I’ve owned, used and loved Earthworks Audio studio microphones since I first encountered them more than 20 years ago. They are stunningly accurate (often boasting a flat frequency response extending up to 50 kHz!), extremely well made and, while not cheap, are still an amazing value considering their performance and build quality. Primarily a manufacturer of instrument microphones, Earthworks introduced a handheld vocal mic (the SR40V) for live performance a few years back. Now the company offers the SV33, a $2,399 discrete Class A cardioid capacitor microphone designed specifically for vocal recording.
While it bears no sonic similarity, the 8.3-inch SV33 has an appearance with regard to size, shape and weight similar to the Electro-Voice RE20. But the similarities end there, as the SV33 is a sonically pristine, full-range microphone that offers exceptional, ultra-high-fidelity performance. The mic, which weighs 2.5 pounds, has a dark matte gray suede-like finish. Its small, 0.55-inch (14 mm) diaphragm provides a stunning 30 Hz–33 kHz frequency response. The mic can handle a hefty 145 dB SPL and has a self-noise of only 15 dB A-weighted.
Included with the SV33 is a pivot arm mic mount and a beautiful cherrywood box. While it doesn’t provide shock absorption, the pivot arm gives you full vertical or horizontal rotation, allowing the mic to be precisely positioned quickly and easily. The mic is internally shockmounted, which I found totally adequate during my testing, but if you need additional isolation, Earthworks sells a shockmount as an accessory. The box is handcrafted from solid cherry and provides both aesthetic appeal and serious functionality.
Between the capsule’s capabilities and the way the design team incorporated it into the microphone body, the SV33 performs astoundingly well. It provides an amazingly flat and extended frequency response with a far larger than normal sweet spot and extremely good off-axis rejection, especially with low frequencies. The microphone’s large sweet spot (you can move 70 degrees off axis in either direction with virtually no change in sound) makes it a pleasure for vocalists to sing into and easier for an engineer to record. The mic performs incredibly well on-axis and offers exemplary off-axis rejection, for pure, uncolored reproduction with minimal mic bleed. Handling noise is nominal, eliminating the need for a shockmount in nearly every circumstance, and the dexterity of the built-in pop filter makes external filters virtually obsolete.
It’s no surprise that Earthworks is marketing the SV33 as a vocal mic, as this is no doubt the microphone’s forte. I used the microphone to record multiple male and female vocals and enjoyed stunning results in each instance. The mic’s proximity effect is quite subtle and smooth, allowing rich, full vocals to be captured further from the microphone than is typically possible. The vocal still sounds amazing at 18-24 inches from the mic, but more of the room can be heard, which is great when recording in a sonically inspiring space.
I’ve never noticed this with any microphone I’ve recorded with before, but vocals recorded with the SV33 are easier to mix than vocals from other microphones. This is likely because of the extra octave the SV33 provides in comparison to other vocal mics.
Besides excelling at vocal recording, the mic’s natural sound character makes it a perfect option for instrument recording. I’ve had great results using it to record solo classical guitar, violin and cello. I used the mic with a Focusrite mic pre to record the legendary Jeff Coffin’s sax for a Jazz Night in America radio program and it sounded simply stunning. The mic does a fine job capturing electric guitar and upright bass as well. Acoustic guitar records wonderfully with the SV33. In fact, an SV33 coupled with the Gordon Microphone Preamplifier System has become my new favorite path for this application.
The one thing you don’t get from the SV33 is coloration. The mic is pure, natural and smooth. I’ve used it to capture plenty of edgy rock vocals, though, and in those instances, I rely on the mic pre (typically a Neve 33115) or Compressor (typically a Distressor) to provide the coloration needed to fit the song.
The Earthworks SV33 is a stunningly good microphone that provides solid performance in a reasonably priced package. Vocals and instruments recorded with the SV33 have wide-open, pristine highs, smooth, punchy mids and a full, tight bottom-end. Anyone in need of a no-compromise microphone with an ultra-pure signal should give it top consideration.
Earthworks Audio • www.earthworksaudio.com