"Dual personality" large diaphragm Variable-D dynamic microphone
MSRP $499.00, $299.00 "street"
By Phil O'Keefe
Electro-Voice has been manufacturing microphones since the 1930s, and arguably one of their most famous and successful designs has been the RE20 large diaphragm dynamic microphone. First released in 1967, this highly versatile and rather physically large (8.53" x 2.14") and hefty (26 oz) microphone has become a broadcast and recording studio "standard", and has been used for a variety of purposes on countless recordings. The new RE320 (Figure 1) is based on this legendary design.
The RE320 comes in a closed cell foam lined, rigid nylon hard shell case, and includes a double sided product data sheet and microphone stand adapter. Since it is the same size and shape as the RE20, all optional accessories that are designed for that model work equally well with the RE320, including the WSPL-2 windscreen and the 309A shockmount.
Figure 1: The Electro-Voice RE320
The RE20 has been the basis for other E/V microphones, including the nearly identical PL20, the similar looking, but much higher output neodymium magnet equipped RE27N/D... and now, the RE320. Intended as a "dual-personality" microphone, the RE320 shares the same basic exterior design and dimensions as the RE20, but instead of the RE20's high pass filter, the RE320 features two separate frequency response "voicing contours" that are selectable with the filter switch. It also has a new cool looking black semi-gloss finish. Like the RE20, it uses a humbucking coil in the capsule and as a result the RE320 has very good hum and electromechanical noise rejection. The internal foam pop filters are highly effective at reducing p-pops and wind noise, and also serve to help shockmount the capsule assembly. Traditionally they have been one of the few "weak points" of the RE20 design, with a tendency for at least the foam that was used in older mikes to break down and crumble after a decade or two. Many owners preemptively replace the foam every seven to ten years, and Electro-Voice does provide replacement parts at a reasonable price should the need ever arise.
As with the RE20 and RE27, the RE320 features a Variable-D design, with multiple side vents and acoustic pathways that are designed to minimize proximity effect and off-axis coloration. Notice I said "minimize" -- while the RE320 does have minimal proximity bass boost, there is still some there -- especially at near-contact distances from the sound source. However, it is drastically attenuated compared to what you get with most cardioid dynamic mikes.
Like the RE27, it uses a neodymium magnet which results in higher output than the RE20 and increased high frequency detail and faster transient response. The sound, while similar to the RE20, kind of sits between it and the brighter and louder RE27. The build quality is typical EV - stout, rugged and solid. While the RE320 is about 2 ounces lighter than the RE20, it still looks and feels like something you could use as a bludgeon to repel boarders with in an emergency. Curiously, the mesh of the grille appears to be slightly different, with the RE320 having a bit more open weave to the mesh. (Figure 2)
Figure 2: The RE320's grille material is slightly more open than that of the RE20 (on the right).
There are two positions on the RE320's "dual personality" filter switch, and each gives the mic a significantly different overall frequency response. With the RE320's "flat" setting, the microphone is more similar in tonal response to a stock RE20, although it seems to have a slight bit more reach in the very top of the frequency response; a little more "air", which may be attributable to the neodymium magnets and thinner diaphragm in the RE320. Like the RE20, I found that the RE320 has a very balanced and natural sound quality to it, and that it is is easily adaptable; responding well to EQ adjustments. The 4dB peaks at 5kHz and 10kHz in this mode give it a bit of presence, while below that, the response is relatively flat, making this mode a good choice for general applications like instrument and vocal miking.
While the "flat" position sounds similar to a RE20, you obviously miss out on that microphone's low frequency rolloff (high pass filter) switch. However, I don't think this is a significant loss since most users will have a suitable high pass filter available on their mic preamp, and even if you don't, you can always apply a high pass filter to the track in your DAW or at the board when mixing.
Most mixing boards don't have pre-dialed filters to optimize the sound of a kick drum, and this is essentially what the RE320 gives you when you flip the switch to the kick position. While the RE20 has been a studio favorite for kick drums for decades, it has faced some competition from several newer microphones in recent years; including some that are intended primarily for kick and that have a very "kick-centric" frequency response. Typically, such mikes have bumps in their responses in the 80-125Hz and 2-6kHz ranges, along with a dip in the 200-400Hz region to help reduce mud. All of this is similar to the types of EQ adjustments an engineer might apply to a kick drum being tracked with an RE20, and it's great when it's "built into" the response of the microphone, except for the downside, which is that such response curves tend to limit the mic to kick duties. This is obviously not an issue with the RE320, and because of the switch selectable filters, you can quickly go from a general purpose to a kick-specific frequency response. This capability makes the RE320 exceptionally versatile, and useful for many tasks besides just kick drum recording; a fact that budget-minded recordists who are seeking maximum versatility from their gear investments are bound to appreciate.
I generally liked the choices that Electro-Voice made when voicing the kick filters. The response is both deeper and fuller in the lows, with increased low frequency "reach" down to 30Hz, a bump at around 100-125Hz, a 4.5dB dip centered at 380Hz to help reduce mud, and peaks at 2.8kHz, 4.2kHz and 7.2kHz to help accentuate the beater attack and note transients. (Figure 3) While I personally tend to go a touch lower with my kick fundamental (~70-80Hz) than Electro-Voice did with the filter on the RE320, there is no denying the results -- when the filter is engaged, you get a very good sounding "pre-processed" kick sound that will work well in a variety of situations.
Figure 3: The RE320's frequency response changes dramatically, depending on which position the filter switch is set to. Actual proximity effect is not nearly as pronounced as the charts might suggest.
Besides the obvious live sound / recording studio kick drum miking applications, the RE320 is, like its predecessor, a very adaptable and versatile microphone. I found it works exceptionally well in a variety of different tasks, including on saxophone and brass, as well as for bass and guitar cabinet miking duties. It also works very well as a low rotor / "drum" mic on Leslie (™) rotating speakers. The internal foam windscreen obviously helps here in terms of minimizing wind noise from the spinning drum, which can be a significant issue in that application.
As a vocal microphone, it would work very well for voiceover duties, although some people may miss the RE20's high pass filter in this application. I feel it also works well for sung and shouted vocals, especially for harder rock and "screamo" styles where some of the typical condenser vocal microphones may be a bit too spitty and bright sounding. Again, the lack of a high-pass filter is a slight disadvantage here, but it can usually be compensated for with filters on the preamp, DAW plugin or mixing console. In my tests, the RE320 never had a problem with dealing with very loud sound sources. The microphone's near immunity to wind noise and plosives, and relatively light to nonexistent proximity effect is also a big plus here; you just don't get the same type of tonal shifts that a mic with heavy proximity effect would give you with the RE320 at varying distances from the source, which is particularly handy for use with singers with a lot of dynamic range and a tendency to "work" the microphone by getting closer to it when singing softly and then moving back a bit when belting out heavier lines. The RE320's cardioid polar pattern is relatively even across the frequency spectrum, and rear rejection is very good. Smooth off-axis frequency response is also a feature of the Variable-D design, and off-axis coloration is just not an issue with this microphone, making it a very good choice for signalers who just can't stay in one position.
Coming in at $129 less ("street" prices) than the RE20, the RE320 is obviously being priced to appeal to home and project studios, and should also do well with live sound and touring companies. In fact, other than a few broadcasters who may covet its high pass filter, it's really hard to imagine anyone who is considering purchasing the RE20 not being tempted by the RE320. While they're not identical designs (the magnets and some other features of the capsules differ), the sound of the two microphones is very similar in their "flat" positions, and the pre-EQ'ed "kick" position on the "dual personality" switch will be very useful to many recording enthusiasts. While some pros may prefer to "dial in their own" EQ settings rather than rely on a pre-selected one that is built into the microphone, others will appreciate the high quality of the basic sound on this setting and the fact that using it allows them to get a very good kick drum tone dialed in quickly, with minimal effort. And it remains adaptable and versatile. While selecting the kick setting would make little sense if you're trying to accentuate sound in the 380Hz region where its attenuation is greatest, the microphone still responds well to EQ adjustments, even in this mode. The minimal proximity effect, uniformity of the polar pattern and off-axis frequency response remains very similar to the RE20 - which is excellent. The build quality is also excellent, and with the exception of the internal foam's reputation for breaking down over many years, the design has proven to be very rugged and durable. The only other possible concern with a RE320 is the weight -- while slightly lighter than the RE20, it's still a hefty mic, and you'll need a good stand for it, but even still, I have no qualms about giving the RE320 a very enthusiastic recommendation. It's quite simply a fantastic update to one of the world's most flexible and truly legendary microphones, and a incredible bargain at the price. The RE320 deserves to become a legend in its own right. It's an outstanding microphone.
|Type: Large diaphragm dynamic
Case Material: Steel
Connector Type: 3 pin XLR; pin 2 "hot"
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Sensitivity - Open circuit voltage, 1kHz: 2.5mV / Pa
Frequency Response (Kick curve): 30Hz - 18kHz
Frequency Response (Voice / Instrument curve): 45Hz - 18kHz
Dimensions: 8.53" x 2.14" (216.7mm x 54.4mm)
Weight: 24 ounces
Warranty: 2 year limited warranty
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard and Guitar Player magazines.