Earthworks Flex Series Microphones

Earthworks' Flex Microphones, $400 each, are intended for podium use, as hanging choir mics and for a variety of instrument applications. They are equally adept at handling soft vocals or high SPL drums.
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This review is actually for three mics in the Earthworks Flex Series of gooseneck-type podium microphones. Earthworks is a company praised for its superb omni and reference microphones, known for being very flat and neutral or "uncolored."
Product PointsApplications: Live sound, installation, studio

Key Features: Cardioid pattern, phantom powered, gooseneck, high SPL (145 dB)

Price: $400 each

Contact: Earthworks at 603-654-6427, Web Site.
Earthworks' Flex Microphones, $400 each, are intended for podium use, as hanging choir mics and for a variety of instrument applications. They are equally adept at handling soft vocals or high SPL drums.

Features

The Flex Series Microphones, all $400, are said to perform very similarly to Earthworks' award-winning SR69 handheld cardioid condenser mic. But the Flex Series Mics have flexible goosenecks of 13 inches (FM360), 19 inches (FM500) and 27 inches (FM720). Unlike some gooseneck mics that make quite a sonic crunch when moved, the Flex Series are very quiet during repositioning.

On-axis sound quality is natural and uniform all the way out to 90 degrees. Off-axis sound is rejected smoothly with very little coloration. When used as a podium mic, this characteristic is beneficial when the speaker (in this case, a very animated pastor) is moving all around in front of the mic. He or she will be picked up much more consistently than with some other microphones.

While it is natural to think of the Flex Series only as podium mics, because that is exactly what they look like, they are really designed for a wide variety of other applications like choirs and acoustic guitar, and for very loud sources like drums.

The Flex Series are flat from 50 Hz to 20 kHz within ±2 dB at six inches. This level of accuracy is unusual in flexible microphones. Earthworks says its Flex Series mics "facilitate intelligibility and communication through time accurate response... and are optimized for fast, clean impulse response. This results in uncolored sound because the relationships between frequency and time are less smeared than with normal mics." This may be correct because the characteristic "sound" of the Earthworks mics reminds me of my Magnepan electrostatic home speakers - fast, accurate and detailed.

As mentioned above, the Flex Series mics come in three lengths. Having XLR-male connectors (of course) made them easy to swap out during setup and use.

In Use

Visually, the Earthworks mics were dripping with quality, exhibiting jewel-like appearance and construction. It is fun (if you have a boring, engineeresque personality like mine) to look over something this well made and find the flaw. I found none on these made-in-America, museum-quality mics.

The FM 720 (27 inches) is the extra long model and is "the best hanging choir mic," which is exactly what I used it for. In situations that require extra flexible reach, the FM720 is the first choice.

I used the FM 720 in place of our church's Shure condenser mics. The Earthworks sounded natural and present. To compare them to the Shures would not be fair in this setting, but it is fair to say that the Earthworks mics sound great in the room, and on the recording I was doing on the sly.

The FM 500 (19 inches) is a good length for most podium and church applications. The ability to adjust its position with very little (read: no) handling noise is amazing... really! Also cool is that it does not try to move back a little after you reposition it. It will stay where you put it. I wanted to peel off the vinyl covering from the flexible neck to see how Earthworks does it.

I mentioned above that the off-axis ability of the Flex Series was a benefit when used with an orator who is constantly on the move. In this situation, the FM 500 replaced a.lavalier mic.

Of course, the lav "tends" to go everywhere the user goes, yet the FM 500 did an impressive job of picking up everything within reasonable range of its placement, and sounding very natural while doing so.

I used the FM 360 (13 inches) to mic an acoustic guitar and swapped the FM 500 to use for the guitar player's vocals. This is where one could really get a good idea of just how natural and clean the Earthworks mics sounded. Very impressive! And, this great sound came right through on the recording. After hearing the recording and hearing how good she sounded, the guitarist/vocalist was certainly disappointed to learn that the church had not bought these mics but had to return them.

Summary

The Earthworks Flex Series are microphones that are superb for their intended use. They produce a clear, detailed, natural sonic image in a variety of applications. Earthworks (and Recording Arts 101) says to try mics first using no EQ. That is certainly true with these mics. They sound great on their own.

When one considers the wide range of possible applications for the Flex Series mics and their splendid audio characteristics, it would be difficult to choose against them.