We’re celebrating the month of October by giving away an Earthworks Audio SR40, a world-class multi-purpose cardioid microphone designed for live performance and studio recording environments. The SR40’s near-perfect cardioid polar pattern is consistent across all frequencies, simplifying mic placement, ensuring more gain before feedback, and virtually eliminating phasing issues when using multiple microphones.
We asked Glen Trew of Trew Audio to evaluate the SR40 for film/television production sound use:
Earthworks Audio, makers of highly regarded, ultra-low-distortion, natural-sounding microphones, believes their SR40 can compete in the film/video production world. Could be. Let’s see…
My philosophy as a production sound mixer is to record dialog in a way that lets the audience feel like they are actually in the room with the actors, listening to them speak. The Earthworks SR40 is a cardioid microphone made with this same philosophy, though originally with music in mind, so the idea of using it on a boom pole for film production dialog is very intriguing to me. I know what some of you are thinking, but before prejudging and clicking away, keep in mind that many of the microphones we now consider to be boom pole standards were originally designed for the music studio. We just looked at the specs, thought they might work, listened to them, tried them, and the next thing you know there is an industry built around making boom pole suspensions for what are now our “standards”! So when Sound & Picture asked me to evaluate the Earthworks SR40 for film production, I was happy to open my mind and ears.
When listening to a mic for the first time, I like to know as little about it as possible, and then see how my impression compares with the spec sheet. So, I approached the first listen with a blank slate. I calibrated my ears and preamps with the Schoeps MK41 supercardioid and a Sennheiser MKH8040 (two microphones I am very familiar with), monitoring with Sony MDR-7506 headphones. The setup was analog, using only a Sonosax SXST preamps, so there was no latency comb filtering normally associated with monitoring digital devices.
The first thing to compare was the microphones’ output levels, which were within a couple of dB of being the same. Self-noise, sensitivity, and SPL handling of these mics were non-factors, all being in the same neighborhood.
It was immediately apparent to me that the SR40 seemed a bit bright. Not in an exaggerated way, but naturally so. This is probably attributed to two factors… First is the ultra low distortion of its small diaphragm and transformerless internal amplifier. But the second factor was a big surprise… The Earthworks stayed nice and crisp even when 90-degrees off axis. The level dropped dramatically, but the character of the off-axis sound – including the highs – was the same as when on-axis, just a lower volume. Nice trick! This characteristic can be very helpful when, for example, actors miss their mark, preventing the boom from getting fully on axis, or unexpected head turns that we’ve all winced over. That typical, well-known, off-axis sound isn’t so much due to the reduced off-axis volume, but more due to the loss of high frequencies when off-axis. The Earthworks SR40 addresses this challenge very effectively, sounding very natural when off-axis, which makes it unique among boom mics.
Turning the mic a full 180-degrees off axis to listen for the rear lobe, which normally consists of mostly low frequencies, to my surprise the sizzle was still there in the rear lobe. Very interesting.
Then I checked the spec sheet, and, once again, was impressed that my ears told the truth! Looking at the polar pattern frequency response, it is amazingly flat around the heart-shaped pattern until directly behind, where the traditional lobe pattern is formed, but with a slight nontraditional emphasis on high frequencies. Shocking.
So the Earthworks SR40 seemingly being “brighter” than the other mics I am accustomed to was only because the off-axis transients are not unnaturally bassy.
When comparing these microphones, it was instantly clear that the SR40 had, by far, the lowest handling noise. I assume this is due to the low mass of the small ~1/4-inch diaphragm and the high mass of the microphone’s body. But the handling noise is so low that the ubiquitous, inexpensive, PSC Universal Mount can make an excellent suspension for interior use for this mic. Low handling noise is very important for boom microphones, but weight can be the enemy when on the end of an 18-foot handheld pole, and most other cardioid/supercardioid boom mics weigh less. But, putting that into perspective, the SR40 weighs exactly the same as the industry workhorse Sennheiser 416, which we have managed on boom poles for decades.
NOTE: After discussing with Earthworks’ Eric Blackmer the pros and cons of mass vs. light-weight for boom pole use, he mentioned the SR20, which is very much like the SR40 but in an aluminum housing, and they sent me one to evaluate. The SR20 is much lighter, weighing about the same as a Schoeps CMC646, but with sensitivity and output level about 5dB lower than the SR40. Eric said this was because of an upgraded element in the SR40, which is now also standard on the SR20.
The physical dimensions of these Earthworks mics are different enough from other mics that a purpose-built interior foam windscreen would be nice. Otherwise, shimming the mic a bit to accommodate a Schoeps foam teardrop or Shure SM81 dual density foam windscreen works nicely.
Conclusion: I surprised myself by liking these Earthworks mics for dialog, and believe they do, indeed, have a shot at becoming a classic movie star. What I like most about the SR40 is that it stays true to my philosophy of being natural and uncolored, while still bringing some impressive and unique performance character of its own. Its list price of $999 is appealing, too, compared to the current standards. I look forward to using it in production, but maybe the winner of this Sound & Picture giveaway will get there first and let us know!
Enter below for your chance to win, and tweet about the giveaway daily for additional entries:
Winner must have a valid shipping address within the United States or Canada.
A random winner will be selected on November 1, 2017.
Please contact us if you have any questions.