Recently I was given a whole bunch of MXL microphones to run through the mill. MXL are a little bit of an unknown company down here in our fishing village at the tip of Africa. And its no wonder, since RODE have been dominating the budget scene down here for quite some time. The MXL microphones are cheap, very cheap and from an initial point of view I was a bit apprehensive to say the least. I mean, come on! How can these things possibly sound any good? I was convinced that horror was a foot and I would end up chundering the instant the channel was un-muted. But I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised at results that emerged after A-B’ing the selected range.
MXL are made by USA based company Marshall electronics. With design and engineering taking place within their Californian based headquarters and manufacturing of the lower end microphones happening in China. And if your wondering, No! Its not the same Marshall as the guitar amplifiers. This company design and make quite a large range of microphones, from the ultra expensive to the unbelievably affordable. Their Flagship mic, the “revolution” carries a $ 1450 price tag which could never be considered budget. As far as our review is concerned we are limited to small range of MXL’s lower cost offerings. In the locker is the V67i, 2010, Cr 24 /24p and the entry level twin set 550/551 “microphone ensemble”, ooh, sounds kind of exclusive.
From Left to Right – MXL V67i , Cr24 , 2010 , 550 , Neumann U89
My first victim was the V67i large diaphragm condenser, A pretty and shiny little beast that came nestled in a lovely velvet lined wooden box, not too shabby considering the price tag. The V67i features a dual sided diaphragm which is kind of interesting considering it only operates in Cardioid mode. This made a little more sense once I realized that to operate in “Bright” mode, the microphone would need to be turned around and worked from the other side. The V67i features a frequency response from 30Hz – 20kHz, can handle 140dB spl, has a signal to noise ratio of 78dB, a -6dB attenuation switch or “pad” and, the patented “bright” and “warm” switch. There is also a rather pleasing red LED placed inside the grill which illuminates when the mic is powered.
In testing, the V67i gave very pleasing results on vocal’s. It’s character is very warm and “vintage” sounding. Looking at the frequency response diagram its evident that there is little deviation across the range and in “warm” mode the mic actually provides quite a flat response. When the “bright” switch is engaged and the mic is turned 180 degrees, you will find a rather obvious presence boost around the 10k region making it more usable on stringed and winded instruments. Although the V67i does provide a rich, almost “tailored” sound, like all the MXL mics I tried it does seem a little muddled in the lower mid range and didn’t work all that well on the bridge end of an acoustic guitar. This is only a minor gripe as A – B testing was compared to the ever awesome Neumann U89. And results that good will and should never be expected from a budget condenser.
Next up is the Cr24 / Cr 24p “black” Studio condenser mic kit. Which contains a large diaphragm condenser as well as a small diaphragm pencil condenser. Attractively presented in a nice looking flight case, complete with shock mounts for both mics and a rather intriguing set of “handling” gloves. There is only one word that comes to mind when describing the look of this mic. And that word is Bling! This mic is so shiny that it should be shipped with a set of safety sunglasses and optional “Mercedes” medallion for ultra ghetto action.
The CR24 Large Diaphragm mic sports a cardioid polar pattern only and houses a 3 micron gold sputtered Mylar diaphragm. It has some serious SPL handling which according to the specifications can handle up to a whopping 152dB at grill. It also boasts a FET based pre-amp, which suggests a hot output and possibly designed with the Neumann U47 FET in mind which could make it good choice for kick drum and double bass. Switch options include a -10dB pad along with an improved signal to noise ratio of 83dB. Frequency response deviates by +/-4dB from 50Hz to 20kHz which suggests a rather flat response. But what has really impressed me is the handling gloves. Why, oh why? I have never seen any kind of product ship with special handling gloves. Even priceless faberge egg’s exclude specialist handling gloves when purchased. Well, it was a nice gimmick that caused a few chuckles when the guys in the office opened the box.
The other mic in the pack is the Cr24p. A small diaphragm pencil condenser for instrument recording. Not much can be expected from this little mic, as I kind of see it as a bonus in the box. Thats what I though anyway. After powering this little sucker up it was immediately evident that this is a very capable little mic. In the test I used it in the neck position of my Epiphone Jumbo acoustic and to be honest it sounded pretty great in the hi-mids. Loads of detail and sparkly tops, although without EQ a tad harsh in the 1K region and the lower mids seemed a bit lack luster and a little cold compared to our test subject (AKG SE300B, which is a far more expensive mic) The mic looks and feels very well constructed and is small enough to fit into some awkward positions if needed. I must just comment on how similar it sounded to the lower range 551 pencil condenser. Which leads me to believe that it is actually the same mic with a different finish. If it wasn’t a bonus in the box, I would take that comparison to task, but your more than lightly buying the kit for the larger mic anyway. At the end of the day this kit is fantastic! You even get shock mounts for both mics, although the shocks are very cheaply made, they should provide you with enough isolation for even the softest sound sources. You just have to be careful not to apply too much pressure as the accessories general build quality leaves much to be desired.
The 2010 is the only multi-pattern condenser on show today. This is MXL’s cheapest multi-pattern condenser, comes with no frills and pretty much no accessories besides a shock mount. It reminds me of one of those horrible little Behringer B1 mics that we demoed a few years back. The Behringer ended up being used as a door wedge because it was useless as a microphone. I guess the reason it reminds me of the B1 is because it is housed in almost exactly the same generic Chinese enclosure. Lets just hope to god it doesn’t sound as bad as the Behringer B1. The 2010 sports 3 separate polar patterns, the obvious contenders being, cardioid, omni and figure of 8. Which at the end of the day, makes the 2010 a very versatile mic for the price. I cant think of any multi-pattern condensers in this price range.
Again we have a frequency response of 30Hz to 20kHz that gives a whopping boost around 10k. In fact the frequency response deviates by a massive 20dB across the range, which would suggest that this mic is anything but flat. We have a 10dB pad along with a high pass filter that begins to roll off at 150Hz and the mic itself weighs in at a rather hefty 526.17 grams.
In use the 2010 seems over exaggerated in the highs and cold and empty in the lows and low mids. The build quality is extremely questionable and from what I can gather it looks like it will explode into 1043 pieces as soon you use the pad switch. Through the headphones I was not impressed with what I heard during record, but after a little post EQ and compression, usable results emerged without too much tweaking. At the end of the day the 2010 is good value for money, but sonically leaves me scratching my chin.
550 / 551 “Microphone Ensemble” package
Last but certainly not least is the 550/551 “ensemble microphone kit” which is MXL’s lowest of the low, budget entry level kit. The package contains a single 550 large diaphragm condenser, cardioid polar pattern only. It features a 30Hz to 20kHz frequency response an 80dB signal to noise ratio and a max SPL of a 130dB. Looking at the response graph, both mics have a rather obvious lift at 10kHz with the 550 having a slight kink in the 100Hz region. The mic itself looks really good, the fire engine red finish is very eye catching from a distance and the chrome grill looks quite classy. Also in the box is the 551 cardioid pencil condenser also with a bright red paint job. Its when you get up close that you realize the quality of the paint finish is quite low and general build quality isn’t exactly stellar. But, with those minor gripes aside and some phantom power piped to the little bugger, surprisingly usable result where achieved. Please remember that this mic set is extremely affordable. Really! I had to look twice when I first glanced at the prices, so to be honest I’m amazed they even managed to manufacture the mic at all. The package also comes complete with a small plastic molded case, basic clips for the both the mics and a cleaning cloth. Nice accessories considering the price tag.
In use I didn’t expect much at all. But after assaulting them with a little acoustic guitar recording I was amazed to see how usable the results where. With the 550 on the bridge and the 551 on the neck, some pretty nice textures emerged without much effort in post. Yes, the lower mids on 550 felt a bit cold and perhaps even muddled, but what do you expect for Pete’s sake? The 550 compared quite well to the V67i and Cr24 standing its ground in the A – B test. I wouldn’t say that this mic is a classic secret jem or anything. But for this kind of money, its an absolute no brainer. It could even be called “disposable” if your planning any extreme recording projects.
The 551 was bright and crisp and rather detailed in the higher mids. Good transient response is evident which might even persuade me to try them on overheads one day. In contrast to the 550 the 551 feels really well built and heavy for its size. One of my only issues is it’s lack of rear rejection as the polar pattern is a little more in omni-directional compared to other pencil condensers I have used. Not a major issue unless your trying to isolate in the live situation or recording in your bedroom (This could be a issue considering the market these mics are aimed at) At the end of the day the 551 is a very usable little mic which, with a little care will provide you with great sounds from instruments and more.
Acoustic guitar recording using the 550 / 551 “Ensemble Kit” 550 on the bridge and 551 where neck meets body. Minor compression, EQ and reverb added in post.
These MXL mics are quite impressive to say the least. The price point alone is going to help these mics find their way into bedroom and project studio’s all over the place. It amazes me that you can get results as good as this from a budget set of mics. The 550 /551 bundle exhibits extremely good value for money and should be a serious contender in the entry level market. I do have some issue with the build quality in general, but understand that this is a compromise one would have to make in order to keep the internal components to a high standard and the end user cost at a reasonable level. All of these mics include internal Mogami wiring (Which is no surprise considering Marshall own the company). Sound quality is priority number one for MXL, this much is obvious. Build quality would be a compromise I would be willing to make when limited funds are a concern. If you are careful with these mics and treat them like fragile Ming vases, then they should last for years. If your the kind of person that used to break all your toys when you where a kid, then prepare for disappointment.
If you are looking for quality sound at an extremely low price point then the MXL entry level range should be on your list of contenders. In my opinion, they are superior in sound quality than many other’s that cost twice as much.Share