MXL 990 Review: The Most Popular sub $100 Condenser Mic, Period.

MXL 990 small diaphragm condenser mic

MXL 990 small diaphragm condenser mic

MXL 990 is the most popular condenser mic for under $100. It is MXL’s flagship mic in the category of sub $80 – $100 studio mics, a market in which MXL has been a leader.

It breaks the magical $100 barrier that was a traditionally unheard of price point for a studio vocal mic.

But cheap does not always mean you have to sacrifice sound quality.
This mic sounds tens of times better than its price. In fact, unless you’re an audiophile, I bet you can’t tell the difference between this mic and the more expensive studio mics.I was really surprised by the quality of the sound this mic produces. The first time I plugged it and started talking into it with the headphones on, I was immediately blown away by the result. The 990 is also so versatile that you can have it on a wide range of applications from vocals to instruments to

I was really surprised by the quality of the sound this mic produces. The first time I plugged it and started talking into it with the headphones on, I was immediately blown away by the result. The 990 is also so versatile that you can have it on a wide range of applications from vocals to instruments to general spoken word such as voice over and podcasting.

So, no wonder that quickly after its introduction to the market, the MXL 990 small diaphragm studio condenser mic became the most popular condenser mic among recording professionals as well as enthusiasts, hobbyists and home studio owners. There are folks who swear by this mic and choose it over other mics that cost 10 times as much.

The 990 also attracted those who love DIY modifications and upgrades as it has several mods that can make it sound even better.

Performance:

The MXL 990 offers a silky, sweet high end with a tight solid bass, perfect for recording vocals.

It has a 3/4″ gold-sputtered diaphragm that produces a professional sound.

In addition, its 30Hz-20kHz frequency response is ideal for lead and background vocals, male or female. It’s detailed and crisp without being harsh.

My own voice is not great at all. It lacks a lot of the low end and gets sometimes a little nasally. The MXL 990 was one of a few mics that I liked my voice on. It gives me that thick rounded voice and gets rid of the nasal sound.

The 990 has a fixed cardioid (heart shape) pickup pattern which helps eliminating a big deal of background noise. The cardioid pickup pattern means that the mic mainly picks up sounds coming from the front while ignoring sounds from the sides. That’s because the sides are less sensitive.

This works really well, however, you shouldn’t depend completely on it as sound waves travel around and bounce back to the front of the mic. You should try to prepare the recording environment by eliminating noise sources such as AC units and PC fans. Don’t forget, this mic is really sensitive and will pickup the tiniest sound.

Good to note:

It also helps to use a pop filter to prevent “popping” the mic with the sound of some explosive letters such as B, P, and T while protecting the mic capsule. The pop filter will also keep you always at  a fixed distance from the mic for a consistent performance.

The mic is really heavy (1.2 pounds) and I’ve noticed that when you’re using mounting it on a boom stand, it tends to tip forward. A good idea is to position the stand with the odd leg facing towards the mic or adding more weight to the base of the stand.

MXL 990 Mods:

The DIY enthusiasts get this mic modified to get the most out of it. Basically, they replace certain parts to replicate the sound of vintage mics that cost thousands of dollars.

OktavaMod is the most popular mod for the MXL 990 created by Michael Joly. His “Hidden ‘84 Mod” alters the MXL 990’s stock capsule mounting and grille to reduce diffraction and “eshiness,” removes two layers of headbasket screening to reduce muddying reflections, and upgrades some part of the circuit  and electronic components.

This mod makes the 990 sound tighter, deeper bass, reduced midrange phase shift, improved HF and transient response.

Unfortunately, MXL started lately to put a circuit board that limited the DIY circuit upgrade for the 990, unless the board is entirely replaced with an after market upgrade kit.

This video shows how this mic compare to other more expensive mic after it is modified:

Features:

MXL 990 condenser mic with shockmount

MXL 990 condenser mic with shock mount

  • Gold-sputtered diaphragm creates a professional sound.
  • Transformerless FET condenser.
  • Cardioid polar pattern.
  • Wide range frequency response produces detailed and crisp sound.
  • Vintage body style with champagne finish.
  • Very affordable price if you’re on a budget.
  • DIY mods make it sound even better.
  • Includes custom shock mount, mic stand adapter and case (if you buy the kit).

MXL 990 For Podcasting:

If you are into podcasting or want to start a podcast, this mic is a great choice. It is a very good mic for the spoken word due to the clarity and articulation it gives to the voice. The polar pattern of this mic also helps to eliminate some background noise by focusing more on the voice of the speaker.

Dr. Collin Gray, Host of “Podcraft Podcast” and author of “How to Podcast” book, uses and recommends the MXL 990 for podcasting. He says:

The MXL 990 This is the mic I use on a day to day basis. Great value, excellent quality.

Applications:

  • Lead and background vocals, male and female
  • Podcasting
  • Voice Over

Different Versions:

The MXL 990 comes in two versions:

  • XLR : which is the most common version with analog output. It plugs into a preamp, a mixer or an audio interface that can provide the 48v phontom power needed to run the mic.
  • USB: the digital version of the 990 comes with a built-in analog to digital converter or AD to produce a 16-bit high-quality audio. It plugs directly into the computer (PC or Mac) without the need for an audio interface or a preamp.

Included in the box:

The 990 condenser mic comes with a hard plastic carrying case, fitted with foam to further protect the mic and its accessories: a stand mount and a shock mount.

Although you can use the included small stand adapter, it is very recommended that you use the also-included shock mount as the stand adapter will not provide any isolation. It will carry all vibrations from the ground or the stand to the mic, to your recording. The shock mount, on the other hand, does a great job in isolating the mic from the stand and stopping any vibrations from reaching the mic.

Technical Specs:

MXL 990 specs
Tube Type:
Pressure gradient condenser microphone
Diaphragm:
6 micron gold-sputtered
Frequency Response:
30 Hz – 20 kHz
Polar Pattern:
Cardioid
Sensitivity:
15mV/Pa
Impedance:
200 ohms
Equivalent Noise Level:
20 dB (A-weighted IEC 268-4)
S/N Ratio:
80 dB (Ref. 1Pa A-weighted)
Max SPL for .5% THD:
130 dB
Power Requirements:
Phantom Power 48V (+- 4V)
Current Consumption :
<3.0mA
Size:
60mm x 130mm / 2.36 in. x 5.11 in.
Weight:
1.2 lbs / 544.3g
Metal Finish :
Champagne

Frequency Response and Polar Pattern:

MXL 990 frequency response and polar pattern

MXL 990 frequency response and polar pattern

Price and Availability:

MXL 990 mic kit

MXL 990 mic kit includes a carrying case & shock mount

The MXL 990 price is currently $85 on Amazon including the shock mount, mic stand adapter and a hard carrying case. It can be found even cheaper on Amazon, just keep an eye on the price.

Bottom Line:

If you’re in the market for a studio mic for recording or podcasting, that’s well-built, excellent-sounding, versatile and for only $85 with accessories, you can’t go wrong with the MXL 990.

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