By Michael W. Dean
The Freedom Feens
Genesis Communications Network
Peanut in repose with Electro-Voice RE-20 microphone
A Mic for the Ages
The venerated Electro-Voice RE-20 microphone is the premiere workhorse of the last four decades of broadcast radio. It’s the mic most frequently found in live radio studios for talk show hosts, and DJs on rock radio, going back to the late 1960s.
The RE-20 is such a staple of radio that, even though other mics are sometimes used in radio studios, the RE-20 is almost always used in Hollywood to indicate “radio.” Showing it on screen is automatic shorthand for “we’re in a radio station now.” Any time you see a scene in a movie or on TV where someone is talking on the radio, the prop mics are overwhelmingly going to be RE-20s. Showing an RE-20 on screen visually implies “this person is a pro, listen to them,” even to people who don’t know anything about radio or microphones.
The author does his show with Electro-Voice RE-20 microphone
The RE-20 is a great mic. I use one on my show. But they’re a little steep at the checkout counter. With a street price of around $475, it’s a bit out of the range of many home studios, especially if you need more than one mic. This is also true of EV’s other fine broadcast mic, the RE-27D, which has a street price of around $500.
So in 2011, the folks at EV came out with the RE-320, which is similar in many ways to the RE-20, for a street price of around $300. Personally, I’ll stick with the RE-20, because I dig that retro 60s charm and sound. But the RE-320 is not only less expensive; some people actually prefer the sound. The RE-320 has a little less low end and a little more high end than the RE-20. That’s a matter of taste. The RE-320 also has a little more output than the RE-20. Your engineer will like that. And if you are your own engineer, you’ll like that too.
Neema Vedadi with Electro-Voice RE-320 microphone
EV’s RE-series mics are American-made and solidly built. They look and feel like something designed for military field use. Many RE-20s from the 1970s are still in daily use. And the new RE-20s are made as well as the old ones were.
EV’s RE-series mics come with a simple metal mic clip (shown on a gooseneck stand in the photo of Neema). And while these mics have some internal shock mounting and an internal pop filter, I recommend adding a slip-on windscreen and a good external shock mount. They’re large, relatively heavy mics, so EV makes a custom shock mount to fit the RE-series. It’s the Electro-Voice 309A, which costs about $100. I really like the 309A. It’s a brilliant design, and is probably the largest shock mount ever mass produced in the modern era. I also love how the shock mount with the mic sort of resembles a sci-fi ray gun or a dental X-ray machine.
RE-20 in an Electro-Voice 309A shock mount, mounted on a scissor arm
There is a temptation to spend about $70 less on a shock mount, and squeeze one of these mics into a shock mount made for a large-capsule condenser microphone. But those non-proprietary shock mounts will cover up some of the side vents, which will reduce performance.
If Barry White had a Talk Show…
Electro-Voice RE-series mics have EV’s exclusive “Variable D” technology, which reduces proximity effect. Proximity effect is a microphone’s exponential increase in low-end sensitivity when you get closer than about three inches. Singers sometimes like this, and use it as one of the tricks in their music mojo bag…singing or sing-speaking quieter and closer can give a sultry effect with conventional dynamic mics – think Barry White. But it can be distracting and increases plosives (popping sounds) when doing talk radio.
The Variable D effect is achieved by the vents down the side of RE-series EV mics. These vents are connected internally to baffles and chambers behind the mic capsule which counteract the proximity effect when you get closer. As a result, RE-series mics have a natural-sounding even response at any distance. It works well.
Some non-Electro-Voice companies put fake vents on the side of their knockoff mics to try to trick people into buying their substandard products. But the knockoffs don’t actually have the Variable D proximity-cancellation; EV owns the patent. The knockoffs just add what look like vents on the side to confuse consumers.
EV’s RE-series mics all have a very large dynamic capsule, larger than on many mics. This makes the “sweet spot” huge on these microphones. The sweet spot is the area in front of a mic where you sound good, while rejecting room noise. On many mics, the sweet spot is small, like the size of an orange. On an Electro-Voice RE-series mic, the sweet spot is about the size of a basketball. This is great for hosts who don’t like to sit nailed to one spot while doing the show. Many hosts, my co-host and I included, like to move around while doing a show, and get quite animated. My co-host, Neema Vedadi, actually stands while doing shows
The Variable D proximity-cancellation combined with a large sweet spot and excellent rejection of unwanted sounds outside the sweet spot makes the RE-series great for people who don’t have good “microphone technique.” Microphone technique is the intuitive ability to “work” the mic by automatically putting yourself in the best location depending on the intensity of the talking or singing you’re doing. Most experienced show hosts have good microphone technique, even if they’re not aware of it. However, not all do.
Furthermore, many radio shows frequently interview in-studio guests, and many of the guests have never been on radio and have never used a microphone before. The Electro-Voice RE-series mics are great if you have good microphone technique. But these mics are also WAY more forgiving than other mics with guests who have less-than-excellent microphone technique. An Electro-Voice RE-series mic, combined with an inexpensive windscreen and good tube pre-amp will make anyone sound OK, and make a good talker sound exceptional.
Here’s a 90-second audio sample of the RE-20 and RE-320 mics, both recorded through a $300 Presonus Studio Channel tube pre-amp compressor/limiter, with a small amount of compression added, as we do live on our show.
One Host on Rhythm, One Host on Lead
I find that of the RE-20 and RE-320, the RE-20 has a fuller sound, which some consider more commanding and associate with the “classic” sound of talk radio. The RE-320 is crisper, clearer, and may seem more intelligible to some listeners. I like the sound of a two-host show where one host uses an RE-20 and the other uses an RE-320. While not yet a common configuration, it has a great sonic effect on the back-and-forth. It’s sort of how many rock bands use the fuller-sounding Les Paul guitar for rhythm and the more cutting Stratocaster for lead guitar.
Speaking of rock ‘n’ roll, a fact that is little-known in broadcast radio is that Electro-Voice RE-series mics are also excellent for recording music. They sound thunderous yet crisp on bass drums and bass guitar cabinets. They sound astonishingly powerful and clear on electric guitar cabinets. And they have a uniquely full sound for rock vocals. It isn’t right for all singers, but these mics sound different, in a very cool way. The Clash album Combat Rock used an RE-20 for lead vocals, and the singer in Radiohead has used an RE-20.
Radiohead’s Thom Yorke singing into an RE-20 (without a windscreen)
The RE-320 is even recommended by EV as being for both broadcast talk radio and for recording the bass drum on a drum kit. There’s a roll-off selection switch on all these mics. Different positions may get better sound for one sound source or the other. Try all the settings and see what works best for you for each application.
Tweak in Review
All in all, the Electro-Voice RE-series are not the most inexpensive, beautiful or portable microphones in existence. But they are the best microphones for talk radio. I love ’em and I’d recommend them to a good friend.
Editor’s Note: Electro-Voice products can be purchased at Broadcasters General Store. For information, call 352-622-7700.
Michael W. Dean is co-host of The Freedom Feens which is syndicated by Genesis Communications Network, and can be heard every Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 noon to 2:00 pm CT. Michael Dean also runs the free audio tip website Creamy Radio Audio. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.