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Road Test: Shure KSM8 Dualdyne Dynamic Handheld Vocal Mic

By RevBill

As we all get over yet another round of NAMM madness, let me tell you how the weeks prior to a show work for us in what still passes for the pro audio press. The embargoed press releases start coming in about three weeks before the show. (For those unfamiliar with the term, embargoed means that the info is not to be publicly released before a specific date. In the case of NAMM it’s always the morning of the first day of the show.) Once upon a time, we could look at these embargoed releases and get an idea of who was doing something really new and interesting. But as the Hey-I-have-a-blog-so-now-I’m-media-too culture has sunk its grimy little claws into digital distribution of information, those embargoes have exploded in number and therefore become useless in terms of understanding in advance of the show where the real innovation would be.

A better indicator has become looking to see who was hosting a press event the night before the show to introduce something. It’s like this. Sending a press release that says “Embargoed” at the top costs nothing and so has been abused because, well, it costs nothing. But hosting an event is a different story and audio manufacturers whose budgets for ads and marketing are generally a small fraction of what they were 10 years ago are not gonna spend the money on an event if it is not something that they think is a big deal

Shure has hosted some epic nighttime events at the show (Spinal Tap at the Hilton, anyone?) does not do pre-show events like this often. There was one a few years ago when they released the Axient wireless system and then last year (2015) there was an invite. Given the company’s reputation for avoiding excessive hype and hyperbole, we knew that whatever it was for was gonna be something important. It was the KSM8 Dualdyne Dynamic Handheld Vocal Microphone.

The KSM8 is a first-of-its-kind dual diaphragm dynamic handheld vocal mic. There’s a mouthful for ya. What does it mean? If you really want to geek out on the whole dual-diaphragm thing, Shure published a white paper about it.  And a review that lacks only in not having been used onstage by the excellent across-the-pond audio publication Sound On Sound goes
deep into the technology .  The soundbite version is that the second diaphragm works to control both the proximity effect common on directional microphones and to increase the rejection of more distant sound sources. The whole idea is a dynamic mic that doesn’t pick up much of anything in terms of off-axis sound and that is tonally consistent regardless of if the singer is an inch away from the grille or three inches away.

We received both a wired KSM8 and a wireless capsule. The wired mic featured the black finish and the wireless capsule was in the nickel finish. The wired version felt good right out of the box. An impressive heft and well-balanced. It felt like a professional tool and not a toy.

Because I like to live on the edge (and time is incredibly tight cuz I juggle way to many things on any given day), I packed up both mics and headed out to a gig. This would be a “without a net” review. It’s a gig on which I am both playing/singing and providing six monitor mixes for an eight-piece band on a five night, five-sets-a-night run in a good sized casino lounge. When I got on-site, I let the regular FOH engineer know that I had some new mics and we opted—because, again, time is tight—to set up with the vocal mics I normally carry and switch out to the KSM8 on the second night of the gig. A side-note—none of this is a surprise for the FOH guy on this gig. I bring stuff out for live reviews all the time and we have been on this particular stage just shy of 50 times in the past 30 months and I have been carrying both my own clip-on condenser horn mics as well as vocal mics that are common on a lot of big concert stages but nearly unknown on gigs at this level from our very first gig there.

Anyone who has done this kind of gig knows how they go. First day you get out there and set up and probably a quick sound check before the first set. With this band, the sound check is often VERY quick. When you bring an eight-piece band that is all live in to situations where a four-piece band with extensive tracks is more the norm, time tends to get compressed and if there is 20 mins to line-check and sound check and still enough time for people to get changed and maybe grab a protein bar before hit time, it’s a victory. And on subsequent nights, it’s pretty much hit the stage and start playing. So, when we went to switch out mics and bring the KSM8 into the mix, we were flying totally blind.

I started out by switching out my mic for the wired KSM8. We normally use mics that are noted by many for output that is probably 6 dB hotter than what is normally expected from a standard like a Beta 58. And increased overall output is not a feature of the KSM8. So making the direct switch, I knew I would need to boost the input gain to get the output I was used to. And in a situation like this, making a change like that is always a butt-clenching moment because of the potential for feedback.

I brought up the gain waiting for a squeal to develop and it never came. It turns out that one of the advantages of the KSM8’s dual diaphragm design is very high gain-before-feedback. On its first test, the KSM8 gets an A+.

As a singer, I have a tendency to have my lips right on the grille. I know it’s not great technique but it’s about knowing where I am physically as much as anything else. As I played around with distance and the KSM8, there was a very slight, almost imperceptible boost in the low end when I was right on the grille but between 1/2 inch away and 3 or 4 inches away, the tone was amazingly consistent. Unless I was literally on the grille, the proximity effect was gone.

On the break after that set, I talked with the house engineer. He also had to bring the mic up but noted not only how consistent in tone the KSM8 was but also how clean the vocal signal was. When we’re set up, I have a three-piece horn section three or four feet to my right and a drummer behind me. Leakage of other sources into the vocal mic is something that is just expected and was massively reduced with the KSM8.

This is gonna lead to some differences of opinion between house and monitor engineers—especially if the artist is on in-ears. The best explanation of the practical effects of this that I’ve seen was in David Morgan’s review of the KSM8 in FOH.  In order to give the musicians onstage the ambient sound they were used to getting from other vocal mics, the monitor engineer on that gig placed a condenser mic at the foot of the lead vocal mic stand pointed back at the band and mixed a bit of that back into their ear mixes. I didn’t have that option and ended up pulling one ear bud out. But the house engineer was thrilled with the lack of ambient bleed into that mic.

Final test was to replace the capsule on the lead singer’s wireless mic with the KSM8 capsule. Results were the same. Boost the input gain, no feedback, super clean signal with virtually no ambient bleed and no proximity effect.

Some reviewers have said that the KSM8 responds more like a condenser on the high end. Maybe it’s because of the mics I have been used to using, but I did not notice a big difference in the high-end response. And if you’re looking for a mic with super high output, you’ll probably want to keep looking.

But if you’re like most of us and tonal consistency, rejection of other onstage sound sources and astounding gain-before-feedback are gonna make life easier, then the KSM8 is a mic you will very much want to consider.

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Bill Evans

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