$430 ElectroVoice RE-20 Microphone Sound for $17

So, check out this short MP3 that I recorded talking about my new very expensive microphone, recorded on the same microphone. (If you’d rather hear it as an uncompressed WAV file, it’s not very big and is here.) I posted the file on Facebook and e-mailed it to some radio producers, podcasters and recording engineers I know. I said:

AUDIOPHILE INPUT PLEASE: Please check out this 20-second MP3. What do you think of the sound of this RE-20 microphone? I bought the mic, but it’s a “try before you buy” deal and I have two weeks to return it for a refund. It was expensive, and I might keep it, but need your opinions, especially compared to the ribbon and condenser mics I usually use on the Feens.

The opinions I got back were all great, and several engineers spoke glowingly of the sound and recommended that I keep it. The ElectroVoice RE-20 Dynamic Microphone is the holy grail mic of talk radio, has been since the 60s, and is in the booth of a high percentage of all professional radio studios in the world.

Only one issue: the recording was not made on a $430 ElectroVoice RE-20 Dynamic Microphone, it was made on a $17 NADY SP-4C Dynamic Microphone! (get it HERE) (gooseneck stand info here):

(I apologize for anyone who felt tricked by this, but I’m not “outting” anyone by name, and it was the only way to really get a good “blind test”, as I do not have an RE-20 to do a double blind.)

HERE’S HOW THIS CAME TO BE: Recently on Freedom Feens Live, in this episode, 62 minutes and 21 seconds in, we got a call from a guy named Brian. He sounded amazing compared to our usual callers. Our usual callers are usually calling on a headset mic over Skype (which sounds bad), or a cell phone (which sounds worse). I was fairly astonished at how good Brian sounded- I even told him right off the bat “You can stay on talking as long as you’d like. I asked him what mic he was using, he had a AKG D790, which is a 40-dollar chepo dynamic mic. I immediately said to myself, “This sounds better for a live show than my 80-dollar ribbon mic or 350-dollar condenser mic. I’ve got to get me one.” (I’m keeping the condensers for voiceover though, they’re better for that, but the cheap dynamic mic has such a “radio” sound, I love it.)

I looked around online and quickly realized that the AKG D790 mic is no longer made. So I searched “dynamic mic” on Amazon and started looking through them. Then I decided to challenge myself: I was going to buy a really cheap dynamic mic and see if I could get a stellar sound from it. After looking at the specs on a bunch of them, I decided to order a NADY SP-4C for $17. I like the Nady company, I own one of their ribbon mics (Nady RSM-4 ribbon mic) and Neema owns another of their ribbon mics (Nady RSM-5 ribbon mic.) We’ve been using those on all the Freedom Feens for a while, and dig their sound, quality and price (80 bucks each).

I got a very cheap foam windscreen for my cheap mic. ($2 for two, here.) It fits over the end of the mic, and replaces the giant pop filter I usually use with the ribbon mics and condenser mics. Those things obscure your view of the computer or looking at the squirrels being merry out the window while casting:

The SP-4C comes with a cheap 1/4″-end cable:

You should throw that in the trash as soon as you open the box…

…and replace it with a good balanced XLR-to-XLR male-to-female cable.

I used no audio sweetening with the mic (except normalization in post). I used no compression or limiting, just my own natural mic technique, intuitively riding my face-to-mic distance with my volume. I average around an inch or two from the mic, and speak right into the end of it. The pre-amp I used is nothing fancy, it’s built into my relatively cheap mixer/USB interface, a ALESIS MultiMix 8USB, which is no longer made, but it’s very similar to this $120 Alesis mixer, and that would work fine. I set the EQ for low, mid and high straight up at zero. And as I said, I did my standard normalization in post (using SoundForge) like I do on all spoken audio I record.

There’s a tiny tiny bit of 60 HZ hum in the NADY SP-4C, but all dynamic mics have that. An RE-20 has even more. And the NADY SP-4C has a high-frequency top end of 12,000 Hz, so it wouldn’t be great for some instruments with complex harmonics, but it’s perfect for talk radio and podcasting.

^ I used the NADY SP-4C mic for the latest Freedom Feens Live episode (archive here). And I used it for my background vocals on the chorus of the new Rich Black and DJ Lie-Barry rap song “Obama’s Feet Stink.”

I did some more mic tests, you can download the 70-second MP3 here or the same as a WAV here. There are four segments in the test:

–The NADY SP-4C just plugged into the mixer

–The NADY SP-4C plugged into an Art Tube MP preamp plugged into the mixer with a 1/4″ to 1/4″ cable (I didn’t have a short balanced cable handy). The Art’s stock Chinese 12AX7 tube has been replaced with this Russian gold-pin Tungsol variant.

I did both of those tests recording into SoundForge, then repeated both tests recording into Mumble. For Mumble I did as I do for the podcast archives of our live shows (which we do and record over Mumble), re-sampled to 44.1k and bit-depth converted to 16 bit in SoundForge. Then entire test file was normalized at the end in SoundForge using the “speech” setting.

The point of this whole cheap-mic experiment was to steer people away from the more expensive condenser mics everyone seems to think they need for podcasting. I encourage people to first try a good inexpensive dynamic mic instead. Dynamic mics are a lot more forgiving of bad mic technique and less-than-stellar vocal quality (but they sound GREAT with good mic technique from a host with a good voice). One reason the RE-20 is so popular is not simply its quality, but it the fact that it is extremely forgiving of bad mic technique, and can therefore accommodate the challenges of being used to interview lots of different guests who have never been on the radio. Condenser mics are unforgiving with bad mic technique and less-than-stellar vocal quality. (As in computing, “garbage in, garbage out.”)

I love that the NADY SP-4C mic has the word “STARPOWER” printed on the side of it. (Not surprising, since the mic is marketed toward karaoke applications.) Printing “STARPOWER” on a mic is cheesy and awesome, but the sound you can get from this mic is anything but cheesy.

–Michael W. Dean

3 Comments

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3 Responses to $430 ElectroVoice RE-20 Microphone Sound for $17

  1. Kyle W

    How could you lie to us?! Haha, great experiment and it really proves a point. I was thinking about this earlier and my amateur opinion is that you don’t need the best microphone for voice recording over a podcast. First of all, our voices don’t have a wide range that musical instruments do when we are normally speaking. Singing might be a different story. And second, when you compress the audio into a lossy format, you might lose that uber quality anyway.

    • Kyle W

      Tell me if I’m wrong, of course. This is just my uneducated guess.

      • MichaelWDean

        Well, some of it is my care with recording, my mic technique, and my overall skill and ability with all things audio. I don’t guarantee everyone will sound this good with this mic. But the point of this experiment was to steer people away from the more expensive condenser mics everyone seems to think they need for podcasting, and try a good inexpensive dynamic mic instead. Dynamic mics are a lot more forgiving of bad mic technique (but sound GREAT with good mic technique.) Condenser mics are unforgiving with bad mic technique. (will add this reply into the post.)