The world of broadcast microphones has its clear 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 those microphones in its sights with its latest product, the ETHOS. Designed for broadcast-quality vocal capture and perfect for everything from professional voice-over to podcasts, this gorgeous tool aims to become the next staple of the recording world. Does it have what it takes to achieve that lofty goal?
Join us as we take a closer look and find out.
- Current Price: $699 $399 (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: 78dB (A-weighted)
- Peak Acoustic Input: 145dB SPL
- Output: XLR (pin 2+)
- Output Impedance: 65Ω
- Min Output Load: 600Ω
- Self Noise: 16dB SPL (A weighted)
- Included Accessories:
- M2-R Ball Mount,
- ?” Thread Adapter
- Dimensions (LxD): 6.9″ x 2.25″
- Color: Stainless Steel
- Weight: 1 lb
Earthworks ETHOS - Design and Features
The Earthworks ETHOS isn’t your average microphone, and that makes sense because Earthworks isn’t your average audio company. Earthworks has made its name on precision. In fact, some of its most industry-leading products are measurement microphones, designed to capture detail with the utmost accuracy. This means that the microphones have to be fast. They have to be high resolution. They have to be, in a 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 heavy hitters in the broadcast world. If you’ve watched a clip from a podcast or radio talk show, you’ve surely seen its biggest competitors, the Shure SM7B and Electro-Voice RE-20. The ETHOS is designed to target the exact same space but in a unique way, playing to the brand's strengths, earning the loyalty of professional broadcasters and recording artists. That also means it should be a perfect fit for podcasters, content creators, voice-over artists, and more — assuming you’re at a level where such a prestigious mic makes sense.
The ETHOS is the successor to the ICON Pro XLR I reviewed last summer. It shares much of the same DNA, sharing the gorgeous stainless steel finish. It’s also designed around the same guiding principle of speed. They’re designed to capture the 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 that you hear at the start of any sound. The loudest of transients are things like drum hits where the crack of the stick on a drumhead sends a loud sound wave out to the microphone. Transients are everywhere though – from the pick attack on your guitar strings to the consonants of your vocal. Ever used a pop filter while recording? The main goal of a pop filter is to catch plosives – loud burst of air into the microphone – much like transients.
Transients are essential to articulation. We need them to understand the shape of a sound and our ears interpret sounds differently depending on how the transient is formed. You can think of most transients in an “above average” or “below average” mentality.
Nailing these transients is key to making your voice sound true to life — as well as any other source you might be recording. As a team member at Earthworks shared with me, when you record yourself with most other microphones, you’ll sound ever so slightly off to your own ear. (I can attest to that having tested dozens of microphones at this point.) With the ETHOS, you sound like you but with the added depth and presence and tone that makes spoken word recordings sound professional.
Earthworks ETHOS - The Spoken Word Kingslayer?
ETHOS (left), Icon Pro XLR (right)
With that in mind, let’s get into the actual sound of the microphone. Until this review, I had been using the Icon Pro XLR as my daily driver. Its realism and clarity just trumped every other microphone in my collection, including heavy-hitters like the Audio-Technica AT4040 or Blue Microphones Bluebird. Unexpectedly, one of the easiest demonstrations of this was with the typing tests I recorded on my personal YouTube channel, Endgame Tech. Keyboard typing tests are usually at best seen as rough examples of how a keyboard will sound in real life. Not with the Icon Pro XLR. What goes into that mic is exactly what comes out.
The ETHOS, on the other hand, takes that 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 gentle peaks and valleys between 2kHz and 20kHz. Naturally, you’ll sound slightly more bold and crisp. This isn’t overdone, however. It just puts you forward and lends you a bit more authority than the Icon Pro is able to provide.
The key comparisons here, however, are made with the broadcast mics I began this article discussing. While those microphones undoubtedly sound great (they’re classics for a reason), the ETHOS stands apart in that it uses a condenser capsule instead of a dynamic capsule. Dynamic microphones often lend a similar presence boost, but the frequency responses tend to be compressed, leading to a crunched vocal sound. Condenser microphones, on the other hand, capture a much wider frequency band and sound more natural and true to life.
In fact, this effect is easily observed both in listening to the mics and in their spec sheets. The Shure SM7B has a frequency response range of 50-20,000Hz. The Electro-Voice RE-20 comes in at 45-18,000Hz. The ETHOS, on the other hand, captures all the way from 20-30,000Hz. It’s this incredible sensitivity, and the impeccable design, that lends it such fantastic transients.
The trade-off to opting for 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 body enough to stand toe-to-toe with either the SM7B or the RE-20. What’s more, you don’t have to eat the microphone to achieve that body. With a slight compressor applied, I was able to sit back comfortably in my chair and still be heard just how I wanted to.
Now, the ETHOS does pick up more outside noise. The off-axis rejection is quite good, but like most condensers, room reflections will make their way back into the microphone, as will the sounds of your computer or keyboard. If you’re considering a $699 microphone, there’s a good chance you have a treated recording space, but if not, it’s definitely something to keep in mind. The microphone’s self-noise is also very low, so your recordings come through clean and articulate.
Here’s how it sounds:
The elephant in the room is obviously the price. At MSRP, it’s well 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 that level, microphones extend much higher than even that — but for the rest of us, that’s a huge investment, this is especially true when you consider that the RE-20 is $449 new and the SM7B is $399.
But, if you know those microphones, you know it’s not all about just the cost of the microphone. Each will requires a lot of gain to achieve a workable level that sounds good. That means buying an expensive audio interface or spending another $150 on a CloudLifter preamp to boost the signal. The ETHOS doesn’t require any such device. In fact, it’s remarkably easy to drive, so that’s one less thing to buy. The ETHOS also comes with a Triad-Orbit M2-R ball mount adapter that makes adjusting the mic faster, easier, and freer with the added angle options it provides. That’s another $39.99 purchased separately if you wanted it.
Even with that factored in, you’re spending extra here. There’s no way around it. You’re paying for that extended frequency response range. You’re paying for the speed and clarity. You’re paying for the beautiful stainless steel chassis. You’re paying for that Triad-Orbit adapter. And yes, you’re paying for the pedigree of Earthworks Audio itself. So, there’s more on top, and you have to consider whether that differential makes sense for you.
But, with that said, this is also a microphone that saves time. Once the level is set, I find that I don’t need to go back and spend time processing the audio afterward. If time is money, then the ETHOS will likely save you some.
Should you buy the Earthworks ETHOS?
The Earthworks ETHOS is an excellent microphone. It feels every part of its premium price tag and has the sound quality to match. It’s also a professional-caliber tool and is best suited for people that will be earning income using it. You can use it for any kind of content creation you can think of, but as the saying goes, you spend money to make money, and this is a purchase best viewed as an investment. It is not for new or even mid-level streamers unless they’re looking for a “forever microphone” that will grow with them years into the future. It’s for people who are professionals and who crave the natural sound and clarity the ETHOS is able to provide.
If that sounds like you, this is a tremendous option and is, hands down, the best spoken word condenser microphone I’ve heard. Earthworks are masters of their craft and the ETHOS proves it.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.