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Sennheiser MKH 800, October 2002
May 18, 2004 12:00 PM, By George Petersen
Nearly a decade ago, Sennheiser introduced the MKH 80—a condenser mic combining the successful RF technology of earlier models in the MKH line with a medium-diameter-diaphragm, multipattern capsule in a side-address package. The MKH 80 soon caught on with an appreciative audience of classical recordists and audiophile engineers.
Earlier this year, Sennheiser followed up with the MKH 800, a model with a similar feature set but improved noise performance, greater SPL handling (now at 142 dB) and more than double the bandwidth—beyond 50 kHz. It looks like just the ticket for 96kHz/24-bit media such as DVD-Audio.
Housed in a light-colored, anodized 7-inch-long, 1-inch diameter cylindrical housing, the MKH 800 holds few operational surprises, with four rotary switches for setting: the five polar patterns ( omnidirectional/ cardioid/ >supercardioid/ figure-8/wide cardioid); attenuation (0/-6/-12 dB); HF emphasis boost (0/+3/+6 dB at 10 kHz); and highpass filter (0/-3/-6 dB at 50 Hz). A bright LED indicates the presence of 48 VDC phantom power and marks the front side of the capsule. The MKH 800 retails at $2,995 and now includes a flight case, foam windscreen and MZS80 shockmount. The latter is brilliantly designed and not only effectively isolates external vibrations, but incorporates a double-swivel mount allowing accurate mic placement in any position or angle. Besides tight spots like crowded drum kits, it's perfectly suited for MS miking or other near-coincident applications.
Despite the MKH 800's extended bandwidth, this is one mic that does not come off as excessively bright sounding. Don't get me wrong: In all patterns, the HF performance is certainly not dull, and the mic does an exemplary job of imparting a smooth airiness to upper frequencies, especially on harmonic-rich sources such as hammer dulcimer, grand piano and orchestral bells. Interestingly, the three cardioid-variant patterns are nearly ruler-flat to 20 kHz, while the omni pattern shows more HF color in the 10kHz-and-higher bands than the cardioids—the opposite of what I expected.
With its 142dB SPL handling, the MKH 800 was a natural on drums (it's a killer—if somewhat pricey—snare mic), hi-hat and overheads, as well as horn ensembles (sax and trumpet).
Another surprise came from the mic's ability to capture an incredible amount of detail, even at distances of ten feet and more. This can, however, be a double-edged sword—while the mic will capture every performance nuance, it also faithfully documents flaws such as chart turns, fret noise and air handling rumble with frightening realism. Don't blame the mic—it's just capturing what lesser mics may have left out. However, if you have the ears and great players are willing to spend a little time placing music stand towels and tightening that squeaky piano bench, you will find the MKH 800 an awesome performer.
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