Griffin Rodriguez and Robert Hoffman. Chicago and L.A. Two sessions. Two mics. And the deal? Read on…

GRIFFIN: Heil Proline PR 40

New microphones get me excited to try things a different way. Whether it’s a snare mic placement in the studio or flexibility during a live performance, different microphones will make me think about new ways to do familiar tasks. I was pleased to experiment with the range of new sounds I could get from the PR40 from Heil’s proline division. It’s a valuable entry into the field of high-performance dynamic mics. Everything about it seems reminiscent of the EV RE20 and I was excited to compare its performance on a few standard RE 20 tasks. The first sound source I could test this on was a kick drum. The PR40 packs quite a low punch in this task and also has a nice attack. It had a great fullness when combined with an attacky inside kick mic. It sounded even and punchy on a bass amp - excellent. Next I tried the mic on some vocals. Compared to the other dynamic I use often for scratch vox – the Sennheiser 421 – the PR40 had a kind of 2 to 3k peak, which gave it extra sibilance. It didn’t seem as neutral to me as the 421 or some of the other condensers I tried. When I checked later it did have much more level at the same gain than the RE20 or SM7 did. Compared to the RE20 the PR40 seemed hyped to me – especially in the lows. It had more presence than an SM7, which was nice. In general it sounds huge, like a condenser. It is also almost half the price of an RE20, which makes it very attractive. The gently hyped upper mid might make it harsh on a saxophone—another favorite RE20 application – though I would choose it over most cheaper condensers. The literature on the web site will make you think that it outperforms the RE20 in almost every facet. Though this may not be true it is very flexible and worthwhile for the dollar and includes nice touches like a fresh finish and a beautiful case and polishing cloth.

ROBERT: Heil PR 40 Wide Frequency Response Dynamic Mic

If you’ve been reading any of the Internet recording forums in the last six months you may have seen the name Heil show up quite a bit. There’s a lot of hype on his new mics and I was anxious to find out if they could live up to the reviews. Designer Bob Heil has been in the pro sound industry for over 37 years doing everything from live sound for The Who to custom home theaters. Some of you may be familiar with the Heil Talkbox made famous by Peter Frampton . . . .

The PR 40 is a rare beast, in that it is a large diaphragm dynamic that uses a Neodymium motor for high output (the marriage of which makes this mic truly one-of-a-kind). It comes in a nice wood box and includes a mic clip, and a spec sheet. Though looking like a side address microphone, the PR 40 is a cardioid end fire mic and is clearly labeled as such from the factory. A nice touch I thought, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an assistant setup an AKG 414 backward or a Neumann FET47 on end. The included mic clip is a heavy duty affair though it has no shockmount. It actually reminds me of the old 414 clips, heavy metal with a plastic clip that tightens around the neck of the microphone. There’s a more substantial shockmount available called the SM-2 if vibrations are a problem in your recording environment. The mic is surprisingly light but feels well built with no plastic parts. The diaphragm is a low-mass aluminum type with a manufacturers stated frequency response of 28hz to 18khz. Oddly, the literature says that response is perfectly flat with a “beautiful mid range rise.” So is it flat or is there a mid range rise? With no included graph we’ll just have to try it in the real world to find out.

While Heil has clearly targeted the broadcast market, I thought I’d try the PR 40 in the same places I’d use several other well known broadcast industry standards - the Electro Voice RE-20 and the Shure SM7b. Typically you’ll see these mics on voice overs, sung vocals, bass amps, kick drums and more. The RE-20 has been my “go to” microphone choice for loud rock vocals a la Joe Cocker, and the SM7b is perhaps most famous for being used as the vocal microphone on Michael Jackson’s Thriller engineered by Bruce Swedien.

I first tried the PR 40 on a female vocal session through a Daking mic pre and the Daking FET compressor with no more than 1-2db of compression. The PR 40 was quite bright to the point that I actually had to take off a couple dB at 8khz. I can’t recall ever hearing a dynamic mic this bright, though this could be attributed to the fact that the Daking is a very mid-forward pre. We tried the mic without a pop screen for the first couple takes but this proved to problematic. The plosives (Ps and Bs) and sibilance were overwhelming—something I have never encountered with this particular singer before— but again something that may have resulted from my choice of mic pre. A pop screen and a de-esser took care off that. Overall the microphone performed very well, I needed to add a little bump at 125hz for some body but the mix sounded great with no other EQ added.

Next I put the PR 40 up on my Martin acoustic guitar aimed about midway between the 12th fret and the sound hole. I don’t always use a dynamic mic on acoustics but once in a while an SM57 works great in the middle of a rock track. The PR 40 did exactly as I expected. A nice grungy mid-range with not too much dynamic range. I wouldn’t use it for a solo guitar piece or even for a track where the acoustics were prominent but if you need an acoustic guitar to break through some drums and electric guitars this might just do the trick. We then moved right on to electric guitars. My assistant Mike player a Gretsch 6120jr into a Dr.Z Mazerati with a Mesa Boogie 2x12 cabinet. The PR 40 had a very cool vibe, not exactly representative of what was really happening in the room but useful nonetheless. The mic broke up faster than I expected so we pulled it back a couple inches and it cleaned up nicely though once again it was never ultra-clean. The mid-range was screaming but I kind of liked it. It made the Dr. Z sound very Fender-ish.

Finally, we tried the PR 40 out on drums, inside the kick drum a few inches inside the front head pointed at the beater. The Heil showed great definition but not as much low-end as I wanted for this particular piece. This time the mic was very representative of what the instrument actually sounded like. I typically use a Shure Beta 52 inside the kick, which tends to be more round, more chunky, and kind of exaggerated in the low-end. I think the PR 40 would be nice on a jazz kit by itself, or in combination with a condenser outside the kick to provide more low-end for pop and rock music.

During our test sessions I also paid careful attention to how spoken voice sounded through the PR 40. Proximity effect seemed nonexistent at any distance with each of the persons speaking into the mic. This could be a good thing but if I was looking for that larger than life vocal I don’t think the PR 40 would be my first choice.

Is the Heil PR 40 a replacement for the venerable RE-20 or SM7b ?

It’s a nice alternative. I’d like to get one for kick drum duty for sure and I certainly would have no problem pulling it out when the RE-20 or SM7b are already in use on a big tracking session.