Sunday, May 25, 2008

Living Room Laboratory: The Sennheiser MD421-U-5

It's a beautiful day (windows wide open with 70 degree weather), Mrs. Audio Guy is outta town, and Biggs is being chill.

Let's play a little!

About two months before we moved, a reader of the blog sold me an old (OLD) used Sennheiser MD421-U-5. He was cleaning out his mic cabinet, and came across this old Senny, which he had purchased in the 90's, then just never really used. He was well stocked on SM7's and RE20's, so off this mic went. To me. For little more than the cost of shipping. Woot!

I don't know exactly how old it is, but it is a fairly early serial number for the U-5 (#2097, and I've seen serials as high 55,000 on ebay), so I'm thinking it was made in the early 80's or late 70's.

A little history, the MD421 is probably the microphone most responsible for Sennheiser having a presence in the US microphone market today. Thomas Schillinger sold 600 MD421's to NBC in the late 60's, getting the microphone into the hands of recording and broadcast engineers across the country, and to date, the MD421 (and it's updates) remains one of the highest selling microphones of all time.

I've NEVER used one before.

These days, the dynamic microphones of choice seem to be the Electrovoice RE20, or the Shure SM7B. Most VO pros I know go for those, a large diaphragm condenser, or Sennheiser's now ubiquitous shotgun, the MKH416.

I don't run a booth out of my home anymore, so I thought it would be fun to throw some kit out on the living room floor. I recorded a little Poe (you know me and Poe), and to compare I also recorded on another dynamic microphone, the Shure SM57 (my personal fave "do anything" mic). The recording chain was Microphone to ART Tube PAC to NRV10 to laptop.
So how did it sound?

Here's the MD421:
Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

And here's the SM57:
Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

First up, this mic is QUIET. I plugged it into my preamp, and dialed up about 20dB of gain, and saw nothing. I had to hit the MD421 with 45dB of input for it to register my voice at a comfortable speaking level. By comparison the SM57 needed only 30dB of gain to match the output of the MD421. I've never had to do that before. I'm pretty confident I could scream myself mute into this thing and be NOWHERE near damaging the cartridge.
The tone is pretty smooth, and I think it fattens up the bassier end of my thin little voice. From memory, I feel it exhibits more proximity effect than RE20's I've used. Good to know if you're going for an intense "trailer" sound.
The SM57 did a much better job with off-axis rejection (picking up little surrounding noise except for what's directly in front of it), but the MD421 was certainly no slouch (remember I was recording 4 feet from an open window overlooking a fairly busy street in Studio City). Also, the MD421 was MUCH more tolerant of plosive b's and p's (a problem of mine), and something the SM57 can be a little fragile about. I feel I could comfortably use the 421 without a pop shield or sock.

I'm really excited about this mic. It probably wont see tons of action as I prefer condensers for most of my VO, but the times I need to record really loud sessions, this baby's going right up front to the top of my list. I'm this mic's third owner, and I'm really stoked to be giving it a good home!

Are you looking for a NEW MD421?


  1. Great blog, thanks for all the interesting posts and info...I think the mp3 links for this post are broken...I can't here either one of em in either Firefox or IE...I record VO at home in a high traffic-noise location, and am researching which dynamic mic might be a good choice for me....

  2. Well shoot. Sorry bout that.

    That's what I get for using a free online file hosting service. I've since switched over to Humyo, and it looks like esnips is starting to dump files. Boo.

    I'll try and get new files posted. In the meantime I'm pretty sure you can still hear the 421 on two other posts.


    The thing I've found about dynamics like the MD421, Sm7, and RE20 is they NEED to be fed with a lot of gain, which means investing in a decent preamp. On the second link you can readily hear the difference on the MD421 between the two preamps.

    Depending on budget, you could consider a condenser that will do hypercardioid like the SP CS5 or AKG C414 (I like the XLS), or you could also look at a shotgun (preferred for promo and trailer in many areas) like the Senny MKH416 or Rode NTG3.

    Thanks for the comment! And thanks for reading (even though you couldn't listen LOL)!