Sennheiser e906: Way more than
a guitar cab microphone

Plenty of us play with microphones when we’re not ‘on the clock’ at Factory Sound.

On a recent drum recording session, we tried out Sennheiser e906 on a tom tom (rack 1), right next to the old faithful MD421-II on rack tom 2.

The results were quite eye opening, and ear pleasing!

MD421-II is well known for the drum sound it captures, especially as a tom tom microphone. There must have been a squillion words already written about this, so we won’t get in the way with more.

BUT the sound of e906 on rack tom 1 – well… it sounded like it was a perfect match to the MD421-II on rack tom 2.

Before we dive into the rabbit hole of what blowing a tune on a beer stubby has to do with an MD421, let’s first of all check some of the things we’ve already found that e906 can really bring to the table.

Guitar Cabs

Sennheiser e906 was designed for guitar cabs. Plain and simple.

Some very quick highlights…

  • Very low profile (it’s basically flat), so on stage this mic is very unlikely to get knocked when a wayward singer gets too close the the guitar amp
  • 3 position filter switch (mid frequency of the presence filter is 4.2 kHz) offering a range of sound sculpting options not usually found on a dynamic mic, being:
    • boosted presence range (e.g. for aggressive metal rhythm guitars)
    • normal presence range (e.g. for classic rock)
    • attenuated presence range (e.g. for warm and smooth jazz and blues sounds)

However this article is more about our favourite e906 tricks that don’t involve a guitar cab.

Let’s go!

Harmonica

Way before the first ‘tom tom’ test with e906, our interest in the versatility of this mic was piqued while recording harmonica.

Not a “blues harp” – where you might use the classic Green Bullet, but a chromatic harmonica, which can be quite a bit ‘wider’ than a blues harp.

Why was the e906 chosen?

Because it was already out and set up! With no pop-shield at-the-ready, the e906 was angled slightly, to stop any air blasts from the harmonica hitting the microphone diaphragm and causing that horrible ‘plosive’ sound.

The e906 did a GREAT job of recording the chromatic harmonica. Mid range was clear, and there was easily enough top end ‘air’ (not the bad kind) to really make the harmonica solo really sing. The files were sent off and used immediately for a song overseas.

Being a dynamic microphone, it crunches up nicely in the mix if you want to add a little overdrive grit to get some extra flavour to the sound.

Saxophone

We’ve tried a pile of microphones on sax. Let’s stick to studio microphones for now.

It really depends on what kind of sound you’re going for. A classic studio condenser will shine if you’re after a ‘sparkly’ sound, and is especially good if you’re in a nice space. Position the condenser mic around 2ft away (50 – 60 cm), and you’ll pick up every nuance a saxophone has to offer.

For the classic saxophone sound, it’s very hard to go past Coles 4038 ribbon mic – but they’re not accessible for every budget.

So how well does e906 work for sax in the studio?

If you’ve used any standard dynamic instrument mic for sax before, you’re going to love the extra detail in the upper mids that the e906 provides.

In comparison with the classic everyone-must-have Shure SM57, the sound is more ‘open’ particularly in the upper end of the frequency spectrum, while the mid range is nicely focussed, without being gnarly.

With the supercardioid polar pattern of e906, you’ll want to have a good listen to get your position just right before you hit record for the money take.

Around 30cm away from the bell, angled slightly toward the keys is a nice spot to start – but use your ears to help with the experimenting.

Sennheiser says: “e906 is suited to Guitar, Percussion & Brass” – and e906 will definitely handle the high SPL of many brass instruments. However, it also has the detail to very nicely deal with the most expressive of woodwind instruments – alto sax.

Unlike the ‘sound alike’ test we did with e906 and MD421-II on tom toms, just consider e906 to be a great sounding mic, quite different to MD421-II when used for sax in the studio.

Percussion Duties

Oh man, the way e906 can handle transients is *chef’s kiss*

In fact, that’s where e906 and MD421-II sound pretty similar (we started all the way back at the top talking about using e906 for tom toms).

When it comes to the microphone capsule inside either 906 or 421, they’re very similar.

We’ve used e906 in a whole bunch of different percussion recording applications.

In particular:

  • Cowbell
  • Clave
  • Congas (they’re great as an underside conga mic, when you’re looking for a little low end ‘doof’ to add to your indie folk track
  • Bongos
  • Tambourine
  • Hand claps

For intricate percussion, such as shakers and the more delicate side of life, a condenser microphone will generally give you a little more depth in the sound.

When it’s a blast of sound from your percussive source – including toms or snare – e906 really grabs hold of the sound and lets you get the best bits ‘down to tape’.

Bass guitar cab

Before we drive straight to nerdtown, also consider popping an e906 on your bass guitar cab. Of course, there are plenty of recordings that will only grab the DI sound from the bass head – but to capture that ‘moving air’ sound, e906 goes low enough to grab the meaty bits, and can handle the SPL that your thunderbass can squirt out from time to time.

Now for the real differences between e906 and MD421-II

A bit more on e906 vs MD421-II

So… if we rip the grilles off these microphones (do not attempt at home), you’ll see that the capsules are a very similar shape and size. The two microphones also sound remarkably similar on those percussive instruments – the ones with the big transients.

What is the actual difference?

From the photos above, you can see that there’s an enormous amount of space behind the capsule in an MD421-II.

That is not to make it look like a tailfin on a car from the late 1950s or early ’60s – although Fritz Sennheiser began development of the original MD421 in the same time period, releasing it in 1960.

It has got to do with the way the each individual microphone capsule is tuned to provide the correct frequency response – giving the microphone its signature performance and ‘sound’.

Part of that magnificent 60+ year-old shape includes an acoustic chamber, carefully tuned with holes in precise positions. Using a bit of Helmholtz resonance (link via Wikipedia) to achieve this mechanical tuning is, in the case of MD421-II, laborious.

Even to this day, every MD421-II is hand-crafted, from the capsule through to the mechanical (acoustic) tuning and, of course, assembly.

If you’ve ever wondered why they cost a little more than mass-produced microphones, there’s your answer!

Back on topic

Aside from the remarkably similar capsule, there some significant differences between these two microphones. In a nutshell:

  • Pick-up pattern – MD421-II = cardioid; e906 = supercardioid
  • Capsule tuning – MD421-II = mechanical; e906 = electronic
  • Depth (length?) – MD421-II = 215mm; e906 = 34mm
  • Weight of mic – MD421-II = 385g; e906 = 140g
  • Orientation – MD421-II = end address; e906 = side address

Both microphones have some sound-shaping tools on board, with MD421-II having their famous 5-position bass roll-off wheel (located where you plug the XLR in), and e906 including the 3-position mid-range filter switch.

Final word on e906

This article was inspired by the aural similarities of e906 and MD421-II on tom toms.

While we learned a little more about the venerable MD421-II along the way, let’s not lose sight of the amazing versatility of e906.

Make no mistake, e906 is one hell of a microphone. It is almost unrivalled as the go-to microphone for guitar amps on stage.

Having one (or more) in the studio is where you’ll really appreciate the versatility of e906. For those of us who grew up thinking that the humble Shure SM57 was ‘the instrument mic’ – go ahead and try an e906 in its place.

You’ll be as pleasantly surprised as we were!

Related posts

13th Apr

Earplugs for music

Earplugs for music and potentially loud environments. When it comes to hearing, let’s not do too little, too late. Ahead of the most recent World Hearing Day (3rd March 2022), WHO released this news article, with the ‘slightly’ concerning opening sentence: Over 1 billion people aged 12 to 35 years risk losing their hearing due […]

Earplugs for music

Earplugs for music and potentially loud environments. When it comes to hearing, let’s not do too little, too late. Ahead of the most recent World Hearing Day (3rd March 2022), WHO released this news article, with the ‘slightly’ concerning opening sentence: Over 1 billion people aged 12 to 35 years risk losing their hearing due […]

Live Sound
29th Nov

The best mic stand isn’t the most expensive: Studio and Stage choices

Which microphone stand is the best? The answer to that question is always going to depend on what you’re intending to use it for – but when it comes to stands, we’ve got a massive chunk of real-world experience, so let’s dig in and have a look at the best options for stage, studio and […]

The best mic stand isn’t the most expensive: Studio and Stage choices

Which microphone stand is the best? The answer to that question is always going to depend on what you’re intending to use it for – but when it comes to stands, we’ve got a massive chunk of real-world experience, so let’s dig in and have a look at the best options for stage, studio and […]

Live Sound
13th Aug

Guide to choosing headphones (part 2)

Following on from our Guide to choosing headphones (Part 1): Studio and Live Sound article, we explore some nice choices for a bunch of other pro audio applications, including field recording, filming, podcasting plus DJ. But first…sometimes it feels like all the headphone adaptors run off together for a secret meeting – just at the […]

Guide to choosing headphones (part 2)

Following on from our Guide to choosing headphones (Part 1): Studio and Live Sound article, we explore some nice choices for a bunch of other pro audio applications, including field recording, filming, podcasting plus DJ. But first…sometimes it feels like all the headphone adaptors run off together for a secret meeting – just at the […]

Live Sound
30th Jul

Guide to choosing headphones

Need some headphones? You’ve come to the right place. We’re going to try and simplify headphone choices – by focusing mainly on the BIG 3 (Audio Technica, Beyerdynamic & Sennheiser), to work out which models fit best for a whole bunch of pro audio tasks. One size fits all No it doesn’t.. well, at least […]

Guide to choosing headphones

Need some headphones? You’ve come to the right place. We’re going to try and simplify headphone choices – by focusing mainly on the BIG 3 (Audio Technica, Beyerdynamic & Sennheiser), to work out which models fit best for a whole bunch of pro audio tasks. One size fits all No it doesn’t.. well, at least […]

Live Sound
27th Jul

Do expensive microphone leads make a difference?

The humble microphone lead is far from the most glamorous part of your kit, but it’s nevertheless essential. Before we dive into anything too technical, let’s just answer the oft-asked question – “do expensive microphones leads make a difference?” In a word: No. You won’t hear the difference. Unless the cheap one is broken. Microphone […]

Do expensive microphone leads make a difference?

The humble microphone lead is far from the most glamorous part of your kit, but it’s nevertheless essential. Before we dive into anything too technical, let’s just answer the oft-asked question – “do expensive microphones leads make a difference?” In a word: No. You won’t hear the difference. Unless the cheap one is broken. Microphone […]

Recording
7th Jul

First Steps for Recording Vocals at Home

Choosing the right microphone There’s way more to recording vocals than ‘just’ choosing the right microphone for the job. That being said, let’s pick two for now, right up the top of this check-list. This is a First Step article, so we’re not shovelling all the money into a great microphone just yet. Rather, we’ll […]

First Steps for Recording Vocals at Home

Choosing the right microphone There’s way more to recording vocals than ‘just’ choosing the right microphone for the job. That being said, let’s pick two for now, right up the top of this check-list. This is a First Step article, so we’re not shovelling all the money into a great microphone just yet. Rather, we’ll […]

Wireless
12th Jan

Batteries for Wireless – Rechargeable vs Single Use

Batteries, Maths & Landfill When it comes to the best way to power your wireless systems – alkaline battery or rechargeable – there are many factors to consider. Let’s dive into a few in an attempt to un-muddy the waters. Less is more Much as we want to cut straight to the heart of it […]

Batteries for Wireless – Rechargeable vs Single Use

Batteries, Maths & Landfill When it comes to the best way to power your wireless systems – alkaline battery or rechargeable – there are many factors to consider. Let’s dive into a few in an attempt to un-muddy the waters. Less is more Much as we want to cut straight to the heart of it […]

Theatre
7th Jul

Keeping Microphones Hidden

Like our first two theatre & wireless help articles – Simple Wireless Tips and Advanced Wireless Tips: Antennas – this one is aimed at either school musical productions or amateur theatre groups. We’ll focus on what to consider when you’re trying to keep microphones hidden for theatre performance. An incredible amount of research, design and […]

Keeping Microphones Hidden

Like our first two theatre & wireless help articles – Simple Wireless Tips and Advanced Wireless Tips: Antennas – this one is aimed at either school musical productions or amateur theatre groups. We’ll focus on what to consider when you’re trying to keep microphones hidden for theatre performance. An incredible amount of research, design and […]

Theatre
5th May

Advanced Wireless Tips: Antennas

Following our Simple Wireless Tips article, where Rule #1 was ‘Scan, Scan, Scan’, we’d like to dig a little deeper to focus on a successful, hassle-free integration of multiple wireless systems. Antennas are the focus here, with antenna type, placement, cable and splitters all being important parts to a happy RF world. Antenna Splitter When […]

Advanced Wireless Tips: Antennas

Following our Simple Wireless Tips article, where Rule #1 was ‘Scan, Scan, Scan’, we’d like to dig a little deeper to focus on a successful, hassle-free integration of multiple wireless systems. Antennas are the focus here, with antenna type, placement, cable and splitters all being important parts to a happy RF world. Antenna Splitter When […]

Theatre
10th Mar

Simple Wireless Tips

Managing wireless microphones for a school or amateur theatre can be daunting. We’re putting together a series of articles in our How-To section, to help. This is our first in the series, so make sure you stay tuned for more articles. Troubleshooting Wireless  No matter how big or small the stage may be, wireless microphones […]

Simple Wireless Tips

Managing wireless microphones for a school or amateur theatre can be daunting. We’re putting together a series of articles in our How-To section, to help. This is our first in the series, so make sure you stay tuned for more articles. Troubleshooting Wireless  No matter how big or small the stage may be, wireless microphones […]