It’s difficult to admit, but the truth is that some “legacy” products still in common usage just aren’t up to the heightened expectations of today’s performers. That’s not to say that they’re bad products, only that they have been eclipsed in performance by more recent products. Let’s also keep in mind the increasing sophistication of today’s consumers who (mp3’s aside) are more used to hearing musical and other programming louder and clearer than ever. Enter the KSM9, a new handheld condenser microphone developed for high end live sound usage.
The KSM9 from Shure Inc. of Niles, IL originally debuted as the microphone part of the high end UR24S/KSM9 wireless system. Now available as a wired microphone, it’s available both in champagne silver and charcoal black finishes.
Unlike other handheld condenser microphones currently available the KSM9 offers switchable cardioid and supercardioid (hypercardioid) patterns via a hidden (unscrew the microphone grille assembly to find it) miniswitch. The KSM9 also features a electret dual diaphragm capsule that purports to greatly reduce the presence of the proximity effect.
The KSM9 is specified to operate between 50Hz and 20kHz (although no deviational units from those limits are specified). A quick look at the frequency response chart shows a rising response north of 2kHz, and a rapidly falling response south of 100Hz, neither of which is an undesirable characteristic for a vocal microphone. The included frequency response chart (not of the individual microphone itself) seemed to be pretty consistent with the sonic characteristics of the actual microphone.
Self noise is rated at 22dBA which is a little bit on the high side compared to other handheld condensers such as the Rode S1 and Neumann KMS 104 which both check in at 18dBA. That said, in a live concert application this might not be at all audible.
The charcoal finish of the KSM9 I received for review was nicely applied, and had a soft but not spongy feel. It was suitably non-reflective, and I would have no compunctions against using the microphone during a video production.
The microphone comes packaged in a very nice aluminum flight-style case, and includes both a deluxe microphone clip, and European spec microphone thread adapter. An optional windscreen for outdoor (or singers who splatter) usage is available.
The KSM9 retails for $850, but street price is in the vicinity of $700, and it carries a two year limited warranty.
On first listen, the KSM9 had quite a bit more upper midrange presence than either a Shure SM58 or Beta58 when auditioned in a controlled studio environment. Using a variety of outboard microphone preamps as well as a Soundcraft console I compared the KSM9 to a variety of other microphones in order to get a sense of its sonic signature.
As you would infer from a look at the frequency response chart, the KSM9 is not a microphone that you would expect to work well on low frequency instruments or for ambient recording, which is fine, though other vocal-oriented microphones can work well in non-voice applications. Case in point the beyerdynamic M88tg. Great on voice, excellent in a kickdrum!
While in the studio, I tried the KSM9 on a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier feeding a Marshall 4×12. The resultant sound was tight, edgy, and preserved the leading edge transient smack of the amplifier. I was unable to detect any clipping of the microphone electronics nor any sounds of distress due to physical overload of the capsule. This didn’t come as a surprise, as the KSM9 is rated to handle a maximum of 152dB.
The KSM9 also sounded good on a RhythmTech brass jingle tambourine played approximately 5” in front of the microphone grille. The grille by the way, is a sturdy wire and foam affair, and it appears to provide excellent wind and saliva resistant qualities.
With both kick drums and bass guitar cabinets the KSM9 lacked low end heft, which was as expected. The KSM9 also tended towards sounding a little grainy when used to capture the sound of trap drums played from 10 feet away.
Now that I’ve finished misusing the microphone, let’s examine the performance of the KSM9 in the manner in which it will be most likely to be used.
I had the opportunity to test the KSM9 in a midsized regional theater during the afternoon rehersal of a female jazz singer. Compared to the Shure Beta 58’s that are typically used in this venue, the KSM9 sounded quite a bit more detailed, and especially when set to its cardioid setting, seemed much more forgiving than the Beta 58 with respect to movement by the singer.
There was a slight hardness or roughness in the sound that wasn’t apparent over the Beta 58, but was apparent when listening to the actual output of the singer! The KSM9 was much truer to the source than the Beta 58.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the KSM9 excelled in its ability to tolerate changes in the proximity of the singer (ranging from distances of 6” to basically touching the microphone grille) better than any other handheld condenser that I have ever used. About the only other microphone that comes close would be the Electrovoice RE-20 which is obviously unsuited to live sound vocal utilization.
For applications which would likely have a higher stage volume, the supercardioid pattern would likely yield better results due to the tighter pattern, but it was not necessary for this show.
I noticed that the KSM9 seemed to be relatively well isolated from the floorbourne resonances than other microphones I have used in this venue. Handling noise was also minimal.
Sonically the KSM9 is a good sounding microphone for its intended purpose, but in my opinion it is bested by the Neumann KMS105 and KMS104 microphones which offer lower self noise, smoother response,better low level resolution, and surprisingly a lower price. On the other hand, I’m not aware of another handheld consdenser microphone that is as free from the proximity effect as the KSM9, and male singers who have a problem with the more extended low frequency response of some microphones will probably find the KSM9 to their liking
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find the Shure KSM9 making its way onto the riders of higher end acts in the near future. The combination of switchable patterns, increased freedom from proximity effect artifacts, and overall quality sound make for a product sure to win admirers among engineers world wide. Those in the market for a high-end handheld condenser microphone should definitely give the KSM9 a listen.
5800 West Touhy Avenue
Niles, IL 60714-4608
Telephone: +1(847) 600-2000
(U.S. only) +1(800) 25-SHURE
Fax: +1(847) 600-1212