Why the Electro Voice RE 27D is a brilliant microphone

The first thing I noticed as I spoke was that the RE-27 gently enhanced the lower tones of my voice while delivering a crisp top end – the middle was full of beef.

A long time ago in a far away land I enjoyed time working in radio – it was my passion (still is). And like most people looking for a career in broadcasting back then, I joined my local hospital radio station to get experience and learn the trade.

Not only did I love sitting in front of the microphone, I relished using  all the gear. All analogue of course back then. Big mixers, turntables, jingle cart machines, and reel to reel tape decks. Heaven.

Over the course of a few years I went from hospital radio to Radio Top Shop, to community radio and then eventually got to sit in the studio of a commercial station and did news at a local BBC station.

It was then I came across one of the best broadcast microphones in the world – the Electro-Voice RE-20. At the time you’d be hard pushed to find a radio studio without one, and I’m certain they are still used in plenty of studios today.

Of course it wasn’t long until I had my own little studio at home, but the RE-20 would have been a bit of an indulgence. So a much cheaper microphone would have to suffice. All that old studio gear is of course long gone (wish I had kept hold of my reel to reel though…). What followed was a change of career that had nothing to do with broadcasting.

Podcasting

Fast forward 25 years to 2012 and my ‘radio itch’ had to be scratched – I had ignored it for too long. I decided to start podcasting about the New Zealand sharemarket as I was editing an investment magazine at the time.

Launching the podcast was really an excuse to sit behind the mic, but this time I would send my voice to the world as a weekly MP3.

OK, I needed a microphone; no worries I had a good one from my short stint as an independent documentary maker; a Sennheiser ME66.

Trouble was that in a small room at home with no acoustic tiles or soundproofing the microphone picked up the birds tweeting outside as well as my voice reverberating around the room. It was just too sensitive for the location (great mic though).

And being a shotgun microphone it was also a little impractical as it was so along. I needed a dynamic microphone that was less sensitive and smaller.

The RE-20 flashed through my mind, again I thought it was overkill and couldn’t justify the cost for what was essentially a 5-minute podcast once a week.

Shure SM58

I opted for a Shure SM58 instead. Widely used by stage performers the microphone was OK, but is designed to be yelled into, so not ideal for conversational speech.

It also has a slightly dull response on the top end (treble), so rather than leave the mic controls on the mixer flat, I upped the top end gain to compensate. Despite it not being ideal, I do recommend it to any bedroom podcaster who’s just setting out.

By now I was recording two weekly podcasts and a one-hour music show for community radio stations. The home studio was starting to take shape, and I needed to trade up.

AudioTechnica

I swapped something I didn’t need for an AudioTechnica AT20. Like the Sennheiser it is a phantom powered 48v condenser microphone, but was a few steps up from the SM58, it was small, and delivered a more refined and crisper sound.

It was good – but my satisfaction waned as time went on. To use it well you really had to make sure you spoke toward it correctly – you couldn’t turn away. Putting a windshield on it to reduce pops and plosives reduced the top end response. It was a good mic, but had its limitations/restrictions.

Electro Voice

My dream mic, the RE-20 was nagging me. Go on buy me. I started doing my research and discovered that while the RE-20 is still made, the newer and more expensive RE-27 would likely suit me better (of course it would).

Frankly, I preferred the dull finish of the RE-20’s body than the cheaper looking polished silver of the 27. I can’t fathom why Electro-Voice went for a bright silver finish. But I knew it was the new model I needed due to its higher gain and response profile (yes, I compared the specs).

I’d also need a nice new swivel mount too, the one I had was as cheap as chips and the support springs made a twanging noise whenever it was moved. It was also white and I wanted a black one.

Well, I am now the proud owner of a new RE-27, suspension shock mount and a wonderful microphone swivel arm that is smooth to move, silent, gorgeous and black.

With it all installed and plugged in I popped on my headphones and turned up the mic’s volume control on the mixer. There was silence so I checked my headphone gain control – it was at 7.

I looked at the mic, took a quiet breath and spoke. The sound of my voice punched through the silence with pure unadulterated clarity. Another lesson, some microphones create unwanted noise – hiss and light static – the RE-27 does not.

The first thing I noticed as I spoke was that the RE-27 gently enhanced the lower tones of my voice while delivering a crisp top end – the middle was full of beef.

I hurriedly made a podcast and once that was finished I played it back through my studio monitors. Technically it sounded pretty good.

Next I opened the previous edition of the podcast to compare the two recordings. A week ago I was moderately happy with the AT20’s performance, but up against the RE-27 there was no comparison.

The AT20 sounded dull and cheap (which of course it is at US$99 against the 27 at US$499). Shoot, I’ve just spent 500 bucks on a microphone! What was I thinking?

Bottom line, the RE-27 performs brilliantly and it will likely last a good few years. Not only is the audio from the 27 beyond my expectations, I feel very happy and comfortable sitting in front of it.

I can speak without worrying about creating breath pops, and that means I can relax and sound natural. The RE-27 gives me confidence. It is my new friend.

I just wish it wasn’t that cheap looking colour. However, a black foam windscreen takes my mind off the silver shine when I’m using it.

How to record great video

The lower prices of everything digital means almost anyone can own an HD video camera. That’s great news, because videoing stuff can be great fun. However, some camera owners confuse technical standards with their ability to record good, clean, usable footage that is suitable for public consumption.

The lower prices of everything digital means almost anyone can own an HD video camera. That’s great news, because videoing stuff can be great fun. However, some camera owners confuse technical standards with their ability to record good, clean, usable footage that is suitable for public consumption.

A colleague tells me this week he has just finished a “painful” 4 minute promo for a company whose MD shot the video himself, using his [reluctant] staff as presenters.

They didn’t use a tele-prompter, so each member of staff is seen with their eyes flicking off camera  to read the next line of their presentation.

The MD didn’t have the option to plug in a separate microphone, so the camera’s built-in mic was used. Built-in microphones are designed to pick up everything, and this one performed as expected. This meant the background ambient noise was – in places – louder than the speaker’s voice.

A professional would have plugged in a mic and clipped it to the presenter – so only the voice is recorded.

Some of the video was shot in a big room that caused sound to reverberate and echo, other shots were in the street where traffic noise drowned out what the ‘presenters’ were saying.

There’s an old rule that goes along the lines that a viewer will watch almost any quality video picture, but if they can’t clearly hear or understand what is being said, they will switch off. Yes, audio is more important than the picture.

My friend’s client hoped he could use software to clean up the audio [ever tried removing room reverb? It’s impossible], and assumed the video editing software could remove the dark shadows over some people’s faces.

Yes, modern software can do an awful lot to improve audio and video, but the cost of the hours spent doing this – because there is no quick fix unlike in TV shows such as CSI – would have been better spent hiring a pro camera operator with the gear needed.

Get it in the can, is the general rule. Fixing bad footage up later is always expensive and full of compromises.

On his way to delivering the finished DVD to his client, my friend says it occurred to him that the cost of dental equipment has come down in price so much that he could start drilling his family’s teeth – and save money.

“It’s no different to Joe-Blow buying a camera and thinking they can shoot quality footage,” he reasons. “Why wouldn’t I do my kid’s teeth – I’d save a fortune?”

And just a quich word about smartphone video. Please, turn it sideways so it looks like your widescreen TV – and THEN press the record button. Please let me know if you’d like to join the campaign against vertical video.

If you want to shoot your own video, and you only have access to a domestic camera with a built-in mic…

  • Find a quiet place to record, really listen for the background sounds and consider that they will be recorded.
  • Place the camera as close to the presenter as possible, because you need the mic to pick up what they are saying nice and clearly.
  • Look for shadows over their face and body – they will move as the sun goes around.
  • Use a tripod for super-steady shooting.
  • Don’t press-gang staff into appearing in your company video – their reluctance will show in their face and eyes.

Feel free to link, but no copying or republishing without written permission from the author. Copyright Steve Hart.