The M 150 Tube is a unique item in Neumann’s catalog: an omnidirectional small diaphragm tube microphone, specifically designed for orchestral recordings and classical instruments. Jazz singer, songwriter, and record producer Ola Onabulé has tried it on vocals – and is excited!

“It sits perfectly with the low midrange that is the essential character of my voice,” Onabulé asserts, “it’s the most solid midrange that I’ve come across in a microphone.” As a microphone connoisseur, the British Nigerian artist, who runs his own studio north of London, is well aware that the Neumann M 150 was never conceived as a vocal microphone.

Onabulé: “I bought this microphone with the specific intent of using it for the purposes for which it was designed. And it was sitting there one day, the most expensive microphone in my arsenal. I’ve got it right here in front of me, on a mic stand, and I thought, why not try it on a vocal? And when I did, I discovered that its vast range and high SPLs meant that I could do just about anything in front of this microphone and it would always sound big and full-bodied. I discovered that I was also able to get really up close and personal to this microphone without inducing the dreaded and destructive proximity effect, which is the bane of my life as a male with a low tenor-baritone voice.“

Ola Onabulé working in his own studio

The M 150 is a microphone with unique qualities, indeed. While it looks like a classic large diaphragm microphone, its open mesh headbasket houses a small diaphragm condenser capsule, flush mounted in a small sphere causing its omni pattern to become increasingly directional toward the higher frequencies. The resulting polar pattern thus bears some similarity to that of a large diaphragm vocal microphone whose cardioid pattern typically widens at the low frequencies. However, as a pure pressure transducer the M 150 has no proximity effect.

In other respects, too, the M 150’s capsule is very distinct from those found in usual studio microphones. Its ultra-thin membrane is made of titanium, a lightweight yet rigid metal – which, in part, accounts for the M 150’s incredibly fast transient response. And while its acoustic properties were perfected with orchestra and instrumental timbres in mind, they may be helpful for vocal recordings, too. In fact, speech consonants represent surprisingly fast transients, which often create problems with inferior microphones. Additionally, the M 150, like its historic predecessor the legendary Neumann M 50, offers the euphonic effects of tube electronics.

Ola Onabulé is not afraid to take the M 150 into the vocal booth.

“Often enough, when I discuss that I use this microphone in the way that I do to, a lot of engineers and other people, they’re quizzical as to why,” Onabulé continues. “But it just seems to work! And if I don’t tell people what microphone I’m using and just send them the audio that I’ve recorded, I usually get a comment back about how big it sounds.”

Of course, a larger-than-life sound may not be suitable for a busy mix. Ola Onabulé primarily uses his M 150 for vocals in sparse arrangements “where the voice is essentially isolated or that’s just piano and voice, where both instruments can be large.” But the M 150 also worked beautifully in a small band setup Onabulé chose to record his song “Lagos Boy” live in the studio:

Multi-Microphone Technique

The Neumann M 150 even became part of Ola Onabulé’s standard recording setup on Seven Shades Darker and It’s The Peace That Deafens. Which was not „standard“ at all! The British artist with Nigerian roots recorded his vocals with three microphones simultaneously, thus giving the mix engineer access to all aspects of his voice. “The mix engineer got three microphones: the U 87 Ai, the TLM 49, and the M 150. And I said, ‘do whatever you please!’,” Onabulé explains, “I’d only monitor to the one microphone that I found pleasing for that particular song, but I would send three tracks. I’ve evolved and updated this mode of operation for the recording of my new album due out in 2019. I now have a good sense of which microphones best suit particular songs and use one of the three selectively and accordingly”

The British Nigerian singer, songwriter and record producer usually handles the engineering himself.

Onabulé, however, is unafraid to experiment with other setups that may be better suited to a particular song or performance. Sometimes he uses his M 150 in conjunction with his U 87 Ai in a different configuration: “If it’s a song that I know I’m going to hit some very, very high notes, followed by some quiet notes. I set up the M 150 as the close-up mic, and I have the U 87 at some distance, a foot and a half, sometimes two feet. I did that on the end of a song called ‘The Voodoo.’ I’d heard that some rock singers used this kind of two-mic technique.”

Onabulé’s coveted Compex compressor/limiter

The idea, Onabulé explains, is to create an environment in which he can feel entirely free as a performer: “When you’re singing with one mic you’re always conscious of distortion and what you do when you belt. Even if you eliminate the possibility of distortion. I use an Audio & Design [F760X-RS] Compex, which is an unusual kind of FET-based compressor that uses a limiter as a way of gauging where to set the compressor. It limits and then it compresses beneath the limiter. I’m always worried that I kick in the limiter when I belt out. Sometimes I like to discard with all of that, especially when I’m singing and engineering at the same time. Get rid of the compressor and the limiter! Get rid of all the engineering concerns! Set up a microphone that you know will not distort, no matter how loud you sing, because it’s far away. I’ve only done it a couple of times, but those were the only times when I could sing loud without any fear.”

Ola Onabulé contemplating his next album