MXL 990 Vocal Condensor Microphone Test

MXL 990/991 Microphone Package Overview

Part 1 - MXL 990 Microphone Review

Behold! The MXL 990 Microphone
/ / The Studio Guide

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A Review Of The MXL 990 Microphone

While this blog was created mainly to talk about some of the great, cost-effective pieces of equipment a small studio can utilize to create professional-style videos and film, I would be remiss in talking about some quality stuff that you can get if you’re intending to do narration, voice-overs in post, podcasts, or even some vocals in a small music studio. After all, I started by recording and producing my own music – something I’ve still been keeping up with even though our studio has been focusing on film – so it would make complete sense for me to talk about that from time to time.

So, without further ado, the MXL 990 Condenser Microphone!

I originally bought this microphone from Musician’s Friend back in about 2008 or so. Back then, it was on sale in a really nice deal that was somewhere around $65. While most prices you might find for this right now are not quite that low, the cost is still well worth it. You’d be surprised how sweet this microphone sounds! I was a little apprehensive at first, but after five years using the same device, I can tell you that it’s a must for any small studio, especially if you’re handling music vocals, or podcasting.

Here’s some of the specs:

  • 3/4″ gold-sputtered diaphragm
  • 30Hz-20kHz frequency response
  • 130dB maximum SPL Sensitivity
  • 15MV/pa Equivalent noise: 20dB (A-weighted)

While I’m not going to bother explaining much of the above specs (because some of it is beyond me anyway), I want to talk more about what you’re looking for and how this microphone can fit the application.

First, let’s start with what I believe to be the most important characteristic, not really a spec: condenser. Typically, microphones fall under two different types: condenser and dynamic. Without getting too technical, condensers tend to be a lot more sensitive. Think of them as having a little eardrum somewhere inside (the diaphragm) – if the sound is too loud, you could pop it. That’s why, if you’re looking for something to record guitars or drums, you’ll want to go with a dynamic microphone (a Shure SM57 is a great example of one of those). A condenser microphone, by comparison, is for handling sound that isn’t too loud or isn’t too consistently loud. In general, I like to think that if I’m trying to capture a noise that might make my ears ring, I stay away from condensers. What condensers will pick up very nicely though are voice, room tones, ambient noise and string instruments (like violins). They’re perfect for recording vocals (particularly softer vocals – dynamics might actually be better for screaming stuff), movie voice overs, narration, line fixes in post, or podcasting.

Second – you may notice above that the microphone has a 30Hz-20kHz frequency response. This essentially means that it will pick up frequencies within that range, but what it isn’t telling you is where the “sweet spot” is. Every microphone has a sweet spot – that area where it picks up particular frequencies better than it picks up other ones. In searching for a frequency graph for this microphone on the web, I found this, which suggests that the sweet spot is a little on the high end, usually where you will pick up some sibilance (“s” and “t” sounds, most commonly), but that the rest of the mic is fairly neutral throughout the rest of its response. In my opinion this is actually really great – it won’t overkill on the high-mid range (which is usually where the ear-piercing sound of a voice hits), but with the sweet spot in the high end your voice will have room to breathe (up near 10kHz is what some people may refer to as “air” or “breathing room”).

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Third – and this is a spec not noted above – this is an XLR microphone. XLRs are the typical connection types utilized for microphones. That’s because they are grounded and typically cancel out any noise like a 60 cycle hum. Also, as it’s not battery powered, it uses “phantom power”. If you have an amplifier or a mixer, you may have seen a button with this label on it (and if not, you’ll want to make sure you get your hands on something that does). Phantom power is a kind of low-level electricity that can get sent to the microphone through the XLR cable, thus powering the device in the manner it requires. You’ll need to have phantom power in order to utilize this microphone.

Fourth – the 990 comes with a shock mount that also attaches to a microphone stand. If you’ve done sound for film or video you’ve likely run into shock mounts before. Essentially, the microphone sits suspended in a tension grip, which itself is held aloft by elastic cords. The purpose of this is so that if the mic stand gets lightly bumped or moved, the microphone is not likely to pick it up. Bumps and other movements are typical, especially when podcasting, so the shock mount is a welcome accessory to the 990.

Speaking of accessories, you’ll want to make sure you get a pop filter like this one. This will not only make your recordings sound better (canceling out plosives like “p” and “b” sounds) but will also protect your microphone’s diaphragm from damage. Plosives often have strong bursts of air behind them (hence the “popping” noise), which can be bad for your microphone.

At this time, Emily and I do not use this particular microphone for podcasting – we only have the one and we use it for post production on film and video projects, and vocals on music recordings. That being said, as soon as we get our hands on another one of these, we are intending to move toward using them for our podcasting set up. I highly recommend the same.

Meanwhile, I have some examples of reviews and tests I’ve found online via YouTube (above) that might give you a better idea of how this microphone sounds. I do have some of our own work available, however, much of it is in the process of remixing and re-release, so I won’t be adding it to this post at this time.

You can also purchase the microphone via the links at the bottom of this post.

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