Robin Gist pits a bantam weight against a heavyweight.
The MXL2006 cardioid condenser microphone is the second mic I’ve reviewed for AT this issue. The mic arrived around the same time as the Audio-Technica 2020 and for reasons I also laid out in that review, I decided to compare the MXL to the vastly more expensive, highly credentialed Neumann U87. Now I realise some of you might consider this akin to placing Jeff Fenech and Mike Tyson in the same ring, but really this ‘weight’ mismatch is only relevant to price. In several other respects the fight is a valid one: they both play a similar recording role, they both provide a subjective sonic interpretation of their subject matter, the Neumann is a ‘known’ quantity, so comparisons can be drawn from a reference point (its sound being regarded as a benchmark), and of course, they’re both large diaphragm condensers. Apart from cost, the main difference between the two mics lies mainly in their functionality; the MXL2006 provides only a single, fixed cardioid polar pattern, whereas the U87 offers three patterns. The MXL2006 is a 48V phantom powered, side address, ‘no frills’ microphone with a one-inch diameter six-micron gold sputtered diaphragm… pretty much a ‘Kingswood’ in terms of features.
Actually, the 2006 does offer at least one ‘frill’: a well-constructed metal shockmount comes supplied standard. As you may be aware, I suggested in my other review that a generic shock mount would set you back $100 or more. As the MXL2006 is priced at around $250 you’re obviously getting a good deal by its inclusion. The supplied pamphlet: Getting The Best Results From Your MXL Microphone states that “Shockmounts should be considered ‘standard equipment’ for all recording applications…” and I tend to agree.
Sonically the MXL2006 is very quiet, until you put a sound source in front of it, of course! The first instrument I put up for comparison and recording with the MXL was a 12-string acoustic guitar, followed in quick succession by male and female vocals, a cowbell, tambourine and finally, a shaker. I had to gain-up the output of the 87 to match the 2006 but this was not unexpected. The female singer (who was also involved in the other comparison test) again preferred the sound of her voice through the U87 although I thought the differences in the lower end were less apparent this time. I preferred the MXL on the male vocal and also on the 12-string acoustic guitar. The reduced bottom end and brighter top end on the 2006 gave the test recordings of the male vocal and guitar a bit more presence, particularly when heard on smaller monitors. I did however, prefer the U87 for the percussion recordings, with the smoother top end lending itself more to equalisation and processing than the MXL.
In a separate recording session, the 2006 was used to record six voiceover artists speaking a variety of foreign languages. The results of these voice recordings confirmed some of the earlier comparative tests. Through the MXL the male voices had a full but not booming bottom end with clarity and presence in the mid and upper frequencies. Some of the female voices, however, sounded a bit sibilant through it so an alternative microphone was used in those instances. On those that were not sibilant, the mic sounded clear, detailed and present.
The specifications that come with the mic state the frequency response of the MXL2006 to be 30Hz to 20kHz. However, somewhat bizarrely, the presumably averaged frequency response graph in the manual differs considerably from the one on the distributor’s website (maybe something got lost – or added in this case – in translation!). The website frequency chart indicates a greater than 10dB peak at around 10kHz! So I’ve decided, based on the sound alone, that the supplied graph is probably closer to mark. The on-axis response starts to roll off at 100Hz and is 5dB down at 50Hz. The top end starts to roll up at about 5kHz and is 4dB up at 10kHz and then rolls off quite steeply at 15kHz to be 8dB down at 20kHz. This goes some way to explaining the subjective conclusions reached by listening to the test recordings.
The MXL2006 definitely represents very good value for money for project and commercial studio owners alike. Adding this microphone to your arsenal will again give you greater creative possibilities when you come to record your magical sounds. I myself now have the MXL2006 as one of my creative choices.
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