sE Electronics V3 by Arthur Stone
What is the V3?
The V3 is sE Electronics first dynamic microphone (along with the V7) and sE's first hand-held since the H-1 cardioid condenser (manufactured 2009-13). The price (at time of review) is: UK-£57/EU-66euro/USA-$69
The dynamic capsule has a copper voice coil and neodymium magnet with a cardioid directional pattern. The frequency range is 50 Hz to 16 kHz; 600 Ohms impedance; low self-noise 2.5 mV/Pa (-52dB). The dimensions are 52mm/2.05” diameter and 181mm/7.13” long; the weight is 295g/10.4oz. Connection is by 3-pin XLR. In general. the V3 is roughly the same size and weight as a Shure SM58 mic (our benchmark in this review).
The Gearslutz sE V7 review discussed how microphones have evolved over time: “...the SM58 is a pinnacle. It's physical shape and dimensions have reached a perfect form: balanced in the hand or stand; not too heavy, not too light; it easily becomes an extension of the human arm – a tool to closer hear the human voice but also an iconic object...” To be successful the V3 needs to embody that perfect form and maybe add something.
Whereas the V7 review wasn't drawing a direct comparison with the SM58 (as they are practically different types of mic), the V3 does bear a direct comparison to the 58 as they could both perform very similar roles live or in the studio. Given the SM58's 50 year heritage as a design classic, and probably the most used/bought mic of all time, the V3 emerges in an established market with a myriad of apparently similar mics across a range of quality and price. Does the V3 bring something new to the table?
The V3 is a cheeky chappy, full of character and not afraid to say so. The frequencies where that character is most evident reminded me of the opening horns on Watermelon Man (1962 original version) by Herbie Hancock. Not saying it's a mic for horns but it works wonderfully on a mic'ed amp. That's the V3's character: forward, front and pushing on. I like it because it's effortless and honest.
Of course, a potential downside of a mic with a characterful frequency response is when neutrality is needed or when unwanted frequencies in the source correspond with the mic's sensitivity e.g. leading to harshness, mud or boom. Fortunately the V3's character was only really evident in comparison to other mics and at no time did the high emphasis feel forced or accentuate sibilance; but if there are interesting frequencies in the emphasis range they are captured and translated without overly-noticeable hype.
The V3 frequency plot (below) shows the character curve as an increased sensitivity to sound in the 2- 9 kHz region with a plateau in the primary sibilant area and a boost at around 8 kHz (which is why I liked it on guitar cab).
The V3 is not shy about proximity effect either with around 2/3 the sensitivity of the V7.
The high boost at 8 kHz is just outside the upper sibilant area and it differs from the SM58 which is less sensitive in the 8 -9 kHz area with a peak around 10 kHz; these different sensitivities are evident in the differing of characters of each mic in the audio examples.
V3 frequency plot:
V7 frequency plot:
SM58 frequency plot:
So how did the V3 fare in studio and live settings with a variety of sources? Is the V3 a good all-rounder or more vocal-specific?
Typical Gearslutz home-studio (in this case 12x14x8' semi-treated soft slight boxiness) with lots of semi-used gear to act as diffusion. Two scenarios – studio recording mic, and, live performance mic through a Fender Acoustasonic amp vocal channel with guitar or lapsteel through the DI channel, also through a Yamaha 01X mixer and small PA (in studio conditions).
I used JoeCo BlueBox electronically-balanced preamps and conversion for the studio mic test; these are clean, sweet, neutral. The V3 also fared well as a high-quality system and web mic through a Focusrite Saffire and into a Korg KP2 Kaos Pad. The easy presence also works well for monitoring during performance. The impedance at 600 Ohms is double that of the V7 and I heard that as a slightly hotter, gutsier signal.
Used in the 'live' scenario the V3's presence needed less gain to be heard but it had a ever so slightly more brittle sound than the V7 and SM58 when pushed; I'm not sure if that would be accentuated on a large PA or ultra high-fidelity recording in the wrong conditions. Resistance to feedback was great; lack of sibilance too. Whereas the V7 had an aluminium voice coil the V3 has a copper one; as I discovered (in the V7 review) this had no pronounced tonal effect but greater sensitivity to softer transient detail - possibly due to aluminium's mass-to-conductivity ratio.
The V3 feels good in the hand; nicely balanced without muffling the capsule grill. Not too heavy. The bevelled edge on the capsule grill is a genius idea and long-term will undoubtedly protect the V3's circuitry from 3ft 'roll-and-drops' off the top of amps and cabinets.
Nothing else was remarkable about the V3; no negatives, just a confidence in its ability to do the job with minimum fuss – an attribute valuable to those more focussed on performing than tweaking. I think this ease of use will also benefit someone who has never used a mic before. I'd be happy to use the V3 for small, live gigs (which I'm most familiar with) but the tweaker in me might be looking to tailor the sound further. For a 'live-tracked' studio session I think I'd reach for the V7 first as it's more flexible and more controlled across the spectrum.
The next section of the review looks more closely at the V3 in studio use and non-vocal applications.
Listening tests with Soundcloud files:
The idea behind the audio files is that you can hear the similarities and differences between the V3, V7 and a known benchmark (the SM58), all recording the same source through identical signal chains. The files can be found at Gearslutz on Soundcloud with the title 58V3V7: https://soundcloud.com/gearslutz-rev...58-vs-v3-vs-v7
There are 9 files (one for each mic in 3 genres) available as 24-bit/48kHz WAV downloads or via streaming through the Soundcloud compression algorithm.
The 3 mics tested were placed alongside each other in a row connected to a JoeCo BlueBox preamp at equal gain setting; the BlueBox converted the analogue signal to digital (@24/48) and this was sent via USB2 into the DAW session. No DAW effects have been applied apart from the Reason (SSL-style) bus compressor (a few dB's of slow attack/auto-release/2:1 ratio). The files were then exported and uploaded to Soundcloud (@24/48).
The 'vox' file consists of spoken word at 3 distances (4ft to 6 inches); male singing vocals and some 'punk shouting' (thanks to Lee Ving for inspiration!) to overload the mics. The male voice used is quite deep and with vibrato on trailing notes and with a LDC mic has a tendency towards sibilance around 2, 4, and 7 kHz, roughness at 900Hz-1kHz and boominess at 200-400 Hz.
The 'gtr' file starts with a finger-picked Martin D15 mahogany acoustic guitar, then a semi-acoustic with soapbar P90's (rhythm) and a custom Tele with humbuckers played through a Blackstar HT1R combo amplifier (lead and arpeggio). The mics were positioned directly facing the amp speaker at around 4 feet distance. The amplifier tone control was moved from the bass to mid to high emphasis through the sections; onboard digital reverb was added.
The 'perc' file contains: thumb harp/kalimba; djembe; shaker; dub fx; and, hand claps.
My opinion is that all 3 mics do a great job and I would want them all in my locker, especially given their affordability. On my vocals, whilst the V3 was immediately characterful, I felt that the V7's neutrality allowed for easier post-tracking/mix manipulation and more control of sibilance. Sonically, in terms of tone/voicing, the V3 and V7 sit either side of the SM58, with the V3 having more presence and bite than the 58 but not harsh.
In the guitar amp test they all capture some pleasing character in different parts of the audio spectrum: the V3 is bright in the high-mids and captures the grit well, whereas the V7 has a fuller range with more emphasis on low-mids, with the SM58 somewhere in the middle. I preferred the V3 on distorted guitar. The differences between the mics was also revealed in the acoustic guitar recording; I felt the tonality and dynamics was best represented using the V7 but there wasn't a lot in it and depending on the guitar (body size/material/room) either might be preferential.
On hand drums and percussion with a mid-to-low body resonance, the V3's presence tilt wasn't suited as much: in my test, there was more emphasis on the skin noise and 'knock' than the body around 500 Hz. Careful positioning can help e.g. using room modes and nodes but to capture a full drum sound I'd partner the V3 with another mic to capture the body and low-end. Again, not really a criticism but more of an observation in comparison to other mics. Great for brighter percussive noises: claps, shakers, etc. - maybe cymbals too?
The differences (and similarities) I heard between the V7, V3 and SM58 were reflected in their frequency plots: the V7 and 58 sharing a 2-6 kHz boost of a few dB but the V7 having a slightly higher second peak just above 10 kHz with a nice 'air' and also having a smoother curve than the 58. The V3's frequency plot shows one boost peak from 2-11 kHz and it does have that kind of tilted presence which I liked on the guitar cabinet and I guess would help vocal cut through at gigs particularly given that, like the V7, it handles sibilance very well.
Whilst the V3 is more lively than the V7, its wider cardioid sensitivity didn't introduce any problems from the room. All the mics in the comparison reacted well to the room sound (which is a bit 'meh'); whilst the super-cardioid V7 offered more control and variation the V3 is a little less flexible. That said I didn't test it in a bad room.
I tried all 3 mics on a separate mix (to be published later as part of the JoeCo BlueBox review): in comparison I preferred the V7 as the lead vocal mic but the V3 did very well as a backing vocal mic – it had a nice presence without harshness that could be set back in the mix without losing identity. With a little EQ and careful attention to headroom, I would have been happy using the V3 on lead vocals in the absence of other mics. The V3’s low self-noise meant it took compression well and I didn’t feel the need to EQ at all...maybe just to differentiate sources in a complex mix.
Each mic had its own merits and character in the recordings that wouldn't necessarily be captured with other types of mic (whatever the price tag). This further supports the philosophy that every piece of gear has it's sweet spot.
As usual, my review is studio-focussed; my experience is that the V3 has proven itself as competent with a good-quality sound in a home-studio setting. One proviso is that I didn't have the mic for long time: around 3 weeks, this meant I was unable to 'bond' or explore the V3 deeply in different situations and genres. Personally I would have no problem using the V3 for studio recording, particularly for mic'ing guitar cabs or on sources with a bit of harmonic bite in the mids and highs; the capture is effortless with no sign of choking or compression with big dynamics - get too hot though and things might start to get brittle.
Whereas the V7 was flexible this has a more fixed character with a treble tilt but the proximity effect and lower bandwidth is good enough to capture the bassier end of most instruments and vocalists apart perhaps from low bass/synths and kick. The bass roll-off could be a very useful feature in difficult live situations.
That the V3 feels expensive, well-made, solid is not just cosmetic; in this case, it's an indicator that the designer and manufacturer have applied equal consideration to its sensitivity and voicing. The limits of V3 show as very slight brittleness in the sibilant region (the V7 less so) but you'll have to listen very hard (or max it) to hear that so it's more of an observation than a criticism as it isn't evident in controlled conditions.
In the V3 sE Electronics have a another well-judged product a level above similarly-priced 'budget' mics. It feels solid enough to last a lifetime in the studio or for general live use.
Sound quality: 5/5 Top marks in its niche but still a healthy 3 or 4/5 in comparison to all mics at any price. More of a one-trick pony than the flexible V7 but still stellar in-the-pocket. It can get the party started. I thought it might sound cheap but it doesn't.
Ease of use: 5/5 Very straightforward to set up; cardioid pattern forgiving of careless use. Minimal fuss.
Features: 5/5 Not sure what else could have been added to improve it; the accessories are perfunctory but good quality. Excellent ergonomics; balanced in hand. Classy, trustworthy feel. Bevelled edge not a gimmick.
Bang for buck: 5/5 Solid. Well-made. Stylish. Faster, better, cheaper. Good for studio specifics, small gigs and novices.
Overall: The character of the V3 will be great for specific studio applications/voices, small gigs and starter studios where the V3 will convey the source with enough character that little EQ will be necessary, if at all. I can imagine the V3 is also a suitable mic for novices or vocalists who aren't really interested in mics or tech. It's point and shoot. No mystery. It just works.
With a quality mic in this price bracket, compromises might be expected, but none are evident. The obvious economies are packaging; cleverly-folded card and bubble wrap safely guard the important items - the microphone, a good-quality soft dust case, a spare internal foam windshield, the stand bracket, and a small, informative manual.
An absolute bargain at the price; if you like Watermelon Man then you'll love this mic.
Further reading and references:
History & Development of Microphone
How They Did It: Inside the SM58® | Shure Blog
Microphones page 2
Sound-Houses :: Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments
Watermelon by babasteve (cc-by-2.0): http://flickr.com/photos/64749744@N00/5563390
Andrew pmk~commonswiki for the Shure SM58 frequency plot which I have cropped (CC-BY-SA-3.0 migrated): https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/F...sshuresm58.png
Other photos used with permission from sE Electronics and Arthur Stone.