Earthworks continue their mission to bring small‑diaphragm capacitor mics to new markets.
Over the last 10 years or so, capacitor mics have gained widespread acceptance for live use. Their extended high‑frequency response and clean off‑axis pickup has made models like the Neumann KMS series, DPA 2028, AKG C636 and Shure KSM9 familiar sights on stages worldwide. Typically, these stage mics use small‑diaphragm capsules derived from familiar studio mic designs — yet it’s still rare to see small‑diaphragm mics used for vocals in other contexts. Why?
Anyone who’s tried it will know that small‑diaphragm mics are perfectly capable of capturing the human voice. With some voices, in fact, they even have advantages over their large‑diaphragm brethren. Our tendency to put up a U87 or even an SM7B ahead of a KM84 when a singer walks into the live room is probably driven as much by habit as by genuine sonic preference — or perhaps by the unconscious expectation that a large and imposing mic will deliver a large and imposing vocal sound. Capacitor stage mics have been accepted in part because they outwardly resemble the moving‑coil models we know and love, but a typical pencil mic just doesn’t look the part for vocal recording.
Small Is Beautiful
Earthworks have long championed the small‑diaphragm capacitor capsule for all applications. They see its accurate transient response, phase linearity, pure polar pattern and smooth off‑axis sound as being universal benefits that confer advantages in any recording or live context. And, having refined their core technology, they are now introducing it into new form factors in the hope of overcoming our resistance to using small‑diaphragm mics for vocals.
This process has already yielded the stellar SV33 studio vocal mic, as well as the SR40V and SR314 stage mics and the ICON, a speech‑oriented mic available in XLR and USB variants. The latest product of this development pipeline is the ETHOS. Like the ICON, it’s described by Earthworks as a “broadcast mic”, and its industrial design clearly references one of the titans of that world, the Shure SM7B. As on that mic, a foam plosive filter forms part of an overall cylindrical shape, and can be removed to leave the capsule housing looking slightly naked.
All the Earthworks mics I’ve tried have been beautifully made, and the ETHOS is no exception. The shell is in similar proportions to that of the SM7B, but is a little smaller, and lacks that mic’s yoke. It’s manufactured from gleaming stainless steel (though if the gleaming bothers you, a matte black version is available as a cost option) and the rigid grille that surrounds the sides of the capsule is a work of art. The front of the capsule is protected not only by that black foam filter, but by a circle of very fine metal mesh that is completely untensioned and moves freely back and forth. The rear end of the mic, meanwhile, houses the XLR connector; there are no pads or filters. The smart cardboard shipping box houses the mic snugly in a foam cutaway, but there’s no carry case.
Before moving on, I also want to single out for special mention the supplied standmount. A third‑party component called the M2‑R, made by Triad‑Orbit, this emerges halfway along the mic body, and uses a ball joint to combine a wide range of movement in all three axes with instant, secure clamping. I’ve only ever encountered a similar mount on one other mic, an obscure Pearl model from the ’70s, and it’s a genius idea that deserves to be much more widely used.
Earthworks make several different sizes of small‑diaphragm electret capsule, and the ETHOS uses their 14mm design, configured here to deliver a supercardioid polar pattern. It can operate on phantom power from 24 to 48 Volts and, like other Earthworks mics, draws the maximum permitted 10mA from the supply. Sensitivity is a comfortable 20mV/Pa, self‑noise is specified at 16dBA, and the ETHOS is said to be able to cope with sound pressure levels up to 145dB, though the level of distortion this represents isn’t stated. The balanced, transformerless output has a nominal impedance of 65Ω.
One person’s “accurate transient capture” is another person’s “extended high‑frequency response”, so it’s no surprise that Earthworks claim a frequency response of 20Hz to 30kHz for the ETHOS. As this mic is intended for close‑up use, it’s voiced to give a flat response with the foam filter in place, and within the distance where proximity effect is apparent, not at 1m. The graph shows less than 1dB deviation from flat below 3kHz, with a gentle dip centred at around 4.5kHz and slight double peaks at 7 and 10 kHz. Even at 30kHz, the response is only 2 or 3 dB down.
If you were to move from something like an SM7B to the ETHOS, I think you’d notice the difference as one of refinement and openness at the top end, rather than a night and day contrast in character.
The ETHOS might have the ability to capture frequencies other mics can’t, then, but it isn’t an obviously bright‑sounding or shrill mic. In fact, the adjective that immediately springs to mind is ‘balanced’. Without the presence peak that many large‑diaphragm mics have, it comes across as quite restrained by comparison; and in fact, if you were to move from something like an SM7B to the ETHOS, I think you’d notice the difference as one of refinement and openness at the top end, rather than a night and day contrast in character. Removing the foam filter gives the sound some extra air, and unless you work the mic very close, popping doesn’t seem to be a big problem, so I quite often used it that way. And although the standmount doesn’t offer any shock protection, whatever internal shockmounting Earthworks have devised is highly effective.
I liked the ETHOS a lot on both speech and singing, and was particularly impressed by its ability to capture the female voice, which can often present a challenge. Its pattern is tight enough to offer a very useful degree of off‑axis rejection, yet not so tight that vocalists need to take special care to address it from precisely the right angle. I also tried the ETHOS on numerous instrumental sources, and found it a very useful studio workhorse. It will happily take the level from snare drums and guitar amps, and it’s equally content on things like acoustic guitar. In fact, you could use it pretty much anywhere you’d normally use a directional pencil mic, with the caveat that its voicing for close use means you’ll get less bottom end. With its striking appearance, superb construction and versatile, smooth sound, the ETHOS is much more than just a “broadcast mic”!
- Stunning appearance and high‑quality construction.
- Clean, balanced sound, with the ability to take very high SPLs.
- Brilliant standmount.
- A carry case might have been useful.
Equally suited to podcasting, radio and recording studio use, the ETHOS is a fine general‑purpose vocal mic.
£699 including VAT