Ethos and Icon microphone review: Accessible premium sound perfect for podcast creators
AppleInsider is supported by its audience and is eligible to earn an Amazon Associate and Affiliate Partner commission on qualifying purchases. These affiliate partnerships do not influence our editorial content.
Earthworks Audio has built two quality products that rival the most popular broadcast and USB microphones on the market.
Professional broadcast studios typically use veteran microphone models like the Shure SM7B or the Electro-Voice RE20. Unfortunately, although these microphones are high quality, they are not perfect for all speakers. Not only that, but microphones like the SM7B require special equipment to be used effectively.
Earthworks Audio stepped in to create Ethos, a user-friendly high-end broadcast microphone that can be used with budget audio devices. The Ethos Microphone is a versatile product that can enhance the sound of traditional broadcast setups and individual creators.
For those looking for a more discreet microphone that can be powered by a USB connection, Earthworks Audio have also developed the Icon. Together, the Icon and Ethos surpass many longstanding microphone options in quality and ease of use.
The Ethos and Icon microphones are beautifully designed and have a premium finish. They are made of stainless steel and have a significant weight but are lighter than other broadcast microphones. They look great in any studio or office setup and are attractive on camera.
The Ethos broadcast microphone has a single male XLR connection at the bottom and no other toggle switches or buttons. Like the Icon, it features orbital support that allows for full 360 degree rotation and movement. Additionally, users can easily reposition the microphone and quickly re-tighten it for precise adjustments.
Ethos includes a low profile windshield and a 5/8 to 3/8 inch adapter in the box.
The Icon microphone sports the same orbit mount for easy adjustments and includes a table stand in the box. The included stand is sturdy and would suffice for most spoken word and streaming use cases.
Unfortunately, the Icon uses a micro-USB port for connectivity. We would have much preferred a USB-C port instead. There’s also a 1/8-inch headphone port for live monitoring and a gain adjustment knob. Earthworks also included braided USB cables in the box.
Icon microphone performance
The icon is for creators of podcasts, spoken word, and live streams. Requiring only a USB connection allows users to forego any additional audio interface and makes it ideal for travel. Users can also plug directly into an iPhone or iPad for a portable recording setup.
Talking near the icon seems fine, but it’s supposed to sit several feet away on a desk. It can stay out of the camera shot for live broadcast situations and still deliver high quality audio.
Icon is a small-diaphragm, cardioid-pattern condenser microphone with a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz. This results in a highly sensitive microphone capable of picking up your voice, as well as other noises in the room.
It will be difficult to use Icon remotely for users who have to deal with background noise, such as children, city streets, or echo-laden walls. While there is some noise rejection from nearby sources, we found that the Icon will still pick up anything audible outside of a radius of about three feet.
Users can overcome some of these challenges by speaking much closer to the microphone – at around 2-3 inches. But being this close to the icon will require a significant windshield to reduce “plosives”, and no windshield is included. A great inexpensive foam mic cover like that will help tremendously.
Overall, the audio quality produced by Icon is significantly better than most USB microphones. Although it costs more than other USB options, at $345, Icon offers the simplicity of USB while maintaining the quality of more expensive XLR microphones.
Below we have two audio samples of the Icon USB microphone and the entry-level microphone Audio-Technica ATR2100x Micro-USB. At $99, the Audio-Technica is an attractive microphone for beginners and offers good quality recording, but there is a significant difference from the Icon.
Ethos Microphone Performance
If you’ve listened to recent episodes of the AppleInsider Podcast, you’ve heard Ethos in action. While Ethos can be used in music studios for recording instruments and vocals, it really shines in spoken word broadcasts.
Ethos is a condenser microphone with a 14mm diaphragm, supercardioid polar pattern and a frequency response of 20Hz to 30kHz. As with other condenser microphones, it requires 24-48V phantom power from an audio interface. Most USB audio devices include the option of phantom power and luckily even inexpensive options like the Focusrite Scarlett Solo have plenty of gain to power this microphone with little to no noise or hiss.
Although the Ethos is more expensive than competing microphones in this category at $699, its compatibility with cheaper USB audio devices reduces the total cost of using this microphone in your setup. Options like the Shure SM7B require powerful preamps only found in high-end audio gear like the MixPre Audio Devices series, or additional pieces of equipment like the cloud lift.
Although it’s a condenser microphone that usually picks up significant background noise, the Ethos does an excellent job of rejecting noise and shock. This means users can benefit from the wide frequency response of a condenser microphone that captures the subtleties of a voice while still being usable in questionable recording environments.
Overall, the Ethos microphone sounded great in spoken word genres like podcasts and storytelling. Ethos delivers a warm, rich tonality while retaining the clarity of higher frequencies.
Users can be flexible in their microphone placement. For example, Ethos can be used at close range for a warmer effect or placed at an angle of more than a foot for better plosive rejection and clarity. Users should use an additional or thicker windshield to lessen the plosive effect when placed close to the mouth.
Comparison between Ethos and the Shure SM7B
One of the direct competitors of the Ethos microphone is the Shure SM7B. Before using the Ethos, I used the SM7B exclusively when recording the AppleInsider podcast.
The Shure SM7B requires powerful preamps or additional gear to achieve usable gain levels. Although this increases the overall price of ownership, the SM7B has some advantages.
Being a dynamic microphone, the SM7B offers better noise and echo cancellation than the Ethos. Being extremely directional, the SM7B also rejects most keystrokes and other noises that may occur in front of the speaker.
Shure also includes two different windshields with the SM7B, one being particularly large for close conversation situations and does a great job of eliminating plosives.
The Ethos and the Shure SM7B sound great, but there is a difference in the timbre of each microphone. When the SM7B switches are left completely flat, it will sound deeper and more powerful than the Ethos. This can be adjusted on the switches by cutting the low end or boosting the mid frequencies for better presence.
Podcast creators and singers who want that powerful sound may prefer the Shure SM7B. For me, it was difficult to properly EQ the SM7B to retain speech clarity and sound full.
When switching to the Ethos microphone, I find that it takes a lot less post-production EQ to get a desirable sound with my vocals. Of course, every voice is different, but overall the Ethos will deliver a more accurate and pleasing representation of your voice right out of the box.
Who should buy the Ethos or Icon microphone?
Icon and Ethos microphones are high-end options for any creator. For users who want the simplicity of a USB microphone but want high quality recording, the Icon is an obvious choice.
For those who already own a cheaper USB microphone, like the Blue Yeti or Audio-Technica options, upgrading to Icon will be a significant improvement. The Icon would also be a great solution for those with a home studio setup who want to take a quality microphone on the go.
Professional podcast creators, voiceover artists, and even those in traditional broadcast environments should consider switching to the Ethos microphone. Considering the ease of use with even low-end audio interfaces and the exceptional audio quality that comes out of the box, Ethos is one of the best options at this price range and above.
The Ethos microphone is very close to a 5 out of 5 rating. It will be my first choice for podcast production and voiceover work in the future. If Earthworks included a larger pop filter option in the box, it would score a perfect score.
The Icon is an incredible upgrade over other USB microphones and will come in handy on the road. But without any pop filters in the box and micro-USB instead of USB-C connectivity, the Icon is a 4.5 out of 5.
- Excellent sound quality and voice reproduction
- User-friendly, does not require an expensive audio interface
- Excellent noise and shock rejection
- Attractive hardware design
- Robust build quality
- The Orbit stand is very practical
- Icon has micro-USB instead of USB-C
- Icon does not come with a windshield
- I would prefer a larger windshield option with Ethos