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Ableton Live 12
What’s in. What’s out. What to expect.

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SHURE KSM9 ‘WIRED’

By

20 March 2008

shure KSM9 Wired Cham

When a mic like this is at your disposal, you often wish you had 10.

Text: Mark Woods

Live vocal mics earn their keep doing the toughest job in audio. The laws of physics are always close at hand at front of house: several monitor sends are often within a few dB of feedback across the frequency range, and anything that can happen up on stage eventually will happen. At any moment a mic could be dropped on the floor, flung into the crowd… or placed in a singer’s bottom (as I’ve seen with both Fred Negro and TISM). Mics are expected to cope with everything from the verbal assaults of a death metal band in full flight, to impromptu cymbal mallet duties courtesy of an over zealous singer. All this must be endured while also providing enough gain before feedback so the local community choir can be heard through a vocal PA at Carols by Candlelight on a windy night.

ULTRA-VOX

The top-of-the-line Shure KSM9 condenser vocal mic sounds so good you’ll always want to use it; but at $1499 it’s arguably too risky for the death metal band, Fred Negro or TISM. Your community choir, however, will be as loud and clear as they’ve ever been, and if you’re using the mic with someone who can actually sing you’ll probably find it’s the best live mic you’ve ever used.

The KSM9 looks fairly modest in its (either) dark grey or champagne regalia – almost too modest in fact – but inside there are fancy dual gold-layered low-mass Mylar diaphragms and Class A transformerless preamplifier circuitry. There’s also a switch under the grille to select between cardioid or super-cardioid polar patterns. The KSM9 ‘Wired’ is supplied with a matching Shure mic clip and a nice little lockable case. (Just as an aside: I’ve never been convinced about lockable mic cases. They won’t stop the mic being stolen and they won’t keep the thief away from the mic for more than a few seconds even if the case is locked… and where do you keep the keys?)

I first tested the KSM9 by conducting some simple but time-proven studio comparisons. Recording speech through the KSM9 alongside a range of other mics provided an interesting introduction to the mic’s potential, although this test only hinted at what was to follow. The ‘rattling a bunch of keys’ test was better indicator of the mic’s quality, revealing a detailed sound, excellent transient response and lack of distortion. Recording vocals in the same room as a band immediately demonstrated the KSM9’s tight pattern and excellent off-axis sound quality, although, as a studio vocal recording mic, it sounded somewhat closed and small compared to my large diaphragm condenser mics. It wasn’t until I fired the KSM9 up with a PA that the quality really shone through.

CLASS-E

So what specifically is so good about the Shure KSM9? You notice the top end first; clear and incredibly smooth, similar to a high-end large diaphragm condenser mic but tight and close. Next is the gain before feedback. The sound is so good you want to turn the vocal up, and when you do it will go up, and up, and up! The mic will eventually get edgy at high frequencies but by then they’ll be telling you to turn it down anyway. The pickup pattern is tighter with ‘supercardioid’ selected but the sound quality remains the same.
The other big feature is the KSM9’s control of the bottom end. The lack of proximity effect makes for an extremely consistent response at any distance from the mic. Just as important is the low-end filtering that eliminates plosives; it really won’t pop at all, and with the high clarity assisting diction this would be an ideal mic for hip-hop vocals, assuming they want to be heard when they eat the mic!

IN THE FIELD

I regularly mix bands at the Castlemaine Theatre Royal. It’s a beautiful old theatre with great acoustics and a big PA. Martin Martini and The Bone Palace Orchestra performed there recently and I used the KSM9 on Martin’s voice. The band is a raucous gypsy rock outfit with violin, trombone, tuba, clarinet, keyboard and drums. Often noisy with full and frantic arrangements, the KSM9 kept his voice head and shoulders above the band with ease, without harshness, and with a sense of being able to hear right inside the voice. The only nervous moments came when he grabbed the mic from the stand and started dancing around the stage… all I could think was, ‘is he going to drop it?’.

I later used it (on a stand) at a talent quest for young kids at a local event on New Year’s Eve and was able to lift their little voices up to be loud and clear through the PA (one of the hardest tasks for any mic), resulting in some surprisingly involving listening. At a windy outdoor event in Elmore (with blues/roots band, The Croakers) the KSM9 was much less susceptible to wind noise than the other vocal mics. During the soundcheck the KSM9 also won a shoot-out on banjo and mandolin. It made the Beta 87A sound grainy with a hard edge to the high-mids; the Beta 57 sound small and closed; and the SM58 sound dull and old. If my bluegrass customers hear it they’ll want one on every instrument! (The downside to this is adding up the cost of upgrading your mic kit now that all your old favourite mics don’t sound so good anymore!).

BEAUTY CONTEST

Which brings me to my only complaint about the mic – the price-to-looks ratio. The KSM9 doesn’t look anything special on stage and could even be mistakingly dismissed as a cheap mic (though the sound of the mic quickly puts paid to that suspicion). Nobody wants that of course – the mixer, the artist and the audience all want apparent quality. Shure’s SM58/Beta 58s still look good and the increasingly popular Beta 87A also looks smart in use. The KSM9, however, looks like a mic for middle-of-the-road pop singers or TV shows. Considering its potential as a hip-hop vocal mic, Shure may need to make a ‘bling’ version – I’m thinking a gold and chrome body with flashing lights going round the head.

The direct competitor to the KSM9 is the similarly specified Neumann KMS104/105. It too is a fairly conservative looking mic. Blues singer Rory Ellis uses one and I’ve been impressed with its warmth and big low-mids but haven’t found the top end to be as shiny as the KSM9. Your choice may well be a matter of taste.

If you want the best mic you can get for live vocals, and can afford the price and accept the risk of one occasionally hitting the floor (or worse), then you’ll almost certainly love the Shure KSM9. Simply put, it sounds great!

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READ ONLINE NOW
Online
Issue 93

REVIEWED

Ableton Live 12
What’s in. What’s out. What to expect.