While there are plenty of budget microphones on the market, there is only a handful that I would feel comfortable recommending. In this review, I take a closer look at one of these enticing options. The aggressively priced MXL 990.
Despite its unassuming appearance, the MXL 990 has a lot to offer artists that want a reliable microphone that can capture clean sound. Its low price and flexibility secure its position as one of the leading choices in the budget condenser microphone market.
The MXL 990 shines in specific applications and features a primarily flat response ideal for vocalists and acoustic instruments. Plus, it has an impressive range of extras considering its price point. Let’s take a closer look.
The MXL 990 is a condenser microphone with a Cardioid polar pattern. Condenser microphones feature a thin membrane along with a static metal plate. This highly sensitive combination is ideal for capturing higher frequencies like vocals and acoustic instruments.
The Cardioid polar pattern is also ideal for side-address applications like podcasting and recording vocals since it minimizes audio captured from the rear of the microphone. Its Signal to Noise ratio of 80dB (A-weighted) ensures you won’t have difficulty capturing clean recordings.
For a budget microphone, it punches well above its price range with crisp and precise recording capability that remains relatively neutral throughout its range. It offers a slight bump at 8kHz which will appeal to vocalists that want a little extra pizzazz in this range.
The 8Hz bump helps bring sparkle to vocal and acoustic elements.
Speaking of vocals, this is undoubtedly one of the defining potential applications for this microphone. It handles vocals superbly and brings a hint of brightness and life.
For a cheap condenser microphone, I was not expecting it to perform this well. Depending on the singer, I’d be willing to pick this microphone over some more expensive options.
This extends to other speech-based applications like voice-over work and podcasting. While it is sensitive to plosives, a budget pop filter would be more than enough to resolve any potential issues. MXL offers a comprehensive range that will match the look of the 990. But it’s a little too sensitive for live vocals, so I would explore other options.
The MXL 990 is an excellent budget option for vocal recording.
Looking beyond vocal applications, the MXL 990 is versatile and a valid choice for recording acoustic instruments. Guitars and string-based instruments, in particular, translate fantastically. But due to its low cut-off at 30Hz, it is not ideal for bass-heavy instruments like bass guitars.
As for drums, the MXL 990 is decent and useable for overhead toms and high hats recording. But again, due to the low roll-off, sensitive nature, and low Max SPL, I’d explore alternatives for kick drums.
With bright and delicate sound, the MXL 990 is an ideal budget-conscious choice for vocal applications but equally capable of other light duties in a studio setting. For a cheap condenser microphone, there is a lot to like here, and it sits among the options available today at this price point.
The MXL 990 features a large 0.78″ (20mm) diaphragm with a generous 30Hz – 20kHz frequency response. For the most part, it remains rather tight to baseline, making it a very neutral microphone. The only bump is in the 8Hz range for extra sizzle. It isn’t overbearing either, with a gentle and smooth peak.
Self-noise is on the higher end of the spectrum at 20dB (A-weighted). For general vocal recording and voice-over applications, this is by no means a deal breaker, but if you want to capture super clean low-volume recordings like whispering, there are better choices out there.
The MXL 990 has a lower Max SPL than other budget condenser microphones.
The MXL 990 also has a modest max SPL of 130dB. This limits its potential for specific recording applications. This microphone is not the best choice for recording loud instruments. But I’m happy to see ultra-low 0.5% Total Harmonic Distortion which ensures what you capture will be free of unwanted noise.
Finally, the MXL 990 features an impedance rating of 200 ohms, so ensure you have an interface that can handle this rating to attain optimum performance.
The MXL 990 isn’t about to win any beauty awards. Still, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and some people will appreciate its retro-inspired aesthetic. For my tastes, it’s a little too old-school, but I’ll always opt for better performance over prettier aesthetics.
MXL often offers limited editions in various color combinations, so if the base Champagne color isn’t to your tastes, it’s worth looking around to see if an alternate color is currently available.
The MXL 990 features a vintage-inspired aesthetic.
As with any good microphone, the MXL 990 features an XLR connection point. I tend to mention this a lot, but quality cables are essential for microphones, so don’t skimp out and buy a cheap cable.
Due to the stubby design, the MXL 990 is incompatible with standard microphone clips. However, it does come with a mic stand adapter, so you can still utilize it with a microphone stands.
My expectations are pretty low for budget microphones, but the MXL 990 defies all the preconceived notions you might have for budget-conscious gear. Despite its low price, this is a well-made microphone with high attention to detail.
Rugged housing and durable mesh combine to deliver a solid, dependable microphone that doesn’t scream cheap and nasty. Internal components are also superb.
High quality at an affordable price point.
At the heart of the microphone is a gold-sputtered, 6-micron diaphragm. This thin layer of gold enhances the ability of this microphone to conduct electricity. Backing this up is German-style transformerless circuits with a FET preamp.
I’ve always appreciated the level of quality that MXL microphones offer. Despite the low-cost nature of the MXL 990, it retains all the elements that have made MXL one of the go-to brands for performance and reliability.
The MXL 990 offers a compact, stubby dimensionality that leans into its retro-inspired roots. At 5.11″ (130mm), it is noticeably shorter than other budget-condenser microphones, but it is moderately girthier at 3.26″ (60mm).
The MXL 990 features a chunky design.
One notable departure from other condenser microphones is the weight of the MXL 990. At 1.2 lbs. (544.3 grams), it’s heftier than other popular options and helps to give the microphone a feeling of premium quality. But if you are using a microphone boom arm, it is worth double-checking that this weight rating won’t cause unwanted sagging.
The MXL 990 is undeniably one of the best-value condenser microphones available. The low price point and high performance make it an appealing choice for beginners but equally an excellent option for any studio space where keeping costs at a reasonable level is a priority.
It is also remarkable how much MXL offers within the box. Not only do you get a well-built microphone, you’ll also get a custom shock mount which instantly saves you additional money. The mic stand adapter is also of decent quality, and you can comfortably store all of these components in the included foam-padded case.
The MXL 990 comes with a great range of accessories.
I’ll admit the quality of the accessories is not outstanding. Still, at this price point, you often don’t receive any notable accessories at all, so something is better than nothing. But you’ll need to handle the accessories carefully as they can be prone to breaking if mishandled.
If you want to maximize the amount you get for your hard-earned money, the MXL is among the best choices.
The MXL 990 is one of the most highly-rated budget condenser microphones on the market. Thousands of reviews highly the exceptional quality and crisp detail on offer. It consistently scores 4 and 5 stars and is also favorably reviewed by industry experts.
Banish The Plosives
A vocal-centric microphone like the MXL 990 can deliver excellent clear, crisp, and professional recordings. But there is one thing that can rapidly trip up your recordings and is something that many beginners overlook: plosives.
Plosives are the pop that comes from singing or saying certain words that contain letters that cause an increased amount of air to come out of your mouth. This rapid gush of air causes a stronger amplitude that impacts the quality of your recordings.
A pop filter is the best way to deal with plosives.
The most common letters associated with this are p, t, b, d, and g. As a result, words like padding or crackers can have undesirable results. But that isn’t to say you should avoid these types of words. What you will need to do, though, is invest in a pop filter or screen to help diffuse the burst of air before it hits the microphone.
Pop filters are inexpensive and, for the DIY-minded, relatively easy to create without buying extra gear. They are essential; some microphones even include dedicated filters within the microphone to mitigate the issue. So if you find some unwanted pops within your recording causing issues, I recommend buying a pop filter as soon as possible.
As with any studio gear, several companies are vying for your attention, and the budget space, in particular, is among the most competitive. Below I take a quick look at some other options worth considering.
Audio-Technica AT2020 Review
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is one of the major alternatives to the MXL 990. It comes in at a similar price point and offers impressive performance.
- Impressive sound quality but not as neutral as the MXL 990.
- Excellent build quality despite the low price point.
- It doesn’t come with a shock mount and features a pouch instead of a case.
PreSonus M7 Review
The PreSonus M7 is one of the cheapest options available if you want a condenser microphone. While it might be cheap, it still performs quite well.
- Impressive sound quality for a microphone this cheap.
- Super low price point while maintaining decent quality.
- While impressive for its price, the sound balance is not as refined as the MXL 990.
AKG P120 Review
The AKG P120 is another affordably priced condenser microphone with a swath of high ratings. An excellent choice for specific applications.
- High Max SPL makes this microphone a more viable choice for louder recordings.
- Rock solid build quality for a microphone at this price point.
- Doesn’t handle acoustic instruments as well as the MXL 990.
Should You Buy?
The MXL 990 is one of the leading options in the budget condenser microphone market. Its excellent presence and sparkle make it a perfect option for vocal recording, voice-over work, podcasting, and recording acoustic instruments.
The included accessories could be of higher quality, but considering the low price point, it is hard to be over-critical. The stubby design is also not the most appealing, but I can easily overlook this, considering the recording quality you can get out of this microphone.
The MXL 990 is an easy recommendation for a home or project studio and one of the best choices at this price point.