Earthworks ETHOS Review: Broadcast Excellence

The world of broadcast microphones clearly has its favorites. the Shure SM7B, for example, is so common that even non-audiophiles can recognize it at a glance. Another is the classic Electro-Voice RE-20 which is a staple in radio studios around the world. Earthworks has exactly these microphones in sight with its latest product, the ETHOS. Designed for broadcast-quality vocal capture and perfect for everything from professional voice-overs to podcasts, this beautiful tool aims to become the recording world’s next staple. Does he have what it takes to achieve this lofty goal?

Join us as we take a closer look and find out.

Characteristics

  • Current price: $699 (Amazon)
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 30kHz
  • Polar pattern: Supercardioid
  • Diaphragm size: 14mm
  • Sensitivity: 20mV/Pa (-34dBV/Pa)
  • Power Requirements: 24-48v phantom power, 10mA
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: 78 dB (A-weighted)
  • Maximum acoustic input: 145 dB SPL
  • Output: XLR (pin 2+)
  • Output impedance: 65Ω
  • Minimum output load: 600 Ω
  • Self-noise: 16 dB SPL (A-weighted)
  • Accessories included:
    • Windshield
    • M2-R ball mount,
    • ?” Thread adapter
  • Dimensions (WxD): 6.9″ x 2.25″
  • Color: Stainless Steel
  • Weight: 1 lb

ETHOS earthworks – Design and features

The ETHOS Earthworks isn’t your average microphone, and that makes sense because Earthworks isn’t your average audio company. Earthworks has made a name for itself on precision. In fact, some of its industry-leading products are measurement microphones, designed to capture detail with the utmost precision. That means microphones have to be fast. They must be in high resolution. They have to be, in some way, HD; the audio equivalent of 4K. As a result, you can find Earthworks microphones on stages and in studios around the world.

The ETHOS is its latest microphone and is designed to take on the heavyweights of the broadcast world. If you’ve watched an excerpt from a podcast or a radio talk show, you’ve surely seen its biggest competitors, the Shure SM7B and the Electro-Voice RE-20. The ETHOS is designed to target the exact same space but in a unique way, playing to brand strengths, building loyalty with professional broadcasters and recording artists. That also means it should be fine for podcasters, content creators, voice-over artists, and more, assuming you’re at a level where such a high-profile mic makes sense.

ETHOS succeeds the ICON Pro XLR I saw last summer. It shares much of the same DNA, sharing the beautiful stainless steel finish. It is also designed around the same guiding principle of speed. They’re designed to capture transients with the utmost clarity, allowing the mic to sound more true to life and realistic to the source.

Joey Sturgis Tones describes them like this:

Transients are the short burst of energy you hear at the start of any sound. The loudest transients are things like drum hits where the crack of the stick on a drumhead sends a loud sound wave to the microphone. Transients are everywhere though – from the pick attack on your guitar strings to the consonants in your voice. Have you ever used a pop filter while recording? The main purpose of a pop filter is to catch plosives – a loud gust of air into the microphone – much like transients.

Transients are essential to articulation. We need it to understand the shape of a sound and our ears interpret sounds differently depending on how the transient is shaped. You can think of most transients in an “above average” or “below average” mentality.

Nailing down those transients is key to making your vocal sound true to life, as well as any other source material you might record. As a member of the Earthworks team shared with me, when you record with most other microphones, you’ll sound slightly different from your own ear. (I can attest to this having tested dozens of microphones to this point.) With the ETHOS, you sound like you, but with the added depth, presence, and tone that make spoken word recordings professional.

Earthworks ETHOS – The king killer of speech?

ETHOS (left), Icon Pro XLR (right)

With that in mind, let’s get into the actual sound of the microphone. Until this review, I was using the Icon Pro XLR as my daily driver. Its realism and clarity trump all other microphones in my collection, including heavyweights like the Audio Technica AT4040 Where Bluebird blue microphones. Unexpectedly, one of the easiest demonstrations of this was with the typing tests I recorded on my personal YouTube channel, Endgame technology. Keystroke tests are generally considered to be rough examples at best of how a keyboard will sound in real life. Not with the Icon Pro XLR. What goes into this mic is exactly what comes out.

The ETHOS, on the other hand, takes this same principle and then tunes it to bring out the best in the human voice. In the graph below you can see exactly how the microphone has been tuned, with a slight presence boost between 100Hz and 900Hz, and some mild peaks and valleys between 2kHz and 20kHz. Naturally, you’ll have a slightly bolder and crisper sound. It’s no exaggeration, however. It just puts you in the spotlight and gives you a bit more authority than the Icon Pro is capable of providing.

The key comparisons here, however, are with the broadcast mics I started this article off. While these microphones undoubtedly sound great (they’re classics for a reason), the ETHOS stands out in that it uses a condenser capsule instead of a dynamic capsule. Dynamic microphones often give similar presence boost, but frequency responses tend to be compressed, leading to crunchy vocal sound. Condenser microphones, on the other hand, pick up a much wider band of frequencies and deliver a more natural, true-to-life sound.

In fact, this effect is easily observable both in listen to the microphones and in their data sheets. The Shure SM7B has a frequency response range of 50-20,000 Hz. The Electro-Voice RE-20 comes in at 45-18,000 Hz. The ETHOS, on the other hand, captures all the way from 20-30 000 Hz. It is this incredible sensitivity and the impeccable design that gives it such fantastic transients.

The trade-off of going with a condenser instead of a dynamic is that they can also sound thinner, but that’s just not the case with the ETHOS. This mic has enough body to go head-to-head with the SM7B or RE-20. Plus, you don’t have to eat the microphone to get that body. With a light compressor applied, I was able to sit comfortably in my chair and still be heard the way I wanted.

Now the ETHOS Is pick up more outside noise. Off-axis rejection is quite good, but like most condensers, reflections from the room will come back into the microphone, as will sounds from your computer or keyboard. If you’re considering a $699 microphone, chances are you’ll have some processed recording space, but otherwise it’s definitely something to keep in mind. The microphone’s own noise is also very low, so your recordings are clear and articulate.

Here’s how it sounds:

The elephant in the room is obviously the price. At MSRP, that’s way outside of what anyone producing content as a hobby would consider reasonable. If you own a recording studio, spending $699 on a microphone might seem reasonable – at this level, microphones reach much higher than that – but for the rest of us it’s a huge investment, this is especially true considering that the RE-20 is new at $449 and the SM7B at $399.

But, if you’re familiar with these microphones, you know it’s not just about fair the price of the microphone. Each will require a lot of gain to reach a usable level that sounds good. This means buying a Dear audio interface or spend an extra $150 for a Cloud Lifter preamp to amplify the signal. ETHOS does not require any such device. In fact, it’s remarkably easy to drive, so it’s one less thing to buy. The ETHOS also comes with a Triad-Orbit M2-R ball mount adapter which makes adjusting the mic quicker, easier and more freely thanks to the additional angle options it offers. It’s another $39.99 bought separately if you wanted it.

Even with that taken into account, you spend more here. There is no way around this. You are paying for this extended frequency response range. You pay for speed and clarity. You are paying for the beautiful stainless steel chassis. You are paying for this Triad-Orbit adapter. And yes, you are paying for the pedigree of Earthworks Audio itself. So there’s more on top, and you have to ask yourself if this differential makes sense to you.

But that said, it’s also a time-saving microphone. Once the level is set, I find that I don’t need to go back and spend time processing the audio afterwards. If time is money, then ETHOS will probably save you some.

Should I buy the ETHOS Earthworks?

The Earthworks ETHOS is an excellent microphone. It feels every part of its premium price and has the sound quality to match. It is also a professional caliber tool and best suited for people who will earn an income using it. You can use it for any type of content creation you can think of, but as the saying goes, you spend money to make money, and this is a purchase worth it best considered as an investment. It’s not for new or even mid-level streamers unless they’re looking for a “forever microphone” that will grow with them for years to come. This is for professionals looking for the natural sound and clarity that the ETHOS is capable of delivering.

If that sounds like you, it’s a terrific option and is, hands down, the best speaking condenser microphone I’ve heard. Earthworks are masters in their trade and the ETHOS proves it.

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.


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