The MacBook Pro with retina display really improved on the built-in microphones Apple had been previously using. By including dual-array mics, Apple was able to create a system that allows users to use voice and video chat without a headset. The dual-array setup is also quite useful with the built-in voice recognition that comes with OS X Mountain Lion and, while using a headset does improve the transcription accuracy when using Dragon Dictate for Mac, the dual-array system is rather impressive in its own right. Still, if you want to get high quality audio recordings from your Mac, especially if you have a system with a single microphone, a headset or USB microphone is a good idea. And while you can spend a small fortune buying a decent headset or USB mic, there are good options for under $100.
We reviewed the Samson Meteor Mic back in the spring of 2011 and came away impressed. (Read the review.) At a price of $99 the mic is small, compact, easily transportable and sounds rather good. My biggest negative at the time was the fact that some won’t like the retro styling of the unit. Fortunately we live in a time when choice rules. That means there isn’t just one good USB microphone for under $100. I’ve been looking at one of the other options- the MXL Trio compact USB condenser microphone- and am impressed. It sounds good, is surprisingly inexpensive, and looks more like a traditional desk mic than the Meteor.
Let’s take a look.
The MXL Trio is a compact USB condenser microphone that is perfect for a variety of computing needs. The small size of the TRIO makes it ideal for the podcaster on the go, thanks to its’ rugged metal construction. The smooth, clear sound of vocals are faithfully captured by the TRIO. It is the perfect solution for a wide variety of popular voice chat services that are now available to consumers.
1/8″ low latency headphone output
High quality Delta Sigma A/D converter
Plug and Play compatibility for PC and Mac OS
Frequency Response: 40Hz – 18kHz
Sampling Rate: 44.1kHz – 48kHz
USB compatibility: USB 1.1 and 2.0
A/D converter: 16-bit Delta Sigma with THD+N – 0.01%
Output: 1/8″ Headphone Jack/USB
Sensitivity: -47 dB re 1 V/Pa
The mic looks good and, thanks to the metal construction, it has a nice build-quality. Sitting on the desk the MXL TRIO sends a message that you are a serious professional. That’s a nice change from the Samson Meteor which, while I love the way it looks and sounds, makes a pretty bold statement that many won’t like.
The TRIO includes a Hard-Mount Mic Stand Adapter and a desktop tripod. That means you can use the TRIO on a desk but can also attach it to a traditional microphone stand.
The mic itself has no controls or settings; that needs to happen on the computer side of things. There is, however, a 3.5mm headphone jack so you can monitor the audio feed etc.
I did a series of recordings using my MBPr dual-array mice and the TRIO and there was no contest- audio recorded with the TRIO was louder, clearer and overall more pleasant sounding. And at $99 it is an inexpensive way to significantly improve the quality of the audio you record.
It wasn’t all good news. There are numerous indications (like the above image) that, so long as you have Apple’s iPad USB adapter, the TRIO will let you record directly to the tablet. I have a 3rd Gen iPad and it simply did not work. The direct time I plugged the microphone in I was told the unit did not supply the required sample rate Garage Band used. I then tried it with Evernote’s voice note recording feature. It didn’t work. I restarted my iPad and tried a few other voice decoder apps but had the same result each time. I then downloaded a separate voice note app and tried the microphone. This time it worked just fine. In fact, it worked better than fine. While it recorded my voice at a lower level than it did when I tried the built-in microphone, the QUALITY of the recording, and the reduction in ambient noise, was significant. UPDATE: It turns out I had the settings a bit wrong. Once fixed it was simple and we were good to go. In other words it was simple human error. Mine. Don’t let this happen to you.
The bottom line is that when the TRIO works with an iPad app it makes a huge difference but you cannot expect it to work with every app. My advice is that you not think of this microphone as an iPad accessory but rather you focus on it as a computer mic. Then, if it works with your iPad app you think of that as being “value-added”. If you do that you won’t be disappointed. It is a solid, good looking piece of kit. At under $100 its isn’t professional-grade equipment but if, like me, you are a prosumer, it is a good option!
You can learn more and order yours here on the MXL website.
What I Like: Looks impressive and professional; Metal construction; Comes with a tripod and holder; Greatly improves on the sound when used with my Mac and with my iPad (when it worked); Nicely priced for something that looks and feels the way it does
What Needs Improvement: No on-board controls; No carry bag or case