Neumann TLM 103 Review

by wanderingted

and The Greatest Song Team

Overview: Neumann TLM 103 Review

Our Rating

4.9

(out of 5)

Pros

  • Pristine high end
  • Musically responsive
  • Same components as the famous U87 at one-third the price
  • Low self-noise
  • Huge dynamic range

Cons

  • no shockmount included

Pick-up Pattern: Cardioid

Pads and Filters: None

Weight: 450 g

Max SPL: 138 dB

Self-noise: 7 dB

Neumann TLM 103 Microphone

Neumann TLM 103 thumb

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Bottom Line

A chunky wedge-shaped version of the famous U87 microphone at one-third the cost.

Introducing the TLM 103

The sonic signature of your large-diaphragm condenser mic will define your sound, making it arguably the biggest piece in the puzzle of any set-up. But everyone looking for a sound upgrade will have budget constraints. 

The obvious, most reliable upgrade choice to many is the Neumann U87. The U87 is the famous gold-standard, musically responsive, large-diaphragm condenser mic used in countless recordings on a wide array of sound sources. Most large professional studios will have a few U87s at hand.  

The problem is that a U87 costs around $3700. Enter the Neumann TLM 103. It is a repackaged U87 at less than one-third the cost, with a smaller body and a fixed cardioid polar pattern.  

But does it really deliver? We take nothing for granted here, so we put it through its paces in our microphone test drive.

Table of Contents

    What’s in the box?

    The mic comes in satin nickel (shown here) or matte black. You can see the unboxing here in this video.

    The TLM 103 arrived in a wooden carry case with a standard swivel mount (SG1 mount) and thread adapter for connecting to different mic stands. To reduce costs, Neumann has not provided a cable, shockmount, or pop filter.  

    Of course, Neumann suggests that you pair this with their custom EA1 or EA4 shockmount, both of which are prohibitively expensive. We used a universal shockmount that costs 1/4 the price. In our opinion, it did its job of reducing rumble as well as any shockmount. 

    Who is this mic for?

    Home recordists, professional broadcasters, and professional studios looking to upgrade to a high-end, reliable, versatile studio condenser mic.

    Who is this mic NOT for?

    This mic is not suited for the following applications:

    • live set-ups
    • noisy, untreated rooms
    • situations that require polar patterns other than Cardioid

    Alternatives to the TLM 103

    Neumann U87 ai

    The Gold standard for large-condenser studio mics. A classic that will outlive you and your children.

    Neumann U87 ai Microphone

    Neumann TLM 102

    The most affordable Neumann condenser mic. Smaller than the 103, with a slightly different sound.

    Neumann TLM 102

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    Townsend Labs Sphere L22

    This is a modeling mic that can successfully model the sounds of all the famous mics.

    Townsend Labs Sphere L22

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    Check out our gear category page for more on microphones and audio gear.

    Build / Design

    The Neumann TLM 103 is essentially half of a U87. 

    The TLM 103 uses identical parts from the U87 capsule (K87 capsule). The U87 has switchable polar patterns so its K87 capsule has double the parts to capture sound from both sides.  The TLM 103 uses half the parts to form a fixed cardioid, transformerless mic.

    The first step toward a more affordable U87 was to ditch the transformer. Neumann’s prefix ‘TLM’ stands for ‘Transformer-Less Microphone’. Transformers add their own sonic color, sometimes limit the transient response of a mic, and tend to be expensive.

    The chunky wedge shape makes it more versatile in the studio and less mic-saggy than the traditional long cylinder shape.

    Self-noise and Max SPL

    This mic has very low self-noise for intimate recording and can also handle rocking loud.

    In fact, the TLM 103 outperforms the famous U87 with lower self-noise and a higher max SPL.  The TLM 103 measures at 7 dB for self-noise while the U87 is 12dB.  In our mic tests, that is a noticeable difference.

    And dynamically, the TLM 103 can handle a max SPL of 135 dB while the U87 is recorded at 117 dB.  The ability to handle the loud means that the mic doesn’t require a pre-attenuator switch.  

    Neumann has made all of these adjustments to the old U87 capsule in order to reduce the cost and size and produce a more affordable and versatile microphone.

    Sound

    Neumann TLM 103 Frequency Response chart

    Neumann TLM 103 frequency response chart

    As you can see in the frequency response chart above, the TLM 103 has a flat response with a gentle presence boost around 5 – 15 kHz.  This frequency response is nearly identical to that of the U87. (compared below)

    Neumann TLM 103 vs U87 Frequency response Chart  

    U87 vs TLM103 frequency response chart

    Neumann TLM 103 Test Drive

    We used a Universal Audio Apollo Solo Interface recorded with Logic Pro X.  There is no EQ or compression or other enhancements applied to any of the audio clips here.  We adjusted the gain from the audio interface to taste.  The guitars were a Martin steel-string acoustic guitar and Fender Strat plugged into 40 Watt Fender Champ. 

    Full disclosure: We fully acknowledge that there is no one way to use a microphone.  Mic placement, how you play or sing, not to mention EQ, compression, Impedance, and pre-amp settings can all have dramatic effects on the final result. 

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    Neumann TLM 103 profile

    Sung Vocals with acoustic guitar Test

    The super-clean high-end that the TLM 103 gives to the vocals here is what ultimately wins me over on this mic. Somehow, the detail is more detailed, but in a flattering way.

    This was recorded with the mic at lip-level with the acoustic guitar on my lap.

    Spoken Vocals Test – Sibilance, plosives, off-axis coloration Test

    As you can hear in the spoken test below, there were no problems with plosives or sibilance. There is also very little noticeable off-axis coloration of the sound. In other words, when you’re not speaking directly into the mic there’s no distortion of the sound.

    Rear and side rejection of sound was about normal for a condenser mic. It picks up the room you are in.

    The proximity effect on the TLM 103 (increased bass frequencies as you get closer to the mic) was very noticeable.

    Acoustic guitar tests

    The TLM 103 on acoustic guitar was very satisfying. For fingerpicking styles, its low self-noise allows you to use a lot of gain from your pre-amp and achieve a high-detail intimate sound.

    For roots style strumming, I would imagine this ideally paired with a ‘character’ mic like an SM57. The TLM 103 would get all the brilliance and detail and the character mic would give you some grit.

    Electric Guitar (Clean) Test

    Conclusions about the Sound

    Mics are not really better than other mics, they just sound different. As you approach the high-end microphones, you are paying for consistency, a very particular quality and timbre, and musical response.

    The Neumann U87 is famous for its ability to produce the desired sound with very few adjustments. With the same innards as the U87, the TLM 103 succeeds equally well in this regard.

    The TLM 103 delivered a musical response to everything we threw at it. There seems to be no need for attenuation pads, as it handled loud and soft with aplomb.

    The pristine high-end was more impressive than I expected. (see sung vocals with acoustic guitar test above) It was never harsh and balanced smoothly with its considerable low end.

    I actually prefer this mic’s sound over the U87s that I’ve heard – the low self-noise of the TLM 103 is the main difference for me. And I think it outperforms the TLM 102 in its refined top end and musical response.

    What they say about the Neumann TLM 103

    We asked around the biz and got a few words from some pros who use this mic:

    We use it [TLM 103] to record nearly everything.  I love it on voices, guitars, piano, drums… what else would I want?

    Steve Bolmann, Sound Engineer

    We have a Neumann U87 and a TLM 103 in our studio.  Recording guitars, voices, and drums, I cannot tell the difference between these mics.

    Michael Watson, Sound Engineer

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How does this compare with the Neumann TLM 102?

    The TLM 103 was designed as a cheaper, smaller, quieter U87. The TLM 102 is designed as a versatile condenser for any studio. The TLM 103, to my ears, has a more sensitive musical response and even more flattering detail on the high end.

    For more information see our comparison post Neumann TLM 102 vs 103.

    Does the TLM 103 really sound like a U87?

    Short answer: yes.

    U87s, especially those that have lived a bit, all have their own unique subtleties. But you can rest assured that you’re getting a very U87-like sound in the TLM 103.

    WHY YOU CAN TRUST THE GREATEST SONG

    As a reminder, we test everything on this site ourselves.

    We are audio nerds and songwriters who navigate the world of live and recorded audio. All our days and years untangling wires, setting up stands, and listening to mixes allow us to tell the difference between gear that rocks and gear that doesn’t rock at all.

    If an audio product sucks, we will tell you. Our policy is to promote quality gear, regardless of brand or price. We hope we can clear up the choices on offer through in-depth, hands-on trials and reviews.

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