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Neumann's KU 100 Binaural Head Sings the Blues

Neumann KU 100 used by Telarc's Michael Bishop to record award-winning acoustic blues guitarist, Robert Lockwood, Jr. (July 16, 2001)
The simplicity of Neumann's KU 100 binaural head recorded direct to DSD helped earn blues fixture and Grammy nominee Robert Lockwood, Jr. the W.C. Handy Blues Award for Acoustic Blues Album of the Year. His album Delta Crossroads on the Telarc label features the 84 year-old Lockwood performing a slate of Robert Johnson classics, along with old and new songs of his own, with nothing but a gorgeous 12-string guitar and his weathered, blues-honed voice. An engineering legend in his own right, Michael Bishop recorded the Joe Harley-produced Delta Crossroads at Suma Recording Studios just outside of Cleveland. With thirty years in the business, a 1997 Grammy for Best-Engineered Classical Recording, and a who's who list of recorded artists that includes Dizzy Gillespie, the Count Basie Orchestra, and Dave Brubeck to name just a few, Bishop knows what it takes to capture a stellar recording.

Bishop sought as simple and clean a recording path as possible. To convey realistic stereo imaging via loudspeakers or headphones, he chose the Neumann KU 100 binaural head to serve as a stereo microphone pair. He achieved all focus and tonal balance via the careful placement of RPG diffusers and the KU 100. The only "processing" involved was a Millennia Media HB3 microphone preamplifier which fed a Sony/Philips Direct Stream Digital recording system. The elegance of his setup results in the virtual transposition of Lockwood from a position in front of the KU 100 in the studio to a position between the listener's loudspeakers. Nothing less than the adjective "intimate" applies. Lockwood is sitting in your living room, playing the acoustic blues that made him famous.

The irony of recording the energetic octogenarian with such cutting-edge technology made for a humorous few moments when Bishop first mounted the KU 100 dummy head. After all, Lockwood has recorded on every format the audio industry has ever created, save for the Edison cylinder! However, once the session got underway, the KU 100 all but dissolved and Lockwood delivered his award-winning performance.

The KU 100 has become a favorite of Bishop's since he allayed his fears that its recordings wouldn't translate to loudspeakers. "I initially thought its unique design would limit its uses," he explained. "However, Karl Winkler turned me on to the idea when Neumann released their third-generation, loudspeaker-compatible KU 100. Now I use it in almost every session I record! Its sound is very neutral, and it delivers a stunningly accurate stereo image. Moreover, it's easy to use. Just stick the dummy head where things sound best and you're all set."

Bishop contends that the Neumann KU 100 has several advantages over traditional stereo microphone techniques, both in the obviously advantageous headphone playback realm and in the not so obviously advantageous loudspeaker playback realm. With headphone playback, it's a "no-brainer" in more ways than one. Traditional stereo microphone techniques deliver playback that makes the musicians sound as if they're literally in the listener's brain. On the other hand, recordings made with the KU 100 are properly spatialized, with performers retaining well-defined positions outside of the listener's brain.

In terms of microphone technique, Bishop expresses concern with the low-end and off-axis response of cardioid microphones, rendering most of the traditional cardioid stereo microphone techniques less than satisfactory. The more tonally balanced omnis typically deliver delicate, if not spotty stereo imaging in spaced pairs. Placed too close together, omnis can collapse the stereo image; placed too far, they can create gaps. Further, even if the engineer finds the right spacing, movement on the part of the performer can cause imaging to jump from speaker to speaker. "By properly placing the KU 100 binaural head, I can capture the tonal content I seek with its built-in omni microphones, but I avoid the many problems associated with other stereo techniques," Bishop explained. "Robert was rocking all over the place, and that comes through with perfect definition on the recording. The recording is tonally and spatially transparent."

With one award in the bag, another Telarc Robert Lockwood, Jr. session looms on the horizon, this time with his entire band. While certainly more challenging than his solo recording, Bishop has guaranteed a seat to the Neumann KU 100 as the band's overall stereo microphone.


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Related Keywords:W.C. Handy Blues Award, Acoustic Blues Album, binaural head recorded


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