Comparison shopping is always a good bet when you want to establish the best value. When you’re comparing mics, there’s the added perspective of “best use.” An affordable mic that doesn’t do what you need perhaps isn’t the value it first seems to be.
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MXL has been in the microphone game for over 30 years, coinciding with the home recording boom. Plenty of basement and bedroom studios upped their game thanks to MXL mics and their affordable price points. It’s inevitable that a mic decision would one day come down to two MXL mics, particularly if your mic budget is more no-name soda, yet you want a decent sparkling wine.
Enter the MXL 770 and the MXL 990. The MXL 770, fully reviewed here, sells for about $70 on the street. The similar but different MXL 990 appears in several different forms at the time of publication. The MXL 990 Blaze and Blizzard models boast red and blue LED lights at a price just $10 more than the MXL 770.
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The Heritage Edition MXL 990 shows up priced at about $120, and there’s even a multi-mic package that pairs the MXL 990 with an MXL 991 small diaphragm condenser for about $100. A standard champagne colored MXL 990 shows in some searches as the same price as the MXL 770.
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No matter which package you opt for, there’s a good price/performance ratio. If you make a purchase decision, watch for the MXL 990/991 combo. It’s a more than reasonable 2 for 1 mic deal. With careful shopping, price is not likely a determining factor. Even at its higher price points, the MXL 990 is a very affordable mic. But, on to our MXL 770/MXL 990 comparison.
The biggest difference between the MXL 770 and MXL 990 is the capsule size. The MXL 770 comes in at 0.87 inches, technically a large diaphragm condenser capsule, but slightly smaller than the 1-inch de facto standard definition of “large diaphragm.”
The MXL 990, on the other hand, is larger than standard at 1.26 inches, fully 0.39 larger than its smaller sibling. Capsule size doesn’t necessarily have any inherent advantage, one size versus another. Plenty of excellent small capsule condenser mics have full frequency response.
If you’re thinking a bigger capsule is “better,” you’re mistaken. While the diaphragm capsule is a crucial part of a microphone’s performance, it’s only part of a complex electrical system. A quality capsule is easy to waste, sabotaged by crappy circuits, a problem many budget Chinese mics once had.
This isn’t a problem with the MXL 990. It’s a half pound heavier than the MXL 770 but handles a slightly more modest 130 decibels (dB) in sound pressure level (SPL). That’s still a hefty volume level, making the MXL 990 capable of use on virtually any studio sound source.
As with all conventional condenser mic designs, the MXL 990 requires 48-volt phantom power for use. At 200 ohms, its impedance is a bit higher than the MXL 770, a detail that likely has no impact on your workflow unless you have a preamp with adjustable input impedance.
MXL lists the frequency response of both mics at 30 Hertz (Hz) to 20,000 Hz, but a quick look at the frequency response graphs for each mic creates the impression that the 30-20,000 number is something residing in their marketing templates, the way 20-20,000 is remarkably the response of virtually every speaker and headphone out there.
The MXL 990’s graph is the type that makes techno heads raise their eyebrows. While the accuracy of these graphs typically generates a slightly salty sense of suspicion, the remarkable straight-line attributed to the MXL 990 seems truthful when you start to use the mic.
MXL could claim frequency response down to 20 Hz, since the falloff between 20 and 50 Hz is less than 5 dB. Otherwise, it’s a straight line until you get to the very modest presence boost starting about 4000 Hz. Compared to main large capsule condensers, this is a gentle curve peaking about 8000 Hz before falling off.
The MXL 770 has a much more aggressive presence boost, a characteristic that it tames well, but it’s a different beast than the MXL 990.
To put it into subjective terms, the MXL 990 presents as a “silky” voiced mic, while the MXL 770 sizzles. Another way to phrase it might be “classy” versus “brash.”
If you want a definitive better or worse evaluation, it’s not possible. For home studio use, both the MXL 990 and the MXL 770 are solid choices, particularly with their affordable price points. Technical specs slightly favor the MXL 990, but the sharp peaks of the MXL 770 could make a difference when you struggle to get a vocal to cut through a dense mix.
The MXL 990 is perhaps more to my taste speaking generally, though it’s easy to envision reaching for an MXL 770 when front end brightness needs a boost. Similarly, the MXL 990 may tame a sound source that overwhelms the MXL 770’s sizzle.
If you’re sitting on a $200 budget for a new microphone, there’s a strong case for buying both mics. Remember, there’s no one microphone that’s exactly right for every voice or sound source. You can make do, in many cases, but getting right takes experimentation. These similar but different mics could be the perfect combo for your first comparison miking excursions.