Earthworks is famous in the recording industry, building its incredible reputation on the accuracy and realism of its measurement microphones. It doesn’t stop there, however, delivering some excellent handheld and instrument mics, such as the SV33 used by Lew of Unbox Therapy. Today, we’re looking at the Icon Pro, the company’s first product directly targeted at streamers and content creators. Coming in at $499 for the XLR version and $349 for USB, the Icon promises a rich, detailed sound perfect for voice over. It doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re looking for a professional-level microphone, this might be one to consider.
- Current Price: $499 for Pro XLR, $349 for Studio USB
- Microphone Type: Condenser
- Frequency Response: 20Hz – 30kHz
- Polar Pattern: Cardioid
- Diaphragm Size: Small
- Max Acoustic Input: 139dB SPL
- Power Source: 48V Phantom Power
- Noise: 16dB SPL (A weighted)
- Color: Stainless Steel
- Dimensions: 5.137″ x 1.6″
- Weight: 1.5 lb
- Warranty: 2-year
Earthworks Icon Pro – Unboxing and Build Quality
The Earthworks Icon Pro is next-level. I don’t say that superfluously. Compared to the vast majority of microphones targeted at streamers today, it’s an all-around higher-caliber product. That begins from “go” with the packaging. While I only put so much stock into unboxings, the Icon Pro is well-done with detailed artwork on its outer sleeve, and an internal box that doubles as a storage case when the mic’s not in use. There’s thick, cut foam to keep the mic and the included Triad-Orbit Micro mic adapter safe and secure.
Unboxing the mic, I was immediately struck. It features a stainless steel chassis with a brushed finish that beautifully reflects light sources around it. With just the LEDs from my PC case and the Nanoleaf Canvas panels on my wall, it almost seems to glow. The capsule is hidden behind a grille that does away with the usual woven wires and is instead a perforated sheet. The steel body creates pillars around the grille and really creates a striking look that oozes quality. All of that steel also lends the mic a good amount of weight. Despite being fairly small at only 5.1 x 1.6 inches, it weighs a pound and a half and feels weighty and substantial in the hand.
Also included in the box is a Triad-Orbit Micro mic adapter. In essence, this adapter is fairly simple: it’s a high-quality ball head with four notches on its outer shell to help hold it in place. In practice, however, it’s quite useful. Mounted to my Rode PSA-1 boom arm, this allowed me to reposition the microphone anywhere I liked without having to loosen the boom arm itself. It’s a nice addition, considering this tiny adapter sells for $38 at Sweetwater all by itself. The Studio version of the microphone also includes a desktop stand, though stepping up to the Pro, it’s assumed you’ll be mounting it to an arm.
What you won’t find is any kind of shock mount or pop filter, and that’s because the microphone doesn’t need either. A pop filter is built-in and, counter to many streaming mics, actually works well. It’s also surprisingly resilient to desk and handling noise. I could swivel it on my boom arm absolutely silently. Apart from an XLR cable and a 5/8-to-1/4 inch adapter (and an audio interface, of course), you won’t need to buy anything additional to get started recording with this microphone.
Another noteworthy quality is that this is an end-address, cardioid microphone. Unlike most condensers you’ll find, this microphone is designed to speak directly into the end of it, allowing it to take up less screen real estate on your face cam. As a cardioid mic, its pick-up pattern encompasses the zone directly in front of it and attempts to reject outside noise. As a condenser, it is still fairly sensitive to surrounding noise, so is best suited for quiet environments or, ideally, sound-treated rooms.
The other important thing to note is that the microphone only requires 48V of phantom power to operate (or the USB connection on the Studio version). You won’t need an exceptionally expensive interface to use the Icon Pro or invest in something like the Cloudlifter. You will need some kind of interface, but there’s no need to break the bank.
Earthworks Icon Pro – The Killer Feature
What really makes this microphone stand out is the design of the microphone capsule and its supporting electronics. The Icon Pro uses a small-diaphragm condenser capsule with a wider than average frequency response. While many broadcast microphones use dynamic capsules, like the Shure SM7B, or condensers with large, warm diaphragms, the Icon Pro goes the opposite direction. Why?
The answer is speed. The same way a sports car can take-off faster than a Ford F150, the Icon Pro is able to respond faster to any sound wave hitting its diaphragm. The result is better transient response, the sudden beginning of sound. It’s what makes recordings sound realistic and detailed. A large diaphragm microphone, by virtue of its increased size, isn’t able to respond as quickly, so those first bits of detail are often rounded off.
It then adds on top of this with a wider 20 – 30,000 Hz frequency response range. Most broadcast microphones used for content creation are limited to 20,000 Hz in their upper range, such as the Blue Bluebird or Audio-Technica AT4040. This upper-frequency response lends air and atmosphere to what you’re recording and changes the overall sound profile to one more grounded in how you actually sound while still managing to fill out the body of your voice.
How does the Earthworks Icon Pro sound?
If you’re reading this and wondering about all of the popular large-diaphragm condensers that also sound great, you’re not wrong. The difference between a large diaphragm with slower transients and the Icon Pro’s small-diaphragm isn’t one of “this sounds good and that sounds bad.” It’s a difference in realism and detail. In much the same way that a high-end headphone will reveal detail and sound more realistic than a mainstream Sony WH1000-XM4, the Icon Pro sounds much more true to life than something like the Blue Yeti or even the SM7B.
What that translates to for content creation is a microphone that is slightly brighter in tone but still has enough warmth to sound full. The transient response and greater “air” of the microphone also make recordings sound closer to how it would sound if someone were speaking to you in person. It’s a difference that’s difficult to put into words, but there is a definition and poignancy to recordings on the Icon Pro that was apparent when put head-to-head against my AT4040.
As a teacher forced to go hybrid this year, I’ve recorded hundreds of hours of spoken word content. I began the year using a mix of dynamic microphones, like the Shure MV7, Samson Q2U, and Samson Q9U. While those microphones each offered a great “radio voice,” I got tired of the compressed sound I heard on the edges of my voice. I switched to the Aston Microphones’ Spirit condenser microphone which was much better. I then swapped to the Rode Broadcaster which I stuck with through the rest of the year.
Listen to the full audio review, recorded on this microphone, here!
For this review, I was particularly curious how it would stack up against the last two. Both delivered excellent results and are priced cheaper at $449 and $419 respectively.
There’s simply no question that the Icon Pro sounds amazing. Side by side with these microphones, the Icon Pro offered the most realistic presentation of my voice. It also offered the brightest tonal signature and avoided making me sound boomy, even when I got close to the microphone. It lacked versatility compared to the Spirit which had two additional polar patterns (omni and figure-eight) but for single-source recording, the tone was neck and neck between the two. Against the Broadcaster, the Icon Pro emphasized the bass notes less, but articulation (transients) was better. The Broadcaster, while great at what it does, is also fairly one-note and isn’t a great choice for recording sources other than vocals, like instruments.
Even though the Icon Pro is targeted at spoken word, its speed makes it a much better fit for recording guitars and piano. If you’re a content creator that plays an instrument, the Icon Pro has a significant detail advantage, accurately capturing the attack of notes. It may only have one polar pattern but it still manages to be fairly versatile for different types of single-source recording.
It’s also worth noting that the pick-up range on this microphone is simply great. You don’t need to keep the microphone 3-4 inches from your mouth. I was able to keep it 12 inches away and simply turn up the gain and still achieve a full, great-sounding recording.
Should you buy the Earthworks Icon Pro?
The big question is whether it’s worth paying quite so much for. At $499 for the XLR version and $349 for the USB version, it’s quite an expensive mic. One might say “but the Shure SM7B is only $399” and they would be correct — however, that microphone also requires a good amount of gain to function. You’ll need to buy an in-line pre-amp, like the Cloudlifter, to get a good level out of it or a high-output interface like the GoXLR which costs extra to achieve a good level. By the time you factor even a pre-amp in, you’re at or above the $499 price point, which really levels the playing field for this caliber of mic.
For this review, I compared it side-by-side with some of my favorites, each of which cost less. None of the mics sounded bad, and though the Icon Pro XLR sounded slightly more realistic and airy, it’s very much a matter of tone and taste.
So who is the Icon Pro for? If you’re a user who:
- Wants a highly detailed sound
- Wants a microphone that looks stunning on camera
- May want to dabble in recording other sources
- Can record in a quiet environment or treated room
- Doesn’t mind paying for craftsmanship and pedigree
The Icon Pro might be for you.
This is a professional-caliber mic, priced and outfitted to match exactly that type of buyer. This is a great mic choice for a user interested in making the step up to that level or who are creating content that makes them enough money to justify investing in high-quality recording equipment. If you do find yourself at that point, it’s well worth considering, particularly if you don’t mind paying a bit extra for an excellent on-camera look and the pedigree that comes with the Earthworks brand.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.