No need for an enticing intro here, as this is the sE RN17 pressure-gradient, small-diaphragm condenser microphone pair, co-designed by Siwei Zou and Rupert Neve. As a PAR reader, either you will want it, or at least want to know more about it. So, let’s get right down to business.
The RN17, positioned correctly between the mount’s two suspension bands. Rob’s review sample, courtesy of sE, was an advance pre-production version, thus no documentation on mounting.
The sE RN17 pressure-gradient, smalldiaphragm condenser microphone pair begins with a 15mm capsule: the world’s smallest production gold sputtered Mylar capsule in a 17mm housing. As reviewed here, the RN17 stereo kit ships with dual cardioid capsules; omnidirectional, hypercardioid, supercardioid, figure-eight and hipassed cardioid caps are also available (at additional cost). The output of the capsule is enhanced by a custom-designed, handwound transformer, which, according to sE literature, provides high headroom and a “silky finish,” not to mention the uncharacteristic, memorable look of its large mid-chassis bulge where the transformer resides.
Featuring a largely flat 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response (except for a slight boost below 100 Hz), 200 ohm impedance, 18 dB A self-noise (always a consideration with smaller diaphragms), and an impressively high maximum SPL rating of 150 dB, the RN17 could easily be considered “reference grade.”
The RN17 Stereo Pair includes flight case, wooden storage box, a stereo bar, two suspension mounts and canisters to hold the spare cardioid capsules.
Violist Susan Terry performs beneath an sE RN17 spaced pair for evaluations at producer Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium.
As fate would have it, I booked a highly unusual and challenging classical harp session and the RN17 Stereo Pair arrived at my doorstep with very serendipitous timing. Rather than take placement risks with my new client (I considered high/low or pronounced stereo placement), I conservatively chose dual cardioid caps and an X/Y array for Alexandra Katelyn Mullins’ worldclass Lyon and Healy harp via super-clean Earthworks 1024 preamps. The session’s results exceeded my already-high expectations. The RN17 pair showed detailed dynamics, very stable imaging, unexaggerated brightness up top and plenty of bass without murkiness [hear audioclip #1], providing more bottom than most SDCs I’ve used. The midrange of the instrument seemed ruler flat and easy to take for granted; it didn’t tug at your attention.
My next gig with the RN17 was with an African drum troupe, on-location in a 30 x 45-foot room that wasn’t acoustically designed, yet sounded pretty good nonetheless. This time with omni capsules, I spaced the RN17 pair about two feet apart, used True Systems preamps, and aimed one RN17 largely at the djembes and the other at the doundouns. As a result, I received “the big bass with room decay” effect I was hoping for; quick transients, uncolored response and high headroom made for a sound that was close to the reality of just standing in the middle of the room and listening at close proximity.
By the time I tried the RN17 pair as drum overheads, I knew what to expect. The pair with cardioid caps in ORTF yielded great headroom, the rarity of equal translation of all my cymbals, and a notably precise stereo image [hear audioclip #2]. I added a small riser to one shockmount (to further emphasize the ORTF configuration) but struggled with the stereo bar Switching to omni caps and a spaced pair configuration revealed reverb and decay I didn’t know my little room had: a huge and nearly lumbering bottom and what seemed like more compression in the low mids [hear audioclip #3].
The Fidelitorium’s Yamaha C7 grand piano with the RN17 pair is ready for Liz May’s performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Considering the rated 150 dB maximum SPL promises enormous headroom, I thought I would try it on an HCS Soundblaster 14 x 6-inch steel snare drum. I found out just how much output these babies have. We needed only 5 dB of gain, and the sound was good, fast and articulate, though just a bit boxy and a little less than exciting through the high mids; to me, this is a typical performance characteristic for high quality “reference” SDCs (as our ears are used to hearing colored brutes like SM57s).
It wasn’t until I recorded some tracks with my Yamaha 12-string acoustic guitar that I realized just how much top end is there with this RN17 pair. I needed 55 dB of gain, which revealed a little self-noise — noticeable, but not fatal. With cardioid caps and a spaced pair (one mic aimed at the 15th fret, one just behind the bridge), I received a vibrant stereo field and a crisp sonic re-creation, loaded with detail and definition — maybe even too much. Conversely, with the omni caps, I received a far more polite top end, less dynamics, the “substance” at 200 Hz that the cardioids missed and a big, plump bottom.
Next, I hit the road for more testing at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium in Kernersville, North Carolina, a comfortable, Wes Lachot-designed room loaded with Mitch’s penchant for delightfully funky vintage gear. Engineers Liz May and Josh Weesner recorded four passes of an acoustic duo (Lee Terry on guitar, and Susan Terry on viola) with the omni caps as a spaced pair, the cardioid caps in both X/Y and ORTF and finally individually miked (using cardioid caps about three feet off each instrument).
Both Liz and Josh liked the defined clarity and flatness of the cardioids, especially when individually placed, whereas I liked the omni caps — they had those beefy lows and grabbed that surrounding “air” that Wes had gone to such great lengths to make pretty. The ORTF response was impressive with better fullness than X/Y and almost as much openness in its imaging as the omni caps [hear audioclip #4]. Lee loved the RN17’s accuracy for his guitar, adding, “I didn’t feel like I was being miked.”
Josh laid down a violin overdub after we decided we liked the combo of a cardioid RN17 about 1.5 feet off the instrument and an omni RN17 about eight feet away. Liz commented on how well the two disparate sounds meshed together as one [hear audioclip #5 — the webclip has the two signals panned center].
Liz May adjusts the RN17.
Liz played a jazzy rendition of “Over the Rainbow” on Mitch’s Yamaha C7 grand piano, and we tried both omni and cardioid capsules, positioned high/low, just outside the piano’s rim [hear audioclip #6]. We got great dynamics, a nice frequency balance — Liz even mentioned hearing more desirable low end than she’s used to getting with SDCs — and heightened curiosity, as I wondered about how many cool things I could do with a pair (or better yet, a quartet) of RN17s and figure-eight caps for some Mid-Side recording.
I must mention that, in each application, I found set up to be more difficult than it should be. For example, I could barely achieve a proper X/Y config without the bar or a mount slipping. At the Fidelitorium, all three of us had trouble setting up our stereo placements, as one shockmount tended to drift out of position and the mics tended to sag. It turns out that the sag problem was all mine; the transformer needs to be positioned between the two suspension mounts. One could assume an owner’s manual or applications guide will spare purchasers from such foolishness. Nonetheless, we were legitimately disappointed with the threading of the mic’s capsule connections; as one mic was rough and difficult, the other seemed to nearly strip out upon usage. [Rob’s review sample, courtesy of sE, was an advance pre-production version, sans documentation on mounting. Further, sE states that final production models of the RN17 stereo kit, now shipping, have proper attention to fit and finish. - Ed.]
I also couldn’t help but notice some “rough threads” as part of the mic’s shock mounts. It turns out they were metal grains and remnants of black paint clogging the threads of the mounts, something that must’ve happened during the finishing process. I carefully used a wirebrush to clean up these sensitive connections on the capsule and then had capsule swapping working smoothly, an absolute necessity for an interchangeable capsule design.
The sE RN17 condenser pair were welcomed visitors to my studio, and they enhanced every recording where I used them. I personally love the sound of the sE RN17, and having a pair to use just multiplies the love. The varied responses of the RN17’s omni and directional capsules gave me the sonic options I needed, all conveyed with musicality, truthfulness and an accurate reproduction of dynamics. Speaking of truth, the RN17’s top end is exceedingly true while the bottom end is a little pronounced in certain apps. However, this touch of bottom end color is typically to my liking (and easy enough to correct with a high-pass filter or low-frequency shelf when not).
The Fidelitorium: “Live, Yet Diffuse,” says Lachot Acoustic guitarist Lee Terry in the Fidelitorium’s large music room Studio Designer Wes Lachot details the acoustic impetus of Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium. “When Mitch first approached me about designing th e Fidelitorium, he envisioned the studio to be built out of concrete blocks,” reflects Lachot. “At the time, RPG had recently introduced a radical new product, the Diffusorblox, which allowed the construction of concrete structural walls incorporating basstrapping and QRD diffusion. By using this construction method, we were able to build a studio almost completely devoid of the usual fiberglass-filled walls and create an acoustic space that was live, yet diffuse. The combination of the Diffusorblox, wood walls, and colored concrete floors gives the studio a nice organic feel that musicians really seem to like.”
Compared to my favorite “reference” SDCs — such as the DPA 4011 and Sennheiser MKH8000, to name a couple — the RN17 keeps up sonically, with very fine shades of differences that only a microphone shootout could properly discern.
I’m still a little apprehensive about a complete recommendation due to the performance of the accessories. The RN17’s transformers are heavy, though I would have likely had better results if I’d known how to use the mounts as designed, and a riser to aid in X/Y and ORTF arrangements would make this stereo kit far more effective. However, I do know $2,749 (street) is a steal, as comparable kits are hundreds (maybe even a thousand-plus) more.
Price: $3,149 list (RN17 Stereo Pair with flight case, wooden storage box, a stereo bar, two cardioid capsules, two suspension mounts and canisters to hold the spare capsules)
Contact: sE Electronics | seelectronics.com
Rob Tavaglione has been writing for Pro Audio Review since 2006.