Neumann TLM 103 Review (Best Value Neumann Mic?)

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Neumann TLM 103 Review

About the Neumann TLM 103 Condenser Microphone

  • Transformerless electronics for ultra-transparent recordings
  • Light weight and compact body makes for ease of use
  • The best value option from Neumann - one of the most renowned microphone companies

Neumann’s TLM 103 Condenser Microphone is a large diaphragm condenser microphone, geared toward studio use. Neumann is a premier microphone manufacturer, founded in Germany in the 1920’s, and they have since made a name for themselves as producers of high end, high priced microphones. The Neumann U87 is widely considered to be one of the best vocal mics for recording studios, and in 1997, the company introduced the Neumann TLM 103 as an affordable, less fully featured alternative to the U87.

The Neumann TLM 103 is a condenser mic, meaning it has a diaphragm that requires external power (called “phantom power”) to operate. Condenser microphones are useful for studio applications where you want to capture detail, like lead vocals or acoustic instruments. They large capsule is sensitive to incoming sound, and are quite delicate compared to the typical stage vocal mic. That means that condenser microphones are typically relegated to use in the studio.

Who is the Neumann TLM 103 for?

Neumann TLM103
The Neumann TLM 103 is a great addition to any studio’s mic locker

The TLM 103 is a great microphone for producers and engineers looking for a high quality microphone for recording vocals and instruments. The TLM 103 is a high quality product offering from a premium brand, so any professional studio and producer should feel comfortable adding it to their microphone locker.

The Neumann TLM 103 falls in the higher end of the “prosumer” category, offering a high quality product that’s in reach of home studio producers, while being nice enough for the commercial studio owner. If you’re someone who wants to record high quality vocals, voiceovers, or a studio owner, the TLM 103 is a solid choice.

Neumann TLM 103 Features

Neumann TLM 103 Review

The Neumann TLM 103 features the Neumann’s K 103 large diaphragm capsule, which is based on the classic U87’s capsule. The mic only offers the cardioid polar pattern, meaning it rejects sound from the back of the mic. While the U87 offers three polar patterns, the cardioid polar pattern of the TLM 103 is what you’ll want to use for almost every application (close micing of vocals, recording instruments).

You can basically can think of the TLM 103 as a simpler version of the U87, allowing you to use it for the most practical reasons. When you compare the price of the TLM 103 to the over $3,000 price tag of the U87, it becomes an attractive option for producers and engineers that want to record vocals and acoustic instruments.

Check out this comparison of the Neumann TLM 103 and U87

The TLM 103 features an easy screw-on holder, allowing you to attach it to a mic stand without a shock mount. Internal rubber buffers allow the mic to have a level of built-in shock absorption. It’s also super light-weight compared to other condensers with a similar sound. That makes it a great choice for drum overheads, since it’s easy to hoist them up on a mic stand. The TLM 103 doesn’t come with a pop filter, so you’ll need to grab one.

How does the Neumann TLM 103 sound?

Two Neuman TLM 103 Microphones
Using the TLM 103s to record some bathroom reverb

The TLM 103 is a transformer-less microphone. Its lack of transformers leads to a more transparent, un-colored sound. While some microphones are chasing overly colored tones by adding tubes and transformers to the signal flow, the TLM 103 is a clean, true-to-the-ear sound.

That makes the Neumann TLM 103 a great choice for applications where you want to capture the true sound of what you’re recording. It’s a go to mic for instruments like violin, cello, and horns, where you want to get clean recordings of great sounding performances.

This transparency makes the Neumann TLM 103 a great choice for a catch-all mic. While it may seem like it lacks some character compared to some other microphones that add more color, it also is rarely the wrong mic for any source. This makes it a fantastic “set up and go” microphone. It’s fantastic for recording almost any singer, most acoustic instruments, and a stereo pair makes great drum overheads or orchestra mics.

Neumann TLM 103s make a solid choice for orchestra recording

The TLM 103 has a self noise level of 7 dB A, making it one of the quietest condenser mics on the market. For comparison’s sake the Warm Audio WA-47 has a self noise level of 11dB A, and the Slate ML-1 has a self noise level of 17 dB A. That means you can really turn up the gain on the TLM 103 without adding any noise the the signal. This makes it a great choice for recording delicate performances from quiet singers, or a great mic for recording an orchestra.

The Neumann TLM 103 is a fantastic, clean sounding microphone with low noise, a great sounding capsule, and a sound profile that suits almost any instrument or voice. Overall, it’s a high quality mic that will capture the detail and nuance of the performance you’re recording.

Final Thoughts on the Neumann TLM 103

The Neumann TLM 103 is a high quality, pro recording studio microphone in a slightly more affordable package. While it’s lacking some features of its big brother, the Neuman U87, it shares a similar capsule and sounds great out of the box.

Its transparent sound, along with its low noise level, means it checks all of the technical boxes for making high quality, commercially competitive recordings. The Neumann TLM 103 is a great addition to any studio or home studio’s mic locker, and it’s the best value mic that Neumann has on offer!

  • Transformerless electronics for ultra-transparent recordings
  • Light weight and compact body makes for ease of use
  • The best value option from Neumann - one of the most renowned microphone companies

Condenser Mic Buyers Guide

There are many factors to consider when purchasing a condenser microphone. Let’s go over some of the distinctive features of condenser mics!

Diaphragm Material:

Condenser microphones use different diaphragm materials, and each material can impart distinct sound characteristics to the microphone. Here’s a list of some common condenser mic diaphragm materials and their associated sound characteristics:

  1. Gold-Sputtered Mylar:
    • Character: Smooth and balanced frequency response.
    • Sound: Generally accurate and detailed with a warm character. Suitable for various applications.
  2. Titanium:
    • Character: High durability and rigidity.
    • Sound: Clear and precise with a fast transient response. Often used for capturing percussive sounds.
  3. Aluminum:
    • Character: Lightweight and responsive.
    • Sound: Crisp highs and enhanced transient response. Well-suited for capturing delicate nuances and acoustic instruments.
  4. Nylon:
    • Character: Soft and delicate.
    • Sound: Gentle and airy, suitable for vocals and acoustic instruments where a subtle and warm character is desired.
  5. Ribbon (Aluminum or Nanofilm):
    • Character: Fragile and sensitive to air movement.
    • Sound: Smooth, vintage character with a rolled-off high end. Perfect for capturing vintage or warm tones.
  6. Ceramic:
    • Character: Rigid and robust.
    • Sound: Pronounced midrange and slightly brighter highs. Often used for vocal recording due to its clarity and presence.
  7. Brass:
    • Character: Sturdy and heavy.
    • Sound: Rich and warm, especially in the midrange. Well-suited for capturing brass instruments and deep vocals.

Polar Patterns:

One important characteristic of condenser microphones is their ability to have different polar patterns. A polar pattern describes the sensitivity and directionality of a microphone in picking up sound from different angles. Here are some commonly encountered polar patterns in condenser microphones:

  1. Omnidirectional: In an omnidirectional polar pattern, the microphone picks up sound equally from all directions. It is not sensitive to the angle or position of the sound source, capturing sound from all around the microphone capsule. This pattern is useful in situations where you want to capture ambient sound or when recording multiple sound sources in a room.
  2. Cardioid: The cardioid polar pattern is heart-shaped and is most sensitive to sound coming from the front of the microphone. It rejects sound from the rear and sides to varying degrees, creating a focused pickup pattern. This pattern is commonly used in studio recording, live performances, and broadcasting, as it allows the microphone to capture sound from the desired source while minimizing background noise.
  3. Supercardioid and Hypercardioid: These polar patterns are variations of the cardioid pattern with narrower pickup angles and more sensitivity to sound from the front. They offer increased directionality and greater rejection of sound from the sides and rear, making them suitable for applications where more precise focus is required. These patterns are commonly used in stage performances, conferences, and situations where the microphone needs to isolate the main sound source from surrounding noise.
  4. Figure-8 (Bidirectional): In a figure-8 polar pattern, the microphone is equally sensitive to sound coming from the front and rear while rejecting sound from the sides. The pickup pattern resembles the number “8” or a figure of two cones facing each other. This pattern is often used for capturing sound from two opposite sources, such as two vocalists or a musical instrument and its reflection from a room boundary.

For a majority of studio applications, cardioid is the polar pattern you’ll want to use. It’s nice to have mics with selectable polar patterns on occasion, but for vocals, you will almost always use cardioid.

Durability and portability:

By their very nature, condenser microphones are more delicate and need to be handled with care. They are also designed to be used in the recording studio, so durability is not a huge factor when selecting a mic for the studio. Realistically, you’re going to keep the mic in the case or mounted on a stand 99% of the time.

However, it’s still important to select a mic that has solid build quality, since you want to feel confident about using your mic long term.

Budget Considerations:

While we all have our spending limits, we typically suggest buying microphones from reputable brands that have a proven track record of making high quality products. The bottom of the barrel mics you can find online are often times noisy or have unattractive sound profiles, and their resale value is basically $0. It’s usually worth it to save for a proper mic instead of working your way up the rungs of the cheap gear ladder. Chances are, you’ll end up buying the nicer mic anyway once you realize the limitations of the super-budget off brand gear.

If you want to explore some other similar mics at other price points, we have a condenser mic buyers guide with options for every budget!

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About the Author: Kyle Hoffer

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Kyle Hoffer is an audio engineer and professor from Orlando, Florida! With over a decade of recording experience under his belt, Kyle has made a name for himself in the indie/post hardcore scene as an engineer, producer, and mixer.

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