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Hands-On Review: MXL 900 Series Condenser Microphones

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High-end condenser sound without the sticker shock

By Craig Martin

MXL 960 Tube Condenser Microphone

Condenser microphones are essential gear in professional recording studios. For the average home or project studio owner, however, the prices of most condensers can be daunting. A good large- diaphragm tube condenser can easily run $1,000 or more. As a result, many musicians on a budget have been getting by recording with the same dynamic mics that they use for live shows. These road warriors will get the job done with reasonably good results. However, for vocals, acoustic instruments, and overhead miking of drums and cymbals, a good condenser delivers clearly superior results due to its increased sensitivity and dynamic range.

The MXL 900 Series condenser mics from Marshall Electronics are welcome news for recording enthusiasts who want the ambience and detail that condenser microphones provide. Available exclusively from Musician's Friend, the 900 Series mics are the result of years of developing, testing, adjusting, and retesting. A synthesis of high concept and the latest advances in manufacturing, their level of performance is phenomenal. Tracks recorded with them sound crisp and distinct when played back solo and retain these qualities in the overall mix.

MXL 990

This handsome vintage-looking condenser has single-handedly taken the recording world by storm. A phantom-powered model with a 6-micron, 20mm gold diaphragm; high-quality FET preamp; and balanced output; the 990 comes with a well-designed shockmount and a multi-angle holder.

Exceptionally sensitive and responsive, the 990 is versatile enough to record just about anything. It's particularly well-suited for use on vocals, acoustic instruments, and percussion. The sound is crystal clear, hyper-detailed, without coloration, and very bright. Add a touch of EQ to warm it up and darken it a bit, and you will get superb results that stand proudly alongside those of very high-dollar boutique mics.

If you don't already own a pop filter, you'll want to pick one up. Like most condensers, the 990 has a hot signal that picks up everything in its vicinity and can be overdriven or damaged by moisture. Positioning is also critical to getting a balanced sonic field. A pair of these in tandem capture acoustic guitar and other stringed instruments exceptionally well.

MXL 992

The 992 is a large-diaphragm model that retains the characteristic 900 Series sound—clean, open, and sparkling. There's also a certain smoothness that adds a pro-studio sheen to vocals and wind instruments. A slight bump to the midrange gives it a little more warmth than the 990, and it also has a perceivable lift around 8 or 10kHz, imparting an added brilliance to the highs. The 992 is great for picking up the subtle ambient signal and transient harmonics of a guitar amp. The low noise floor keeps things super quiet. The 10dB pad enables you to position it very close to the sound source without overloading it. A –10dB low-frequency roll-off effectively tunes out unwanted low-end rumble and noise.

MXL 990 and 993 Studio Mic Package

MXL 993

The long, slim yet substantial-feeling 993 covers a range of acoustical instrument, percussion, and overhead drum and choir miking needs. It's very adept at responding to the delicate nuances of hi-hats and ride cymbals. Used in stereo pairs, the 993 is also great for capturing the subtle overtones and harmonics of acoustic guitars, stringed instruments, and woodwinds. It's another result of the confluence of high-end transformerless FET circuitry; a gold-sputtered diaphragm; precision, cost-effective manufacturing; and impressive quality control. You may purchase the 993 solo, or in various package deals (as a pair, with the 992; or with the 990).

MXL 909

The large-diaphragm 909 cardioid mic is designed primarily for vocals. Big and beefy, with a slick champagne finish and constructed with all Class A solid state electronics, it brings some impressive specs to the table. Its high sensitivity ensures that it will pick up subtle details and room ambience. The FET amplifier design results in a very low noise floor, so it won't add unwanted sound to your mix. The 909 includes a hi-isolation shockmount and comes in a deluxe hardshell carrying case.

MXL 960

The explosion of high-quality, affordable digital recorders is great for musicians. But the clarity of digital sound sometimes comes off as somewhat icy and sterile. The 960 offers an antidote to recordings that suffer from a case of the digital chills.

This large diaphragm cardioid condenser has a 12AT7 tube built into it for sound with big, warm ambience that's reminiscent of the great tube microphones of the past. It's one of the quietest tube mics you'll find and has a clear, airy sonic quality that's a perfect fit with just about any analog or digital recording setup. It comes with a deluxe flight case, a power supply, Mogami 7-pin and XLR cables, and a custom windscreen. The 992, 993, and 960 are wired internally with Mogami cable for a pure signal flow.

Conclusion

The painstaking design work and testing that went into these mics has made a difference that you'll hear in the studio. You can spend a lot more money putting together a mic collection that won't give you results as good as those the 900 Series mics deliver. They are an obvious choice for home and project studio owners who want to step up to that detailed, silky condenser sound.

Features & Specs

MXL 990MXL 992
Features:
  • 20mm Gold-sputtered, 6-micron diaphragm
  • FET preamp with balanced output
Specs:
  • Frequency Range: 30Hz – 20kHz
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Sensitivity: 15mV/Pa
  • Impedance: 200W
  • S/N Ratio: 80dB (Ref. 1Pa A-weighted)
  • Equivalent Noise Level: 20dB(A weighted IEC 268-4)
  • Max SPL for 0.5% THD: 130dB
  • Max SPL with -10dB cut: 130dB
Features:
  • Large Capsule, 25mm gold sputtered diaphragm
  • Wide, 20Hz-20kHz frequency range
  • 10dB switchable attenuation
  • 10dB low frequency cut switch
  • Comes with hi-isolation shockmount & Deluxe silver carrying case
Specs:
  • Type: 6 micron condenser pressure gradient gold capsule
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Sensitivity: 15mV/Pa
  • Impedance: 200W
  • S/N Ratio: 80dB (Ref. 1Pa A-weighted)
  • Equivalent Noise Level: 10dB (A weighted IEC 268-4)
  • Max SPL: 130dB , 140dB w/-10dB cut
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MXL 993 Pencil Condenser MicMXL 909 Vocal Condenser Mic
Features:
  • 20mm gold sputtered diaphragm
  • Wide cardioid pattern, perfect for overheads
  • 10db pad with a -10dB low frequency switch roll-off
Specs:
  • Frequency Range: 30Hz – 20kHz
  • Sensitivity: 10mV/Pa
  • Impedance: 200W
  • S/N Ratio: 80dB (Ref. 1Pa A-weighted)
  • Equivalent Noise Level: (A weighted IEC 268-4)
  • Max SPL for 0.5% THD: 134dB
  • High Pass Filter : 6dB/octave, 150Hz switchable. Attenuation Switch: 0/-10dB
Features:
  • Class A solid state electronics
  • Affordable large capsule cardioid condenser
  • Type: Condenser pressure gradient mic with a 25mm, 6-micron diaphragm
  • Frequency Range: 30Hz – 18kHz
  • Sensitivity: 15mV/Pa
  • Impedance: 150W
  • S/N Ratio: 80dB (Ref. 1Pa A-weighted)
  • Equivalent Noise Level: 12dB (A weighted IEC 268-4) Max SPL for 0.5% THD: 130dB
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MXL 960
Features
  • 25mm (1") large capsule condenser
  • Vintage sonic tube characteristics
  • Tube Cardioid Condenser Microphone
  • Frequency Range: 20Hz – 20 kHz
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Sensitivity: 20mV/Pa
  • Impedance: 200W
  • S/N Ratio: 78dB (Ref. 1Pa A-weighted)
  • Equivalent Noise Level: 20db (A-weighted IEC 268-4)
  • Max SPL for 0.5% THD: 135dB
  • Tube Type: 12AT7

Tags: Recording Microphones MXL

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