Is it too much to ask the gods of audio-video accessories to hope for a durable microphone that can travel well and be useful for gaming, content creation, and even web conferencing for those with more business-minded pursuits?
We’ll find that out by reviewing the MXL AC-404 LED boundary microphone. First of all, lest expectations be subversed, this mic is not like a headphone boom mic, tabletop, or hanging mic — nope, this is a boundary mic. If you are not familiar with the technology, here’s the 411 on it: Consider a boundary a “surface,” whether a table or a floor, for example. An omnidirectional diaphragm microphone capsule is placed on or near the surface, capturing sound for the diaphragm. As a type, boundary microphones are ideal for picking up sound from different parts of even noisy and reverberant rooms. In theory, this mic should be optimal for locations in busier places, such as conventions, panels, and other spots outside of a recording studio.
Let’s put that to the test by seeing if theory meets results.
The package deal
The mic comes packaged in a glossy black cardboard box. It’s familiar, but it does the job well enough. Packed densely within is a coiled USB cord, a thin manual and layered foam that fills most of the box. Inside the cut-out foam is the plastic-wrapped microphone and microfiber cloth with mini Phillips screwdriver.
The USB cable is on the longer side, about 6 feet in length, which will make a difference for more precise positioning in placement of the mic for optimal recording.
The AC-404 LED mic has some heft to it, weighing in at over 8 ounces. It’s definitely best suited for a backpack or shoulder bag when carrying it.
The topside of the microphone is a wedge-styled design, with the MXL logo at the back, with a nostalgia-inducing black metal mesh wrapping around to a rubber bumper. Behind the back of the mic and the logo, the USB input and 3.5mm analog microphone input/output.
Between the mesh and the rubber sole underneath is the plastic layer or letting the LED lighting shine through, all the way around the microphone. When the AC-404 LED is plugged in, the illumination shines through the grating and the wraparound plastic. Gratefully, it’s not an excessively flashy sort of lighting and is actually rather understated. The rubber on the feet and sides are designed to keep the device from skidding and getting bumped too hard when moved around, which should limit dings and other damage when in use.
Setup and usability
The AC-404 LED microphone is easy to set up. Remove the USB cord from the plastic, plug it into the microphone and into the computer. There’s a reason why the manual is so brief, since little effort is required to set it up.
Once plugged in, go to the Control Panel on a Windows PC (the MSI PE60 2QD laptop, in my case) and make the recording and playback option defaulted to the microphone’s setting. I found playback worked best when setting the computer’s default speakers as the default in Windows 10. Mac users will have instructions included for their setup, too. Voilà … that’s about all there is to it.
Part of the reason the microphone is simple to use is because it is basic, or I could say “old school” by gaming standards. If there’s any doubt the AC-404 LED microphone goes old school, consider that the LED isn’t controlled by any software or even a button — but by the turn of a screw, using the included mini screwdriver, to select one of eight illumination options. The default color-cycling option is what you get when you plug in the AC-404-LED. Some may be fine with a manual approach to adjusting LED lighting, but I’m thinking most consumers would appreciate the convenience of a user interface that requires less work for lighting.
- Type: USB power mic
- Capsule: 3 capsule boundary design with 180-degree coverage
- Power: USB
- Frequency Response: 40Hz – 16kHz
- Sampling Rate: 44.1kHz – 48kHz
- USB compatibility: USB 1.1 and 2.0
- Size: 109mm x 76 x 51mm / 4.3in. x 2.95in. x 2in.
- A/D converter: 16-bit Delta Sigma with THD+N – 0.01%
The MXL AC-404 features a wide-pattern boundary type microphone with three microphone capsules, described as 180 degrees in coverage. I found recording tests yielded better clearer and more resonant results when orienting the front of the microphone (the slanted wedge) toward myself. In that sense, the AC-404 mic pickup pattern is less of a omnidirectional style of microphone and more of a directional and focused — or cardoid dynamic style — microphone when it’s facing “forward” toward the sound source, whether a podcaster, streamer, gamer, on-stage panel, etc. The mic can be placed on the the floor, table or any other surface that represents a boundary. Regardless of location, positioning for this mic is definitely an important consideration.
How would the mic work in a quiet environment versus a busy environment?
Using Free Audio Recorder on the software side, I recorded a short audio clip at MP3 192kbps quality from about three feet away on a table with a sound loop of a crowded room playing about 8 feet behind me. While this doesn’t represent an event environment quite accurately nor the software a streamer or gamer might use, it does demonstrate to what extent the MX AC-404 can record in a cluttered audio environment like a conference, expo, or the like.
For contrast, here is the same audio clip with the background noise off.
When I turned the mic around to the backside, this is the recording quality with background sound off. It’s clearly more muffled, so with background sound added, it would be safe to assume it would be even tougher to record cleanly.
In my estimation, the MXL AC-404 is a very good solution for most recording situations where mobility is required and recording outside of a studio environment represents the lion’s share of the audio recording work.
- The retail pricing is not bad for the LED-equipped version of the AC-404 mic at $79.95, but at $59.95, the value for the version without the LED is better.
- With simple plug-and-play USB 1.1 to 3.0 usability, it’s usable for most recording setups.
- Sturdy metal retro-styled build
- High-quality voice recording capability
- In the age of software or even mobile fine-tuning, the old school functionality will not be for everyone, such as adjusting lighting with a screwdriver.
- Positioning for the best sound pickup will take a little trial and error.
The strongest use case for the AC-404 LED microphone is in noisier environments, such as a convention expo area or an esports event. The sensitivity will help with picking up sound even from a cluttered audio environment, and this mic does a very solid job of it. No, this microphone will not replace a home or studio mic for streamers and other content creators, but then again, it’s not meant for those environments. Since the microphone is designed to be set down for use, it’s a good fit for mobility.
For some the LED lighting is an either-way-is-fine kind of option, especially given the retail price of $79.95. But MXL offers an identical microphone sans the lighting for $59.95. This may be the better choice for consumers who don’t need the fancy (or distracting) LED illumination and are minding their budget more closely.
For more information about the MXL AC-404 LED microphone, visit the official site.