It’s the golden age of affordable large diaphragm condenser microphones. “Affordable” can be something of an understatement when mics like the MXL 770 have a street price around $70. There’s simply no reason why your home studio can’t feature the condenser mic sound.
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Arriving in an attractive matte charcoal finish with gold lettering and trim, the MXL 770 (Amazon) is an affordable mic that doesn’t look cheap. Some will recognize the MXL name as a budget mic provider, but this is not a unit you’ll be ashamed to show.
Shipped with a slick, low profile spider shock mount, the MXL 770 looks like a serious large cap condenser microphone that delivers versatile performance on a variety of sound sources, including voices, acoustic stringed instruments, pianos, and percussion.
A single pattern cardioid mic, it’s not surprising that a mic at this price point offers up only a single polar pattern. After all, it’s possible to buy single pattern cardioids for 10 times the price. MXL could beg forgiveness for skipping the bass roll off and -10 decibel (dB) attenuator pads, but there’s no need to take them to task as both switches sit around the back side of the typical side address form factor of this studio style mic.
As is typical with a conventional condenser mic, the MXL 770 requires 48 volts of phantom power to produce a signal at 150 ohms impedance and it handles a hefty maximum sound pressure level (SPL) of 137 dB. Probably not the best choice for a kick or snare, but the MXL 770 has the oomph to excel at drum overhead duties.
The gold standard studio condenser mic is the Neumann U87, perhaps the closest thing to a Swiss army knife of microphones. Comparing the $70 MXL 770 with the $3,600 U87 is perhaps a bit of folly. However, if you’re willing to accept the price/performance trade offs, you can learn lots about the cheaper cousin and what these trade offs mean for you when using the mic.
Perhaps the most obvious difference when scanning the spec sheets of both mics is the smaller size of the MXL 770’s diaphragm. It still qualifies as a large diaphragm mic, but at 0.87 inches, it is smaller than the U87’s one-inch capsule. This may be why the MXL 770 features a frequency response rated down to 30 hertz (Hz) versus the 20 Hz response of the U87.
Similarly, the MXL 770 doesn’t compete in signal to noise ratio, reaching 74 dB versus the U87’s whisper-quiet 82 dB. However, these aren’t bad numbers, and the MXL remains a remarkably strong performer for its budget hit. It simply sounds much better than your average $70 condenser.
Large diaphragm microphones gain renown for the larger than life quality they can give vocals. Not every mic with a big capsule can do this, and certainly few can do it like the U87. There’s a high frequency hyping that, in the best microphones adds sparkle, while lesser contenders usually snap, crackle, and pop.
Checking out the MXL 770’s frequency response chart, there’s a significant high frequency bump starting about 5,500 Hz and peaking around 9,000. There’s something about the straight-line slope between 5,500 and 8,000 Hz that serves the MXL 770 very well for voices.
If that crystalline quality for vocals is on tap, then the MXL 770 will naturally excel at sound sources like strings and acoustic guitars. While there’s no audio engineering law that says these types of sound sources group by mic type, you’ll find that, whenever a full range instrument gets featured, a mic with this sort of presence boost helps it cut through a mix with qualities that get described metaphorically.
Terms like “airy,” “clear,” “crisp” and of course, “sparkly” and “crystalline” jump forth, and the MXL 770 provides these without overdoing the sibilance, often a failure of otherwise competent condenser mics in the budget price range. “Smooth” is the poetic term for the quality that the U87 delivers. The MXL 770 isn’t as smooth as the legendary German mic, but it’s gol durned smooth. And it’s way more than $70 smooth.
The top end is the stunner for this very affordable studio mic. Yet, it’s equally adept at taming the low end. That 30 Hz low response rolls off the subsonics, frequencies that are often inaudible on a solo track, but that build up and muddy a mix when all channels get summed. Flip the high pass filter in and the MXL 770 drops everything below 150 Hz, prime rumble accumulation territory.
This saves you some custodial work on your recording chores, eliminating the need for heavy equalization roll offs. With the switch in the flat position, the MXL 770 really is flat, admirably so for such an affordable mic.
If all you have is a C-note and you need a vocal mic, the MXL 770 (Amazon) delivers, with change enough to keep you in pizza all weekend long. If you’re new to the recording game, this is a budget mic that gets you going in style.
If you’re building a bigger mic closet, leave some room for this affordable gem.