Earthworks Audio Icon: The Do-Everything USB Microphone

Tech Reviews Earthworks Audio
Earthworks Audio Icon: The Do-Everything USB Microphone

The EarthWorks Audio Icon is a sturdy, elegant microphone made of high-quality materials. It’s great for recording talk, music, or even ambient sound. It’s a perfect plug-and-play mic that doesn’t require drivers or external software, and works with software such as Audacity, GarageBand, Teams and Zoom. The Icon is durable and effective, but it costs $350, which is firmly situated in the high end of USB microphones. Users are paying a price for quality – this is a product for well-to-do enthusiasts and professionals that want the flexibility of working from a laptop.

In the advertising video from the microphone’s product page, the Icon is called “the last USB mic you ever need,” based around a philosophical opposition to planned obsolescence. I’ll be holding onto mine for a while. Its only physical drawback is that the stand doesn’t extend, which initially felt like a major oversight, though the manual notes it can be swapped for another stand or boom mount. A user could switch out the stand for that of a Blue Microphone Snowball, for instance, but it would feel out of place (not spiritually, but physically) using a more budget-style item with this heavier (1.5-lb), high-end piece of equipment.

The Icon is a do-everything microphone that feels expensive for beginners. It’s the kind of thing you buy if you have a plan for use or a lot of disposable income. That money isn’t just paying for a big-name brand, but for something that isn’t fabricated from cheap plastic. It doesn’t have a lot of light-based gimmicks. It doesn’t require an app to operate. It just works.

The mic itself is a simple design – an input for a headphone jack, a dial to adjust mic gain, and a USB-micro jack for charging. The two connecting cables each have a standard USB micro-C (like you’d use to plug into pre-Type-C Android phones, e-readers, or wireless headphone chargers) at one end; the opposite end of one cable is a USB Type-A and the other cable is a USB Type-C. That means if you misplace the braided cable, you might have an old one that can sub in. If you want to record something on your 2018 Huawei and then want to let a friend go over the track on their 2020 Macbook, this microphone is compatible with both.

The microphone’s positioning can be adjusted by the stainless-steel ball underneath connected to it by a stainless-steel rod that curves inward stylishly, giving it the most space-aged appearance of anything on the device. It connects with the base of a very small cylinder with an LED light that changes colors – from blue to denote it’s connected to a device (which you’ll likely see most often as that’s essentially the standby mode), to green to denote it’s recording to red if there is a problem with a recording.

Still, flexibility and physical quality are in service of the Icon’s excellent sound quality. The mic gain dial on its back end allows users to determine input levels, in addition to clicking in for an analog mute function. That, at least, the Snowball can’t do. Comparing two-year old MP3 and WAV recordings from that device, the Icon audio sounds way better, though I’m not sure whether it is seven times better. The user guide talks about music teachers working remotely, podcasters, videogame streamers – those people are professionals that could use something hardy, and it makes sense in those contexts.

Advertising photos show people holding the Icon mic while recording podcasts or music, but the stand isn’t shaped in a particularly ergonomic fashion. Holding the microphone is doable, just not form friendly. This is a situation designed with desktops in mind – considering the range of audio it can pick up, that shouldn’t be a problem. You can record clear singing, for instance, from at least six feet away in a 20×10 home office with the mid-to-high range of the mic gain dial. While the built-in pop filter and the cardioid polar pattern limit interference, EarthWorks also sells a broadcast foam adapter ($75) for the Icon and its XLR-input cousin, the Icon Pro, which can replace the pop filter. And I don’t think the threading is proprietary, so you may be able to find budget alternatives for foam covers.

Maybe I’m just entranced with the qualitative upgrade of using a microphone that costs as much as a mid-tier gaming console. It’s a USB microphone made by a company that develops and sells audio recording equipment for professionals. I’ll be using it for years. The EarthWorks Audio Icon USB microphone is an excellent piece of audio recording equipment, and its price reflects that. Depending on needs and budget, you might want something cheaper.

Kevin Fox, Jr. is a freelance writer, editor, and critic. He is a former Paste intern with an MA in history, who loves videogames, film, TV, and sports, and dreams of liberation. He can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.

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