recordinghacks



The Ultimate Podcasting Mic Shootout

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011 | by


podcasting microphonesTwo weeks ago I published my claim that podcasting is just another form of broadcasting, and therefore anyone looking for a great podcasting mic should consider first the greatest radio microphones of all time.

Then I used all those great radio microphones to record a short narration, and published the unlabeled sound clips. My idea was that you, the readers, would choose which mic is best for me.

We’re ready to share the results. But there’s more, much much more…

  1. Podcast microphone lineup
  2. Audio samples: narration, sibilance, plosives, proximity
  3. Off-axis rejection tests
  4. Survey results
  5. Crowning the winners

Related: RecordingHacks Editors’ Choice: Podcasting Gear


Dynamic Podcast Microphones

The most popular microphones used in broadcast today, the grandaddy dynamics without which any such shootout would be fatally flawed, are the Electro-Voice RE-20, the Sennheiser MD-421, and the Shure SM7B.

The Electro-Voice RE20Electro-Voice RE20 is perhaps the best-known broadcast microphone, but it is equally commonly used inside kick drums and on bass cabinets. It is praised for its unhyped sound, controlled proximity effect, and its uncolored off-axis response.

The Shure SM7BShure SM7B is a surprisingly versatile microphone. From broadcast to voiceover to sung vocals, kick drum to snare to guitar cab, you really can’t go wrong with this mic. It’s usable everywhere, and great in most of those places.

The Sennheiser Electronics Corporation MD 421-IISennheiser MD 421-II is another studio standard, showing up on drums, cabs, and brass, and of course throughout the broadcast industry.

To these three, I added four newer dynamics that promise to give the old guard a good fight for the title:

The beyerdynamic M 99beyerdynamic M 99 is a hypercardioid mic with three EQ positions, making it potentially useful for numerous instrument and voice applications. The M99 was the only mic of the bunch to include a shockmount.

The Heil Sound PR-40Heil PR-40 is a cardioid dynamic known for its extended frequency response and excellent rear rejection. It has won many fans in the broadcast industry, notably including Leo Laporte.

The Electro-Voice RE320Electro-Voice RE320 is the newest mic of the bunch, having been released at this year’s NAMM show. Although presented more as an instrument mic, its obvious design debt to the RE-20 made it worth consideration.

It has two passive EQ circuits that were carefully contoured through 12 months of testing and development. The mic’s “kick drum” mode, which we termed “scoop” for the shape of the icon on the EQ switch, introduces a broad low-mid cut and 3dB more presence around 3kHz. These two changes dramatically affect the tone of the mic, especially on instruments (but more on that next week).

The Neumann BCM 705Neumann BCM 705 is a purpose-built broadcast dynamic from Neumann. (What? Neumann makes dynamic microphones?!) Like the M-99, it is a hypercardioid design.

Finally, I rounded out the test with a few mics from my own locker. These are not necessarily broadcast mics, but I included them all for a reason.

The Shure SM57Shure SM57 needs no introduction; it’s a Swiss Army mic (assuming the Swiss Army ever needed to close-mic drums, guitar cabs, cajon, or just about anything else).

To those who say the SM57 isn’t a vocal mic, I’d point you at any Presidential inauguration from the past 40 years. That’s not a pair of U47s you’re looking at!

Also, consider the cost. The SM57 can be had for about $75, making it the least expensive mic in this test. If the SM57 makes a great podcasting mic, every podcaster on a budget would want to know.

The Electro-Voice 635AElectro-Voice 635A has a history in broadcasting, although more in the field than the studio. It’s an omni mic, which means it is more forgiving of sounds (mouths) that move off-axis. Also it means the mic has less bass boost (proximity effect) for close sources, which works to the recordist’s advantage for extreme close-miking applications. These mics are also inexpensive, about $99.

The last mic in the list is a cult mic, the beyerdynamic M380beyerdynamic M380. I did not expect this mic to perform well due to its generally dark sound. But it provided some entertaining sonic contrast to the other mics in the lineup.

Why only dynamics?

Dynamic microphones tend to be less sensitive than condensers, so they “hear” mostly what’s in front of the mic rather than whatever is going on in the next room. For recordings made in non-optimal spaces — like, say, 99% of podcasts — this is a huge benefit.

Further, all the great radio microphones are dynamics.

Does this mean condensers can’t be used for podcasts? Of course not. Any mic can be used for anything. Just be careful to avoid anything with a crispy, sibilant, hyped high-frequency response. Had I included condenser mics, my first picks for the lineup would have been the CharterOak S700, the Kel HM-2D, and the Audio-Technica AT4047. But I digress.

Signal Path

Dynamic microphones tend to have low output. Advertised sensitivities for the microphones in this test range from 1.1 to 5 mV/Pa (as compared to condensers, which typically range from 10–20 mV/Pa). Because a single speaking voice is relatively quiet, clean preamp gain is required to get the most out of any of these mics.

As noted in the survey, I used a Cloudlifter CL-1 to boost the output of all these mics by about 20dB, allowing me to use moderate gain on my BLA Digi-002 preamp. (See updated section on inexpensive USB preamps that work well with these dynamic mics.)

Note: to listen to these blind, go back to the survey.


Audio Samples

There are three audio tracks for most mics. The first is the narration from the survey (recorded at ~3 inches). The second is a sibilance and plosive test (recorded at ~3 inches). The third is a test of proximity effect. All these were RMS gain-matched across mics in PT.

(Download 24-bit WAVs here: [narration, sibilance, proximity])

Why do some mics appear twice? I started with every mic in its flattest EQ position. This worked well for the RE20 and MD421, but not for the M99, which was intolerably bassy at my ~3-inch working distance. The mics that seemed to benefit from alternative EQ settings were tested a second time in the alternate configuration.

beyerdynamic M 99 #01 – beyerdynamic M 99 (flat EQ) 01.mp3

(M 99/flat sibilance audio not available)

m99flat.mp3

Electro-Voice 635A #02 – Electro-Voice 635a 02.mp3
ev635.mp3
ev635.mp3
beyerdynamic M380 #03 – beyerdynamic M380 03.mp3
m380.mp3
m380.mp3
Heil Sound PR-40 #04 – Heil Sound PR-40 04.mp3
pr40.mp3
pr40.mp3
Electro-Voice RE320 #05 – Electro-Voice RE320 (flat EQ) 05.mp3
re320.mp3
re320.mp3
Neumann BCM 705 #06 – Neumann BCM 705 06.mp3
bcm705.mp3
bcm705.mp3
Electro-Voice RE20 #07 – Electro-Voice RE20 (flat EQ) 07.mp3
re20.mp3
re20.mp3
Shure SM7B #08 – Shure SM7B (flat EQ) 08.mp3
sm7b.mp3
sm7b.mp3
Electro-Voice RE320 #09 – Electro-Voice RE320 (scoop EQ) 09.mp3

(RE320/scoop sibilance audio not available)

re320sc.mp3

beyerdynamic M 99 #10 – beyerdynamic M 99 (presence EQ) 10.mp3
m99pe.mp3
m99pe.mp3
Sennheiser Electronics Corporation MD 421-II #11 – Sennheiser MD 421-II (“M” mode) 11.mp3
md421.mp3
md421.mp3
Shure SM57 #12 – Shure SM57 12.mp3
sm57.mp3
sm57.mp3

The third audio sample for each mic is revealing. Not only does this demonstrate each mic’s degree of proximity effect, it also helps identify each mic’s “sweet spot.” Compare the two M99 samples (#1 and #10). With flat EQ, the M99 is far too bassy at 2 inches. In PE mode, the mic sounds great at 2 inches. That is in fact what the PE switch is for — counteracting proximity effect for close-miked sources.

Comparing Frequency Responses

Pictured at right is an overlay of the frequency graphs for the brightest and darkest mics in this test — the PR-40 and M380. Check out the 13dB difference from 5kHz–12kHz!

The Mic Database allows you to compare any two mics this way; just click the frequency graph on any mic profile page to get started.


Rear/Side Rejection

A mic’s “rear rejection” is its ability to attenuate sounds coming from behind the microphone. On stage, this is critical for preventing feedback from the wedge monitors at the singer’s feet. In a studio, rear rejection can reduce ugly bleed from other instruments in the room. In a bedroom podcast studio, microphones with good off-axis rejection can cut out room reflections (from walls, windows, flatscreen displays) that would otherwise muddy the sound of the recording.

Cardioid microphones are least sensitive at 180° — meaning, behind the microphone. Hypercardioid microphones have two so-called null points, at ±~135°. But the degree of attentuation varies by microphone model. Furthermore, few directional microphones are uniformly directional across the frequency spectrum; for example, many Cardioid mics become nearly omnidirectional at low frequencies.

Outdoor microphone testing rigI tested all these mics’ ability to attenuate off-axis sounds. I used a sample of pink noise, and I recorded the mics at 0°, 90°, 135°, and 180°. The test was conducted outdoors to eliminate standing waves and other room reflections. Gain was matched at 0° to within 0.3dB across mics; the numbers in the table below represent the difference in signal level (in dB) between 0° and whatever angle is being reported.

Mic Pattern 90° 135° 180°
beyerdynamic M-99 Hypercardioid -13.5 dB -11.5 dB -7.7 dB
Electro-Voice RE-20 Cardioid -6.1 dB -13.5 dB
Electro-Voice RE-320 Cardioid -6.6 dB -16.2 dB -15.8 dB
Heil PR-40 Cardioid -9.8 dB -14.2 dB -12.2 dB
Neumann BCM-705 Hypercardioid -9.7 dB -13.7 dB -7.5 dB
Sennheiser MD-421 II Cardioid -7 dB -11.9 dB -13.3 dB
Shure SM57 Cardioid -7.1 dB -16.2 dB
Shure SM7B Cardioid -6.5 dB -19.1 dB

How is this information useful?

  1. If you need maximum rear or side rejection, this table identifies the mics that are least sensitive to off-axis sound (the M-99 at 90°, and the SM7B at 180°).
  2. For all the mics tested, this table identifies their null points. This tells you where each mic is least sensitive, so you know how to position it to minimize bleed from noise sources in your room.

The 180° test reveals the hypercardioid mics clearly; they are more sensitive behind the mic (180°) than are Cardioid models. They also tend to have better attenuation at 90° due to a narrower pickup pattern.

The SM7B is the rear-rejection champion here, with 19.1dB of attenuation at 180°. But then this mic is remarkable for other reasons, too, such as its Cardioid pattern control — which essentially means that off-axis sources do not sound as if they’ve been weirdly EQ’d.

The M99’s rear lobe of sensitivity is larger than the “hypercardioid” designation suggests; it’s more like a baby figure-8. Its true null points are closer to ±105° than 135°; tested there, its rejection would have likely been significantly larger than at 135°.

The PR40 behaves more like a Supercardioid than a Cardioid mic; its rejection at 135° is 2dB greater than at 180°. (This effect was even more pronounced with a 1kHz tone; the PR40 turned in an impressive 18.9dB of attenuation at 135°.) It has better-than-average side rejection, but at 180° it is more sensitive than every other Cardioid mic. Curiously, the mic used to be described by Heil as a Supercardioid design, and that seems to be a more accurate description of its polar pattern.

Listener Comments

The survey gathered some great comments from people who took the time to listen to all the samples and vote without preconceived notions of what should sound good.

Frank Adrian

It was a close call between the [RE320] and [RE20] but, in the end I chose [RE320] because it seemed just a bit smoother.

Steve Faul

The [M99-PE] gets my highest vote for its nice color on your voice. It’s a clean sound, but with a musical quality. Kinda NPR. The [RE20] and [SM57] get winning votes for their nice midrange clarity and full sound. The [PR40] ranked high with me as well; a condenser-like clarity.

Danny

I preferred the [RE20] as well, it seemed most neutral and really can’t take overly bright or dark voices on podcasts, it might work for some songs, but for podcasts, i like it when it sounds like you are in the room.

Jay Walsh

So, let me put it this way, for a big radio sound I’d vote for the [RE320-Scoop] ([the M99-PE] was just a tad too boomy).

For good narration or documentary readings I’d go with either the [RE320] or [RE20] (maybe leaning just a tad towards the [RE320]).

But who’d I vote for here? The [PR40] – great bottom end punch and a lot of presence to cut through. Yeah, it may sound a tad shrill in headphones, but I’m guessing it would sound pretty good in my car driving to work… where I listen to 75% of my podcasts.

I’d also like to point out that my pal Ryan Canestro from the Home Recording Show picked out the SM7B in the blind test. Ryan loves the SM7B, even when other people speak through it!


Listener Survey Results

137 voters ranked these mics as follows:

  1. Electro-Voice RE-20
  2. beyerdynamic M 99 (PE)
  3. Heil PR-40
  4. Electro-Voice RE-320 (flat EQ)
  5. Shure SM7B (flat EQ)
  6. Shure SM57
  7. beyerdynamic M 99 (flat EQ)
  8. Sennheiser MD-421
  9. Electro-Voice RE-320 (scoop)

It was a close race — the top two mics were separated by only 3 votes. They were tied for some time, until the RE-20 pulled out in front in the last day.

The M380 and BCM-705 received too few votes to rank here.


Crowning The Winners

Electro-Voice RE-20, the ultimate podcasting microphoneThe listeners have spoken! Over 200 votes were cast. Electro-Voice RE-20, I crown ye the Ultimate Podcasting Microphone!

The RE-20 defines the standard for voice broadcast. It is neutral, clean, and authoritative. It is forgiving of sources that move off-axis. It is all but immune to sibilance and plosives. And you’ll never overload it, not even with a kick drum.

The #2 mic in the poll is the one I voted for, the beyerdynamic M 99 (PE). It is a newer mic than the RE-20, and it incorporates a modern Neodymium magnet, delivering higher output and a brighter sound. Its three-way passive EQ network provides three distinct sonic profiles, allowing the mic to be more easily adapted to different sources or working distances.

Electro-Voice RE-20, the ultimate podcasting microphoneThe M 99 (PE) was the most flattering mic on my voice. Its high end is detailed without sounding harsh, edgy, or sibilant. The mids are clean. The lows are full without being too heavy, at least until I got too close.

In short, the M99 (PE) makes me sound how I’d like to sound. beyerdynamic M 99, I crown ye the Editor’s Choice Podcasting Microphone!

I found these two mics to provide two distinct voices. The RE-20 is controlled and neutral and, thanks to Electro-Voice’s “Variable-D” porting design, does not overload the low end as sources get closer. One could move around within a range of 3–8 inches with little audible change in the track.

The M 99 produces considerably more proximity effect, but provides controls for preventing it. Its sound, especially in the “PE” or “presence” EQ mode, is more intimate, or perhaps less veiled, than the RE 20 — which admittedly is not to everyone’s taste.

Putting my money where my mouth is

The point of the survey is that I would buy whichever mic wins. Now that I’ve gone and named two microphones as winners, I get to buy one of each. :)


What about the preamp?

8 interfaces

(Updated section, added July 2012)

All the dynamic mics in this test are relatively low in output, which means you’ll need a decent amount of preamp gain (50+dB) to get an adequate signal level out of a speaking voice.

Fortunately, we are now in a position to recommend specific preamp/interface hardware that will give you enough clean gain to make any of these mics sing. Take a listen to Jason Miller’s Budget audio interface shootout, which names two inexpensive USB preamp devices that sounded the best of a lineup of 8 — including hardware from Presonus, Apogee, Avid, M Audio, Focusrite, Mackie, and more.

Disclaimers

Most of the mics in this review were provided specifically for evaluation. Usually I write “unfortunately I don’t get to keep them,” but in this case I am keeping the M 99. Unfortunately, I do have to pay for it. The rest of the mics have been returned to their respective owners. (I have a new RE 20 on order.)

Thanks

Bringing these microphones together required cooperation from way too many people to name, but I’m going to name them all anyway because they’re all awesome:

  • Rick Belt of Bosch/Electro-Voice for the loan of the RE-20 and RE-320
  • Gabriel Whyel of beyerdynamic for the loan of the M 99
  • Adam Sullivan of Great Magnet Recording for the loan of the SM7B
  • Scott Daley of Sebastopol Sound and Harry Gale of Route 44 for the loan of two MD-421-IIs
  • the folks at Sennheiser USA for the loan of the BCM-705
  • the folks at Heil Sound for graciously accepting the PR-40 for return

Special thanks to the 130+ people who voted in the survey, and especially to those who posted thoughtful comments to record their blind choices for all the world to see!

How to pick a podcasting microphone

Do you need a mic just for voice, or will you put it to use on other instruments and sources?

How much ambient noise is there in your recording location?

Do you like a flatter, neutral sound for your voice, or do you prefer some presence boost?

What’s your budget?

Somewhere along these four axes, there’s a dynamic mic that will make your podcast sound great. The analyses and audio clips in this review should help you decide. Feel free to ask for recommendations, and to leave suggestions, in the comments area below!

See also our latest contribution to this dialog, the new (Nov 2012) RecordingHacks Editors’ Choice: Podcasting Gear

Where to Buy

Shootouts like this take dozens of hours to produce. Sure, we do it for the joy, but we wouldn’t turn down the occasional commission, especially if this article helped you identify your perfect podcast microphone.

The microphone profile pages on this website link to mic sale prices at 15 different online stores. For your convenience, we’ve bundled some of the best prices right here:

See the little arrows on the sides to scroll through the full list.

And be sure to let us know what mic you ended up with, and how you like it!

Posted in Microphones, Reviews, Shootouts, voiceover | 39 Comments »




39 Responses to “The Ultimate Podcasting Mic Shootout”

  1. del Verbo

    June 2nd, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    My winner is the E.V. Re320 because exhibits a very natural tone but soft like a Ribbon.

    My second place is for the Shure SM7B because it is very balanced and open at high frequencies.But In the test of ten and five inches is the big defect “no body ..”

    If I choose a third place is for the Sennheiser MD 421-II

    Very interesting and fun this test Thanks!

  2. Rob Robideau

    June 2nd, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to do this. You have provided some great information specifically for podcasters that I haven’t seen in one place before. As a side note, I really like the look of the M99!

  3. Jay Walsh

    June 3rd, 2011 at 12:49 am

    I use the Heil PR40 on my current podcast (which is basically a screaming radio deejay over music). BUT… after listening again (today) with fresh ears, I’m absolutely falling in love with the sound of the RE320.

  4. online mastering

    June 3rd, 2011 at 1:06 am

    That was an incredibly impressive review of those mics, execellent detail and comprehensive help for people choosing a mic for podcasting. One of the best blogs I have seen for a liong time. Appreciate the time you have taken in helping people make an informed choice about their microphones for sound recording.

  5. Joe Clar

    June 4th, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I’m pretty impressed with how well the SM-57 held up with the other mics

  6. Steve Faul

    June 4th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Bravo Beyerdynamic! I had a feeling I’d find something new here. Also a tip of the hat to Heil as the PR-40 is quite competitive, especially considering the price. The RE-20 lived up to its reputation as the leader among the 3 Amigos, and seems to be the choice among that group for situations with little to no processing, especially for radio stations that can’t afford mic processors. (Welcome to small market.)

    Surprises: The Neumann flunked out; perhaps it was designed on the assumption that all radio stations set their mic processors on Bosso Fortisimo. And never underestimate the SM57.

    Not so surprising: The MD-421 requires a Nerf ball for a pop filter.

  7. Matthias

    June 6th, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Cool!

    I was pretty sure about the RE-20, but i never expected the old SM57 to sound that usable!
    And – although i really planned to sell my M99, i may keep it now – it stood up well in this direct comparison. It’s off-axis-sound is not nice (especially compared to the forgiving re-20), but as long as you stay directly in front of the mic it sounds really good. This – and the pronounced proximity effect – may be due to it’s very narrow polar pattern. And that could be a good thing as well in some situations.

    Still no perfect allround killer mic in sight…! ;)

    Thanks again for the shootout, Matthew!

  8. Big Dave

    June 8th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Still wowed by sm57. But I picked #1 so I guess that I have an expensive taste over all.

  9. Adam Sculthorpe

    June 18th, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Great site Matthew, saved me a lot of time and effort. Much appreciated thank you!

  10. Lawrence de Martin

    July 1st, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Although it’s hard to argue with your winners for all-around greatness in the most common environments, I feel you missed a number of lesser known candidates with outstanding strong points, to whit:

    1) EV RE55, descendant of the 655C used perennially by Dick Clark. Omni with flattest highs of any dynamic on or off axis. Modern version has upgraded internal EV shock mounts for hand-held ENG and interviewing. Absolute reality sound and drop-proof to boot.

    2) Coles 4104B “Lip Microphone” – this is a specialty ENG mic for noisy environments. It is designed to touch your lips for unparalleled signal to noise – also works in horribly reverberant environments like bunkers and other hard rooms with no furnishings.

    3) Any ribbon mics. Voice is a wind instrument, it works better with velocity mics. Johnny Carson’s Shure SM33, Beyerdynamic M130, Reslo, Coles, AEA, Royer are bi-directional which is perfect for interview and are flatter off-axis than any cardioid this side of Schoeps.

    4) The Beyerdynamic M500 is a hypercardioid ribbon with proximity effect yielding the announcer “Voice of God” sound while still sounding natural.

    5) Beyerdynamic TGX-50, hypercardioid version of the amazing M380. This is the best kick drum mic, and it is kick-ass for vocals as well.

  11. Jonathan

    July 11th, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Fascinating! I’ve been reading about mics and all their details, nuances, what works for guitars and voice but not for nature or choirs and all that, users comments and manufacturer’s claims, for like, 20 years, and except for hands-on use of whatever I could buy for school or find on eBay for cheap this is the first side-by-side audio comparison of it’s kind I’ve ever come across! I’d like to see this for comparing mikes of types — the “go-to’s”, the standards, and also the classics I’ll never get to play with. The Chinese invasions, maybe… all those cheap LDC’s.

  12. Irrational Marketing

    July 12th, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    I was surprised how some of the lower end mic’s competed with the high-end ones. Would be nice to see 10 of the lower end ones in a blind shoot out test, I keep seeing all kinds of inconsistent reports about which is best.

  13. cliffclof

    July 18th, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Wow. What a great website and post. Thank you this really opened my ears.

  14. Ray

    August 12th, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    I LOVE the E-V 635a. Does anybody here know if this kind of sound is unique to this mic or omni dynamics in general?

  15. Darren

    August 27th, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    A few thoughts from a radio CE and recording geek – first off, you should have found a vintage Shure SM-5 “football mic” to include. Its kind of the granddad of v/o studio dynamics and sounds fabulous on everything IMO. Secondly, hyper-cardioids are useless in radio studios as DJ’s have a tendency to work their mics at odd angles so as not to p-pop them; and their heads are constantly moving around behind the mic as they self-engineer their shows live (quick aside – although I like the PR40 on-axis quite a bit, sonically it goes flat as soon as you slide slightly off-axis making it unusable in a radio studio IMO). And thirdly, Shure makes a huge honkin windscreen for the 57 and 81 (you can see them in action when the President is speaking outdoors on a windy day); put one on a 57, add good compression, and viola’, cheap, surprisingly good-sounding and forgiving studio v/o mics. I’ve had to do this a couple times in utility or news studios on the cheap and have been pleased with the results everytime.

  16. DC Patterson

    September 15th, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Awesome job! My client and I both picked the RE 20 blind with the SM7B (I really wanted that to win) half a length second. The big surprise (and really it shouldn’t be) was just how great a ‘57 is even against the heavyweights and higher prices.

  17. John

    April 19th, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Weird. My fav are:

    1) Sennheiser MD 421-II
    2) Shure SM7B
    3) Electro-Voice RE20

    Could you please test the Rode Broadcaster & Rode NT1-A as well?
    And maybe sE Electronics Z5600a & Blue Spark…
    Thanks!

  18. lynne

    June 16th, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks for the informative comparison. You’ve helped me understand why I should spend the money on a great mic instead of a usb podcasting mic for my how-to videos. However – do you have a post about connecting this type of system to a computer?

    I see you use Cloudlifter CL-1 to boost the output to the preamp. Do I need a preamp or can I use a RE20 to Cloudlifter to XLR signal adaptor to recording on the computer?

    I’ve a lot to learn and appreciate your helpful site. Most interesting is that I keep selecting the RE20 in many of your sound samples. The blind sound samples are very helpful.

    Thanks!

  19. matthew mcglynn

    June 16th, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    @Lynne, we will publish a roundup of low-cost USB interfaces within a week. The test is designed to reveal good matches for the Shure SM7B. Any of those interfaces would pair beautifully with the RE20, PR40, M99, or any of the other dynamics in this roundup. Stay tuned, as they say in one of the dead broadcast mediums. ;)

  20. lynne

    June 18th, 2012 at 12:39 am

    YES! recordinghacks saves the day!
    thanks matthew

  21. Nigel Traill

    July 14th, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    First of all, thanks for such a great test!

    I’ve just purchased a Lewitt LCT640 condenser, which is a beautiful sounding microphone.

    The only trouble is that I have a little sibilance issue when recording voiceover. Doesn’t seem to be a problem so much when recording myself singing.

    These dynamic mics (especially the RE20) are pretty good at containing sibilance and plosives. I’ve been listening over and over to the RE20, RE320, and the M99, in order to choose a dynamic mic to add to my small collection.

    I downloaded the wav files for an extra detailed listen, and decided to take a couple of segments of the sibilance and proximity tests, and drop them into a short corporate video sequence I’ve just been editing (I’m using my voice for the VO). I have been able to hear the three mics listed above both clean, and with the music track, to get a clearer idea of how they compare – not only to each other, but to the Lewitt recording of my voice.

    A very interesting little exercise it has been for me. Ultimately, I’ve had the realisation that these three dynamic mics are much more similar to each other than different, yet the differences are real. I’ve also listened to the various clips using the iMac speakers, and a bunch of headphones – Beyer DT250’s, Sony MDR-7506’s, and Beyer DT880’s.

    In the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that the M99’s have a more characterful ‘fullness’ to them, when compared to the RE20’s, which are very neutral, unfussed, but the slightest bit impersonal. With the M99’s (in PE mode) there is both more warmth (maybe woolliness) at lower frequencies, and more of a tendency to sibilance, as well as significantly more plosive issues. However, I can really hear what Matthew likes about what the M99 does for his voice.

    The surprise to me, after many many listens, is the RE320 – I would actually put it at the midpoint between the M99 and the RE20. The 320 has some of the qualities of both – it’s obviously a newer design, somewhat closer to the M99’s. It is the slightest bit more sibilant than the RE20’s, and has more mid-frequency character as well, but less of both than the M99’s. It’s slightly less able to contain sibilance and plosives than the RE20, but not by much, and it’s better in that regard than the M99’s.

    I’m going to try all three of these mics for myself in the next couple of days, but I can’t help noticing that the RE320’s are at least half the price of the other two. Having just spent quite a few hundred on the Lewitt LCT640 (thanks recordinghacks.com for that test too), I’m very keen to get the biggest bang for my few remaining bucks.

    Anyway, back to more listenin’ n evaluatin’…

    Cheers,

    Nigel

  22. Nigel Traill

    July 15th, 2012 at 4:31 am

    Hey,

    Just a follow-up to the listening test outlined above. I’ve extracted the ‘and this is what the mic sounds like at 5 inches’ and the ‘and this is what the mic sounds like at 2 inches’ from the M99, the RE20, and the RE320 and laid them back to back in my sequence timeline, quite a few times.

    I also did a back to back for the RE20 and RE320 on sibilance, but they are almost identical, with the RE20 being marginally more reserved sounding.

    As it became obvious that the M99 and the RE320 were actually quite similar, in the second half of the sequence I repeatedly laid up the extracts of those two mics only. At 5 inches the differences were still obvious, with the M99 having a boomier lower register, and less controlled sibilance, but at 2 inches these two mics are very very very similar – the RE320 still has more controlled sibilance, and again less boominess, but at this range, and after many times hearing them (even going away for an hour and coming back for another listen) there is nothing between them.

    I’m certainly not knocking the M99, I really enjoy the sound of them on Matthew’s voice, but considering the RE320 is available here in Australia for just over $300, and a deeply discounted M99 is $600… Well…

    Anyway, just some observations.

    Nigel

  23. Mark Tomlinson

    July 23rd, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Many thanks for this effort, article and write-up – this helped me tremendously just in understanding what type of microphone would work well. It turns out I have an old SM57 that I took out of the box and setup for a v/o recording – it really does a spectacular job with a pop-screen and a bit of compression.

    My only other question would be – is it worth comparing a more portable microphone setup for mobile recording and podcasting? Are there any versions of these mics that have built-in audio interface (USB)?

    Thanks again – very much appreciated!

  24. Mark Wilhelmsson

    July 24th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Overall winner to me was re320 flat, nice and consistent at all distances. Followed by SM57 and MD421 and M99 all sounding equally good. Good to know one could get an SM57 and be good to go.

  25. Mark Elliot

    July 31st, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Thanks for this! So useful. I too was surprised that the SM57 held its own against the SM7B and even the 320. That would be the budget pick. Good for versatility too.

    My favorites for narration were (in order) the M-99, the MD-421, with the RE-320, PR-40, and SM7B. The RE-320 is a bit more restrained in the details/highs while the SM7B is a bit too precise. But it also comes to the foreground more. Maybe the Heil is a nice compromise.

    The M-99 seems to be in a class by itself with that wrap-around presence, but its shortcomings became clearer at the near-mic test: quickly the bassy character boomed and then lost detail. (Runner-up MD-421 did too.)

    For a well-mannered mic, the RE-320 bests the RE-20 for bass-mid roundness, which I found added to the presence. If placement is a concern, the M-99 suffered not only from boomy bass and muffled top end but plosives too. The Heil didn’t acquit itself either: it was a bit harsh up close for my taste.

    The big loser for me was the EV 635. It was incredibly consistent in proximity tests – perhaps a good field mic – but had no bass or presence in the studio.

    I’d like to hear a comparison of the M-99 EQ positions back to back as well as test that M-99 high side rejection and the SM7B’s high rear rejection. A spatial sonic test.

    Great job!

  26. Andrew

    May 16th, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Hello,
    thanks for all the informative reviews and info. It makes it a little easier for us newbies to find our way into this world. However, I have one unresolved problem.

    I’ve just started podcasting. I’m recording in a reasonably quiet room, using a Shure SM57 and an Alesis IO2 USB audio interface (I’ve also tried using my old Focusrite Saffire LE interface). It seems to work OK, but the mic is incredibly quiet. It barely registers on the level meters.

    Would I be better off using a different mic? e.g. a condensor? What would be a good widely available second-hand eBay mic to get? Or should I change something else in my setup?

    My main constraint is cost; I’m not fussed about the final 10% of audio quality (all your samples sound great to me!). It’s getting to something pretty good that concerns me – but it would be nice to have something that would grow if I wanted to upgrade in the future.

  27. matthew mcglynn

    May 16th, 2013 at 10:23 am

    @Andrew, your only concern should be whether the sound of the final track is acceptable. You can apply gain via software if necessary. It is completely irrelevant what your level meters say, so long as the final track is at an appropriate level for your podcast.

    Now, if you’re getting too much noise during the process of adding gain via software, then you would be wise to increase the analog signal level before A/D conversion. It is true that dynamic mics generally have lower output levels that condensers. You could upgrade the SM57 to an N/D468 for about $150, and get a bit more output level. Or you could get a LOT more output level by plugging a Cloudlifter CL-1 inline with the microphone. We’ve reviewed this product 2-3 times, e.g.:
    http://recordinghacks.com/2011/07/02/cloudlifter-cl1-review/

    I would not recommend getting a cheap condenser mic. It would give you a lot more output level, but it would also give you a lot more room sound, mouth sound, traffic noise, and so on. Condensers are great for bringing out detail from trained voices in an iso booth, but neither of those are commonly found in podcast studios.

  28. Andrew

    May 16th, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    Hi Matthew, and thanks for your response. Those are the reasons why I went down the dynamic route in the first place (following articles like this one).

    I’ll experiment some more. One thing I’ve noticed is that the SM57 is very sensitive to where my mouth is relative to the mic. I have to speak about 4-5″ away for them to pick me up without me sounding like I’m in another room. So while I was reassured by the pic of Obama using them(!) about 18″ away, I don’t see how this could work. Or is there some technical wizardry going on that I cant see?

  29. Craig

    June 28th, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    It’s time for me to upgrade from a Rode USB Podcaster to a decent dynamic for my podcasts. I was all set to get a PR40 until I heard your tests. The EV RE-20 sounds amazing to my ears, so now I’m torn!

    There’s just one thing Matt. Would either mic sound good going through a Mackie mixer using a Cloudlifter, or should I go for an M-Audio interface? I’m a bit confused about pre-amps, noise floor etc. What setup would you suggest for voice only with one or two mics input?

  30. matthew mcglynn

    June 28th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    @craig – any dynamic mic will work well with either of the signal chains you mention.

    I’ve been impressed with my vintage Mackie VLZ board. Coupled with the Cloudlifter, that or any other preamp should give you plenty of clean gain.

    If your mixer is working fine in other respects, you might as well keep it rather than replace your entire signal chain. Also, I suspect you’d get more gain out of the Cloudlifter (in combination with some other preamp) than you would with an M-Audio interface on its own.

  31. Amir

    July 18th, 2013 at 6:32 am

    Hi,

    For the sake of paying tribute to the guys who are behind it, I must say that I’m also going to get the M99 after few weeks of mic-hunting. Quite interestingly, at first I wanted to get an Electro-Voice microphone — RE20 or RE320. I still have a lot of respect for Electro-Voice and their Variable D technology, but the more I listen to RE20 and RE320 samples the more I dislike that so-called muffling of the high-end and, in the case of the RE20, the absence of lows. RE320 is better in this regard, but, IMO, its highs and lows aren’t balanced and I always hear a whisper-like quality in its highs. As this brilliant test also confirms, Electro-Voice mics have a particular character which can be easily identified by listening to its audio samples. Some people love it, but perhaps at the risk of losing the fantastic Variable D I should say that I’m not one of them.
    Anyhow, having listened to these recordings a good number of times I came to the conclusion that I like both the PR-40 and the M99, but the PR40 sounds too shrill to my ears. So, to cut a long story short, I’m ready to go with Matt’s choice! I just hope getting to know and utilize its optimal positioning doesn’t prove to be too much of a hassle given my visual impairment — something which Electro-Voice’s Variable D mostly takes care of.

  32. Dan Ortego

    August 14th, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Sometimes I think the more I read the more confused and indecisive I become. Listening to all these files should theoretically make the process easier. Then I move over to the Cloudlifter-Z Review and some of the same microphones sounded completely different, even from their baseline. Specifically, the SM7B sounded great!

    Currently, I have the RE20 although I previously owned the PR40, which I didn’t really care for, as it was just too bright or as another reviewer posted, quite shrill. So, based on the sound samples in this review I’m glad that I opted for the RE20 although I remain interested in the SM7B.

    Frankly, I think I’ve taken this whole microphone perfection thing to an absurd level both in terms of equipment and cost. Anyway, I plan to run the RE20 and possibly BSM 7B through the Cloudlifter-Z, Aphex Pre, Aphex Comp, EQ and Exciter.

  33. Juan Pablo

    October 8th, 2013 at 1:16 am

    Awesome job! I picked the RE 20 blind with the SM7B (I really wanted that to win) half a length second. The big surprise (and really it shouldn’t be) was just how great a ‘57 is even against the heavyweights and higher prices.

  34. Mohamed GadAllah

    December 7th, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Hello,
    Please I am starting my podcasting and would like to get a top quality mixer audio interface.
    Shall I buy the :-
    1) Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface.
    or
    2) Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2 In/2 Out USB Recording Audio Interface.
    I will use Heil PR-40 package microphone.
    I am doing audio books and screen casting.
    Thanks

  35. Frank

    January 9th, 2014 at 1:19 am

    This test may be a few years old, but it is still very useful – Thanks!

    I judged mostly on the 2 and 5 inch sound, since that is usually how I work the mic, and the clips were pretty enlightening – I like the SM7b best – it may be a bit hyped, but it just has that sound that you know will cut well through processing and a mix (if music is involved underneath it), and it is soooo good at taming those midrange-y parts of the voice that muddy things up.

    I was surprised that the RE320 was number 2 on my list – I am not a fan of the RE20 (too stuffy), but the 320 on the flat EQ sounds so natural – not what I expected.

    Third was the Heil PR-40 – I had never heard this mic before. Very nice – air, clarity…kinda like a more refined SM7b.

    Four and five were the 57 and Beyer 99, not necessarily in that order. The 57 is a budget SM7b when it has the windscreen on – without it, it can be a bit fizzy. The Beyer is strange – I really liked the sound at 10 and 5 inches, but thought 2 inches was a bit stuffy.

    I definitely learned something. I use the RE20 at work, SM7b at home and a 57 on the road, but listening to these, I would definitely consider a 320 or a PR-40 to replace the RE20.

    If you ever do an update, I’d love to hear the same reads with the Telefunken M82.

  36. Darren Mc Master-Smith

    February 20th, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    No Rode Procaster mentioned?

    Would’ve liked to hear that mic.

  37. Kegan

    June 12th, 2014 at 12:46 am

    Based on this website, I bought the RE320! I made a video review and unboxing for it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtG4vaeJBbQ

    Thanks for the mic shootout, it really helped me make my decision!

  38. Adam

    June 26th, 2014 at 1:25 am

    I highly suggest everyone check out this video from EV comparing the RE20 and RE320.

    I own the RE320, and greatly prefer it my Heil PR-40, or RE20. Just in case the link doesn’t work you can go to YouTube, and search for “RE320 vs RE20.” The video will likely show up at the top of your search results.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ruNTeSaNKU

    Cheers!

  39. soso

    December 18th, 2014 at 5:21 am

    I liked M99 at 10 inches the best. Also sounds almost like the 320 at this distance. The proximity effect ruins the sound though as you get closer. 7-8 is probably the best distance for it.

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