A very dynamic-sounding vocal condenser mic
Review by Paul Vnuk Jr.
For the past 28 years, New Hampshire-based Earthworks Audio has built a reputation for building instrument microphones that capture a source in pristine, super-fast, transient detail. The company also has an almost 23-year history crafting vocal microphones, and our focus today are the just-released SR117 and SR3117 supercardioid vocal condenser mics.
Mention Earthworks, and the first thing that typically comes to mind are stylized silver or black tapered pencil condensers akin to classic measurement mics. The SR69 (reviewed November 2000) and the SR20 (reviewed May 2012) were the first foray into hand-held vocal mics. They took the pencil condensers and simply added a large screw on windscreen.
The company’s first purpose-designed hand-held vocal mic was the SR40V (reviewed February 2012), followed by the current SR314 (reviewed February 2020). One thing each of these mics has, beyond their sound, is a healthy price tag. This makes the new Earthworks SR117 exciting, as it costs little more than a high-end, dynamic, hand-held vocal mic.
- February 2024: Antares Vocal Reverb by Auto-Tune
- January 2024: Ableton Push 3
- December 2023: KIT Plugins BB A5
- Focal Twin6 ST6
- Earthworks SR117 & SR3117
- November 2023: AEA TRP3 and RPQ3
- October 2023: AudioScape 260VU Compressor/Limiter
- September 2023: Sound Devices MixPre-6 II
- August 2023: Soundtoys SuperPlate
- July 2023: Strymon Zelzah Multidimensional Phaser
The SR117 is a hand-held vocal condenser mic with a supercardioid pattern. The robust steel body measures 7″ x 1.93″ and has a stealthy textured matte black finish designed to minimize handling noise. The solid .85 lbs weight gives it a weighty feel in the hand.
The black matte head basket features a dual mesh, foam-lined grille that unscrews for cleaning and reveals a second metal screened cage and a standard tapered Earthworks mic head and 10mm capsule. The internal cage and capsule are similar in design to the podcast/broadcast-focused ETHOS microphone reviewed in February 2022.
The mic ships with a large nylon storage pouch and a K&M mic clip.
The SR3117 is a wireless capsule variation of the SR117 and is available for Shure, Lectrosonics, Audio-Technica and Line 6 wireless systems. Internally, the capsule is indistinguishable from the SR117. With the exception of a slight sensitivity variance, they also sound identical.
The SR117 features a standard 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response and a 5 mV/Pa sensitivity. The frequency plot (available at earthworksaudio.com) shows it to be a relatively flat, neutral mic with a less than 1dB controlled taper from 900 Hz down, a gentle .5dB rise from 3 to 4 kHz, a 1dB dip from 6 kHz to 9 kHz followed by a 2dB peak at 11 kHz, and a fast, firm roll off from 12 kHz down.
The above shows what I would call a very natural yet gently nuanced frequency plot, and this is one of the ways I would describe the sound of the SR117—natural and nuanced. The mic is clean and natural, with a controlled low-end and rich, almost rounded top-end response. If you were expecting this to be your typical bright hand-held vocal condenser, think again.
While many dynamic mics strive to sound like condenser microphones, on some level, the SR117 is a condenser mic that seeks to sound and behave like a good dynamic mic. Beyond sonics, this mics sensitivity and SPL handling are also quite dynamic-like, meaning it takes a little more gain to drive the SR117 than many typical condenser mics—but that gives it its generous headroom.
The SR117 has a full pronounced proximity effect, but it chills out quickly from about 2″ away. This mics supercardioid pattern is impressive and yields a tight off-axis rejection, excellent for use on stage or with a live band in the studio.
I used the SR3117 live on stage with a wireless Shure ULX system for myself, and I let a few other singers use it while I ran sound. The first time I used the SR3117 on stage, I was thrilled with the sound coming back into my in-ear monitors. I found the mic very responsive, and best of all, I liked the sound of my voice in my ears, both solo and in a blend with the other vocalists.
When used with another singer positioned close to the drummer, the mic did well, rejecting bleed from the drums. The best compliment I can give it is that the singer sounded quite natural. When he spoke between songs, he sounded very close to what he sounds like when he is standing nearby. To be fair, this is not a “needs no EQ” situation as we are talking live sound––of course, I EQ’d the singer and mic to the mix and the room. Still, I was impressed by how easy it was to EQ and balance in that situation. This singer is also quite plosive prone, and here I noted how well this mic handles plosives.
In the studio, I used the wired SR117 on male and female vocals, where again it was an outstanding balance of natural, smooth and controlled. I also tried it on snare, cajon, acoustic guitar, electric guitar (Fender Princeton amp), hi-hat and tambourine.
I tracked a quick folksy chorus to see how the SR117 stacks on instruments, and again, it did a decent job here as well. The SR117 can trend toward a darker, bold tonality on instruments, almost like a classic dynamic mic, but in a more hi-fi way. I liked its thick punch on snare, and the SR117 could easily find a home regularly on guitar cabinet. I also like it on hi-hat and think a pair could make for surprisingly vibey drum overheads when gently taming cymbals is the goal. On acoustic guitar, it was also quite nice. Again, it’s less neutral and sparkly than many of Earthworks instrument offerings, but the point is that while the SR117 is first and foremost a vocal mic, it can be a handy utility mic on a number of other sources as well.
The Earthworks SR117 and SR3117 are very impressive, and I can easily see the SR3117 becoming my personal go-to live mic—I like it on my voice that much. As I said, it’s more like a classic dynamic flavored mic, but with better fidelity, rejection and plosive control.
Saving the best for the last, the SR117 retails at $199 and the SR3117 is $179, making these the most affordable Earthworks mics to date. Based on this issue theme, the SR117 would be a great mic for a singer-songwriter—take it to the gig and use it to record vocals, guitar and more at home.
Price: $199 SR117; $179 SR3117
More From: earthworksaudio.com
Frequency Response: 20 Hz–20 kHz
Sensitivity SR117: 5 mV/Pa (-46 dBV/Pa)
Sensitivity SR3117: 6.3 mV/Pa (-44 dBV/Pa) SPL: 140dB SPL
Signal To Noise: 74dB (A)
Self Noise: 20dB (A)