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AT2020 vs. MXL 990 | SMALL NUANCES!

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Before we dive right into the AT2020 vs. MXL 990, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..

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AT2020 vs. MXL990

AT2020 vs. MXL990

What I will bring you in this review

Of each microphone:

  1. Specifications
  2. Summary
  3. Sound Test (AT2020 only)
  4. Pros
  5. Cons
  6. Video Review
  7. Who this mic benefits?
  8. What you will need?
  9. Consensus/Conclusion
  10. Similarities & Differences
  11. Final Word

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!

Audio Technica AT2020 (XLR version)

Ratings/Price

  • Amazon: 4.3/5 | check eBay!
  • Musicians Friend: 4.5/5 (over 50 reviews)
  • B&H Photo: 4.5/5 (over 75 reviews)

Specifications

  • Microphone Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Diaphragm Size: 0.63″ (16mm)
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
  • Max SPL: 144 dB
  • Output Impedance: 100 Ohms
  • Signal to noise ratio: 20dB
  • Color: Black
  • Connector: XLR. What is XLR?
  • Weight: 0.76 lbs.
  • Included Accessories: Stand Mount, Microphone Pouch
  • Manufacturer Part Number: AT2020

Audio Technica AT2020

Audio Technica AT2020

Summary

A good majority of the 1-star reviews that the AT2020 received on amazon were from people who had no idea what they were getting into prior to purchase (This could explain the discrepancy in ratings from amazon compared to the other sites). Guys, this isn’t a USB mic. It’s an XLR condenser mic that will only run off of 48v phantom power. Know what you are buying before you buy it!

There are so many good qualities about the 2020, that it’s hard to sum up. It does really well with husky, deep male voices. It’s well built and durable, and comes with a nice carrying pouch giving it an added portability. Really it’s built like a tank, and can take a lot of abuse.

As for it’s sound, it’s extremely sensitive, and boasts a flat, neutral response. It also greatly benefits from some EQ’ing. Adding a bit of EQ and compression can really make this mic sound amazing. Know that above all, it is still an entry level mic, but proves to be extremely versatile. You can record just about anything with it, and do it well! More on that a little later.

Check out my mega awesome sound test!!

with Pop-Filter:

with Pop-Filter under a blanket:

with Pop-Filter, under a blanket, farther away:

Pros

  • Bold and crisp sound. Better with darker sources more so than brighter ones.
  • Extremely Versatile & can handle a wide variety of studio, as well as general applications.
  • Very sensitive, picks up a lot.
  • Very well built and durable. Will last you a long time. Built like tank.
  • Great for small home studios and beginning musicians.
  • Gives a nice flat response that can be EQ’d very easily.

Cons

  • Storage bag is a bit flimsy and doesn’t have any padding. Some disagree, for example, the guy in the video below 😛
  • Doesn’t come with XLR cables or shock-mount.

Check out the video review!

Who this mic benefits?

I’ve seen this thing used for nearly everything:

  • Acoustic instruments
  • overheads
  • amps
  • brass
  • vocals
  • electric guitar
  • drums
  • banjo
  • violin
  • pod-casting
  • spoken word
  • singing
  • you-tube
  • twitch shooter commentary
  • narration
  • skype
  • conference calls

What you will need?

Before you buy this mic, or any mic that is XLR, you will need the following:

Here are a few options I recommend

  1. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. I have this one, and recommend it highly. It’s extremely reliable and will work wonders with the AT2020. You can also upgrade your mic in the future and still use it.  A Great piece of equipment.
  2. Roland Tri Capture. Saw this mentioned by a very reliable source. It comes bundled with the AT2020 AND an XLR cable on amazon as well, so you can’t go wrong.
  3. Behringer Xeynx 802 Mixer. If you’re just starting out, you may not want to spend over $100 on an interface. The 802 comes in handy because it has two XLR mic inputs, so you can record your vocals. It also gets really nice reviews on amazon. Around $50.

Accessories:

  • XLR cables.
  • Shock-mount.
  • Pop-filter.
  • Mic Stand.

Consensus/Conclusion

The AT2020 is a good starter investment because it comes from a reputable brand with a long line of great mics. It’s also a great workhorse mic that excels with many different applications. It’s well built and durable, and most of the complaints came from people who didn’t know USB from XLR. One negative I came across is that it may sound a tad bright, not unlike the B1. Studio Projects B1 vs. AT2020. Also make sure you add a bit of EQ and compression before you write it off. The raw vocals may not amaze you.

Onto..

MXL 990

Ratings/Pricing

  • Amazon: 4.5/5 | Check eBay!
  • Musicians Friend: 4.5/5
  • Guitar Center: 4.5/5

Specifications

  • Microphone Type: Small diaphragm condenser. Large diaphragm vs. small diaphragm.
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Diaphragm Size: 0.67″ (17.1mm)
  • Frequency Response: 30Hz-20kHz
  • Max SPL: 130 dB
  • Output Impedance: 200 Ohms
  • Signal to noise ratio: 80dB
  • Color: Beige/Black
  • Connector: XLR
  • Weight: 1.2 lbs.
  • Included Accessories: Shock-mount.

MXL 990 Condenser Microphone

MXL 990 Condenser Microphone

Summary

So I’ve read through every single amazon review, and can give you a nice clear concise summary of what this bad boy is all about.

It’s a condenser microphone and seems to be at it’s best in voice over type situations. One of the defining characteristics of the 990 is that it has a warm, bassy undertone. Some call it “muddy”, but personally I really enjoy that type of sound. It’s got a radio quality to it.

It has also been known to do extremely well in live situations (choir, etc.) as well as a simple starter home recording studio. If you take away one thing from this review, it should be this: As an entry level mic, this is amazing. If you’ve been stuck using your computer speakers, the 990 will sound like music to your ears. However, as you grow and develop your equipment and sound, it’s flaws and shortcomings will be made apparent.

One other important thing to keep in mind is that it won’t necessarily sound as good without some EQ. This was very common among-st reviewers who needed it for vocals, and applies in most recording situations. As a condenser, it is very sensitive and picks up a lot of sound. Some common techniques I came across, which are pretty standard:

  • EQ (equalization)
  • Compression
  • Reverb
  • DeEssing
  • A Noise gate (to block out extraneous sounds, ambient noise, etc.)
  • A properly treated room. This can mean using blankets, acoustic studio foam, or anything that will deaden the sound and block out noise. Check out my article on Acoustic Sound Treatment for some tips on setting up your space!

All that said, this baby will serve as your go to mic in a bind, and makes a more than serviceable backup if you’re a bit more advanced. If you’re just starting out, you may want to consider it!

Pros

  • Perfect for beginners. Entry level heaven.
  • Good for vocals.
  • Well made and durable.
  • Rich tone, nice bassy undertone. Gives your vocals a pleasant warm quality. Can enhance your voice.
  • Clear and crisp sound, pristine.
  • Longevity. Mic will last you a good while before you decide to upgrade.
  • Picks up a lot of nuance, and subtle sounds in your voice.
  • Smooth radio sound, great for speech. People loved the fact that it makes you sound like you’re on NPR or something 🙂
  • Nice durable case with foam padding. A professional looking piece.

Cons

  • Muddy. A lot of people used this term in their review. I counted 10 (at the time of this review). Depends on your taste and opinion I think.
  • Shock-mount. Some liked it, others did not. The outer ring on it may wear out.
  • One guy had an issue with the cable, said it needed to be wiggled at times to keep it working. If you have this problem, just send it back and the new cable will be fine.
  • Not as good for instruments or amps. Some said otherwise, but the low end starts at 30 Hz. It’s better to start off with 20 Hz for instruments.
  • Doesn’t record loud very well. If this is the case, you may consider standing a bit farther away, and lower the gain on your interface/mixer. There are solutions to most of the 990’s problems. You just may have to experiment a bit.

Video Review

Who this mic benefits?

I’ve seen it endorsed for all of the following, but keep in mind that it’s at it’s best in a voice over type environment. Some examples:

  • live streaming/you-tube
  • VoIP
  • Video math lessons (very obscure, but cool nonetheless!)
  • google hangouts calls
  • pod-casting
  • internet radio hosting/radio broadcasting

For recording:

  • Vocals. I found that you most likely will want to EQ it for vocals. For just speech, it does fine without.
  • Hip-hop
  • Drums
  • Acoustic Guitar

That said, the majority of people liked it for voice-over, with vocals coming in second, and instruments third. It will also do quite nicely in a live setting.

What you will need?

This is a cardioid condenser mic (What is a cardioid capsule?), so you will need the following:

48v Phantom power via audio interface or a mixer. Some great options that I came across:

  1. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. I personally recommend this one as I have owned it for awhile now and it works pretty flawlessly. It also looks sexy and is quite durable, and will stick with you as you upgrade mics.. Check out my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Review!
  2. Steinberg U22. Similar to the 2i2, this is also a great option, and will be more than adequate to power the 990.
  3. Behringer Xenyx 802. A very common, more affordable solution if you don’t want to shell out the money for the 2i2 or the U22. It gets pretty nice reviews overall.

XLR cables. These will run from your mic into the interface or mixer. Your interface basically converts the analog signal into digital, so your computer (and ultimately you) can make sense of the numbers.

Shock-mount. Luckily for you, the 990 comes with one!

Pop-filter. These basically protect the diaphragm inside of your mic from getting contaminated from your nasty spit and other germs. It also cuts down on the plosives, or consonants in speech that make the Esses, and P’s sound harsh. Investing in a good one is wise. I recommend the Samson PS01. I’ve had it since 2007 and it’s held up amazing.

Mic Stand. You can either go with a tripod boom stand, desktop stand, or scissor arm. I’ve had good luck with the first two, and prefer the desktop stand because I’m lazy and don’t want to stand up while I record. 😛 I haven’t tried a boom arm contraption yet, but I have a feeling it will be my favorite before it’s all said and done.

A sequencing program. Can’t use a mic without a program to record the vocals with! If you’re brand new to recording, I would recommend getting your feet wet with Audacity. It’s free, simple to use, and very effective. As you gain more experience, my top recommendation would be:

  • Reaper. It comes with a free trial period, and is almost universally praised in every context.

Some good articles:

Consensus/Conclusion

The MXL 990 is the perfect starter microphone if you desire to get your feet wet with audio interfaces and more professional set ups. What does an audio interface do? It’s at it’s best in a voice over type environment, and will give your voice a nice warmth and full body. It also does well with vocals and some recording applications, but it’s at it’s best from a strictly speech standpoint.

Similarities & Differences

Similarities

  • Both benefit from some EQ.
  • Both are cardioid condenser mics that require 48v phantom power.

Differences

  • The MXL 990 is considered a small diaphragm condenser, while the AT2020 is a large diaphragm. Large diaphragm vs. small diaphragm.
  • The AT2020 can handle a higher SPL (Sound pressure level), which explains why it is more versatile in many different applications. The 990 by contrast has a lower SPL, and does much better as strictly a voice-over mic.

Final Word

In my Studio Projects B1 vs. AT2020 review, the B1 won by a very slim margin due to some very subtle differences that you can read about in the article. It’s still a very close call, and really a coin flip as to which you go with. Just know that these 2 mics are the perfect entry level solution to your studio (because they are so versatile).

SEE THE STUDIO PROJECTS B1 FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!

If you’re looking for a strictly voice over mic, the MXL990 is a nice entry level unit, but you may not want to bother with the XLR setup. My recommendation would be the Blue Yeti, as it’s super convenient and has a ton of on board features that simply cannot be ignored.

CHECK OUT MY ENDORSEMENTS FOR THE YETI!!

  1. The best USB microphone for podcasting
  2. The best USB microphone for voiceover
  3. The best cheap USB microphone
  4. The best mics for podcasting (overall)

Well that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on the AT2020 vs. MXL 990.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

Which one of these mics are you diggin’? What do you think about the Yeti? I would love to hear from you.

Until next time..

All the best and God bless,

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[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Be sure to check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

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