The first notable indication that Earthworks would soon be a strong contender in the sound reinforcement market was the introduction of the PM40 piano miking system. This remarkable system has revolutionized live piano reproduction and has been adopted by many prominent artists as their primary transducer system.
The PM40 was soon followed by the release of the drum mic family offered in the FullKit system. The small diaphragm DP25/C, DP30/C, SR25 and SR30 are true cardioid high definition microphones that are quickly becoming the industry standard in capturing incredibly precise and startlingly natural live drum sounds. The drum system has been further enhanced by the availability of the SR40, Earthworks most critical and detailed cardioid condenser mic for live applications.
What began as a casual conversation months ago resulted in the creation of a unique and outstanding product. In Feb. 2010, Earthworks sent their new SR40 high definition microphone to audition during rehearsals for the Carole King/James Taylor Troubadour Reunion tour. We found that the SR40 provided exceptional performance as an acoustic guitar mic, an open lid piano mic and a drum overhead. However, because the upcoming tour would be playing in large arenas, we felt our only appropriate application for the SR40 would be as drum overheads on Russell Kunkel's kit. We were sent a pair of black production models and used them for the entire tour with exceptional results.
A Vocal "What If"
In subsequent discussions with Earthworks, the possibility of using this capsule as the starting point for a high end vocal mic was put forward as a "what if" concept. Desiring to produce their first handheld vocal mic, the engineers at Earthworks believed the project was worth pursuing. Soon after the tour returned from Australia, a prototype of the SR40V was delivered, featuring a newly designed hypercardioid version of the small-diaphragm SR40 capsule. The first three shows of the U.S. tour were in-the-round sold-out performances that required long hours of setup time. I was reticent to add a new component without adequate time for testing, so the mics sat in the shipping box until we arrived in Los Angeles.
The following three Troubadour Reunion shows were at the Hollywood Bowl, where the performance parameters afforded us the time to effect the switch on James Taylor's vocal mic. These were proscenium format shows that required fewer production elements. The production would be using the Hollywood Bowl's permanently-installed L-Acoustics V-DOSC system so setup time for audio and backline gear was minimal.
The first listening tasks were performed while listening in headphones. With the channel EQ and plugins switched out, I wanted to hear general frequency response characteristics of the microphone as well as the pattern control, proximity effect and off-axis rejection provided by the hypercardioid capsule. The specs say 30Hz - 40kHz and true hypercardioid pattern throughout the frequency range. The SR40V mic was immediately impressive. It exhibited extremely smooth, extended frequency response, even but not pronounced proximity effect and an incredibly stable uniform hypercardioid pattern.
I dialed up a starting point EQ and instantly noted how much less low and low-mid band compensation I needed. As I spoke around the capsule, I was extremely impressed with the trueness of the pattern, the depth of side rejection and the small, yet balanced-sounding rear lobe. Ambient sound from more distant sources retained its accuracy, unskewed by the pattern shaping. Voila! Off came the headphones and I headed to the stage, eager to let monitor engineer, Rolland Ryan, spend some time with the newest Earthworks product.
RR and JT Agree
After listening to the mic through his in-ears and in wedges, Rolland was as enthusiastic as I was about hearing James Taylor sing through the SR40V. When James arrived for sound check, we informed him immediately that we needed to solicit his evaluation of the mic's suitability in live application. James uses an in-ear monitor in his left ear and Clair 12AM floor wedge on his right side so he could give us a very informed and informative opinion. Mr. Taylor is extremely involved in the gear selection process and he is eager to discover improvements in the technology that reproduces his vocal and guitar. In recent years, James has explored the progression of high performance condenser vocal mics, including AKG C535 and Shure KSM9, and his opinion carries the weight of his experience.
Mr. Taylor was positive and encouraging in his comments as he expressed satisfaction with his vocal sound through the SR40V on stage. With a few adjustments to my original ballpark EQ settings and a couple of tweaks to the Avid Smack! Compressor plugin on JT's vocal channel, I found myself marveling at the amazing depth, clarity and nuance I heard through the PA. If sound check was an eye-opener, the show was statement. The SR40V delivers an elegant, warmly realistic, complex and finely detailed vocal sound. Throughout its various prototype and production stages, the mic has been in use at every James Taylor show since that day at The Bowl.
Next: Wireless Version
The American-made SR40V is an attractive, understated and sturdy package that feels substantial in the hand without being overly heavy. The textured black surface provides a sure grip and low reflectivity that our lighting brethren will appreciate. With the SR40V, Earthworks, Inc. has made a significant and highly successful entry into the live vocal microphone market. The next step is a wireless capsule that will be introduced later this year. The folks in New Hampshire have raised the bar a little higher. SR40V is by no means an inexpensive product, but when overall quality, mesmerizing accuracy and captivating realism are the desired goals, the investment reaps huge rewards. In my world, this is a 5-star product.
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