Today, we’ll be reviewing the Neumann U 87 Ai condenser microphone. This is the updated version of the original U 87, which had its debut in 1967.
The original U 87 is one of the most sought-after and acclaimed microphones to ever grace the recording studio. Their popularity has made them a little hard to come by, so Neumann has updated the design and come out with a more modern addition (probably to keep appearances up).
Our verdict on the Neumann U 87 Ai
While the similarities between the original U 87 and the U 87 Ai are indeed present, these are ultimately different microphones, so do not expect the same ‘magic’.
Yes, the U 87 Ai is extremely versatile, reliable, and performs exceptionally well. However, in comparison to the original U 87, the results are somewhat ‘spitty’ and less tamed in the mid-range.
We don’t say this to detract you from buying one, but it doesn’t have the same warmth and smoothness as an original U 87 does. It’s undoubtedly a great microphone, and definitely worth the expense, but considering the shoes it was meant to fill, it’s not quite the same.Check availability here: SweetwaterAmazon
Polar pattern and frequency response
The Neumann U 87 Ai is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone with a frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz. It offers you a choice of three switchable polar patterns: cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8. This makes the microphone incredibly flexible, and it can be used in a variety of recording techniques.
The microphone has a max SPL of 117 dB (or 127 dB with 10 dB preattenuation pad), meaning it is perfectly capable of capturing louder sound sources such as drums or electric guitar.
Furthermore, the U 87 Ai is equipped with a low-frequency cutoff filter, helping to get rid of any low-end mud as well as a useful tool to help accommodate for proximity effect.
Overall, the microphone’s frequency response is flat, showcasing a slight presence boost which peaks around the 8-10 kHz area.
To be honest, the U 87 Ai is a bit harsher in the high-frequency ranges than the original U 87 or the U 87 A, although this doesn’t mean the Ai is bad by any means.
With proper placement the microphone can perform just as well as the original, albeit with less ‘smoothness’ and warmth as it doesn’t have tubes.
The U 87 Ai works wonders on studio vocals, and is a top contender in most situations. However, the mid-range response can be a little hit or miss depending on the vocalist you put in front of it.
Harsher voices that are a bit more mid-range-forward may fare better with a microphone that can compensate for that, whereas deeper baritones or sopranos will sound smooth and full.
We will say that if you have slightly more expensive microphones on hand, such as the U 47 or M 49, you’ll probably stop using the U 87 Ai as your primary vocal microphone.
That being said, it’s still one of the better microphones you could have on deck for this purpose.
We would not use this microphone for live recordings on account of the fact that it’s a fairly expensive microphone to be traveling with. Even the richest musicians in the world, whether it be Paul McCartney or Kanye West, would rather opt for a Shure SM58 over a U 87 Ai.
Regardless of whether or not it would be a fair contender for this particular application, there are a myriad of microphones which are far more reasonable and better suited for live applications.
The U 87 Ai is one of the best microphones you can use for drums. It’s a fantastic choice for recording kick drums, floor toms, and if you happen to have two on hand, make for some of the best overhead pairs that money can buy.
If you want your drums to sound larger than life while simultaneously honing in on the full, natural sound of your cans, the U 87 Ai is an undoubtedly fantastic choice.
This is a great mic for guitar cabinets, however, a lot of what we have to say in this instance will echo a lot of what we mentioned when it comes to recording studio vocals.
That is to say that if you’re trying to capture a guitar that is rather forward in the mid-range, you might be better off testing out some other microphones first.
However if you’re just trying to capture the clean tone of a Stratocaster or a Les Paul, the U 87 Ai is a solid choice and can’t be underrated.
The U 87 Ai can be a surprisingly great choice when it comes to recording bass, especially when used in conjunction with a darker microphone or a DI box.
Obviously, your placements will depend on your studio and the sound you’re going for, but we’ve found success far miking it from the bass cab (about 8-12″) and then using another close mic.
Acoustic guitars sound great through this microphone! Results tend to be extremely natural with plenty of headroom.
It may not always be the best choice stylistically, but you can rest assured that the results will be reliably usable and clear. Nylons specifically seem to work well with the U 87 Ai.
The build quality here is unsurprisingly great. Neumann has a long-standing reputation for not only making durable microphones, but for making microphones that perform well for decades.
This is certainly a microphone that will last you years of use, so you can rest easy knowing that your money is well spent.
Compared to other microphones
Here are a few other options to mull over in comparison to the U 87 Ai.
Neumann U 87 Ai vs. TLM 103
While these microphones are fairly similar, there are some key differences to point out.
The TLM 103 is far brighter, runs far hotter, and has a much more pronounced proximity effect. The U 87 Ai, on the other hand, has a much better mid-range response as well as a more ‘open’ sound.
That being said, the TLM 103 is nearly half the price, and so has a much better value to cost ratio than the U 87 Ai. However, they’re both equally great microphones and in a perfect world you would have one of each. Go for the TLM 103 if you’re on a tighter budget.
Neumann U 87 Ai vs. TLM 102
The U 87 Ai is more open-sounding than the TLM 102, but in return performs harsher. The TLM 102 has a far more pronounced low-end cutoff, and is less colorful than the aforementioned TLM 103.
It certainly won’t provide you the same depth and fullness as the U 87 Ai will, and for what it is, there are many microphones that can fulfill the same use as the TLM 102 for a fraction of the price. For what it’s worth, the U 87 Ai is the smarter expense.
Neumann U 87 Ai vs. AKG C414 XLII
The C414 XLII is akin to the C414 XLS (which is a phenomenal microphone) although it has a slight lift in the high-end. This lift, although slight, is incredibly noticeable and can be somewhat irritating at times.
We would go for the U 87 Ai, as the spittiness on that microphone is more tolerable. The U 87 Ai is also more flexible than the C414 XLII.
Who is the Neumann U 87 Ai best suited for?
The U 87 Ai is best suited for any professionals looking for a solid workhorse microphone. While it may not bring the same ‘magic’ as an original U87 (which can often run into the five-digit price range second hand), it yields reliably exceptional results over a wide range of applications.
- Flexible workhorse.
- Flat response.
- Full and open sound.