The first time I encountered a C414 in a studio, I recognized it as the microphone on Johnny Carson’s desk on the Tonight Show. It looked cool then, and it does now, a distinctive package, substantial yet compact. There are a few mics that you encounter that you reach for with confidence in certain situations. The AKG C414 in all its versions has been one of those mics in my experience, particularly for female voices, but never limited to that. Acoustic guitar? Yes, absolutely. Symphonic or choral location recordings? Outstanding. Drum overheads? Exquisitely detailed yet smooth. I’ve even used these to record bagpipes and while they still sounded like bagpipes, they at least sounded like nice bagpipes.
At $1,000, this mic is not for all budgets. However, it compares with the best mics in the world that cost $3,000+ more. It’s a bargain and if you can swing it, buy it.
Setup / Usability
A typical XLR mic requiring 48V phantom power. Much of the versatility of the C414 XLII stems from the onboard control the mic offers. Check out the face of the mic and you’ll find five polar patterns represented. Here’s a great opportunity to describe each, as this covers the gamut of microphone polar patterns.
- Omnidirectional – extreme left on the C414 XLII, the mic is equally sensitive to sounds from all directions
- Wide Cardioid – also called hemispherical, you can think of it as a half-omnidirectional sensitivity
- Cardioid – or heart-shaped, this is the most common pattern, focused front and center with good side and rear signal rejection for live use and studio isolation
- Hypercardioid – a narrow version of cardioid, stronger side rejection, but usually a lobe of sensitivity behind the mic
- Figure-8 – equally sensitive front and back; handy for face-to-face duets and stereo miking applications.
In addition, the C414 XLII has a setting in between each of those five major settings that represents an intermediate point between the major settings on each side. For example, choose the setting between hypercardioid and figure-8 and you have a duet mic that emphasized the voice in the front. Since each polar position also affects frequency response, these settings can be used as nine “voices” for the mic.
That’s just the start though. The C414 XLII has a high-pass, or low-cut, filter that has, count ‘em, three settings. Let’s look at these:
- -12 dB per octave at 40 Hz: This is a steep cut at a very low frequency, useful for avoiding subsonic rumble in bass instruments while maintaining deep down goodness.
- -12 dB per octave at 80 Hz: Also removes subsonic rumble, but at a frequency more suited to vocals and lead instruments.
- -6 dB per octave at 160 Hz: After those sandy-sounding acoustic guitars a la The Eagles and America? Here’s your starting point. Milder roll-off but starting at a higher frequency.
Combined with the nine polar pattern settings, that’s 27 distinct tonal adjustments you can make on the mic itself. Then there are still three levels of attenuation available, -6, -12 and -18 dB, that adjust the mic to any sound pressure level. Before getting to the sound of the mic, it’s already a formidably versatile mic.
Now, though, we’re getting to the sound and a good thing gets even better. It’s difficult to convey the sound of a mic by describing its frequency response chart. I will argue all day long as well that it’s the sound that counts. The charts, though, do give suggestions about how a mic will behave in certain circumstances. When you have a mic like the C414 XLII with its plethora of responses, it’s actually quite helpful to know what happens with frequency response for its various settings.
Looking at its cardioid response, since vocals are the primary strength of the mic, the C414 XLII is flat up to 1,000 Hz. This is true for all settings more or less. Response is flattest in omni pattern (this is typical of omnis in general), with a bit of boost increasing to the figure-8 position, but the boost is gradual and wide and doesn’t exceed +2 dB, so there’s nothing there to grossly alter the sound.
Between 1,000 and 2,000 Hz however, there is a fairly narrow -2 dB cut before a boost above 2,000 Hz. This is, I think, where the magic of the mic is hidden. That cut, just before the high frequency hype from 2,000 to a maximum of about +5dB at 5,600 Hz, combines to give a detailed clarity that really stands out. This is why the C414 XLII is so often used with lead instruments and vocals that need to cut through mixes. The mic delivers a signal to your audio input that already has your mixing work started. This peak is even more pronounced in the hypercardioid pattern, so right there you have two very useful settings to adapt the mic to different voices.
There’s no way to emphasize it enough. There better your sounds are coming out of the mic, the better your sounds are. Period. Garbage in, garbage out. Using EQ and signal processing as sonic crutches is something we’ve all done, and it’s something about which we’ve all asked, “why is this not working?” Sometimes, you can fix it in the mix. Other times, you just can’t. However, use a good mic and get it right the first time and you rarely need to fix a thing.
The mic comes in a case that holds the microphone and included shock mount, wind screen, and pop filter. All included accessories are top quality.
Probably the best way to describe this mic is the feeling of, “Umph, yeah,” that comes with holding one. It’s the real thing, and it feels like it. Enough said.
User reviews are largely an extension of this review, save for one 2.5-star reviewer who thinks the C414 XLII sounds boxy because his other mic doesn’t sound boxy. No word on what the other mic is, though he suspected too the problem might be his room, except his other mic didn’t sound boxy. It ruined his experience with C414 XLII. Between you and me, I don’t think he deserved the C414, and I’m glad he’s happy with his other non-boxy mic. By the way, “boxy” usually means too much low midrange, around 200 or 300 Hz, that gives a cardboard box sort of sound. Nothing in the C414 XLII’s charts indicate this is likely a problem area. It’s more likely the room, and his other mic is weak in the low mids.
Here is a cool video I found of someone performing an original cover of Billy Jean using this the AKG Pro Audio C414:
My Swiss Army, Desert Island, If-I-Could-Only-Have-One-Mic choice. Wouldn’t you know it? I don’t own one. It is, however, along with the Neumann TLM 103, the mic I rent the most to supplement my own collection. Next $1,000 I have laying around doing nothing, though…
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