Monday, August 12, 2013

REVIEW: Heil Sound Proline PR30 & PR40 Dynamic Microphones

heil_p1The first thing I noticed about these two microphones is that they appear to be styled after side-address large element condensers, but they are, in fact, front address  moving coil microphones.  Contrary to decades of microphone tradition, the Heil microphones place the logo somewhere other than at the front of the element which will probably confuse some users.  One example of this might be the microphone used on Dave Letterman's desk, which appears to be aimed at the ceiling, as if it were a side address mic aimed at Dave or his guests.  Dave doesn't seem to use this mic, since he can whack at it with a pencil without notice or audible side-effect, so maybe it doesn't matter where it's pointed.

heil_p2The second thing was the handling noise.  One of the usual expectations for a dynamic mic is that it will be fairly immune to handling.  Neither of these microphones meet t hat expectation.  They are unusually sensitive to touch, sounds transmitted through the stand, or cable movement, so for practical applications they need shock mounting.  This characteristic makes the PR30 and PR40 much like the large element condensers they hope to emulate, sonically, these microphones desperately need shock isolation.  The good news is that Heil sells the SM-2 Shock Mount for a reasonable $89 and it might resolve many of these issues.  I did not have that device to include in our tests, so I can't vouch for its performance.  I suspect that some of the sonic comments made about the microphones, especially the PR30, might be moderated by shock mounting the mic.

pr-30-on-sm-2-cbsAnother expectation of large dynamics is durability.  FOH Ma gazine's Mark Amundson had done some testing of these microphones before I received them and the PR40 had suffered a small dent in the top screen from some of that experience.  No other visible damage was noted, but the PR40 was intermittent when we received it.  We returned it to Heil and it was repaired within a couple of weeks.  In comparison, though, our Sennheiser MD421, Shure Beta52, EV RE20 & 868, and AKG D112 experience has been considerably different.  Those mics have been dropped, bashed, dented, and tossed from tall buildings (effectively) without failure.  I have to say the Heil mics are unexpectedly fragile, based on our PR40 experience. 

For a US-made product, the Heil Prosound PR40 ($325 list) PR30 ($289) are reasonably priced.  Street price, currently, is very close to list, but that may change if distribution becomes wider.  The PR40 comes in a nice looking "cherry wood case."  It has solid construction and feels substantial.  Both mics seem like quality products, but the heft of the PR40 leaves a better impression than does the lightweight PR30.  The mics look alike, but they do not feel at all the same.  The PR40 has decent pop filtering and the PR30 would require an additional pop filter for vocal use.

Sonically, I found both mikes to be somewhat more sensitive than similar dynamics.  The PR40, for example, needed about 6dB less mic pre gain than an RE20 in the same application.  The PR40 has a slightly pronounced lower midrange, which gives the PR40 a somewhat nasal quality on male voice.  It's a little edgy sounding on female voices.  I used it for both vocal music and speech and my opinion stayed the same for either application.  Sound quality-wise, it recorded with a character more similar to good dynamics than condensers (contradicting the Heil marketing claims, "a dynamic that sounds like a condenser").  It has a pronounced proximity effect, so I can't see the PR40 replacing the RE20 in knowledgeable studios, but maybe there are fewer of those around than when the RE20 first became popular. As for the condenser "sound-alike" claim, I don't own any condensers that exhibit the limitations of the PR40. As for the claim that the PR40 is as sensitive as a large element condenser, I think those reviewers are on crack or unfamiliar with typical microphone gain requirements.

On instruments, I tried the PR40 on kick, floor tom, electric bass, and piano.  The low end didn't do much for me on a variety of kick drum positions, but I could see using it as a floor tom mic.  It has more bottom than a 421 or a D112, but it's not as solid and precise sounding as an RE20 or as big and full as a Beta52 or any of the similar modern kick mics.  On electric guitar the PR40 has a quality of its own.  It is very full, punchy, and cuts through the mix differently than either an SM57 or a condenser in the same application.  The same can be said in an electric bass application.  The things that make it less than ideal on some instruments, apparently, make it shine on bass or guitar.  Because of the high sensitivity claim, I tried the PR40 on the low bridge of a grand piano and it was accurate and very musical in that application but still required only slightly less preamp gain than other dynamics I might consider for this application. 

As I mentioned earlier, the PR30 didn't do much for me as a vocal mic.  The lack of pop filtering and the tonal quality of our PR30 was very similar to what you'd expect from an SM57 in the same application.  The PR30's early low roll-off makes it even less interesting as a kick mic.   The low end is simply not there and the combination of poor isolation and the resonance of the mic made it a poor choice for percussion.  It produces a strange ringing effect on high volume percussion sounds that is difficult to EQ out.  On other instruments, I tried the PR30 on electric guitar, harmonica, and as a mono drum overhead.  In a blues rock recording session, we mic'd a Shure Green Bullet-to-tube-amp combination and compared the PR30 to the Beta57 and SM57.  The PR30 won hands-down.  The narrow-band quality of the PR30 was exactly right for fitting the harp into a full blues mix and the response of the mic mellowed the instrument into something very traditional sounding for this style of music.  On electric guitar the PR30 performed equally well.  It takes high levels of sound pressure without issue and works well in a close-mic'd environment, providing decent isolation and a clear tone. 

Bob Heil recommended trying the PR30 as an overhead drum mic, so I did.  This isn't an application where I'd normally consider a dynamic, but it was an interesting experiment.  Compared to small condensers in the same location, we weren't impressed.  The PR30 did require considerably less gain than another dynamic in the same location might need, but transient distortion was obvious and the lack of fullness in the toms was equally apparent.  I'm not sure what I was supposed to hear in this experiment but I didn't hear anything I thought would be useful in a high fidelity recording situation.

Comments made by other engineers using the PR30 were

  • "The PR30 on a small cabinet guitar amp worked quite well. The guitar tones were articulate and well defined. The mic worked particularly well on thick distorted tones. It has some resonance around 1-2kHz that really focused the overdriven amp tone. On drums the PR30 was less successful. On kick drum the mic lacked low frequency depth. It sounded like the 200-400Hz range was happening, but below 200Hz things rolled off quickly. On both toms and kick the resonance around 1-2kHz created a ring that really altered the tone of the drum shell." (Rob Schlette)
  • "Used [the PR40] on spoken word, male voice.  More sensitive, especially to transients, than expected (for a dynamic).  Picked up consonants particularly well, could be because it was an especially bright sounding mic.  Compared to an EV RE-20, it seemed to lack a little depth but wasn't as demanding on the mic pre.  Felt the mic was a little one dimensional compared to the industry standard vox mic." (Scott Jarrett)

Because of time constraints and the intermittent problems we had with the PR40, I didn't get any other opinions of the PR40. There have been a lot of raving reviews of these microphones both in industry magazines and among some engineers, so your mileage may vary. While I found several reasons to like these mics, I found even more (handling noise, fragility, and odd chassis resonances) to distrust them.  I think they are a bit high priced for the value offered, but they are certainly cost-effective for an American made boutique product. I do not consider either mic a substitute for a quality condenser, but they are both interesting in typical dynamic applications.

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1 comment:

Thomas Day said...

A friend was given a PR30 after the Front Of House Magazine test (the one Mark tested, in fact). It has held up poorly in a very limited studio application. Like our PR40, it became intermittent and noise very quickly and ended up at the bottom of the studio owner's pile of dead or useless microphones.

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