A singer's perspective
As a bit of background, I'm a classically trained soprano who is mid-50s and has migrated to singing rock and Christian and church music.
Interestingly, when my husband did a blind hearing test of our three microphones (SM58, Beta 58, and M81), he liked the M81 least. We tested with EQ at noon, so ostensibly flat. In the end, he wasn't sure what he was expecting to hear from this mic. We think it's because he's spent years hearing me sound a certain way through the Shures and the lack of coloration on the Telefunken didn't impress him at first. It's not like I was blown away by the sheer force of sound either. But what I did hear made me want to work with it.
My SM58 was pretty muddy sounding when singing with another singer who was using a Sennheiser 935. I switched to the Beta58 wireless and preferred that sound much more. However, it was still not clear enough over two electric guitars, drums, keys, and bass. Admittedly, my Shures were purchased long ago, and I'm sure mic technology has left my Shures in the dust.
So, I was on the hunt for a new mic that didn't color my voice too much, as I already have roundness and depth and bottom end plus an easy top. I have the ability to color my voice as I desire, and I didn't want a mic that did it for me. I was looking for clarity, cut, brightness without shrillness. After reading and researching the top mics these days, I chose to try the M81 because it seemed to have the qualities I needed for my voice.
Before I played with the EQ, I listened to myself singing in the room, and then I listened to myself singing the same song through the M81. I heard myself sound like me, which may sound like a ridiculous statement, but sounding like me without a lot of tweaking was what I was looking for.
Then I played with the EQ, which is only low and high -- nothing fancy -- until I heard me but enhanced a little. I'm still playing with different settings of EQ and input volume. And depending on the type of music I'm singing or the mood of the song, the EQ settings can make a difference. However, when I leave the EQ at the setting that sounds most like my voice naturally, it does indeed work with any type of song. So, there's no need to mess with it once you find something you like, but it's just something you can do if you feel like exploring the mic's capabilities.
There are three things that have stood out about this mic: (1) the clarity is beautiful. My voice cuts through the mix now, and I'm hearing details and nuances in my singing that I never heard. Honestly, I didn't know I was doing all those things, just naturally, when I was using my other mics. I surprised myself the first time I ran through some favorite songs with my guitarist husband; (2) how EASY it is to sing with this mic. By that I mean that, in comparison to what I found myself having to do with the Shures -- relying less on technique (like taking good, deep breaths) and relying more on more of a shouting style to be heard over the mix, shallower breaths, more difficulty making it through phrases, some vocal fatigue after many hours of practice, the M81 is very easy to sing through and doesn't force me to do things that I know I shouldn't be doing in order to achieve the sound I want; and (3) the consistency across the vocal range is awesome. From the bottom of my range to the upper range (the highest note I've come across in our repertoire is A5, though my voice extends to the whistle range), the response of this mic is smooth and consistent. In my lower range, there is roundness and warmth without muddiness, and the high notes sound exactly how I want them to without harshness or shrillness. At no point does the mic make my voice jump out or hurt my ears or make me sound muffled. It's clear and responsive throughout my range. As a matter of fact, I thought it lost some of my overtones when EQ was flat, but a slight tweak brought out my natural overtones.
With the M81, I hear everything so well that I don't have to even try to be heard over the mix. I sing with good technique, my phrasing is better, I'm not running out of breath in places where I had trouble making it though the phase, I even hear colorations over a loud, distorted guitar sound, and that was something I never heard before. In one song, I sing softly and intimately juxtaposed against an overdriven electric guitar sound, and I hear it easily. I don't have to neglect my vocal musicality and expression. I don't have to tell the band to lower the volume so that we can hear the singers. This mic makes it so easy to be expressive and soulful and meaningful with all types of songs. From the harsher, edgier, more screamy sounds of rock to the soft, sultry, soulful sounds of ballads to the rounder, more full voiced church songs -- the M81 handles them all beautifully and makes my job as a singer more easy and even more fun. It's that wonderful.
After running through a dozen songs, we came to the conclusion that just the fact that the M81 allowed me to sing with good technique, which is important to me to maintain vocal health and stamina and endurance without vocal fatigue, this mic is worth its weight in gold.
But there's nothing like being able to hear what I'm doing while I'm singing because I can make adjustments on the fly -- too bright? I can darken the tone; too much breath and I can adjust my breathing and make sure I'm breathing properly, etc. Being able to hear gives me control over the sound, and I love that. I love being able to be expressive vocally in a way that I've never been on a mic, or never been on a mic that I could hear the expression. This mic is sensitive, detailed, nuanced, and it's becoming like my best friend -- trusty and reliable, sensitive and responsive. A true winner.