By Doug Young
Condenser microphones are frequently recommended for recording acoustic guitar. But there are different types of condensers—should you use a small condenser mic or a large condenser mic? Small condenser mics typically have capsules around 1/2-inch in diameter and are usually pencil-shaped. Large condenser mics, in contrast, typically have diaphragms around a full inch in diameter and are usually side-address mics and physically much larger. Small diaphragm mics often have a faster transient response and a flatter overall frequency response as well as polar patterns that are more consistent across all frequencies, and are therefore often recommended for acoustic instruments. Large diaphragm mics, on the other hand, may have lower self-noise, but are somewhat slower to respond to transients and may have more variation in polar patterns across different frequencies.
So, speaking very generally, small diaphragm mics are considered to be more accurate, while large diaphragm mics may offer a bit more character or color. Both can be useful tools for recording, and many classic tracks were made using large diaphragm mics on acoustic guitar. Large diaphragm mics are also frequently preferred for vocals, so it is well worth having at least one in your mic collection.
A Large Condenser that Won’t Break the Bank
Many industry-standard large diaphragm mics tend to be somewhat costly. MXL, a division of Marshall Electronics based in Torrance, California, has been making a name for itself by creating affordable mics, manufactured in China, that outperform their price point. In this review, we’ll look at the new MXL Revelation Mini FET, a large condenser mic with a street price of $230.
The Revelation Mini FET is a cardioid-only (directional) version of the Revelation II ($500), a tube-based mic dual-capsule mic that supports multiple polar patterns (cardioid, omni, and figure-8). The Mini FET features a single 32mm (1.25-inch) center-terminating, gold-sputtered capsule and features FET electronics rather than tubes, and requires standard 48-volt phantom power. The Mini is limited to a cardioid polar pattern, but otherwise is meant to match the tone of its pricier sibling. While tube mics have a certain cachet, FET-based mics have several advantages. They are more durable, require less maintenance (with no tube to burn out or degrade over time), and produce less self-noise.
The Revelation Mini FET is physically attractive, with a dark navy-blue body and black chrome grille and trim. It measures 6-1/4 inches tall, 2-1/4 inches in diameter and, weighing in at just over one pound, is somewhat smaller and lighter than its tube-based sibling. The mic comes in a light but sturdy padded carrying case, which stores both the mic and a suspension-style shock mount. The shock mount feels a bit lightweight but holds the mic firmly in place and the locking mechanism is easy to use. Most importantly, it does a very good job of isolating the mic from vibration. The case also includes extra replacement bands for the suspension mechanism.
The only control on the mic itself is a three-way attenuation switch on the rear, offering 0, 10, and 20dB pads. MXL says the mic can handle levels of 158dB (with the 20dB pad), far more than enough headroom for acoustic guitarists or even loud vocalists. Like most mics at this price point, MXL does not provide quality control measurements for each specific mic, but the published frequency response graph claims the mic to be flat within approximately +/-2dB from 20Hz to 20kHz. Noticeable peaks occur around 4kHz and 100–150Hz, with a falloff above around 12kHz. MXL’s published polar pattern shows a typical, though perhaps slightly wide cardioid pattern. The published specs don’t show frequency-dependent polar responses, but it seems likely that the Revelation Mini FET tends toward more omni response at lower frequencies, as is typical of large diaphragm mics.
I auditioned a pair of Revelation Mini FETs by recording several different acoustic guitars using a spaced pair arrangement, and also with some basic vocal tests. On acoustic guitar, I was very pleased by the results. The sound is clear and clean, with an appropriate presence along with a warm low end. Although MXL does not publish noise specs for the mic, I found the Mini FET to be very quiet. Noise is one of the challenges most musicians face when home recording, and many budget-priced mics produce self-noise that can be evident in critical applications like recording soft fingerpicking. In my recordings, I was able to achieve a noise floor of more than -60dB, and even though that noise level probably reflects my home studio environment rather than mic self-noise, it’s similar to the noise levels I typically achieve using much pricier microphones. My conclusion is that the Revelation Mini FET is quiet enough for virtually any purpose.
When used for voice, the Revelation Mini FET again sounded clear and warm, exhibiting a larger-than-life sound from proximity effect as I moved closer to the mic. The mic’s grille does not provide much protection from pops and sibilance, and I got better results by adding a wind screen—which is completely expected, of course.
At $230, the Revelation Mini FET seems like a bargain. The mic is quiet—very important for acoustic music—looks nice, appears to be solidly built, and has a subtle warmth and a touch of presence that tends to flatter acoustic guitars. Vocalists often have preferences for certain mics, depending on the characteristics of their voice. There’s no way to be sure if any mic will be a match for your specific voice without trying one, but the Revelation Mini FET is worth considering as a vocal recording mic.
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For anyone wanting to explore large diaphragm mics, the Revelation Mini FET would make a great introduction. Based on the performance of the Mini, I suspect the Revelation II would also be a solid choice for anyone wanting to explore multi-pattern microphones. With its combination of good sound and reasonable price, the Revelation Mini FET would be a welcome addition to any home studio. mxlmics.com