Sennheiser MD 445 by Arthur Stone
The Sennheiser MD445 is a new, high-quality dynamic vocal microphone designed primarily for stage and live performance. The review will find that despite the relative high cost (in comparison to regular dynamic, hand-held mics) it is worth every penny and IMO destined to become a classic – on stage, and in the studio.
Reputation is Everything: As a long-standing owner of the ME66 shotgun mic I'm familiar with the quality of Sennheiser microphones: both sonic-quality and build-quality. Robust, reliable mics able to translate the voice of an angel (if you can find one). Many of the films, TV programmes, music, and narrative we have grown up with, will have been recorded using Sennheiser mics. Seminal recordings that define the aural culture of sound.
Sennheiser mics have travelled all over the Planet Earth: cities; country; deserts; tundra; savannah; glaciers; oceans; rivers; and mountains. Even into the atmosphere above Earth and probably beyond. Nick Mason, the drummer, the legend, said: “From our very beginnings as a live band, we [Pink Floyd] used Sennheiser equipment...”
My friend and mentor – a man who has sold over 10 million vinyl records – refuses to record without Sennheiser mics; a critical part of his signal chain and studio infrastructure. In Africa, he carried two MD421's at all times: “whatever the studio had, I always had two decent mics...” Despite all his expensive high-end mics (many of which I recommended!) most recordings use 421's, a Sennheiser kick mic, and a 441 for vocals, preferring the easy presence and directionality.
Studio-quality sound: live, on the road, and in the studio. So, given this lineage, no pressure on the recently-released MD445 then. How will it perform in a Gearslutz review?
How Does It Feel? Holding the MD445 in one hand a Shure SM58 in the other, two things are noticeable: physically, the MD445 is a few grams lighter, a few mm longer, a few mm larger in circumference than the '58; and the weight feels more evenly-distributed and feels more stable and more comfortable to hold for longer periods.
Two other factors improve on the classic '58-style design: the extra few mm of length and width and a sweeping curve of the body towards the basket makes it easier to avoid cupping the basket of the mic; also, at the socket end of the mic the extra length makes it less likely that a wireless transmitter attachment will be covered by the hand. It's only a few mm larger but it makes a lot of difference.
I have medium-sized hands and I felt less strain holding the larger circumference MD445 whereas the extra few grams weight and slightly smaller body of the '58 caused my hand to clamp onto the mic, causing cramp in the muscles...a distraction from performance.
When holding both mics vertically with the capsule facing upwards the '58 slips down so that your hand cups the basket – the MD445 doesn't.
Many modern handheld dynamic microphones have adopted a similar shape; it's an evolution from the classic '58 form (now over 50 years-old) in the same way many cars have similar profiles due to ergonomics. Absolutely no disrespect to the Shure SM58, which I use often; it's more a known benchmark.
Like the '58 the Sennheiser MD445 feels solid and comfortable in the hand; it feels like a professional mic should and inspires confidence in the product to convey the artists performance.
Technique: The super-cardioid pattern takes a little getting used to in the studio especially if the vocalist is used to mics with wider pick-up patterns. Precision is needed and I had to adjust my technique to keep in the right proximity and position. For example, at a section of the song I raised my voice and moved slightly away (as I would with a large-diaphragm condenser) but this section had too low a level on the recording – the mic had not picked up my voice outside the super-cardioid pattern. There is a MD435 version with a cardioid pattern and this probably gives the vocalist a bit more leeway and expression room. Still the MD445 is primarily designed for live/stage use and it's rejection capability is very good.
So a little adjustment of technique is necessary in the studio to get into the sweet spot for vocals – but once the vocalist is there the sound is captured in high-quality, pristine and clear with good (non-muddy) bass content. There are also many occasions when the isolation of a super-cardioid pattern is useful in the studio too.
Besides vocals: I tested the MD445 in a range of other roles: djembe (outside and inside); bodhran; bongos; amplifiers with electric guitar and bass, and acoustic guitars. I'd even use the MD335 for nature recordings, especially for focussing on figures of interest amongst the background of the soundscape.
Unfortunately, the three PA systems currently on route for review are delayed, so I'd advise reading elsewhere for live performance reviews, but, based on my studio experience, I would have no hesitation using one or several MD445's for reliable, professional stage use.
How does it make things sound? Despite the similarities in shape and form of many current handheld mics, they all sound different – especially through different preamps. Ideally we want the mic to perform well with any preamp (even a dodgy one) but often these dynamic mics really perform at their very best through a high-end preamp.
I tested with a range of preamps: older Focusrite Saffire, Yamaha 01X; newer IKMultimedia AXE I/O, Audient EVO; and high-end BAE and Sound Devices. I tested in a home-studio recording rig; live performance PA; and lower-volume band jam.
The Camden EC2 preamp by Cranborne Audio arrived for review so I ended up using that often and I felt that the MD445 deserved a preamp of that quality to bring out the best; with budget preamps the quality is still very good with the main advantages being the healthy level, low signal-to-noise ration, outstanding feedback rejection and the overall clarity and sense of presence.
Below is a series of audio examples made in my home studio. A great, professional artist will achieve far more than I can, so please bear that in mind when listening.
Acoustic guitar & vocal (one take).
Mic'd bass amp.
Percussion: clean, tube drive, transformer drive.
Inside djembe 300-1200 Ohms mic pre impedance
All elements in a mix.
Price: £463 UK/ $606 US/ 420 Euros
One mic to do it all? Like the outer shape and form, the internals of the MD445 have evolved since the earliest handheld dynamic mics. The basic principles of sound capture are much the same as 50 years ago but the fine design and materials have changed. Nowadays the materials used can provide better performance (dynamics and resolution) and desired tonal outcomes. Additionally we see improvements in electronic efficiency and noise reduction.
The MD445 is a great all-rounder: the premium price tag is tempered by results. The MD445 is more than a 'live mic' although it's one to rely on with the focussed polar pattern and side rejection plus the high SPL capability.
These attributes are highly-valued in the studio too: for example, the MD445 handled being 1 inch from the amp with ease and the focus helped to aim it. I got great results inside a djembe and it may suit kick drums too, having lots of depth in the bass dept. With acoustic guitar I was able to pinpoint the MD445 on the 12th fret or wherever else I wanted.
One two. One two: I loved using the Sennheiser MD445: it had a solid build-quality and an inspiring feel like a reliable instrument. Worthy of a performance.
Sonically, the same sense of reliability; the main differentiation between this mic and fainter rivals is that a full, solid sound is captured and often all that was needed was a slight remedial EQ notch (for room bloom deficiencies) and any slight presence boost was an artistic decision rather than to cover up something lacking.
As always, it's an honour and pleasure to review products on behalf of the Gearslutz forum and the Sennheiser MD445 is no exception: highly recommended. A future classic.
Sound quality 5/5: This is a quality mic; although designated for live/stage use, I found it to be a valid studio mic especially for applications where side-rejection is useful e.g. complex tracking scenarios with sound in room (as opposed to a silent room with headphone monitoring). Additionally The MD445 works very well on amps, percussion, etc.
The capture is more full-range/bandwidth, better resolution, and a sense of density and solidity, than is usual with less expensive dynamic mics.
Features 5/5: The design assists the user in hand-held situations and avoids the cupping of the basket. Professional connections and quality hardware.
Ease of use 4/5: Basically the user just needs to point it in the right direction. The dynamic range and low self-noise give a lot of leeway for gain settings and mic/source positioning. Less time faffing and more time performing. However in the studio, the tight polar pattern means less physical space for pick-up, the performance is constricted to a tighter spot; the wider pattern of the cardioid MD435 might be a better option for capturing nuance and subtlety as the vocalist moves off-axis and for studio use the wider cardioid would probably get a 5/5.
Even for live use, as a handheld or on-stand mic, there is still a learning curve in terms of position and proximity to get the best out of the 445.
Bang-for-buck 5/5: Definitely worth the extra cost over less expensive dynamic mics. A professional tool and priced accordingly. The MD445 is also sonically superior to many similarly-priced large-diaphragm condensers.