I’ve been recording many interviews for the Tape Op podcast series, and our new feature called DISCussion <tapeop.com/audio> en mass. In-person we usually use the DPA 4061 lavalier mics [Tape Op #127] and the small MMA-A interface that they make. These work great, and you can get them connected to an iPad, smartphone, or computer pretty seamlessly. But now we are (still) in the middle of a pandemic, and no one is doing face-to-face interviews yet.
My trusty Shure SM7 and an Electro-Voice RE20 get used often for interview tasks, and occasionally for vocals and other recording duties, but with those mics I need an audio interface. The good news is that I have several interfaces handy, but I’ve often wondered about all those USB mics I see around. While I was on a call with Earthworks’ Mike Dias, he recommended I check out their new ICON. It comes with two connection options: XLR (PRO model), and USB standard. I told Mike that I was deeply skeptical of USB mics. He replied, “Great! That’s the one I will send you.”
The mic arrived in a box that was foam-lined and multi-layered, with a high-quality micro USB to USB A cable, and a small desktop stand made by Triad-Orbit. The mic is well built, heavy in the hand, and sports a smooth machined metal body. The built-in windscreen is vented metal, and when removed reveals what looks like a stubby version of what you’d expect a classic Earthworks mic to be.
Different than an RE20’s or SM7’s dynamic design, the ICON is a bus-powered, small-diaphragm cardioid condenser. When plugged into a USB slot on my MacBook Pro with the provided cable, it appeared as “USB audio CODEC” – selectable for use in Pro Tools and Audacity. In Pro Tools you’ll have to configure your hardware and playback settings in the drop-down menu, but that’s easy enough, and swapping back and forth between interfaces and the USB option was simple work – same goes for Zoom call recording.
On the base of the ICON’s stainless steel body is a simple input gain knob (that also serves as an emergency mute button), plus a single 1/8-inch headphone jack for monitoring. With plenty of gain, the mic offers a rich and balanced tone, and I like that I don’t have to be right up on the grill to achieve this quality. It has a low end roll-off that starts at about 100 Hz when used from roughly five-inches away, and around 400 Hz at a distance closer to a foot. Earthworks boast that the ICON offers studio-grade capture (20 Hz to 20 kHz) with its extremely responsive capsule design. I can see using this mic to capture music ideas quickly with excellent results.
Preferring a more traditional smaller sized stand, I found the ICON’s included stand too small/short for my setup, but I can see it being useful in other applications. I wish there was a small carry/travel bag for the mic and cable. The box is too big to throw in a bag with other items, so I’ve been using a small pouch (the size of what you’d get with a Shure SM57 or SM58) to protect the mic from dust balls and other general detritus for on the go situations. Accessory criticisms aside, the ICON will officially be the first product I recommend to people looking to add a USB mic to their collection. For any quick-connect needs such as voiceover, podcast, or live streaming applications, the ICON is a no brainer.