Just when you thought you could close the lid on the mic case, satisfied that your inventory is complete, something new comes along to tempt you. The Earthworks SR71 is a phantom-powered, cardioid electret-condenser microphone designed for live sound. The SR71 is another in the line of slender, tapered-profile microphones from Earthworks, a company known for bringing quality omnidirectional measurement/recording mics to new levels of affordability.
Earthworks states that the SR71 exhibits a flat response from 50 to 20k Hz and the ability to handle sound-pressure levels up to 145 dB. The response of this microphone, flat at 6 inches, deviates significantly as the distance from the sound source changes. At 1 meter, lows are rolled off below 150 Hz and down 6 dB below 100 Hz. Similarly, at distances less than 6 inches from the sound source, a pronounced proximity effect is observed, boosting the lows. This effect acts as a natural highpass filter for distant sounds or reflections, a useful feature in some situations.
As stated by the manufacturer, the SR71 microphone is sensitive to vocal plosives and wind noise. This characteristic was confirmed over and over in both live and studio settings where the mic was being used for vocals and acoustic guitar. During one instance while recording acoustic guitar, the normal breathing of the guitar player was so pronounced that a windscreen was required, even though the guitar player was not a vocalist. In another instance, the wind created by a percussionist's hand striking a conga was enough to create a noticeable pop. In fact, a windscreen could be considered essential in most close-miking applications with this microphone. This brings up perhaps the SR71's only noticeable drawback: The windscreen provided was so loose that it fell off many times. Where's my duct tape?
In tests conducted with Mark Heath and the Portland, Ore.-based Pepe & the Bottle Blondes, the SR71 proved effective for many live-sound applications, including cymbals and percussion. The mic performed particularly well on hand percussion, providing a sharp, crisp high-end attack and a rich bass response when placed fairly close. Often, however, the graphic equalizer on the percussion monitor had to be adjusted down a bit above 5 kHz to reduce the potential for feedback. As a drum overhead, the SR71 provided a clear high end, capturing the sizzle of the cymbals. A pair also performed well in stereo on the high end of a Leslie cabinet driven by a Hammond B-3. On grand piano, a pair of SR71s provided a warm, rich sound from the low end while maintaining a bright crisp sound from the higher registers. As audience mics for in-ear monitors, the smooth response and wide pickup pattern were effective. One application where the SR71 did not perform adequately was for vocals on a live stage, where stage volume contributed to monitor feedback and there was significant bleed from drums or other nearby instruments.
EFFECTIVE STUDIO VOCAL MICIn the studio, the SR71 proved to be an effective vocal microphone, and the proximity effect could be used to great advantage to provide a rich bass response in male vocals. A nylon pop screen is an indispensable accessory in this application. The SR71 compared favorably with a popular, inexpensive, imported tube mic on both vocals and acoustic guitar, exhibiting clarity and warmth from the pronounced proximity effect. Placement and technique with this mic's exaggerated proximity effect offer a variety of ways to experiment. And the smooth off-axis response makes finding a good tracking room a worthwhile effort.
The SR71 also seems fully capable of handling the rigors of road work. During a chance incident, one tumbled from the case, bounced from the truck floor to the back step and onto the concrete, but it suffered only a slight scratch on the matte-black, anodized aluminum finish. At the next gig, it sounded as good as ever.
Overall, the SR71 is a clean, crisp-sounding microphone that, at a list price of $399, is a versatile and economical tool for both live- sound and studio applications. So before you close the lid on the mic case, you might want to consider a couple of Earthworks SR71s to increase the flexibility of your inventory. Just don't forget the windscreens.
Earthworks, Box 517, Wilson, NH 03006; 603/654-6427; fax 603/654-6107; www.earthwks.com.