(These are ordered in descending order by list price in $US dollars and the links are to the manufacturers' web sites)
Sony C48 $1675
Microtech Geffel UMT 70S $1,600
Neumann KMS105 $799
Rode S1 $599
Shure Beta 87a $462
AKG C535 $384
Beyerdynamic M88 $499
Shure Beta 58a $300
Audix OM5 $265
I used the Sony C48 and the Microtech Geffel UMT 70S for baseline reference. These are both large diaphragm condenser microphones with switchable patterns; omni, cardioid, hyper-cardioid (figure 8). When I had a Neumann U87 and TM103, the Microtech Geffel sounded very similar (It is rumoured that they all use the same capsule).
I would probably not recommend these for frequent live, on-the-road applications because given their value and relatively fragile nature they are probably better suited for recording. Neither is particularly suited for hand-held use. If you don't mind treating them with care, I would use either of these for an ensemble where you want to use a single microphone. Here, the switchable pattern (omni-directional) might do very well.
I have used the AKG C535 and Beyerdynamic M88 for many years, and they are old friends. I included them in my testing to help me to "listen" to the others.
This leaves for comparison
Neumann KMS 105
Shure Beta 87a
Shure Beta 58a
See the section at the end (Testing) for the details about how I tested.
I think that any of the remaining microphones would be good performers, at least as good as the Shure Beta 58a.
Application - High Volume - Gain before Feedback
Shure Beta 58a
For high volume applications where gain before feedback is the priority, the Audix OM5 comes first. The Beyerdynamic M88 has a slight edge for clarity and is very close in feedback rejection. I also know the latter to be extremely rugged. I would use the either if I was working a small stage and could not get at least 4 feet away from the L1, or if having difficulty with reflections leading to feedback. If you can't get enough gain before feedback, it doesn't really matter how good the microphone sounds under better circumstances.
Application - Hand Held Microphone - Soloist
AKG C535 [edit - corrected typo on model no]
Shure Beta 87a
Where sound quality takes precedence over everything else, the Neumann KMS105 is first. It has very low handling noise so as a handheld unit or on a stand with lots of mechanical noise this would do very well. I also found it to have the best resistance to wind noise and popping "p"s when "eating the mic". I think you would find it very suitable for female vocalists or any vocalists whose voice holds plenty of nuance. This microphone can be very present even at lower volumes. In the hands of a skilled artist, there is plenty of room for dynamics while maintaining detail in softer passages.
There is a quality that is shared by the Neumann KMS105, the Microtech Geffel UMT 70S and the Sony C48. If it could be said that a microphone sparkles, shimmers, or glistens - then these microphones do that. Not being a sound engineer, I don't have the words to describe it, but I hope you understand what I mean. It is the same kind of difference you hear going from a dynamic microphone to a condenser only more so. Think of the difference between red, and the candy-apple red you get with many layers of lovingly applied lacquer.
The AKG C585, Rode S1 and the Shure Beta 87a sound very similar to me. Well defined, accurate, but lacking the lustre of the Neumann KMS105.
The AKG C585 comes ahead of the others because it has switches to provide -10 db attenuation and low frequency roll-off. This is good for controlling the proximity effect that occurs with condenser mics when you "eat" them.
The Shure Beta 87a is at the bottom of the list because, of all of the condenser microphones, it was the most difficult to control for feedback. This would be a concern in a hand-held situation.
Application - On the Stand
Shure Beta 87a
The list remains the same. With good microphone technique the bottom three would be pretty much equivalent when mated up with presets that seemed right for them. The differences will be more dependent on the singer's voice and range than anything I can detect in testing.
A consequence of getting the Bose Personalized Amplification System™ is that I can hear everything better.
This is a significant improvement at a qualitative level. This means that the quality of the sound (or lack of it) has become much more apparent to me. I am enjoying playing, and performing more than I have in years.
Since getting my L1™ I am playing more, performing more, and singing more.
In the past I practiced vocals using the Sony C48 and the Microtech Geffel UMT 70S, but since I couldn't hear myself anyway, there was no need to push the envelope (microphone quality) when performing live. I was singing harmony most of the time because I had not the confidence to take on lead vocals (couldn't hear myself). Now that I can get the same sound live as when practicing, it is time to find a way to closely get the same sound in both circumstances. This was relatively easy to do with my guitar sound, and now I'm ready to do it with the vocals.
What to do now
So for me, the Neumann KMS105 is a keeper.
The Rode S1 and the Shure Beta 87a are redundant, so I don't need to keep them.
The Audix OM5 would be a great addition to anyone's gig bag. I'll use the Beyerdynamic M88 (it's hypercardioid) when feedback is an issue. For the open stage type events, I'll probably continue to use Shure Beta 57s and Beta 58s.
For instruments I can use a couple of Neumann M184s or AKG C451s. There is even a preset for the latter to be used with acoustic guitar. I think there's a notch at 200hz to alleviate boominess from the sound hole.
I'm not an audiophile. I don't have a trained ear. I will never be hired for my vocal skills. The primary expression of my musical voice is my guitar. Do I need to spend double the money on the Neumann vs. the Rode S1 (that I liked)? Probably not.
Why spend the money?
The difference is subtle. If I was still working through a conventional PA, much of the difference would be lost, imperceptible. I know from experience, I wouldn't be able to hear it in the monitors. But with the L1™, I can hear the difference. I used the Neumann last night at a gig. (Picked it up on the way there). I really enjoyed it.
A couple of days ago I traded in a beautiful 8 year old PRS McCarty to get a PRS Brazilian series Custom 24. Interestingly, the new guitar has the "sparkle and shimmer" that the other one lacked. This is a subtle nuance that could easily be lost in a conventional guitar amp. The L1™ seems to transparently make it louder. If you hear those kinds of differences in your instrument or voice, then you might make similar choices given the same options.
A Gentle Warning about the consequences
After you get your L1™, you will probably go through some changes.
Some, like parting with old gear that no longer seems appropriate are relatively easy.
You will probably play and sing more. But you may find that you end up upgrading the input since the amplification of it (the source), is so faithful. That was unanticipated, and the heart of the warning.
I hope that all of this is useful to you, and that I have provided a little of the experience in a meaningful way. I will have all of these microphones in my possession for another couple of days. So if there is anything specific I can try for you, or if this raises questions... just ask.
This is not all that interesting, but I thought you might want to know.
First - a disclaimer: I have no formal background in testing methods or sound for that matter. I was going to try to be scientific about this, testing and measuring with a sound level meter and a real time analyzer, but in the end, I just tried each microphone against its nearest competitors and listened.
Physical surroundings: 20' x 40' room. The L1™ was about a foot out from a fairly reflective wall facing into the long dimension of the room. The sides of the space are reflective too.
Settings: I had the L1™ running so the trims were set to only flicker red slightly (then backed off a little). I used preset 02 for most of the testing, but experimented with others. I turned down the gains at the remotes so at any given time, only one microphone was "live".
All the settings on the remote were set to 12:00 o'clock except for the master that was at 1-2 o'clock at times. It was loud! [edit - I took it up that high to find the threshold before feedback. I couldn't live with it that loud for long. The loudest I have ever taken the system running live is everything at 12:00 o'clock. I did some measurements today and this seems to hover at 100 db +- 5db. This is measured at ear level at 7 feet, same distance as the microphone ]
I tried the microphones several times set up at 7 feet from the L1™, and then for the feedback stress test I put the microphones 3 from the L1™. At 3 feet, I couldn't get the Shure Beta 87a to run higher than 12:00 for the master even when I was eating the mic. I could get the others a little higher. I had to turn things down below 12:00 o'clock if I wasn't standing between the microphone and the L1.
When listening for tone, clarity, and sound in general I turned the systems down to 12:00 o'clock on the master. The microphones were 7 feet from the L1™ units for this part. I had four microphones going into separate channels (1 and 2) in two L1™ units. I would sing the same phrases into each microphone and move them back and forth until I had them in an order I liked. Then to remove any "bias" inherent in the shape of the room or placement, I reversed the order (left-to-right) and listened again.
Not a trained singer, I can squeeze out a couple of octaves starting at the lowest note you can get from a guitar (E below middle C I think). I sang songs and scales, and just listened carefully. I had the microphones set up as you would playing live, so the L1™ units were behind me. The microphones were angled upward about 60 - 70 degrees. (Looking from the left side in profile - about 2:30).
--- Go make music ---
[edits - grammar, room size, candy-apple red analogy, more detail in testing section]
[edit - updated links]
[edit - replaced references to PAS to L1™ ]
[edit - updated link to Sony C48]
-- click for details --