Beyerdynamic M 160 Mic Review

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Cephallus
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Beyerdynamic M 160 Mic Review

Post by Cephallus » Mon Dec 15, 2003 12:56 am

I see questions about these mics (and about inexpensive ribbons) pop up here pretty often...so I figured I'd write about my own experience to add to the Mic Review list, for anyone who's interested...


I bought my first M160 on eBay from a seller in Germany, for right around $300. I was pleasantly surprised when my $25 shipping cost got the mic delivered to me in under two weeks, expertly packaged and complete with adapter cable (proprietary connector on mic to xlr), box, and docs. The mic itself looked like it had never even been out of the case.

Not having seen one of these mics in person before, I was surprised by how small it is! The only thing close to the size of the M160 in my mic locker are my EV635a's. The great thing about the small form factor is that it is extremely unobtrusive when you put it in front of an instrumentalist. Especially with musicians who are used to recording live; nothing is more frustrating for players who are used to giving each other visual clues during playing than to have to look around a giant condensor and windscreen to make eye contact.

My first test of the M160 was in front of a Roland Jazz Chorus/Gibson E335 rig. I also mic'd the amp with an sm57, my usual choice. The Beyer sounded smooth and warm, but with a clear presence that captured the nuances of the player's style (finger-picked). The sm57 sounded like, well, an sm57. I ended up using the M160 tracks for most of the rhythm comping, and the 57 for most of the solo work, because it was a little brighter and stood out in the mix a little better against the other instruments. But I was really impressed with my little mic.

My next test of the M160 was on a sax/clarinet player in a swing group. I tracked the 3-piece combo live in one room, with some office-cubicle gobos separating for minor isolation. What stunned me with the M160 on this, besides the amazing quality that it gives these instruments (they sound alive!), is the great isolation of the hypercardioid pattern. The musician was standing most of the time, so I placed the mic so that it was just in front of the middle joint of the clarinet, about a foot out, and instructed him to try to position his sax with the mic about 6" over and 6" in front of the bell. I literally couldn't believe how amazing the sound of these instruments were, and how it sounded almost as if he had tracked in a separate room! I never even considered putting another mic on them, the sound was so perfect...with no eq at all. The best woodwind sound I've ever captured.

My third test was trying the M160 as a vocal mic. I was recording a singer-songwriter playing acoustic guitar and was having a hard time with the guitar bleeding into the vocal mic due to the musician randomly moving her body during songs. No amount of, "try not to lean back so much when you hit higher notes, if you can help it..." begging was working. She has a fairly deep voice, with lots of "character" in the timbre...so I figured I'd try the M160 as a test. She loved it! It gave the sound so much intimacy and warmth, and it fixed the guitar bleed problem I was having with the cardioid condensor I was using. It didn't work well for all of the songs, but for the slow "ballad" type songs, it was amazing.

Bang-for-buck, it's the best $300-something I've spent on a mic, topping my C1 for value, IMHO. World-class sound and MacGyver-like flexibility. I have since bought another M160 and treat them like the crown jewels. I'm looking forward to trying them on other sound sources like piano, percussion, etc. Definitely one of my top five "absolutely-must-have" mics for a mic locker.

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Re: Beyerdynamic M 160 Mic Review

Post by allbaldo » Mon Dec 15, 2003 7:02 am

LOVE these on guitar! Probably my desert island guitar mic.

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Re: Beyerdynamic M 160 Mic Review

Post by nathan » Mon Dec 15, 2003 8:42 am

i'd like to hear some first hand accounts of these as room mics and overheads.

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Al
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Re: Beyerdynamic M 160 Mic Review

Post by Al » Mon Dec 15, 2003 9:06 am

Thanks Cephallus, it's a mic i've been looking into getting, sounds nice!

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Re: Beyerdynamic M 160 Mic Review

Post by cgarges » Mon Dec 15, 2003 9:54 am

nathan wrote:i'd like to hear some first hand accounts of these as room mics and overheads.
They make excellent overhead mics, if you're looking for a nice, smooth and clear picture of the kit. It won't give you the "air" or detail that condenser mics typically will, but they can help tame bright cymbal sounds and the transient response can help a drumkit sit nicely within a track.

I like stereo overheads for the most part, and this can be sort of necessary with the M160s, depending on the room and the drumkit. The hypercardioid pattern is fairly well-defined, so you get a pretty focused image, making it diffcult to get good kit representation from one mic by itself. I do like using a sort of "faux MS" setup with an M160 above the center of the kit, and a pair of small diapraghm condensers (usually omnis) spaced on either side. This makes for a nice, detailed image with some left-right intensity and good mono compatibility.

I can't say that I've really tried the M160s as room mics, but I hope that helps with the overhead question a bit.

Chris Garges
Charlotte, NC

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Re: Beyerdynamic M 160 Mic Review

Post by tiger vomitt » Mon Dec 15, 2003 11:05 am

i just got a steffens branded m160 a few days ago (if im not mistaken it was made by beyer in the 80's and just has a steffens label on it).

i tried it on a cheap acoustic guitar that sounds way better than it should in person, but never seems to fool a microphone.

i ran the m160 thru the mic pre in a drawmer 1969. i had to turn up the mic pre to it's last gain click, to 66db. the mic was positioned around the 9th fret, looking more or less towards the bridge. although i did move around a bit-

i fed it nice and loud into my headphones.. that way i could move the guitar around a bit to adjust for the sound as i was playing (not something i would usually trust a client to do, UNFORTUNATELY, because it is one of the best ways to get a great sound. most people just screw it up)

i hit record and freestyled for a minute.

boom. best acoustic guitar sound IVE EVER GOTTEN. easy. it took 5 minutes. better than a pretty decent epiphone acoustic mic'd with a soundelux e47 in a great live room with my great river nv. and that was a great sound too. but the m160 beat it, it was so lifelike and even bright in its own way. soooo natural. maybe the word would be "chimey."

with any LDC ive ever used (ive used a buttload of these things), that chimey-ness would come at the cost of having this weird brittle shit up top that i cant stand. with the m160, it just let thru the highs that i wanted - without the metallic gunk. awesome.

it's scary, that once in a while when it becomes obvious how important the right gear is. im a person who likes to think it really isnt about the gear. sometimes it's just staring me in the face!

ahh gearlust, what would my life be without it

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Re: Beyerdynamic M 160 Mic Review

Post by stapes » Tue Dec 16, 2003 10:45 am

I have a pair of M160's that I use on just about every session. They were my first ribbon mics, and also my first expensive mics, so I've treasured them, and tried them on just about everything. I think the trick with these mics is to not evaluate them in a solo button situation. On there own, they're usually nothing to get too excited about. They can sound pretty tubby, dark and have a weird midrange when you hear the mic by itself. But when you put that track in the context of the mix, that's where this mic shines. Proximity effect comes into play quite a bit with this mic, so if you get it a little closer to what is usually a thin instrument, you can get a pretty large sound on the speakers. Conversely, if you're trying to use it on something that is already got a pretty big sound, backing the mic off yeilds good results becuause you capture a little more of the air around it, and the space is enhanced. This can pose problems with some acoustic instruments, depending on your mic pre situation. Since these mics require a fair amount more gain than standard dynamics, you'll need to have a quiet pre. The other tricky part about matching the mic pre to the mic, is that ribbons are a lot pickier about impedance loading from the mic pre. I've generally found that these mics like to see a transformer balanced mic pre, most notably an API for quieter stuff, or a neve for louder things. A tube pre is quite a nice match as well, to give a unique transient detail matched with a little tube compression. The best mic pre that I've found matches this mic is the phoenix audio DRS-2, which is actually transformerless input, but also makes just about any mic sing like it's on the titanic. The sytek mic pre's also match quite nicely with these, as they have a lot of quiet clean gain at an affordable price. My main use for this mic is on electric guitar, where it's got the meat, presence, and transient detail to really make a guitar shine. I like slightly overdriven guitar sounds through this mic. For cleaner stuff, it works, but the midrange on this mic is very appealing, and to me, overdrive is all about midrange. For heavier sounds, this mic can work, but it really depends on how loud the amp is. This mic can sound a little stressed on a completely dimed twin or marshall, although it can take it a bit off the grill. I've also used this mic for a pretty good sound about three feet off a bass amp, but haven't done that in a while. Acoustic instruments are nice, as stated earlier. I've never been totally sold with this mic on vocals, but I usually don't even try it for that. My second favorite application for this mics is for drums. Again, the unique transient detail really comes into play with drums in a nice way. I've used these a spaced pair, x/y, and ORTF over a drum kit with excellent results. The soft high end really helps to smooth out a cymbal basher. The nice rich mid range and low frequency response brings out exactly what I like in the whole kit. Sometimes they can be a little dark, and I'll usually run the mics through a speck parametric, dialing in a little bit of the sparkle and air that's missing up top that's needed to lift the cymbals up above everything else. Again, ribbons as overheads is a very unique sound, and not something I do all the time. I'll also use them as some sort of ambiance mics if I'm using condensers as overheads. If I'm looking for a darker large room sound, I'll use the 160's, usually spaced anywhere from a couple of feet to very far apart, looking at what I want to highlight in the room. Since the polar pattern on is quite narrow, they are used as more of a high light for room sound. Sometimes I'll have the mic looking at the kit from 8 to 20 feet away to get more of a distant drum sound. Sometimes I'll point the mics at the ceiling to pick up a lot of reflection, and no direct sound. After a bit of compression, these mics have a really unique quality that make drum room sounds really come alive. They are excellent when the room is overly bright, and you don't want to wash out the cymbals too much. One of my favorite sounds from these mics with drums is stuck right up underneath the drum kit, right along side the kick drum. Both mics were pointed slightly inward, equidistant from the kick, about a foot off the floor. The mics were then run really hot through some tube pre's, and then into a stereo 1176 set up with all four buttons depressed. This gave some really cool snap and sustain to the drums, and did exactly what I intended, which was to pick up the resonance of the shells, and make a slightly artificial room sound out the resonating drums. I have never really tried the 160's as any close mics, as I'm afraid of a reckless drummer whacking one of the mics. It sounded nice on a hi-hat the other day, though. Smoothed out the sizzle and hash that comes off close micing those things.
Well, that's way more than my two cents worth, but I really love these mics, and wanted to let everyone know what I thought about them. They are absolutely indespensible microphones, and a bargain when you're looking at getting into a ribbon sound. They are good mics to learn what ribbons sound good on, because they are not as tricky to use as most other ribbons, which have a figure 8 pattern. Be cautious picking them up used. I would just take out the element of chance and order it through musicians-gear if I were looking into one of these.

Erik Wofford
Stapes Audio

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heylow
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Re: Beyerdynamic M 160 Mic Review

Post by heylow » Tue Dec 16, 2003 12:16 pm

I can't add a whole lot to what's been said other than I second everything that's being said about the M160s.

I have a pair that, much like Erik, I have treasured being my first nice ribbons. I use them on a LOT of stuff...if I'm recording, these things are out and ready because they work so well on just about anything.

I can't honestly say I have heard them not work on something. They are special mics, they sit nicely and they EQ quite well when needed. Percussion tracks like shaker and tambourine are smooth, guitars are rich and overheads are thick. What more can you ask?

I actually bought them based on the recommendation of John Vanderslice. I remember telling John (who I knew had a pair) that I thought the M160s would actually improve my life. He assured me they would and I think they have....definitely a desert island pick for me.


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Re: Beyerdynamic M 160 Mic Review

Post by Coco » Mon Sep 27, 2004 2:22 pm

Are the new M160's and the old ones the same? More importantly do the new ones sound like the old ones? Older mics seem to have been built better and with higher quality parts than the newer ones.
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Re: Beyerdynamic M 160 Mic Review

Post by areopagite » Wed Oct 13, 2004 7:30 am

nathan wrote:i'd like to hear some first hand accounts of these as room mics and overheads.
my recipe:

2 CAD large diaphragm condensers. i forget which model. they are the old, huge ones with switchable patterns. those go behind the drummer in whatever relation sounds best. then a beyer ribbon (got a 70s pair for $300 about 3 years ago) goes out in front of the kit, phase reversed. maybe 8 feet in front, and sometimes pointing at the ceiling if it is getting too much of the cymbals.

the CADs panned hard give detail and a very even sound and define the space of the recording L-R. then you just pull up the ribbon in the centeruntil it sounds great. that adds space, top-end clarity, excitement, and gives the sound a lot of depth.

couple this with a good kick, and a snare mic that rarely gets used and you've got a great drum sound.

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