with your API preamp, and you get a big, coherent sound that makes the drums sound like a kit, not just a bunch of random elements thrown together. Just remember-switch the pickup pattern to figure-8 or omni!!! The UMT70S is my favorite "side" mic when I'm using the Mid-Side technique to record piano. It also makes a terrific room mic when tracking live sessions. And if you want to experiment with adding "depth" to your recordings (see Larry's end rant last issue), the UMT70S is perfect for backup vocals and mic'ing multiple instruments at once.
So how did the Gefell mics fare on the instruments of Yo-Yo Ma and Paul Cantelon? To make a long story short, I found out two nights before the birthday party that Yo- Yo's label got word of the event and nixed the recording plans. So in the end, I wasn't able to capture the performance. Therefore, I can't tell you how my choice of mics worked out. But by now, you can probably understand why I put my confidence in these mics. In general, all the Gefell mics I own (almost a dozen) are of the highest build -quality and sound fantastic. In particular, the M930, with its very musical, low-end response, and the UMT70S, with its extremely smooth character in figure-8 and omni modes, were all the mics I would've needed to record two of the most amazing musicians alive. Check out the Gefell website to read the truly interesting story about Gefell, Neumann, and the rise and fall of the Iron Curtain. (M930 stereo XY matched pair $3000 MSRP, UMT70S $1750 each; www.gefell-mics.com)