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E-V and the ND range: “We had to do it right”

John Dexter Jones talks to E-V's Rick Belt about the new ND range of live mics and wonders, why the wait?

In 2002, the founder of Electro-Voice, Al Kahn, gave an interview about the origins of the company, writesJohn Dexter Jones. Describing his involvement in the development of microphones, he passed a remark that has a simple, powerful resonance for his successors in the company he began. The evolution of Indiana-based E-V into the microphone market in the early 1930s set a standard and traces a pioneering line to the present day. That evolution was squarely based on quality. Of Electro-Voice’s first microphone, Kahn said simply: “We made a good one.”

Speaking to Rick Belt, the designer and driving force behind the development of Electro-Voice’s new ND Series of wired microphones, it is immediately apparent that a strong sense of legacy hangs in the air. “I take the view that as a custodian of the brand, my responsibility to handle it with care is of the utmost importance, and that any product stamped with the Electro-Voice name is to be of the highest possible quality,” says Belt.

“As part of a wider strategy to update and refresh certain products, the introduction of the new ND Series constitutes the next stage in the evolution of the neodymium technology that we at Electro-Voice pioneered in the 1980s. It wasn’t something to be taken lightly or done in haste.”

The ND Series is the company’s first major launch into the microphone market for a number of years, but as the conversation with Belt progresses, it becomes obvious that an agreed date for this launch would only be reached when the products met his stringent criteria for excellence and value. The fundamental aim of the ND Series was to improve the acoustic performance of the capsules to achieve a more contemporary sonic offering and include features that would significantly enhance the experience of end-users.

Belt (pictured) explains: “At the point when we launched the successful RE 320 [dynamic vocal and instrument mic] in 2011, we began to approach how we were going to refresh the entire family of ‘N/DYMs’ – and with eight items in the range, it does take a bit of time to craft a solution.

“We opted to break down the capsules totally and re-engineer the entire engine. So it wasn’t that we took the old heads and stuck them into new bodies: we actually redesigned how those capsules were built and performed. If we were going to do it, we had to it right. We didn’t cut any corners worrying about how long it was going to take…”

He pauses for emphasis and to drive the point home: “We had to do it right.”

Doing it right, then, meant understanding the needs of artists and engineers and investing Belt’s vast practical experience of live settings and studios into product development. He speaks with an authority and clarity on the subject that could only have evolved from this background. The technical data is accompanied by a tangible passion and commitment toward developing solutions that will play out perfectly in real-life situations. As he describes the nuances of the ND Series, Belt does so, not only in terms of the science, but in terms of how a particular feature might address the specific needs of a performer or an engineer.

NDing to know

What of the microphones themselves? At the heart of the series is a new large-diaphragm capsule design. The vocal microphones are essentially addressed towards three distinct application scenarios and are differentiated by polar pattern, capsule voicing and grille shape. From the all-round ND76 and 76S (with on/off switch), through the ND86, aimed at larger concert and festival venues to the ND96 for loud stages where its extremely high gain-before-feedback characteristic enables vocals to be pushed through the mix, there is an option for optimal performance in each setting.

Similarly, the instrument models are optimised for their applications by polar pattern, capsule voicing and mechanical design. The ND44, with its innovative mounting clip, is designed for tom-toms and snare drums, while a compact form factor and low-profile angling head allow for precise placement in other applications. The larger ND46 dynamic mic has a unique locking pivot mechanism for simple and accurate positioning – particularly in hard-to-reach areas of drum kits. The ND66, a small-diaphragm condenser microphone’s filters, pads and locking pivoting head – the only one of its kind on the market – make it an extremely versatile choice for, typically, drum overheads, hi-hats, close-miked drums, acoustic guitar and piano. Finally, the ND68 dynamic is voiced for a powerful kick drum sound with little or no additional equalisation required.

Belt’s declared intention throughout the development of the series was to over-feature the price point (between $120 and $200) of each item by taking careful measure of the usability by use case. His aim was not simply to meet the expectations of users but exceed them by, including features that enhanced the aesthetics and the practicality of each item against the background of superior acoustic performance. Given the dominance of the heavy hitters in the sector, this aim is at the core of the sales proposition. Belt observes, “We’re not going to go downmarket to gain market share, that’s just not going to work, so we have to go upmarket at a competitive price. The critical part of this proposition is that we’re giving the end-user more for the money and we have some fine engineering to back this up. At recent shows where we’ve encouraged people to get hands-on with these microphones and see what they can do, the reaction has been a universal ‘Wow!’ “

Alongside their considerable engineering talents, Belt and his team have quite clearly poured heart and soul into another chapter of Electro-Voice’s near 90-year history of audio excellence and they are a confident that the new series will have a strong impact. Time may indeed have passed since Electro-Voice’s last major launch into this sector but the overwhelming message that accompanies its new ND Series of microphones is that the wait will have been more than worth it.