The Electro Voice RE20 is one of those mics that stands out from first glance. Every radio station I’ve been in recently is faithful to the RE20, with at least one on a boom stand at the main DJ position. The last station I visited had three on booms for the morning team and a fourth for special guests. It’s a full-bodied yet crystal clear mic and that’s a combination that doesn’t get used very often with dynamic mics.
The RE20 is a unique approach to mic design and it’s executed flawlessly. Electro Voice talks about “Continuously Variable-D” as though that were a thing. If it is, they don’t explain it anywhere I can find. Perhaps I skipped that class in college, but I have no idea what “D” stands for here. Doesn’t matter. This is a cardioid mic that doesn’t heap on the bass proximity factor when you’re up close, it just gives flat response way down low. Off-axis response is impressive too. It’s the only directional dynamic mic of which I’m aware that keeps a full hemisphere of flat response.
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Setup and Usability
The RE20 is a standard XLR dynamic mic. No need for phantom power and a standard mic cable will hook you up to mixer or audio interface. There’s a bass roll-off switch that kicks in pretty high, at 400 Hz, so this is not your typical rumble filter. It has a very handy application for acoustic guitars in full band recordings.
The mic is well protected against P-pops and other plosives, and the RE20’s internal filters also act as a shock mount. This thing is too big to handhold unless you’re a gorilla, and I have a feeling that a hand over the vents that cover the side of the body would muck up your Continuously Variable-D. I’m guessing on that one.
Despite the lack of bass proximity effect, this is a definitive radio announcer voice mic. It’s also excellent across a wide range of voices as a main vocal mic. I tend not to use it for that, usually because I like it in so many other applications, it’s too busy on those. It can be downright sublime on the right kick drum, on brass instruments and I particularly like it on bass amps. It’s versatile and stage-friendly.
Look at enough frequency response specs and you see 20Hz to 20,000Hz so often that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s almost shocking to see the RE20 listed as 45Hz to 18,000Hz. The uninformed will wonder, why would I pay $500 for a mic with less frequency response than mics I can get for $100. It’s because a) Electro Voice is telling the truth and b) those are some Really Useful response figures that make your life as a recordist easier.
Many is the mix where the goal is to produce killer bass that ends up collapsing under the molasses of low frequencies. Mostly it’s an excess of audio crap piling up under about 60Hz. This is why the phrases “bass cut,” “lo cut” and “high pass filter” feature so prominently on audio equipment. What does it matter if a vocal mic picks up 20Hz when the singer never approaches 100Hz anyway? That’s when you engage some sort of low-frequency abatement. Saves you from hearing the train that went by as you were recording.
I mentioned above that I like the RE20 on kick drums and bass amps. You’d think in those applications extended low frequency response, or rather, the lack of it, would be an issue for the RE20. Except that one of the first things I do with EQ on a kick drum is roll off everything below about 50Hz. For an electric bass, I roll it off at 80Hz. With the RE20, it does that for me, staying flat to about 70Hz, then dropping off fairly steeply. The subsonics that can clutter up the low frequency spectrum are no longer an issue.
EV calls the bass roll-switch “bass tilt,” because it starts way up in the midrange, around 400Hz. Throw an RE20 in front of a strummed acoustic guitar, flip on the bass tilt switch, and instantly you have a smooth, sandy sound. You’ll EQ some more, no doubt, but you’re one step closer with the sound right from the mic.
If you have a singer who has a hard time standing still, or who doesn’t understand how to sing into a vocal mic, the RE20 is your buddy. Its sound, side-to-side and close up or backed off is wonderfully consistent. When a singer wanders to the sides of some mics, it sounds like somehow two dozen marbles appear in her mouth. She moves back in front and they’re gone. That’s off-axis response changing. The RE20 doesn’t do that. Its Variable-D is continuous, you know.
If the RE20 looks a bit like the business end of a Sherman tank barrel, it’s a bit appropriate because this beast appears to be built to military specifications. It looks – and feels – like more than its pound-and-a-half. I’m certain that there are engineers out there that favor the RE20 because it compensates for deficiencies of anatomy. Even the NRA would be concerned about the RE20 in a concealed carry. It’s a dynamic and thus a cousin to the indestructible Shure SM57, but I would never drop an RE20, fearing the damage it might do to a floor. Electro Voice generally doesn’t make any dainty things. This is one of the un-daintiest.
There are no one-star reviews that I could find. There was a two-star where the user didn’t like the sound of his voice through the RE20, which is valid, no one mic works for everyone. But then he carries on that the mic sounded like it was in a tin can. That’s not a quality that an RE20 produces, so I suspect there was something else at issue, whether it was a faulty mic or poor recording environment. No question that the RE20 will pick up reflections that other dynamics won’t.
The oddity among the high-star reviews is that a lot of users praise the RE20, then start yapping about their favorite Shure mic. Um guys… stay on topic would you?
The RE20 can be had for $450 and up on the street. For me, with all that the mic can do, it’s definitely worth the price. If you’re doing podcasts or recording a lot of inexperienced vocalists, it could make your life a lot easier.
If you’re looking for a single mic to use for home recordings, I’d advise you to look for two different mics in the $200 range to expand your experience first. The RE20 has been waiting over 30 years for you. It will be there in a few more.
Did your RE20 sound like a tin can? Leave a comment. Mileage does vary and there’s something to learn from everyone in the Hear the Music community. Subscribe today to receive our reviews in your inbox, and click our sponsors’ links to keep us delivering quality content.