So, an affordable cardioid dynamic microphone, with a step-up transformer, that will give me all the benefits of a dynamic handheld, while delivering the detail and frequency range benefits of a condenser? We’ll see. A rugged offering from a well-respected name in professional audio, tough enough to withstand the rigors of the road, while equally adept and worthy in the best of studios? And priced under $240?!
Let’s just say I had my doubts. When we first received the new M-80 from Telefunken USA, I had no realistic expectations, good or bad. I was cautious, as it was the first time I had walked into a microphone trial without having any idea of what to expect, and no guiding words from a staff of people who already knew the mic.What I experienced was surprising, to say the least, and has left me extremely excited to work with a truly ideal tool in the future.
Let’s start with the look.
The look and feel of the M-80 is impressive, and well up to par with the professional reputation that comes along with the Telefunken name. The microphone is understandably heavy, with a sturdy, rock-solid construction. As a vocalist, it handles unlike any other mic I’m used to, like the slimmer Shure KSM9’s, Beta87’s, or Audix OM7’s. The most blaring difference comes in the form of a tight, rubberized finish that covers the entire body. This has its ups and downs; for instance, I first used this mic onstage at a summer festival outside Chicago, and I could say conservatively that temperatures rose to around 360 degrees that afternoon… Needless to say, it would have been incredibly easy to lose my grip on a mic while running the length of the stage and sweating like I was. Not with the M-80. The mic stayed put in my hands with a steadfast reliability that was very much appreciated, especially for that particular gig. The only problem I ran into with the mic staying put was that it did so almost too well for my purposes while mounted in the clip. If you’re the type of singer who likes to constantly pop the microphone in and out of the clip during your stage show, you’re going to run into some resistance with this finish. However overall, the rubber grip proved to be far more functional than a hindrance, especially in the studio environment. This rubberized grip/clip combination is a Godsend in the studio, allowing you to mic small, precise movements during placement without worrying about the mic “pushing back” into the clip and affecting its distance from your source.
On to the Sound.
The sonic performance is where I was most pleasantly surprised. While the M-80 certainly has the look and build of a high-performance live mic, I had heard mention of even Green Day utilizing them in the studio, so that is where I began. I’ll admit I spent very little time analyzing the M-80 for vocals in the studio, because frankly why would I pitch my normal setup of a U87, C-12, or U47 fet? However in just speaking into the microphone, it became instantly clear that this could be a prime candidate for spoken broadcast applications, podcasting, etc… The M-80 soundly out-performed many of my standard “go-tos” in the studio on both guitar and surprisingly, hand percussion and horns. The velvety midrange, along with the extremely low-mass diaphragm deliver a more focused “pop” in the transients, and actually fully eliminated the need for compression on congas, bongos, and djembe.
Reading into Telefunken USA’s specs and descriptions of the M-80, they boast a 30Hz-18kHz range, which is audibly noticeable, and “condenser-like performance” delivered largely in part to the American-made AMI/TAB-Funkenwerk output transformer. As for the condenser claim, I would argue both yes and no, but neither in a bad way. I’ll explain…
The M-80 absolutely delivers when it comes to a wider frequency spectrum than your everyday cardioid dynamic, and its sensitivity to small details and nuances offer the performance characteristics of a condenser, yes. The mic really shines with the musicality of its output—the low mid’s are smooth, detailed, and in no way swampy, and the highs are crisp and detailed, without being overly coarse and bright. As I alluded to, there are namely two characteristics that prove that the M-80 does not behave like you’d expect a handheld condenser to onstage, and I welcome them both: It does not become a nightmare “cymbal amplifier” for a vocalist on a small stage, and it doesn’t exhibit uncontrollable bleed, making it ideal for a drum kit.
Honestly, percussion is the last place I expected to use the Telefunken M-80 onstage, but it quickly became one of my favorites on snare drum. The off-axis pickup and rejection qualities of the mic gave me excellent isolation from even the loudest hi-hat source. Adding to that, the focused transient response and slight boost in the 7-10k range delivered a crisp, extremely detailed result, giving me the best of both worlds with a loud, controlled “crack” in the pocket, all while accentuating each grace note and delicate stick play. At front of house, I simply laid the mic flat while mic-ing snare, gave a slight boost around 200Hz (I just love the chest-thumping snare!) and rolled off under 100Hz. Simple—the best sounding snare response yet!
The M-80 also made my life beautifully easy while mic-ing guitars for San Diego rock quintet My American Heart… Their style demands that the guitar tones sit full and heavy in the mix, all with plenty of bite, and I achieved this literally effortlessly with nothing but a 120Hz roll off. Seriously?! I was blindsided by how perfectly the mic was able to get two battling guitars to sit so nicely in the mix; prominent, but not overbearing, biting but not shrill, thunderously full, but not muddy. If I have the choice, I will use nothing else on rock guitars and snare when I mix FOH.
At the end of the day, I am completely sold on the newest offering from Telefunken USA, the M-80. If you’re a front of house engineer, a producer, or a musician looking for a no-bull, best bang for your buck (no pun intended), the Telefunken USA M-80 is an incredibly worthy contender, if not your only choice. For this writer, I have fallen in love with it specifically on live guitars, live and recorded snare drum, hand percussion and horns, although I’m confident the M-80 will surely perform in almost any application. It is truly an ideal tool—a weapon I can be confident in taking to battle day in and day out… Simply put, I am sincerely looking forward to making Telefunken USA M-80 a working staple in both my touring and recording microphone arsenal.