Videos: Capsule comparison
for EW-D wireless

It feels like a while since we’ve had a good old microphone capsule shoot-out, so we recently gathered up some goodies for a play.

If you want some back-story to the capsule swapping exercise, this test was inspired by our recent article “build your dream handheld” – but save that for later reading… and grab your headphones now.

The four capsules we tested were Sennheiser MMD835, MMD935, the newish MM435 (all dynamic capsules) along with the Neumann KK204 condenser capsule. These are all cardioid polar pattern.

4 capsules, 4 styles

Capsules were attached to the Sennheiser EW-D SKM BaseSet.

The four vocal styles we went for were: Gentle Female Vocals (video test 1), Strong Female Vocals (video test 2), Gentle Male Vocals (video test 3), and Strong Male Vocals (video test 4).

Format for each test

A very simple formula for the four video tests: choose the performer and song, then record a song snippet four times – once with each capsule. It was recorded into ProTools via an RME interface, and you might even notice Jason (on keyboards) keeping an eye on the levels during the first couple of videos!

In mixdown, there was no EQ of the capsules, no compression, and minimal reverb was applied to help the vocal sit with the keyboard.

Each short video runs though five passes of each song:

  • Pass 1 = Combination of all capsules (with notation in the top left corner)
  • Pass 2 = MMD835 – entry level dynamic capsule
  • Pass 3 = MMD935 – pro series dynamic capsule
  • Pass 4 = MM435 – a step up in high-end performance (and price)
  • Pass 5 = KK204 – the Neumann cardioid condenser capsule

Grab some headphones (or use your studio monitors), click on whichever video you’re interested in, and see what differences you can hear!

Gentle Female Vocals

Our thoughts on a capsule for gentle female vocal?

The difference between 835 and 935 is stark. It feels like there is more “depth” with the 935, plus a clearer ‘top end’ and the lower mids sound more defined.

Moving up the price brackets, the MM435 sounded even more clear than the 935 up the top end of frequencies, but it’s nowhere near the massive improvement like we saw (heard) between 835 and 935. As for the Neumann at the end… it won.

Extra background notes from the performer and crew: There were two foldback monitors on the floor – one each for Tania and Jason. The two cameras were ‘audience’ side of those wedges. Very clearly, after “Take 2” (the 935), Jackson and Artie on the cameras commented on the 935 being a big step up from the 835, at the same time as Tania pointing to the mic, saying “I like this one”. By the end of the four takes for this song, Tania liked the Neumann KK204 best. No question!

Strong Female Vocals

Oh boy. Tania’s voice really gets going for this song, and so did the MM435.

Compared with Test 1 (gentle female vocals), the high-performance MM435 really shines when it’s put in front of a “belter”. The difference between 935 and 435 was a jump almost as big as we heard between 835 and 935 in Test 1.

The top end sounds clear, with plenty of nuanced definition. It can definitely handle the big notes, and the overtones in Tania’s voice really shine through.

Extra background notes from the crew: This was the first time Jackson and Artie (behind the cameras and behind the wedges) had a chance to hear the 435 come alive. Even from ‘audience side’ of the wedges, this was a stand-out capsule performance.

Gentle Male Vocals

It’s funny how some voices just sound great, no matter what you stick in front of them. Jason’s pipes are full of colour and texture. If anything, the cheapest capsule in the lineup – MMD835 – sounded close enough (at first listen) to the very impressive 935.

One thing we did notice is that Jase doesn’t mind pulling off the mic, and the quality of sound that 835 captures really drops away when he sings ‘off-axis’. The 935, while not sounding that much better overall to the 835, definitely sounded much smoother when off-axis (ie – the ‘sides’ of the cardioid pattern sound good, not just when you’re right in front of the capsule).

As for the last two capsules, we didn’t need a “belter” to hear the difference. Even with a gentle male vocal, MM435 and KK204 both sounded detailed overall, and especially more clear in the upper frequencies.

Strong Male Vocals

When this male voice gets going, we can hear some of the subtle differences between the capsules become far more obvious.

Firstly, the differences between 835 and 935 become less of a splitting of hairs, and more of a chasm. The off-axis ability of 935 is way more forgiving than 835.

The sound seemed to ‘open up’ when we first hear the 435 – which probably means we’re getting a bit more detailed and clear ‘information’ from the upper frequencies. As for the Neumann 204 – it sounded great for all four tests.


Capsule summary – our views

Right, it’s time for a nice combination of opinion, hard facts and sweeping statements – all pertaining to the four capsules we tested.

MMD935 is the best value cardioid capsule in this test

True. The differences in all four tests are enough. For a small amount of ‘upgrade dollars’ – you should definitely consider a 935 for any kind of voice. We heard a bigger difference in sound quality between 835 and 935 in a female voice, but even in the male voice it was apparent.

MMD835 is better for spoken word applications

False. For a presentation microphone, there’s no reason you wouldn’t grab a 935 instead of an 835. Not only will the sound be better, but an inexperienced microphone handler might find the 935 more forgiving. We are big fans of MMD935.

MM435 is the best dynamic capsule for any application

True and False. Ok, it’s not an ‘each way bet’, this answer. More a ‘horses for courses’ answer. When you’re living in headphones, many of us can hear enough of a difference between 935 and 435 to say “the 435 is higher priced, but there’s enough benefit to justify the extra expense”.

To expand: it also depends on your audience and the PA system. If you’re playing through a decent PA, it will definitely be worth it. Not only will a skilled front-of-house engineer be able to use the extra information captured by a 435 capsule, the audience will also be able to appreciate a higher quality sound. For the local pub gig with a tired PA… you’re not really going to hear much of a difference.

Neumann condenser sounds great on any voice

True. We imagine it’s true. In the four tests we did, it sounded great!

EW-D is a great wireless system

True. Aside from the fact that we were focussed on testing different microphone capsules, don’t forget that this was a wireless microphone. Straight out of the box, no changes made to anything (other than swapping capsules). We didn’t touch the gain for anything – not for the gentle, not for the strong. There is massive dynamic range packed into the EW-D wireless systems.

In-ear monitoring changes everything for singers

YES! For anyone who has used in-ear monitoring on stage, it’s definitely a game-changer. Aside from protecting a singer’s ears against snare smash, cymbal fatigue and the progressively ramping guitar amp, having a great mix in the ears really helps a vocalist focus on singing the best they can. That’s when you’ll really hear just how good any of these capsules sound… when the singer knows what’s going on.

Bonus video – the long view

Just in case you’re not already across how powerful and easy-to-use the Sennheiser EW-D series (digital wireless) is, check our video below.

At 13 mins, it’s a bit longer than each of the above capsule testing clips, but Tone and Artie give a thorough run-though of some of the new and innovative features we found particularly pleasing with EW-D.

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