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This article was originally published in issue #32
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Looking for the ultimate performance from a dynamic vocal mic? Or are you more of an 'I wanna look like Elvis' kinda guy? US audio specialist Heil Sound has been winning huge praise for its mics in recent years - and picking up some big name users en route. We gave two models to our very own Elvis - Mick Wilson - for a thorough workout.
Far from being a new kid on the block, a little delve into Heil Sound’s history reveals quite a legacy in the music business. The guitarists among us may not pay too much attention to the fact that the founder Bob Heil was a pioneer in fiberglass speaker technology, crossover circuitry, or the Quadraphonic PA system (used ironically by the Who), but may be very interested to know that the Heil “Talk Box” was theunit that got that sound, used extensively by Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh, Jeff Beck, Richie Sambora, et al.
Still innovating and inventing, Heil Sound has produced an extensive range of vocal, instrument, drum/percussion and broadcast microphones for professionals and amateurs alike. Reassuringly, all the microphones are assembled and tested at its headquarters in the US and carry a three year parts warranty. They've been gaining some serious review credits and big name users, too, so it was high time for a look.
Heil Sound PR 35
This model sits at the top of the Heil Sound vocal mic range (although, if you want something tailor-made, there is a custom shop service available). The build quality is very high and the weighty, tapered body has a tactile rubberised finish. The grille is very substantial and has an internal windshield, which is removable for cleaning. On firing up, you can tell immediately this mic has been designed for commercial broadcast as well as vocals, with its extended bottom end and a really flattering high sheen at the top of the frequency range. This mic sounds expensive straight out of the box and, having reviewed a few hand-held condensers recently, it had a similar “studio” quality you would expect from a phantom powered mic, but a double check confirmed its status as a dynamic microphone. Unscrewing the grille reveals the 1 ½”diaphragm, which is larger than most dynamics and shock-mounted to reduce stage and handling noise. At this point, you can also decide which “accent” ring you want (black, silver, purple) for identification purposes.
Three ports in the body behind the capsule allow sound to enter out of phase, giving an impressive rear sound rejection of -35db (great for eliminating on stage feedback). To help even further, there is an internal low frequency filter switch, which rolls off at 80Hz at -6db per octave. With the switch out, the frequency response goes all the way down to 40Hz.
In use, I found the PR 35 very sensitive to both the proximity effect (emphasised bass, the closer you get) and plosives. That said, I found that I was able to move a little further away and off-axis from the mic than normal without losing much of the volume and bottom end as I would on a regular dynamic model. The included external pop shield seemed to tame all but the biggest “P”s and “B”s I could throw at it and didn’t seem to cause any undue colouration of the sound.
As always, the sound of a mic is subjective and depends on what you put through it, but my male vocal sounded crisp, articulate and, once I adjusted to the fact that I didn’t have to eat the mic to get some low end out of it, I found a position to get a well balanced sound for both live and recording. I would imagine a female vocal would benefit from the warmth of the low end and the extended highs on offer here (on which point, our resident FOH engineer Steve Carr, who mixes the band, confirms that Alison Goldfrapp is currently using one for live work - Ed). Also, if you’re a budding DJ, or podcaster, this will get that radio quality sound you’re after, straight out the box. Definitely one to check out, especially if you are wary of condensers for live use, yet want a really premium sound.
Heil Sound The Fin
If you’re looking for something different in a microphone, then this could certainly be the one for you. Billed as a dynamic vocal mic for live, recording and broadcast applications, The Fin oozes retro charm and looks like it has been ripped from the tail of 1957 Cadillac. For aficionados of vintage microphones, the design is virtually identical to a 1950’s Turner 34X - I imagine that some kind of agreement has been made as it is so close to the original.
There, however, is where the similarities end, as the capsule is a large 1¼” aluminium voice coil, as used in the Heil PR20 model, with a frequency response from 60Hz-18kHz. The weighty body is available in either polished chrome or matte black and resembles a tapered cage-like design around the foam windshield, which is available in combinations of blue, white or red. To add even more showbiz to design, beneath the foam are four LED lamps, which are powered by +48v phantom. The review model was a black body with blue foam that would look particularly cool on a dark stage.
The frequency response of The Fin has a presence peak in the upper mids, which would definitely help cut through on a loud stage. I wouldn’t say it was an aggressive quality, but has a very much “up-front” kind of sound. This would definitely suit a modern pop/indie style of vocal and perfect for an RnB/rap situation. In the studio, I tried a little mild distortion on it (think The Strokes/Jack White etc.) and it came into its own - I can imagine this would also sound great going through an amp as a harmonica mic.
The diaphragm is suspended in a specially designed shock mount which reduces handling noise to a bare minimum - couple that with excellent side and rear noise rejection and you have an excellent stage mic.
Form AND function in a funky design - well worth a listen!