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We compare the Neumann TLM 102 vs 103 microphones.
Find out what the differences are in sound, features and build quality.
Find out if the TLM-103 is actually worth the price difference.
Neumann have been at the forefront of producing premium-grade microphones for as long as most modern producers can remember. The TLM series promises “uncompromising sound quality”, with their Neumann-famous “transformerless output circuitry”.
The TLM-102 and 103 are both exceptional microphones, each with its own sets of pros and cons. In this article, we’ll go over those differences, with the intention to help you make a more informed buying decision.
Neumann TLM-102 vs TLM-103: Which Is The Better Mic?
While both condenser microphones are outstanding, the almost double-price for the TLM-103 is warranted, for its fuller, richer bass response, and crisper, airier high frequencies.
With a capsule design based on the legendary U87, the TLM-103 also has a louder output signal and lower self-noise. It’s an easy decision, and the TLM-103 (check out user reviews here) is the clear winner out of the two.
Right out of the box, both microphones feel like their built like a tank.
Everything from the weight, to the paint job, to the individual parts themselves — you can tell there’s very little skimping on quality when it comes to build. Though, this is hardly surprising, as Neumann are known for having some of the best quality control and manufacturing in the audio world.
The paint finish on the TLM 102 that I own is a glossy black while the TLM 103 sported a matte grey finish and both are large diaphragm condenser microphones. Personally, I am more of a fan of the classic grey, but I didn’t purchase either of these based on their looks (and neither should you). Both microphones also come in a black version.
There is no clear winner in this department, as they are both perfectly crafted pieces of studio gear and great for any home studio.
The TLM 102 combines technical excellence with a beautifully balanced sound for silky vocals, crisp guitars and powerful drums. With its cardioid pattern and an integrated pop screen the TLM 102 is a joy to use, even for novices.
The 103 has an output signal that is 6dB louder than the TLM 102. Why is this a benefit? Basically, it means you won’t need to drive your preamp as hard in order to get a signal equally as loud.
If you’re driving legendary high end SSL preamps, this might not be much of an issue, but this 6dB could mean a world of difference through a less than average preamp.
This comes at an (insignificant) trade-off though… SPL levels.
The max SPL of the TLM-103 is 6dB less than that of the TLM-102.
I state this is insignificant because unless you are recording sounds over 138dB (unlikely if you’re using this as a studio microphone), the max SPL is more than sufficient regardless.
So while the TMA-102 wins in this department, it is not a big deal.
What Is Self-Noise?
Self-noise is the signal the microphone produces of itself, even when no sound source is present. In other words, the lower the self-noise, the less unwanted noise you’ll get in your recordings from the microphone.
The TLM-103 has a self-noise level of a staggering 7dB (A).
While not the quietest microphone in the world (RODE NT-1A still takes the cake for its 5dB (A) self-noise rating), 7dB (A) is still remarkable.
On the other hand, the TLM-102 has a self-noise level of 12dB (A).
This is a whole 5 dB louder than the TLM-103. As a result, the lower self-noise level makes up a large part of the TLM-103’s heavier price tag.
The TLM-103 is significantly larger than the TLM-102. Feature-wise, they are both clean and bare. No fancy switches, no extra modes, and just a standard XLR port.
As you can see from the differences in the frequency spectrum, the TLM-103 has a shallower bass frequency cutoff/roll-off. This is responsible for the fuller low-end response achieved by the TLM-103.
There is a caveat here, though. Having a richer full-end doesn’t necessarily warrant you shelling out double the money. If you are purely intending to use the microphone for vocals, the frequency energy below 60Hz (in most cases) will be redundant anyway.
Other than that, the Neumann TLM-102 has a much narrower boost in the high-frequencies compared to the Neumann TLM-103.
It could be argued that a flatter response is desired, however, again, there are too many variables that go into this assumption, for example:
Certain vocals work better in different microphones.
Your room response might benefit from less ‘natural’ curves.
You just might prefer the sound of a more ‘colored’ microphone.
Finally, the high-frequency shelf/roll-off on the TLM-103 begins its descend much later than that of the TLM-102, which is responsible for the TLM-103’s airier, more present qualities.
Some users have reported that they do find the extra ‘air’ in the TLM-103 to be ‘harsher’, and this just goes to show that taste and preference will come into play here. That being said, my preference is still the TLM-103. There were not any situations where I felt that the high-frequency response was ‘harsh’ to me, but to each their own!
The TLM 103 is so low noise that even the faintest nuances become audible. Thus, it is perfectly suited for vocals and audio drama productions in high definition as well as for demanding samples production and instrumental recordings.Neumann