The story behind “The NPR Sound”

For years, the Electro Voice RE20 was the studio standard we radio announcers loved. It seemed to enhance the bottom end of our voices, giving us a three-pack-a-day throat without the cigarettes. Today the SURE SM7B and the Heil PR40 often supplant RE20s in the control room. But NPR uses Neumann U87 mics, considered the best, and most expensive in the business. And they do one additional thing, enabling a bass-roll off setting to make the sound as flat as possible. This create’s NPR’s “signature sound”. Now days, we listen either in our cars or through the small speakers on our smart devices and flatter vocals are easier to understand in those environments. The U87 is a classic in the recording studio, but it’s price point ($3,000 a piece, the equivalent of about 6 RE20s) is a deterrent for budget conscious broadcasters. I use Rode NT1s for my analog work and a Blue Yeti in USB audio applications, still emphasizing those low frequencies that NPR rolls off. But how I wish I had just one U87 so I might try my hand at saying, “This is NPR, National Public Radio.”