Field Test: MXL V6 Condenser MicrophoneSOLID-STATE DESIGN WITH A WARM TUBE SOUND 6/01/2005 8:00 AM Eastern
In today's microphone market, it's a nice surprise to see a new approach to a traditional concept. MXL's parent company, Marshall Electronics, has introduced a low-cost alternative to its tube (valve) V69 mic. The V6, the first member of the company's Silicon Valve mic line, was created to blend the reliability and cost-effectiveness of solid-state electronics with classic tube sound.
OUT OF THE CHERRY WOOD BOX
Manufactured in the U.S. and shipped in a cherry wood box, the V6 is a large-diaphragm (25mm capsule), side-address, pressure-gradient condenser model inside a gold-plated grille and mounted on a silver torpedo-shaped body. Weighing in at 1.15 pounds, this mic's heft and feel inspires confidence (and requires a solid mic stand) for use in studio and onstage. MXL states that a solid-state FET amplifier's transformerless output simulates what tubes naturally do. (No, the company is not telling how it was done, but MXL does claim that the circuit reduces the harshness created by odd-order harmonics and musically unrelated distortions caused by a variety of components within the signal path.)
I immediately liked the classy look and feel of this microphone, yet its low cost made me somewhat skeptical. But then I began using it in all kinds of applications and on all kinds of instruments with truly excellent results. MXL recommends it for vocalists and musical instruments, and it proved useful in a wide variety of settings and styles, perhaps more than originally intended.
IN THE STUDIO
The first test of this cardioid mic was recording a male voice-over. The result was warm and crisp, comparing quite favorably against my trusty Audio-Technica 4033 and an AKG 414. After that, I used the V6 on a variety of pop and classical singers and it handled just about everything I threw at it, offering a smooth and lush tube-like sound. It was a little strident on an operatic soprano (in a living room recital recording environment), but a touch of shelving EQ at about 8k tamed things considerably. Male pop and classical vocals were full-bodied and clear; proximity effect was there just as with any cardioid, but not overly exaggerated.
The V6 was robust and detailed on a 1994 John Zeidler Excalibur cut-away rosewood model acoustic guitar and easily handled my male artist's breathy, intimate vocals. Again, it performed admirably against the 4050 and a Neumann KM84; not better or worse, just a little different in the upper mids. Perhaps most surprising was the sound of vocal and guitar together, with the V6 backed off enough to pick up both. I truly didn't expect the kind of solid, detailed imaging I got with the V6 alone.
ON THE STAGE
Quite an eye-catcher, the V6's attractive gold grille and silver body turned quite a few heads when used on tenor saxophone in a Coltrane tribute concert recorded for radio broadcast from Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Not only did it look good onstage, but the V6's sound created quite a stir. The house engineer was immediately impressed with its sound in the main mix; we had none of the usual dreaded “squonk and honk” associated with putting a large-diaphragm condenser mic in front of a saxophone in the middle of a busy live jazz ensemble. In live use, there's lots of gain, plenty of presence and no harshness.
The V6 continuously surprised me when used for additional stage applications, including recorder, orchestral harp and even a solo double bass.
Surprisingly, I needed very little limiting or compression at mix time; this mic makes mixing so much easier, with the kind of sound one might expect from a much pricier tube mic. Dispelling any coincidence, the V6 produced the same kind of smooth, articulate detailed sound from a different saxophonist a few weeks later in the same venue on another live broadcast recording.
In multitrack miking and mixing, unwanted spill from other sources usually necessitates a lot of gain riding and ducking to keep things clean. Some mics sound quite ugly when picking up anything but sound immediately in front of them. The V6 doesn't seem to have that problem; another nice surprise. Off-axis material wasn't overly harsh or muddled. There seemed to be less proximity effect than expected from a cardioid microphone such as this. More forgiving with performers who move around a bit, the V6's sound stays consistent. That's a big help at mixdown, making the V6 worth having in your collection for more sonic choices.
READY FOR PRIME TIME
Clients and associates have commented favorably on the V6's sound (and look); it's been very well-received. It's equally at home in pop, classical and jazz environments, and it just happens to look great contrasted against wood trim under amber lighting.
The V6 appears to have met its design goal and more at a surprisingly affordable $349 MSRP. At its modest price, you can take it out for live gigs and studio use without too much worry. It's become my “go-to” mic for live saxophone, and at this price, I want another one!
MXL Microphones, 310/333-0606, www.mxlmics.com.
Joe Hannigan runs Weston Sound & Video in Philadelphia.