Having reviewed several MXL microphones, I was reminded why MXL mics as a whole have an iffy reputation. The consistency of product coming from the U.S.-designed, Chinese-built mics appears to be a systemic problem across the line. Where I found the V67G a little pretentious in appearance, I find the MXL 990 kind of cute, so it’s safe to assume I’m partial to silver rather than gold mics.
The 990 seems to be, in MXL terms, a better build, but its overall performance hasn’t grabbed me as much as a good V67. That said, the 990 can be had for under $90, and it has some very useful applications. If you’re looking for your first condenser vocal mic on a limited budget this is a definite consideration, though MXL is a bit of a consistency crapshoot.
WOULD I SELL THIS MIC TO MY SISTER DEPARTMENT: Yes, I would. But then I’ve heard her sing.
Setup and Usability
A simple side-address cardioid mic, the 990 is not a large diaphragm condenser, despite its size and shape. I think of large diaphragms as one-inch in diameter or larger. The 990 comes in at 20 millimeters. An inch is 25.4 millimeters, so this is a mid-size diaphragm capsule. More on that in Sound Quality.
The typical analog condenser mic traits apply. The 990 connects with a standard XLR mic cable and requires 48V of phantom power. Studio use requires a pop filter for typical close miking applications.
So, a mid-size diaphragm. That really doesn’t mean a whole lot in sound terms. Very generally, the smaller the capsule, the flatter the off-axis response. When off-axis response varies widely from on-axis, a singer who moves around while recording might sound as though she is moving in and out of a sweet spot, because that’s essentially what’s happening. Better off-axis response? Wider sweet spot. While I didn’t run the 990 through any paces for this, I also didn’t have reason to suspect an issue.
For a mic of this price, it’s a pretty flat responding mic. There is a definite high frequency hump starting below 5,000 Hz and peaking around 8,000 Hz. That’s a nice range to bring clarity to a lot of voices, and it’s common for Chinese-built condensers to show a similar hump. The 990 doesn’t go too crazy there, though, so this mic isn’t as brittle sounding as some of this genre. That bump is also around the start of the frequencies that create what I refer to as “air,” the feeling of space and lightness about a voice.
That brings me to my favorite application for the 990: acoustic guitar. If the 990 has a sonic flaw, it’s that it’s relatively noisy. Close miking is pretty much a must, since you need a good natural level to stay above the noise floor. If you turn up the gain on your mixer or interface to boost a weaker signal, you also turn up the self-noise the 990 has. Better to get the mic close in to the source to increase the distance between your recorded sound and the noise the mic makes.
The drawback of being in close is a loss of the acoustic space in which you’re recording. Most of us in home studios don’t have stellar acoustic environments, so it’s not usually an issue. Close-miking with judicious use of reverb plug-ins can recreate a performance in a good sonic space. When lousy acoustics are captured along with the signal, it’s not as easy to get a killer sound, if at all.
Where the 990 shines is when you’re close miking an acoustic guitar. That air quality puts a bit of openness into the guitar’s sound (assuming a good-sounding guitar) even when it’s close-miked. When you add a bit of room ambience to the guitar at the mixing stage, it just naturally seems to accept the 990’s version of the guitar. It’s a case of using the mic’s strong points to overcome its weaknesses.
I like the look and feel of the 990. Like many MXL mics, its screen is round, rather than flattened. The body is very short, sort of like a Neumann TLM 103 in proportion of body to screen. It’s well built for a Chinese budget mic. I didn’t examine the insides to see the quality of the electronics workmanship, but like other MXL mics, the 990 does have modification kits available, so chances are there are some inexpensive components poorly soldered together.
Like the V67G, there are enough user reviews complaining of mics that arrived broken or that died young, but not in the same proportion as the V67G. I don’t feel as uncomfortable reading about the 990. I should point out that I have yet to experience any problem with an MXL mic, so it is possible to be exposed to these very affordable mics and not be guaranteed an issue.
A number of low-star reviews complained of sound issues that are not in line with what I’ve experienced from the 990. Rather than snobby mic users, I suspect that these reviews stem from build issues and lack of quality control. Again, with one person talking down a mic’s performance, you have to take that with a grain of salt. When 10 people have similar issues, you can leave the salt shaker at home. MXL has some consistency issues. The question is, will you encounter them?
The MXL 990 feels like a better bet than the V67G. There are still some question marks, and as with any mic, the 990 will suit some voices better than others, but it’s a solid contender in the under $100 market. It may well be worth your time to try.
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