In the classical music world, the small diaphragm condenser mic, called a pencil condenser, is a major player in location recording. The pencil condenser package resembles a small stick of dynamite more than a pencil, and it has a feature that no class of mic does as well – flat, extended frequency response. Where some large diaphragm frequency charts look as though they were drawn by seismographs as the San Andreas Fault lets go, a typical pencil condenser looks more like a hand-drawn straight line. What this means is that, more than any other mic style, the pencil condenser is a what-you-hear-is-what-you-get device.
You’d think that would be more in demand. You’d think more singers could do without Autotune also. The fact is, recording, particularly in popular music, is about capturing “a” sound, not “the” sound. It takes work to blend a typical band into a coherent recording, over which a vocal can be heard clearly and evocatively. Thus, the characteristics of the large cap condenser flatter voices, giving an idealized version of what we hear.
The MXL V67N microphone – not to be confused with the MXL V67G or I (Review Here) , which are large diaphragm condensers – is a typical pencil condenser in terms of flat response on its frequency chart. That translates nicely into the real world.
IS THIS THE CAT’S MEOW? Department: The V67N purrs nicely for $150 of pencil condenser.
Setup and Usability
Pencil condensers are small, not much bigger in diameter than the XLR connector used to plug them in and maybe a little more than twice as long, just under 5 inches. As with their big brothers, phantom power is a must. The V67N comes in MXL’s trademark green and gold trim.
No switches or pads on this one, but the neat feature is that the V67N has interchangeable capsules, giving you a choice of cardioid or omnidirectional polar patterns. Generally, the omni capsule will serve you well in location work, while the cardioid cap is more suited for studio and home recording where focus and separation are bigger requirements. Simply unscrew one capsule and screw on the other.
If you’re looking for larger-than-life sheen that screams “professional recording,” you won’t find it in the V67N, nor are you supposed to. This is a mic you use when you don’t want to hear the microphone at all. Sometimes that can be startling in itself, given how accustomed we’ve become to large diaphragm sound. Listening to the V67N is like looking at the world through a freshly Windex-ed window. Use a pair of these in a stereo configuration and the effect can be startlingly three-dimensional. You can hear the room as well as the sound of an instrument in such detail that it can feel very much like you’re there.
Pencil condensers can be used for voices, but usually with heavy pop screening. I’ve done it. I’m not sure why. I don’t have any compelling reason to do it again, unless I have no choice. Where these mics shine is acoustic instruments, such as guitars and pianos, miked at a bit of a distance, where the sound of the instrument has a chance to bloom and meld with the room. If your room sounds like crap, the V67N will capture that for all to hear. (How to acoustically treat a room) When you move them in close, proximity effect starts to alter the faithful transparency. Unless, that is, you know a secret about omnidirectional mics. An omni polar position is immune to bass proximity. So, crappy room, close-miking with a V67N… switch to the omni capsule! You got it! True, the mic is sensitive in all directions, but when you’re close to the source, you don’t need as much gain to capture it, so the rest of the room is effectively more quiet.
The V67N can handle signals of 148 dB. If you’re having a nap using a hand grenade for a pillow and the pin falls out, I think that would be only about 150 dB or so. If you want to put a V67N in front of a screaming guitar amp, you should be fine. These little guys also excel as drum overheads. Many choral and orchestral recordings are made with a pair of pencil condensers in pristine acoustical halls. That’s it. A pair of little mics. On an epic sound source, you get epic results.
To my senses, the V67N seems built just fine, though I didn’t disassemble one. I had a pair, though they were not electronically matched, as pencil condensers often are for stereo recording purposes. These two sounded fine, though I didn’t critically test them for match, as I was making an archive recording for a local choir. Based on my experience alone, I’d have no hesitation recommending them on performance.
Given that MXL has a severe lack of imagination when it comes to naming microphones, matching user reviews to any one of their models is difficult. Reviews on Amazon, for example, mention the V67G and V67i when any mic is named at all, so it is difficult to attribute anything specifically to the V67N. MXL as a manufacturer, though, has quite a reputation for microphones falling through the quality control cracks. Usually, if there is an issue, mics ship dead, die quickly or have only a year or two of life. On the other hand, positive reviews do outnumber negatives substantially. I have no long-term experience with MXL products, so I can’t speak directly to this point.
My advice is, if you decide to try the V67N, test it promptly and activate the returns process immediately if anything is amiss. MXL customer service seems adequate and attuned to the QC issues.
As mentioned in the Build section, attributing direct V67N reviews is difficult due to misidentification of MXL mics.
The MXL V67N compares favorably with pencil condensers costing much more. Yet, it also compares favorably with mics half its price. In particular, the Behringer B-5 is a similar pencil package with interchangeable capsules. It also adds a bass roll off switch and 10 dB attenuation. It’s very similar in sound to the V67N, perhaps a bit brighter around 5,000 Hz, with a bit more versatility. Oh, and it’s $70 versus $150 for the V67N. Samson offers a matched pair of cardioid pencils for $139. This is certainly not an indictment of the V67N. It’s a good mic at a price unheard of 30 years ago. It’s just not aggressively priced in today’s market. Still, if you love the green and gold, it could be the right small cap for you.