Does the Beyer M 160 even need a review? Surely everyone knows by now that this is the mic Andy Johns used to record John Bonham's drums on "When The Levee Breaks". Does anything else need be said? I rather doubt, it
but I will prattle on for a bit anyway. It's a ribbon mic, but unlike most ribbons, which are
figure-8, the M 160 has a hypercardioid pattern. I bought one about two years ago, and it wasn't long before it was seeing a lot of use on most everything you can think of. I first tried it as an overhead, and while loads of people seem to love it in that application, for me the frequency response combined with the relatively narrow pickup pattern resulted in a sound that was cool but just too "colored". (Yeah I know, that word is about as abused and meaningless as both "warm" and "punchy". Shoot me.) However, as a front of kit mic it has worked wonders. I put it up about snare height a foot in front of the kit and bam-perfect. Adds some nice space to the snare and some high-end smack to the kick-two things I always seem to want more of as the mix starts to get busy. So I like it a lot there, and I've also had nice results with it on the side of the snare and on the rack tom. But guitar amps are where I really like it...
Shortly after getting the M 160 I got on a real multi-mic'ing kick for guitars. I felt like experimenting and would often throw up three or four mics-a couple up close, one a ways back, one really far away, maybe the bullet mic up close-whatever. I tried all sorts of stupid stuff. Eventually I got around to mixing all these songs. And a funny thing kept happening. I'd go through the guitar tracks, try various combinations and balances, different panning schemes, etc, and almost every time, I ended up going with just the M 160, turned up loud. It just sounds right. My fave guitar mic before I got the Beyer was a Sennheiser MD 409, and I would often pair the two of them up close (well, a foot away or so) on an amp. Comparing the two was interesting. The main difference to me was really one of texture; the Beyer was just so much smoother in the midrange. I just found that, even with some pretty heroically distorted and nasty guitar sounds, the M 160 remained entirely pleasant to listen to; it never seemed to be the least bit peaky or jagged. Anyway, it wasn't long before I abandoned the whole multi-mic scheme, and basically the M 160 became the only mic I used on a guitar amp for the better part of a year.
I liked it on a bunch of other things as well: viola, violin, upright bass, tambourine, and other percussive things. I think it made the cut on some bass amps and vocals as well. It's hard not to like this mic. I don't have anything bad to say. If you're one of those who defaults to an SM57 on guitar amps, you reeeeeally ought to try the M 160 out and see if you don't find it a whole lot nicer. You can find it for dramatically less than MSRP without much trouble.
Yeah, what Scott said! I love the M 160. The first time I used one was several years ago at John Vanderslice's Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco. I think it was house engineer Aaron Prellwitz who suggested that I give it a go on the horns. My first thought was, "Am I going to blow out the ribbon by putting it in front of the trumpet?" He assured me it'd be no problem. It worked out great, and the
track sounded supersmooth and sat perfectly in the mix; it had just the right kind of midrange presence to stay out of the way of the vocal. I also tried an M 160 pair on cello and violin as medium-distance mics (in conjunction with some close mics), and the sound was perfectly dreamy-neither scratchy nor squeaky, but not too dark either. At one point, while tracking a French horn with an M 160, the player's boyfriend, who was in the live room giving encouragement, put his mouth right up to the mic and pretty much blew up the whole signal chain by popping into it-not a funny joke at all. I told Aaron about it when we were packing up and asked him to tell John to send me a bill for the mic if it proved later to be damaged, but I never got a bill. I later shared this story with a representative from Beyerdynamic, who then pulled out a sheet of paper and proceeded to fold it. That's when I learned that each of the M 160's two ribbons has multiple folds across two axes that prevent it from stretching or collapsing like standard ribbons with accordion-like corrugations will do under air pressure. Neat! Well, long story short, I recently purchased an M 160 for myself, and I've fallen in love with it all over again. Compared to my other ribbon mics (Royer R-121, SF-12; SE Electronics R-1), the M 160 has less high-end and exhibits a healthy (or portly, depending on how you hear it) low and lower-midrange boost at close proximity, but that's part of what makes it special. The hypercardioid M 160 is really unique in its ability to pick up lots of midrange smoothly while picking up minimal room sound, even when it's positioned more than a few inches from the source. The mic's response dips slightly within the most crowded bit of the spectrum between 300 to 800 Hz but rises with upper-mid/low-treble presence between 2 to 6 kHz, which for me, makes for easier mixing. Because of these traits, I wouldn't recommend the M 160 as a do-everything mic or as a primary vocal mic; instead, I'd call it the perfect complement to the do-everything and vocal mics that you already own. -AH
If you read my take on the M 160 in the first third of this review, you know that I Am A Fan. So when Andy asked if I wanted to review the M 130, I was at his studio's door before he finished the question. Pulled it out of the box to have a look, and oh, what a cute little mic. Yeah, I sound like Mom, but it really is kind of adorable looking.
Cosmetics aside, there's a lot of other things to like about this mic. First thing I did was put up the hypercardioid M 160 and the figure-8 M 130 in M/S configuration in front of the drum kit. Worked a treat. I'd already come to lean on the M 160 there as my new secret weapon for drums, and the addition of the M 130 lent a whole new dimension to the sound. Then I tried it on some guitars. Zowie-sounds great. It has the same sort of smoothness the M 160 does, but with its own unique character. It has this cool "hi-fi" thing going on. It doesn't sound "scooped", but the lower mids are definitely "relaxed", shall we say. A look at the frequency-response chart confirmed what I was hearing; the response seems to shelve a bit at 500 Hz, and then again around 250 Hz, coming up again with a bump around 80 Hz. The high end starts rolling off around 10 kHz.
In practice, this amounts to a really nice presence boost. Actually, I'm listening to the new Shellac record as I type this, and you know how Bob Weston's bass sounds? The M 130 has some of that about it. That's really the best way I can describe it. Again, it doesn't sound scooped in an artificial way, it's just very clear and lively sounding. I may well come to like it even more than the M 160 on guitars, and that's saying something.
I certainly liked the M 130 better than the M 160 as an overhead, the understated mids were more flattering to my inept meanderings around the kit. Neither mic was exactly what I was looking for from an overhead, but they're both definitely a sound, and I can imagine a lot of folks being psyched with either of them. I also put the M 130 up against a Shure SM7 on bass cab, and I really liked the way the M 130 captured more of a sense of space. Listening to the SM7, I thought, "That sounds like bass." With the M 130, "That sounds like a bass amp in a room." I also tried it as a distant room mic, maybe 15-20 ft from my drums, and I was surprised how much I liked it. Usually when I have mics that far back, I always hate them on playback, as the somewhat wonky sound of my live room becomes way too apparent, but the M 130 was oddly pleasant. Nice.
I haven't had a chance to check it out on anything else yet, unless you count cowbell (sounded great!), but I have a feeling it's going to see a lot of use. Its MSRP is almost the same as the M 160's, so I imagine the street price is similarly less. Check these mics out. I can't imagine anyone being disappointed by either of them. (M 160 $759 MSRP; M 130 $749; www.beyerdynamic.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.