If you’re serious about recording vocals and acoustic instruments, you need a condenser microphone as a part of your studio kit. Compared with dynamic mics, condenser mics are usually more expensive.
But that’s not the case with MXL’s 990 – a budget-friendly condenser microphone made for podcasters, gamers, voice-over artists, and entry-level music producers.
With features and a sound that defies its price, in this MXL 990 review we’re taking a closer look to see what this entry-level mic offer.
Ready? Let’s jump right in…
MXL 990 Pros
1. Capsule & Frequency Response
Smaller capsules can vibrate faster than larger ones, so they respond better to higher frequencies. They’re the best for recording sources like violins, flutes, and cymbals. When your focus is in the higher frequency range, it’s better to use a smaller capsule mic.
Larger capsules respond better to lower frequency ranges. You use them to capture a broader range of frequencies and sources that contain important frequency information in a lower range.
When recording vocals, you need a large capsule so you can fully capture the lower frequencies and resonances of the voice. The MXL 990 has a frequency response from 30Hz – 20kHz. That makes it ideal for recording vocals and acoustic instruments.
Looking at the frequency response chart, it shows a presence boost from 5 – 10kHz. When we tested the mic out on vocals, this boost brought detail to the recording without needing to add EQ.
Another reason why condenser microphones are a producer’s choice for vocal recording is their sensitivity. When recording a dynamic source, you want to capture the full range without the quiet parts disappearing into the noise floor and the loud parts overloading the mic.
Condenser microphones capture more detail and dynamic range than dynamic microphones do. They produce the rich sound you want for things like voice-overs and interviews.
This sensitivity can bring its own problems, but luckily, this mic comes with a sturdy shock mount to eliminate any vibrations that travel up through the mic stand. The mic also comes with a regular mic clip and an XLR cable.
The mid-range of this mic is beautifully weighty and rich, which is surprising for a mic of this budget. The mic adds body and warmth to vocals without sounding muddy.
Testing it out on acoustic guitar, we were pleasantly surprised again. The natural presence boost of the mic added welcome detail on some phrases. We did find that the mic could over-emphasize string noise at times, but adjusting the mic position fixed that issue.
3. Construction & Looks
The construction of the mic is solid and understated with a satin metal finish, giving it a classic look. It’s not as long as models that follow Neumann’s U87 style design or even the cheaper MXL 770. It’s shorter, more like Neumann’s U47 or TLM103 models.
Though they make budget products, MXL puts out reliable products that will give you a consistent sound.
There are plenty of budget-friendly mics on the market. The MXL 990 benefits from a no-frills approach, while other mics come with switches for things like high-pass filtering and attenuation pads. If you need features like that for your setup, check out MXL’s 770 mic.
But even without those features, if you put in the time to create a good setup, you can still produce a decent sound.
MXL 990 Cons
1. Isolation Could Be Better
The MXL 990 is a cardioid microphone. Cardioid mics are designed to focus their pickup pattern directly in front of the mic and reject sound coming from behind. That way, you don’t record any unwanted sound, like ambient noise in the room.
From looking at this mic’s data sheet and testing it out, we can confirm that the pickup pattern is not as tight as other cardioids. Recording in an echoey room captured a great deal of unwanted room sound on the recording.
You may want to use a reflexion filter or record in deader spaces so you can avoid having to correct these issues in post-production processing.
You can help with this problem by not moving around a lot and keeping a consistent distance from the mic. This isn’t always possible, and if you have a performer who pulls back from the mic when singing loud phrases, the room sound does become more audible.
The electronics in the mic use a FET pre-amp transformerless design. Usually, this design results in low self-noise – but when we recorded quiet sources, we found that there was noticeable self-noise.
This is when correct mic positioning is super important. With sources like a close-mic’d voice, we didn’t have any issues.
3. SPL & Possible Distortion
This mic has an SPL rating of 130 dB. This gives you no distortion when recording vocals and acoustic instruments like guitar, piano, and strings.
However, we did get distortion when we tested the mic out on louder sources, such as guitar amps and drums. In cases like this, you’d need to choose a different mic with a higher SPL rating to avoid overload and distortion.
This isn’t an uncommon issue with recording guitar amps, even with more expensive condenser mics. It’s the reason why dynamic mics are often the preferred choice when recording loud guitar amps.
Conclusion – Do We Recommend MXL 990?
Absolutely. There are going to be some downsides in a mic that’s this affordable, but in use, the quality of the results outweighed any negatives for a mic in this price range.
The sound is neutral apart from the presence boost, which is a bonus when recording vocals. The mid-range is rich and allows you to capture detailed dynamic information that you can actually use.
MXL is aiming their 990 condenser microphone at the budget-friendly, entry-level market, and depending on what you use it for, its results can go way beyond what similar mics produce.
Those looking to record interviews, produce podcasts or vlogs, or just improve their current vocal recording setup will hear a positive difference with this microphone.