Here we are, 20 years after the release of the original MXL 2001 microphone, and the company has maintained its place in the budget microphone game, while making some big moves toward the high-end. Its recent tube mics—Genesis, the Genesis II, and Revelation—have aimed to compete with boutique mic manufacturers delivering “vintage” sounds, at not-quite-Neumann prices. That said, the Revelation’s $1,295 price tag might shock longtime MXL fans. The Revelation Solo, designed in the U.S., attempts to meet them halfway and deliver that high-end sound at a slightly more comfortable price point.Because of this, a slew of mods made their way into trade magazines and the then-young Internet. The end results were mics that typically sounded much more expensive then they ended up costing.
The original Revelation is a tube condenser featuring multiple polar patterns. The Revelation Solo is essentially the same mic, but fixed in a cardioid pattern. Both feature MXL’s take on a K67 capsule, with a 6-micron, gold-sputtered diaphragm, 32mm in diameter. The capsule is housed in a large bulbous grille, similar in style to that of a U 47. The cylinder has slightly rounded corners moving toward the flat top and no angles on the sides.
The body of the mic is a shiny, speckled, dark-purplish-blue metal, which most found attractive and contemporary, while others thought it looked cheap. I’m on the fence. In the large aluminum flight case, you’ll find the mic, proprietary power supply, a shock-mount, cables, a cleaning cloth and white gloves.
The internal wiring is by Mogami, as is the proprietary multipin cable for powering the mic, and the included XLR cable. Each cable is 15 feet in length, which seems adequate, though could be stretch for high drum overheads. The shock-mount is the same type of typical elastic-banded design included with most condensers these days. Because bands will stretch over time, a spare set is provided too.
The power supply is housed in a large enclosure with an illuminated power switch on the back and a power indicator light on the front. There is also a recessed ground lift and large paddle-style switches for polarity reversal and bass roll-off. Bass roll-off (12 dB/octave at 125 Hz) and a -10dB pad can be engaged using a switch on the mic’s body, as well.
Inside the body you’ll find an Electro-Harmonix EF86EH vacuum tube, a reasonably priced version of the EF86 pentode. On the flip side of this main circuit board is an unknown transformer. A Web search of the part number turned up nothing, but it clearly isn’t a Cinemag or Jensen. All of the capacitors are of the Xicon electrolytic variety.
Just after I received the Revelation, I had a session to record a male voice-over. The mic was touted as being perfect for “soulful vocals,” so I thought this might fit the bill. Being mindful of the near lack of mesh protecting the capsule, I threw up a pop filter and warmed up the mic. Turning up the pre, the first thing I noticed was that, for a tube mic, it was relatively quiet. There was a small amount of that usual hiss, but it was at such a low level that it never compromised the recording.
When I began setting levels, I found that the bottom end was no joke. It was full and clear and hardly honest. It definitely added a good amount of masculinity without being muddy or obnoxious. Meanwhile, the detail and articulation in the top end was fantastic. Once again, the sound was slightly hyped but by no means was this a bad thing. I tried popping in the highpass filter just to see what it would do the bottom end, and it just sounded like a normal human talking. It still sounded really detailed, clean and natural, but removing the roll-off awakened this glorious announcer voice.
The Revelation Solo was excellent for recording electric guitar. I set the mic a few feet away from a tube combo set with a slightly dirty sound. Hitting this mic and recording with a relatively colorless preamp resulted in a sound that almost sounded like tape. The rich top end could cut through anything. The subtlest nuances of the amp’s harmonic-laden distortion shined in the recording. Those types of subtleties really popped.
A few days later I used Solo to record acoustic guitar. I set it up pointed right near the twelfth fret, about two feet away. When recording a palm-muted bassy lick on the lowest strings, the mic just seemed to wrap around the notes. The bottom was really fat and tight, while the midrange was perfectly clear, maintaining the intelligibility of every note. When switching over to big, strumming, open chords, the balance of body to pick was really on point. Soloed up, it was a big, full, balanced guitar sound that would have been perfect for a solo acoustic performance. However, considering that this was one element in a dense rock track, there was already a battle going on in the lower midrange. After engaging the Revelation’s roll-off, every part of the guitar sound that benefitted the track was left and the crowded low-midrange frequencies were opened up. The frequency selection and slope seemed to be just right for the filter to be useful and musical.
Because the top end was so clear and the mic seemed to enhance what it picked up, I wanted to try recording things that could get harsh easily. Soprano ukulele is an instrument that blasts out sharp, bright, loud notes while having a warm-sounding body with very little resonance. The Revelation seemed to soak up some of those aggressive highs rather than over-pronouncing them, while simultaneously creating a clear picture of the body. The balance was really nice. All of the subtle details of fingers dragging on the nylon strings, or knuckles brushing and knocking against the wood were so tastefully preserved. The result was a very expressive, flattering portrayal of the true nature of the instrument.
Open, folky harmonica recordings were similarly pleasant. The grating quality that a harmonica can have was nicely tamed by the mic’s circuitry. There was a warm, woody sound along with it, which wasn’t evident in the room but certainly lived in the recording. This created a nice, complex-sounding instrument, which added nicely to a mix.
A New MXL?
I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical about a higher-end mic coming from MXL, but from the time I opened the case, I could tell that this was going to be something different. The sound is loaded with personality that complements a wide variety of instruments. If you’re looking for a go-to vocal mic with a little sound of its own, this could certainly fit the bill. If you need a new all-around mic to add some new flavor to your stagnant sound, you’d easily spend a lot more before you find something else that works this well. Either way, this mic has changed the way that I will think about MXL in the future, and I look forward to hearing some of their other new creations.
Brandon T. Hickey as an independent audio engineer and educator.
When using this mic for vocals, proximity effect ramps up pretty steeply as the subject approaches the mic. This creates a variety of different sounds. This can be useful for creating dynamics in a mix. For example, backing off for verses can create a more natural sound, while getting closer for the hook can make that part of the song a little more “in your face.”
COMPANY: MXL Microphones
PRODUCT: Revelation Solo
PRICE: $799 (street)
PROS: Boutique mic sound at a reasonable price.
CONS: Cable could be longer. Fixed cardioid pattern.