Reviews : Microphone
MXL's most affordable tube microphone yet.
Photo: Mike Cameron
Although I've tested a number of MXL's range of low-cost capacitor microphones, the V69 is the first tube model that I've had the opportunity of trying. Supplied in a very nice camera-style case with PSU, multicore cable, three-pin XLR mic cable, soft case and shockmount, the V69 is a cardioid-pattern mic. It is unusual insomuch as, instead of the usual presence peak, it has a nominally flat characteristic with just a very gentle high-end lift coming in at around 2kHz, becoming steeper above 10kHz. The nominal frequency response is quoted as 20Hz to 20kHz, although no decibel ranges are quoted. The sensitivity is a very healthy 38mV/Pa (actually the spec sheet shows MV per pascal, which in my book means megavolts now that
would have been a healthy output!) and the equivalent input noise is 14dBA, which again is on the good side of respectable.
The mic itself is cylindrical in shape, with an eye-catching gold-plated basket protecting the one-inch capsule. Little information is supplied regarding the capsule or its origins, but it looks very similar to the Chinese-built capsules used in the majority of today's low-cost capacitor microphones. Unscrewing the base of the mic allows the body sleeve to be removed, exposing a neatly made circuit board containing a miniature wire-ended valve feeding transformerless, solid-state pre-amp/balancing electronics. A seven-pin XLR cable connects the mic to the PSU, which converts the signal to a regular three-pin, balanced XLR feed. There are no pad or roll-off switches anywhere on the mic or PSU.
Shockmounts are pretty much de rigeur for large-diaphragm capacitor mics, if not for isolation then at least for pose value! The mount provided here is nicely designed and utilises a spring clamp mechanism to hold the mic securely. It is recommended that the mic be used upside down, so that heat rising from the tube doesn't affect the capsule, so a firm clamp system is essential.
I checked the V69 against mics in my own collection (though sadly no other tube models were available to me during the review period) and found that, in terms of depth of sound, there was little difference between the Rode NT1, an Audio Technica 3050 and the V69. Their sensitivities were all comparable too, but where a difference was evident was at the high end, where the V69 seemed to sparkle more, but in a way that seemed to add high-end density rather than being aggressive or thin. Overall, the impression is of reasonable accuracy, but the high-end characteristic succeeds in flattering vocals without sounding obviously coloured. Similar results were achieved with acoustic guitar, and I didn't come across anything the V69 actually handled badly.
While not sounding too obviously tube-like (transformer models sometimes produce a thicker sound), the V69 does combine subjective neutrality with stealthy flattery, particularly at the high end of the audio spectrum where the effect is not unlike a gentle application of air EQ. Given its rising high-end response, this isn't at all surprising, and I'd go so far as to say this is mainly what gives the mic its tonal character, perhaps more so than the use of a tube stage. The V69 faces some stiff competition from the likes of the Rode NTK tube mic and some of the badged Chinese imports, but it is certainly able to make quality recordings at an attractive price and must be considered good value, especially when you consider it comes with a shockmount and a tough case.
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Stereo Condenser Microphone
There's more to this variation on Audio-Technica's flagship microphone than the simple addition of a second capsule...
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I'd call it the best camera for that price. I'd go for it.
FYI, Downsides are:
* Limited lens compatibility (no autofocus motor, so many Nikon lenses won't work)
* Autofocus is slow enough to be completely useless in live view mode (try it in a store)
* Video mode isn't up to par with Canon and friends. You get limited resolution, awkward frame rate, horrible audio (11kHz with low quality built-in microphone, and no microphone input, and the kit lens will give you lots of image stabilizer noise).
Stepping up, Canon 550D is an amazing camera (albeit without the pivot LCD)