The MXL R144 ribbon microphone is a remarkably well sounding mic while being the least costly ribbon mic in the market. Like almost all ribbon microphones, it delivers a creamy smooth sound with a nice warmth and an elegant darkness. In this MXL R144 mic review, we’ll see why you should or should not get this it.
Throughout the recording history, ribbon mics did an incredible job at capturing some of legendary works and the MXL R144 is a great entry point mic into this world of silky smooth mics. In fact, we can easily give it the title of “the Best budget ribbon microphone” at a relatively cheap price of $100.
MXL R144 Sound and Uses:
The MXL R144 ribbon mic produces a classic ribbon sound with a rich smooth midrange and a full, warm low-end. It almost has the characteristics of a naturally sounding mic that can be used to record a variety of sources from guitars to vocals or spoken word. However, when recording guitars, ribbon mics are usually paired with another brighter mic such as the Shure SM57. This is because ribbon mics have a very full and warm low-end while the Shure SM57 has a big presence boost with somewhat recessed to lower frequencies. So, the R144 and the SM57 seem to compliment each other very well in such uses.
MXL R144 Build Quality and Why It’s So Delicate
The MXL R144 is well built and has a solid metal body. The top mic grill, though, has some flex to it and could be a little stronger.
That’s being said, the R144, like any ribbon mic, is very delicate. So, if this is going to be your first ribbon mic, you need to be aware of some “Do’s and Don’ts” with regards to using and handling this type of microphones.
First, you need to have good mic techniques or get a pop filter before using this mic. You should NOT shoot plosives directly into a ribbon mic, otherwise you can tear the ribbon or damage it. Another precaution is to handle this mic with extra care. You should be very careful not to drop it or bang it against stuff or you can destroy the ribbon inside it. After all, this mic is not meant to be hand-held, so, a mic stand is a must. Lastly, you must NOT run phantom power through this mic as this can permanently damage it. You should always double-check to make sure that your audio interface phantom power is off before connecting the R144.
MXL R144 Ribbon Mic Pickup Pattern:
The MXL R144 has a “figure 8” pickup pattern like almost any other ribbon mic. This means that it can pickup sound from the front and the back of the mic while blocking it from the sides. It has a really strong side rejection of unwanted noises. However, you should not expect the R144 to perform well in blocking ambient noise. It picks up everything.
The rear of the mic sounds a little different than the front. It seems to have a little bit of a presence boost and is a bit brighter than the front which you may or may not prefer.
MXL R144 Ribbon Specs:
|Type:||Ribbon Velocity Microphone|
|Ribbon Element:||1.8-micron aluminum ribbon|
|Frequency Range:||20Hz -17kHz|
|Sensitivity:||-56 dB (0 dB=1V/Pa)|
|Rated Load Impedance:||>1500 Ohms|
|Max SPL for 0.1% THD:||>130 dB @1 kHz|
|Size:||47mm x 171mm/1.85 in. x 6.75 in.|
|Metal Finish:||Purple and chrome|
What’s in the box for R144:
MXL’s R144 comes with a fairly nice kit especially for beginners. Included in the box, other than the mic itself, is a hard-cover foam-padded protective plastic case for carrying and storing the mic. It’s just a standard toolbox, nothing fancy. The box also includes a standard MXL shock-mount which is okay as a starter. It has poor isolation against shocks and bumps from the mic stand or the mounting arm. You definitely should not use this shock-mount with a boom arm that has springs.
MXL R144 Ribbon mic Pros & Cons:
1- Price: the MXL’s R144 it’s a relatively cheap mic especially when compared to most higher-end ribbons in the market. So, it’s a great entry point mic if you’re looking to dip your toe into the world of ribbon mics and play with, say, blending a ribbon mic with a Shure SM57 or a small diaphragm condenser without having to worry about hurting your budget if you accidentally drop it or run phantom power through it or if you want to play around with learning how to re-ribbon mics.
2- Sound: the R144 has a remarkably good sound. You don’t often get such a smooth silky sound with a nice fullness and warmth from a $100 ribbon mic.
Although one may be a little hesitant to list all of these as “cons” because they’re pretty much inherent to most ribbon mics, they may be worth noticing especially for new comers to recording:
1- placement: you need to be very selective with your mic placement because the rear of the mic is very sensitive in a way that will affect the sound. You may notice this clearly if there are reflective surfaces behind the mic like computer monitors, untreated walls and windows.
2- darkness: just like the majority of ribbons, the R144 mic is very dark which may turn off a lot of people due to the fact that we’ve become accustomed to a very bright, very detailed modern sounding microphones, well, this is not that.
3- delicacy: due to the nature of ribbon microphones, the R144 is extremely delicate. So you need to handle it with extreme care and, on that note, it’s very susceptible to plosives and you can actually damage the microphone if you put a gust of wind or air directly into it.
4- Picks everything: lastly , I’m not sure if this is something that is apparent on every ribbon microphone, but the MXL R144 picks up every bump of the desk or mic stand which can absolutely destroy a recording.
Overall thoughts on the MXL R144 Ribbon Mic:
The MXL R144 when used on an electric guitar is dark, smooth and warm and it sounds like a ribbon mic. However, the R144 has somewhat of a “woofy” tone in the low mids and lower frequencies. It’s just a “woof” type sound but when you mix it with an SM57, it gives you a much more impactful sound than a 57 on its own.
On the acoustic guitar, though, the MXL R144 offers a very authentic tone to it. That’s not to say that it is an accurate representation of what a the acoustic guitar sounds like because it’s not. It’s just a smooth and warm and lovely sound which is something that one would imagine a classic acoustic guitar would sound like.
For singing, the MXL R144 gives you, again, a very warm and dark sound, which may not be what a lot of people are looking for, but that’s the characteristics of this mic.
Finally, for spoken word, a lot of folks swear by ribbon mics for that application, but it’s just too dark, too smooth, too warm and lacks the detail and clarity and articulation that may be essential for a good and easy-to-listen-to spoken word recording.
If you’re going to 1940s vintage style recording, this is absolutely a great entry point. But if you’re doing modern pop or rock or punk music, the R144 doesn’t have the detail and clarity that people expect and you would be better served with something else like a condenser or a dynamic.
So if the R144 is going to be the only mic in your studio, in my opinion, it’s not versatile enough to be the only mic in your mic locker, and you would be much better served by a dynamic like the SM57 or a condenser like the MXL 990 Condenser.
On the other hand, if you already have a mic locker built up and you’re just looking for a ribbon mic to blend with some other mics you already have like some small diaphragm condensers, then for a $100 this is a really nice entry point and it can be a lot of fun to play around with, without the added concern and anxiety that comes from playing with a $1000 ribbon mic.
Check the MXL R144 price and availability on Amazon.