e 600/800: Within everyone’s budget – above the norm
At the end of the 1990s, the evolution series changed Sennheiser at all levels – from development through to sales and distribution. Whereas hitherto the German brand had been known for its – rather high-cost – broadcast and studio solutions, the engineers were now also developing microphones for live stages. How does one combine high standards, one’s own experience and the possibilities offered by automated production? The answer to this was demonstrated from 1998 onwards by the e 600-series instrument microphones and the vocal /speech microphones from the e 800 series. As a result, legendary but previously expensive prototypes from the MD series suddenly also became available at prices which – finally – was within the budget of a much wider group of the population. Here, “evolution” was not simply a name but a philosophy. Models whose performance people were not satisfied with were overhauled within a short space of time and reissued. Shortly afterwards the e 900 series arrived to crown the evolution range; these products provided workflow, sound and a robustness which also satisfied the very exacting demands of live performances.
The e 604, too, is not just any old microphone. On the contrary, it is the descendant of an evolution that started back in the 1960s. Today, the little drum specialist can still offer intensities which elsewhere would be regarded as extras.
Sebastian Schmitz points to the frequency response curve, nods, and starts grinning. His facial expressions are reminiscent of those visible when he is wearing headphones and is pleased with what he is hearing. Very pleased. Schmitz is one of the product managers who have worked with the evolution series right from the first experimental set-up – and is a sound engineer. His finger taps the area at 2 kilohertz. “Here, this slight elevation upwards of 2,000 hertz – the upper mid ranges and high frequencies are slightly emphasized. As a result, the e 604 provides you with a punchy sound from toms and snares, a sound which remains clear and open right down into the low ranges.”
Descendant of the legendary MD 421
And this is no surprise. Ultimately, the e 604 is following the example of the legendary MD 421, which revolutionized speech and music recordings in the 1960s. Its achievements then and now on the toms remain unforgotten today by bands big and small. Its nickname was appropriate back then and still applies today: “King of the tom mics”.
However: the MD 421 was not really that camera-friendly or visually appealing on toms or snares. The stands, the large design – none of this was very suitable for use on live or broadcasting stages. This gave rise to the MD 504: the first instrument-specific and camera-friendly, compact microphone from Sennheiser. “The idea was to construct only what was necessary around the capsule”, recalls developer Heinz Epping.
Extras and the most copied clamp in the world
Then by way of a further development, the e 604 was created. Compared with the MD 504, the XLR cable connection is more elegant. The glass fiber-reinforced plastic housing can easily take a few knocks during tours and recording sessions. The construction and transducer have been left unchanged; the sound is distinctive right into the maximum peak levels. Extras such as a hum compensation coil have also been retained. The coil protects the signal, by means of a phase-inverted, opposing field, from interference signals from other electrical equipment such as mains transformers, lighting electronics or dimmers. The real highlight, however, was and is the “MZH 604”, the shock-absorbent microphone mount clamp for the edge of the drum. It can be attached to any design, achieves greater proximity to the drumhead and can be freely positioned according to sound and preference. What in the past quickly became complicated and cramped with microphone tripod and cable duct was now finally straightforward. It’s not for nothing that the mount clamp is among Sennheiser’s most copied industrial designs.
Position, fasten, and you’re done: what seems so natural nowadays is part of the mini revolutions that took place while developing the ‘evolution’ microphones. The holding device was developed in the context of the evolution series. As a result, the maze of tripods around the drum kit thinned out considerably. Others have since been very keen to copy the holding device.
From the 1960s onwards, the MD 421 was a legend as it was flexible and could be used to record both speech and music. Its nickname was “King of the tom mics”. The sound of the MD 421, with drum recordings in particular, inspired the development of the compact models 504 and e 604.