Originally Posted by Frank_Case
Had Neumann designed the TLM 103 with a transformer, I'm sure it would not be getting the bad press it does today in some circles. Maybe that's a good taste test for buying a 414.
If you prefer the sound of the Neumann TLM 103 over the transformer based U87 then go with a transformerless 414 because you probably don't have the discernment to hear the difference.
And ditto for the KM184 vs KM84. Removing the transformer from the KM84 to come up with the KM184 subjectively resulted in a less desirable microphone. Many people now want old 84s and have bid them up in price because they sound better due to their internal transformer design.
I'll add to this that discernment does not necessarily have anything to do with preference. Some people like brighter mics, and some mics sound brighter on certain sources (of course, with whatever else is in a signal path, room sound, etc.).
But transformers are ONE part of the sound.
As an example, one of the biggest changes between the KM-184 and the KM-84 is not just the transformer, but the narrower slots placed near the capsule.
To quote David Satz: "the KM 184 has been produced in two versions with slightly different electronics, but both have the narrow slot arrangement behind the capsule head which gives them about a 2 dB greater rise in response at around 9 - 10 kHz than the KM 84 had. The KM 84 wasn't quite as flat and neutral on top as some of Neumann's catalogs would lead one to believe, especially in a diffuse sound field. With the additional boost, that's just enough extra "pixie dust" to give the microphone a bit of a Disneyesque sparkle that it didn't used to have--whatever you may think of that.
Like most colorations in sound equipment, what they added to the high-frequency response of the KM 140 and KM 184 is fine sometimes and not so fine at other times in my own opinion. I wish they had left the basic sound alone and just improved the objective technical performance, which they certainly could have done and in fact did do at one point--I would be interested to try a pair of the "KM 84A" microphones that Neumann made for the Japanese NHK broadcast network in the mid-1990s, which combined the original capsule arrangement with the more up-to-date, wider-range transformerless electronics. But Neumann says that none of those are available any more.
Apart from that, the KM 184 (and its modular counterpart, the KM 140) are about 3-1/2 dB more sensitive than the KM 84 while also being a few dB quieter. The increase in sensitivity comes largely from the fact that the capsule is polarized at 60+ Volts from a built-in DC/DC converter, rather than from the 48 Volt supply directly, plus the use of an incredibly miniaturized transformerless output circuit. This circuit also reduces the distortion at the lowest frequencies, though the KM 84 amplifier already has very low distortion (in the < 0.2% range). Numerically an even bigger change in dynamic range comes from the maximum SPL that can be handled without overload--it jumped from ca. 120 dB SPL in the KM 84 to 138 (!) dB SPL in the KM 140 and 184.
The main difference between older and newer KM 180-series microphones is that the newer ones (since some time in 2002, I believe) have about 3 dB lower self-noise and require somewhat more current from the phantom power supply (3.2 vs. 2.3 mA per microphone). Note that the KM 100 amplifiers weren't revised when the KM 180 amplifiers were, and thus still have the same dynamic range specifications (and supply current requirements) as the older KM 180-series amplifiers had. So the less expensive microphones are actually the quieter ones now."
Transformers and tubes are really awesome pieces to creating sounds. We all know this.
But there's a lot more that goes into a great mic than this, including what makes a mic great for what each person wants to do. Most of that is personal preference and discernment that tells a person, "I need a BRIGHTER mic or a more NEUTRAL mic or a DARK mic." There's no wrong mic if it works well for what a person wants.
Let no one be duped into thinking, "If I have a transformerless mic, I can't make great music." That's not true. Find a way and/or try different mics.
The magic is in you, not the tools.