TapeOp Issue #27/January, 2002 | by Andy Hong
Earthworks markets the SR69 (aka SR20) as a handheld vocal condenser microphone for live applications. I’ll be honest — although I had five or six opportunities to use it as a live vocal mic, I couldn’t get myself to do it. Why? Because I only had one SR69. And the one SR69 I had in my possession I was reserving for the snare drum. To put it succinctly, the SR69 is the best snare drum mic I’ve ever heard.
The SR69 is the best snare drum mic I’ve ever heard.
Okay, so that’s only half the truth. I should clarify and say that the SR69 is my favorite mic for capturing the sound of a snare from its top head. Most of the time, I get much of the snare drum sound from an omni mic placed a centimeter or less from the shell of the drum. That’s where the sibling Earthworks SRO/TC20 comes in. It’s a small-diaphragm omnidirectional condenser microphone that’s perfect for the shell mic’ing technique.
According to the literature, the SRO’s frequency response is flat from 20 Hz to above 20 kHz, and it’s impulse response is “clean and fast” — the latter trait a characteristic of the microphone’s tiny, low-mass capsule. I usually use an Earthworks TC30K for the shell mic’ing application, but I found the SRO was just as adept at capturing a lifelike recording of the snare. That’s pretty good considering the SRO is more than $100 cheaper than the TC30K. Plus, it’s significantly smaller, so it’s easier to get into tight spots. The TC30K does have a bit more range at both ends of the spectrum, but the two mics share the same noise and max SPL specs.
Getting back to the SR69 “handheld vocal mic”… On the first day that I had the mic, I took it down to WMBR Radio, where I engineer a weekly live music program that airs in the Boston metro area. Second engineer Ramsey Tantawi was running the board that night. I suggested we put the SR69 on the snare next to an SM57 just so we could compare the sounds. We were both floored. The SM57 sounded like an SM57 on a snare drum: big, nasty presence peak that’s become the “standard” sound for a mic’ed snare. On the other hand, the SR69 — mixed in with the overheads — sounded incredibly realistic, as if the control room glass wasn’t there, and we were listening to the snare drum directly. Comparing the two mics, Ramsey thought the snare through the SM57 sounded as if the drum was in a tunnel, while the SR69 offered a punchy, oomphy, slappy sound all in one go, with a smooth low end to boot. We stuck with the SR69 and didn’t even bother putting a side mic or bottom mic on the snare.
The next day, I took the SR69 to The Longhouse in Cambridge, MA, where we were in the middle of recording a solo record of Seana Carmody (Syrup USA, Swirlies). Aubrey Anderson was engineering. We tried it on a couple guitar amps through a John Hardy mic pre. It sounded incredibly pristine. Then we tried it through a Neve 1272, and the bottom end became substantially bigger. At the end of the day, Aubrey summed up his take on the SR69: not as much bite as an SM57 but not as silky as a Royer Labs R-121 ribbon — somewhere in between.
The following week, I was recording a forthcoming EP for Karate. Not only did I use the SR69 on the snare, but I also tried it on Geoff Farina’s Fender Champ for a guitar overdub. For such a small and relatively quiet guitar amp, the Champ has a surprisingly full sound (Geoff, being the Tape Op tube geek, can give you the full scoop on this). I settled on using my trusty AKG Acoustics C 1000 S for its ability to record a creamy midrange that can still cut through any mix — and I augmented it with the full-range SR69 through a Neve 1272 to get a wider, more spacious sound.
When it came time to do Geoff’s vocals, I put up a Shure KSM32 next to the SR69. After recording a few lines, we listened to both mics and agreed that the KSM32’s presence peak and slightly more pronounced proximity effect was better suited for the song. On the second song, I discovered by accident that the SR69’s sound was much more consistent with varying distances as Geoff pulled back from the mic for some yelling parts. Even with Geoff stepping back, the Neve mic pre connected to the KSM32 distorted on the loudest syllables (not necessarily a bad thing), but the SR69’s signal came through undistorted and with less change in character as the distance to the mic increased. So I ended up using the SR69 as the primary mic in the yelling parts, with just a wee bit of the KSM32 to add some “grit” to the consonants.
Having used the SR69 mic successfully now for snare drum, guitar amp, and studio vocal, I’m impressed enough that I plan on buying a second SR69. I figure I’ll need the second one because the first one will almost always be on the snare drum. Maybe then I’ll get the chance to use the second SR69 for its intended purpose as a live vocal mic!
Both the SR69 and the SRO come in waterproof, plastic containers (with rubber O-ring seals). The SR69 can be purchased with or without the screw-on, foam and aluminum windscreen – and the mic is available in three colors: black, silver, and red. The SR69 lists for $450 without the windscreen, $515 with. The SRO lists for $385. Street price is less. (Earthworks Audio)
Read more about the Earthworks SRO / TC20 Omni condenser.
Read more about the Earthworks SR69 / SR20 Cardioid condenser.