TapeOp Issue #56/November, 2006 | by Pete Weiss
Lately, legendary audio innovator Bob Heil has become more well-known for his institutional sound reinforcement and broadcast products than for creations such as the Heil Talk Box and Grateful Dead–optimized PA systems. But I recently checked out a couple of Heil microphones courtesy of TransAudio Group, the worldwide distributors of Heil. The PR30 and PR40 are both well-known in the broadcast market for radio and voiceover work, but they would also find a happy home in any rocker’s mic closet.
Both mics are unusual in that they look exactly like side-address large-diaphragm condensers, yet are in fact front-address dynamics. Each features a quite-large-for-a-dynamic diaphragm (1.5'' for PR30, 1.25'' for PR40), an anodized matte-finished steel housing, and cardioid pickup pattern. For such large mics, the Heils are deceptively light (each is in the neighborhood of 1 lb). Sonically, they are both very similar; both have excellent, smooth high-end articulation — similar to that of a condenser — and extended low-end response. The low-end response is noteworthy in that there is very little murkiness/boominess, and the proximity effect is not super-exaggerated; plosives are not a problem.
I found these mics ideal not only for voiceovers, but also for loud rock vocals, kick drums, toms, guitar, and bass cabinets.
I disassembled both mics and found that the PR30 has at least a half inch of unusual (proprietary?) coarse foam between the diaphragm and grille (serving as a moisture barrier — critical for broadcast use), while the PR40 has a long, vented inner chamber, not unlike an EV RE20. Clearly, some thought went into the design of Heil’s damping methods. The smooth and extended low-end behavior is the bragging point here; the PR30’s response is flat down to 40 Hz, while the PR40 goes all the way down to 28 Hz. Not too unusual for a condenser, but pretty dang impressive for a dynamic. I found these mics ideal not only for voiceovers, but also for loud rock vocals, kick drums, toms, guitar, and bass cabinets. They both easily withstood “rock-level” sound pressure levels.
The PR40 in particular has been touted as an EV RE20–killer, and I can see why. Pitting my venerable RE20 against the PR40 yielded close to identical sonic characteristics. If anything, I found the PR40 to be quieter, a bit smoother in the low-mids and having a slightly silkier top end than the RE20. I couldn’t help noticing that the RE20’s unique clip fits both Heil mics perfectly. Coincidence? Are the Heil folks trying to tell you to ditch your RE20? Well, I still love my RE20 and will continue to use it, but the Heil mics’ modest prices (at about half what an RE20 costs), high quality, and extended frequency response would make me hesitate to recommend the RE20 exclusively.
It should be noted that the RE20 has changed over the years. Some collectors apparently prefer the older ones built in Buchanan, MI.
(PR30 $299 MSRP, PR40 $375 MSRP; Heil Sound)