The Earthworks brand has long been associated with the production of high-quality condenser microphones designed for use not only in the studio and on stage, but for measurement purposes, as well. The company’s microphones are known for uncolored reproduction, extended frequency range and fast impulse response.
Earthworks’ SR Series of microphones is intended for sound reinforcement applications, though the subject of this review—the SR314 handheld vocal condenser mic—is equally suited for use on stage or in the studio.
The SR314 is a cardioid condenser microphone with a pre-polarized capsule coupled to a transformerless preamp employing Class A electronics. The microphone was designed to produce a uniform frequency response out to 90 degrees off-axis, and a consistent low-frequency response even when used at varying distances.
The frequency response chart of the SR314 shows a fairly flat curve (about ±2 dB) from 20 Hz to 30,000 Hz at a distance of 5 inches, with minor dips at 4 and 8 kHz, and minor bumps at 10 and 16 kHz. At a 12-inch distance, the low-frequency response gently rolls off below 100 Hz to approximately -5 dB at 20 Hz. Signal-to-noise ratio of the SR314 is said to be 79 dB (A-weighted), and the mic can handle a maximum SPL of 145dB—so it should easily accommodate the loudest of screamers.
Phantom power requirements for the SR314 are 24 to 48 VDC with a current consumption of 10 mA, which is the maximum current draw permitted under IEC 1938. This shouldn’t be an issue with any professional mixing console, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make sure that the preamps in your desk can accommodate the current requirement. The SR314 ships with a nylon pouch and a microphone stand clip, and is warranted for a period of 10 years from the date of purchase—an impressive commitment from the folks at Earthworks.
A Unique Look and Feel
One glance at the Earthworks SR314 makes clear that this is not another “me too” vocal mic for on-stage use. The SR314 features a distinct, tapered housing with a brushed-silver finish that somehow makes it look retro and contemporary at the same time (the microphone is also available in a black finish with stainless screens, or black finish with black screens). Weighing in at a hefty 1.5 pounds, the solid feel of the SR314 inspires confidence—it’s built like a tank—so you’ll need to make sure that your mic stand is securely locked into place to prevent slipping.
At the top of the SR314’s basket is an external stainless steel screen, underneath which is a two-layer pop filter, an internal stainless-steel windscreen, and finally another screen beneath the (non-removable) capsule housing. The external stainless screen and two-layer pop filter can easily be removed for cleaning without disassembly of the basket, and the manual for the SR314 states that with normal use it should not be necessary to clean the internal stainless windscreen. As is the case with most handheld vocal microphones, there are no switches or controls on the body of the SR314.
The SR314’s frequency response is flat, but don’t let that lead you to think that the microphone lacks personality. It has a slight coloration in the lower-mids that’s flattering to vocalists who need a bit of help in that region, and the microphone is capable of producing plenty of mojo in the low end, particularly when used up-close (within a few inches). I found this characteristic an attribute on one male vocal, but it made a different male singer’s voice sound too thick. A highpass filter set around 150 Hz with a steep slope (18 dB/octave) helped reduce this thickness; that filter frequency was much higher than I’d normally use on this particular singer.
I found that the SR314 provided the most natural-sounding response when a vocalist worked the microphone from around 8 to 10 inches away from the microphone grille. When a singer moves within about 4 inches, proximity effect starts to gently emphasize the low end; any closer than that and proximity effect is clearly noticeable. I also noticed that within 3 or 4 inches, popping Bs and Ps can become an issue. This is a by-product of the mic’s extended low-frequency response and can be held in check by using a highpass filter or a foam windscreen (in some cases, I opted for the windscreen). If your singer has good technique, popping won’t be an issue, but for some vocalists it could be a problem.
Earthworks’ engineers have definitely met their objective regarding smooth off-axis response. At angles out to 45 degrees off-axis, the SR314 sounds virtually identical to the way it does at 0 degrees, so most singers won’t have an issue remaining in the sweet spot. At around 60 degrees off-axis, the output level starts to drop, but the timbre is still consistent. When you move the mic 90 degrees off-axis, the timbre changes, and you can hear the high-frequency response start to drop off. This shouldn’t be a problem because most vocalists won’t be singing into the mic at a 90-degree angle.
The SR314 did a good job of rejecting unwanted sound in most of the applications where I used it. For example, when used for a vocalist who was also playing an acoustic guitar, leakage of the guitar into the vocal microphone was minimal, as was any evidence of bleed or feedback from the wedge monitor. This strength was apparent even when the singer worked the mic from a distance, which is often not the case with other microphones.
At one particular show, the SR314’s extended low-frequency response presented some difficulty. I was using the SR314 for a male vocal and the band members were all using IEMs. The stage was a Stageline SL100 with windowalls on three sides, which made for a very reflective environment. As a result, the SR314 picked up quite a bit of spill from the instruments on stage, as well as from the rear wall and ceiling.
The SR314’s cardioid pattern is down 5 to 10 dB at 90 degrees off-axis at frequencies ranging from 400 Hz to 4 kHz. The pattern tightens up a bit around 6 kHz, and then becomes more omnidirectional at frequencies above roughly 8 kHz. There is no polar response data supplied for frequencies below 400 Hz, but I suspect that the pattern is wider at lower frequencies, making it more susceptible to feedback in the low end (that’s probably also the reason why the off-axis response is so uncolored).
The combination of the reflective stage, along with the fact that the main P.A. subwoofers were ground-stacked front-and-center of the SL100, resulted in significant low-frequency feedback between the house P.A. and the SR314. A highpass filter on the SR314 set to a frequency of 160 Hz helped but did not cure the problem, and we had to swap it out for a different microphone.
Handling noise was minimal when using the SR314, and what little handling noise made it to the capsule was easily removed using a highpass filter set to around 70 Hz (which I’d typically use anyway to minimize low-frequency spill). One thing I noticed about the SR314 is that it’s capable of producing tons of detail. If you choose to emphasize that with a bit of EQ, the SR314 will not disappoint. On one particular singer, a gentle boost of a few dB at 3.2 kHz and a slight cut at around 200 Hz brought the voice front-and-center of the mix, making it sound intimate without being harsh or sibilant.
Earthworks has achieved its goal of creating a studio-quality condenser microphone that can be used on stage. The SR314 has a wide sweet spot, captures plenty of detail, and effectively controls proximity effect.
It presents vocals with a natural, balanced response and maintains articulation without ever sounding strident. The SR314 is expensive when compared to other handheld vocal microphones (particularly dynamic mics), but it produces a level of quality aligned with its price point, and will be equally useful in studio applications.
Product: SR314 Handheld Vocal Microphone
Pros: Smooth response on- and off-axis; unique appearance; robust construction
Cons: Sensitive to plosives; heavy weight requires a sturdy stand; cardioid pattern may not be tight enough for some applications.