Beyerdynamic M160 – Scott Craggs’ Tape Op Review

TapeOp Issue #60/July, 2007 | by

Does the Beyer M 160 even need a review? Surely everyone knows by now that this is the mic Andy Johns used to record John Bonham’s drums on “When The Levee Breaks.” Does anything else need be said? I rather doubt, it but I will prattle on for a bit anyway.

It’s a ribbon mic, but unlike most ribbons, which are figure-8, the M 160 has a hypercardioid pattern. I bought one about two years ago, and it wasn’t long before it was seeing a lot of use on most everything you can think of. I first tried it as an overhead, and while loads of people seem to love it in that application, for me the frequency response combined with the relatively narrow pickup pattern resulted in a sound that was cool but just too “colored”. (Yeah I know, that word is about as abused and meaningless as both “warm” and “punchy”. Shoot me.)

However, as a front of kit mic it has worked wonders. I put it up about snare height a foot in front of the kit and bam — perfect. Adds some nice space to the snare and some high-end smack to the kick — two things I always seem to want more of as the mix starts to get busy. So I like it a lot there, and I’ve also had nice results with it on the side of the snare and on the rack tom. But guitar amps are where I really like it…

Almost every time, I ended up going with just the M 160, turned up loud.

Shortly after getting the M 160 I got on a real multi-mic’ing kick for guitars. I felt like experimenting and would often throw up three or four mics — a couple up close, one a ways back, one really far away, maybe the bullet mic up close — whatever. I tried all sorts of stupid stuff. Eventually I got around to mixing all these songs. And a funny thing kept happening. I’d go through the guitar tracks, try various combinations and balances, different panning schemes, etc, and almost every time, I ended up going with just the M 160, turned up loud. It just sounds right.

My fave guitar mic before I got the Beyer was a Sennheiser MD 409, and I would often pair the two of them up close (well, a foot away or so) on an amp. Comparing the two was interesting. The main difference to me was really one of texture; the Beyer was just so much smoother in the midrange. I just found that, even with some pretty heroically distorted and nasty guitar sounds, the M 160 remained entirely pleasant to listen to; it never seemed to be the least bit peaky or jagged. Anyway, it wasn’t long before I abandoned the whole multi-mic scheme, and basically the M 160 became the only mic I used on a guitar amp for the better part of a year.

I liked it on a bunch of other things as well: viola, violin, upright bass, tambourine, and other percussive things. I think it made the cut on some bass amps and vocals as well. It’s hard not to like this mic. I don’t have anything bad to say. If you’re one of those who defaults to an SM57 on guitar amps, you reeeeeally ought to try the M 160 out and see if you don’t find it a whole lot nicer. You can find it for dramatically less than MSRP without much trouble. ($799, beyerdynamic)

Read part II, Andy Hong’s review of the beyerdynamic M 160.

Read more about the Beyerdynamic M160 ribbon microphone.

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