Greg Rickaby

Greg Rickaby

Full-Stack Developer

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Microphone Shootout: Behringer B-1 vs Neumann TLM 103


I'm a 15 year radio veteran. I've seen the debate between high-end and low-end microphones both in-person and on internet message boards. Usually, the argument ends with snide comment like: "The Behringer is crap because it's only $100 bucks!"... That's not very scientific, so I wanted to study this on a technical level.

In my office is a Behringer B-1. I purchased it new in 2001 from zzounds.com. It's widely known as a cheap, yet rugged starter microphone. I've use it to voice-track, cut voice-overs, and mic live instruments (the coolest being a 100 year-old cello). It's a tough microphone. The kind of microphone you can toss into the backseat on the way to a gig and not think twice.

The Neumann TLM 103 is known as a high-end, yet affordable option for voice-over professionals. The Neumann name is known throughout the recording industry as THE microphone for vocals. It's truly the Cadillac! There are three TLM 103's in the building, one in each production room. Many of our DJ's have them in their home studios too. Note: most radio stations wouldn't dare spend $1,100 on a production room microphone.

What you're about to see (and hear) is me talking into both microphones - unedited. To prove that I'm not swapping voice processors, you'll even hear me changing out the microphones. I personally have no stake in the argument, I'm an engineer. I simply wanted to introduce a more technical point-of-view.

I grabbed the following specifications from each respective website.

Technical Specifications

Behringer B-1

  • Type: Condenser
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz - 20 kHz
  • Pickup Pattern: Cardioid
  • Diaphragm: 1-inch pressure-gradient transducer capsule
  • Power: 48v Phantom
  • Construction: Ultra low-noise transformerless circuitry
  • Price $99.00 USD (Amazon)
  • Website

Neumann TLM 103

  • Type: Condenser
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz - 20 kHz
  • Pickup Pattern: Cardioid
  • Diaphragm: 1-inch pressure-gradient transducer capsule
  • Power: 48v Phantom
  • Construction: Ultra low-noise transformerless circuitry
  • Price: $1,099 USD (Amazon)
  • Website

Would you look at that? On paper, they both have the same specifications! Ok, I'm not going to dive into exactly how those parts are made, or the quality of materials used...but they should sound almost identical.

Test 1: Basic Home Studio

home-studio-setup

With this test, I'm recreating a (very) basic home studio. There's no audio board, just the voice processor plugged into "Line-In" on the motherboard sound card. For both tests, the B-1 is set to "flat" as there is no low-frequency roll-off option on the TLM 103.

Equipment:

  • Symetrix 528e Voice Processor
  • On-Board High Definition Audio Card (Dell Optiplex 360)

Adobe Audition Screen-shot:

home-studio-audition

Average Frequency Response:

home-studio-audition-freq-b1

home-studio-audition-freq-tlm-103

Listen

Test 2: Production Room

production-room-setup

Now, let's move into a real-live-working production room at a radio station. This room is "Prod 3". It is used daily to voice-track shows and cut commercials. It features a flat-response 12-channel mixer, and a professional grade sound card - oh, and lots of foam on the walls.

Note: I used the same exact Voice Processor in each test.

Equipment:

  • Symetrix 528e Voice Processor
  • Broadcast Tools ProMix 12
  • Audio Science 4344 Sound Card

Adobe Audition Screen-shot:

production-room-audition

Average Frequency Response:

production-room-audition-freq-b1

production-room-audition-freq-tlm-103

Listen

Conclusion

It's obvious the production room environment sounds better. However, that probably has nothing to do with the microphones. The supporting equipment makes difference! Using a $2,000 sound card, audio console, adding foam to the walls, etc... makes up that last 10%.

If you ask me, the B-1 sounds brighter and a bit punchy, while the TLM 103 sounds warm and more mellow. Overall, they're not that far apart. (Really!) That's no surprise since their specifications and frequency responses are identical.

How? Quality of materials and parts used in construction.

What does that mean? Nothing. A Top-40 DJ might want to sound punchy, while a soft-rock DJ will want to sound warmer. Do you want to flaunt the name "Neumann" to owners of B-1's on messages boards? Or do you want to have a fantastic sounding microphone for less than $100? In the end, it's all about your budget and application.

A co-worker of mine, John Garrett, does voice-overs for a living. He started out with a Behringer B-1. He jokes all the time about how that "starter microphone" made him a living for many years. It wasn't until last year that he purchased a TLM 103.

My advice is:

Don't worry about the microphone, as much as the gear surrounding it.

  • Buy a high-quality sound card or mixer  It will make your audio sound better - long before you hook-up the microphone!
  • Buy an industry standard mic preamp like the dbx 266xs or Symetrix 528e.
  • Use sound dampening foam in your studio/room.

When you're both successful and have some extra cash, then take the leap and get the TLM 103. Just don't expect gigs to flood in because you own a $1,000 microphone.