As a podcaster, I’m typically of a simple mindset — Absolutely no USB Microphones. They are a hindrance when recording as well as editing, picking up every single noise possible. But MXL’s AC-404 USB Conference Microphone actually surprised me; here are my thoughts.
When it initially arrived at my doorstep, I said to myself “Great, another USB microphone”. But I had to go into the review with an open mind because I’ve been surprised before, and in a pinch, or in an isolated room, a USB microphone can be very handy. If you’re familiar with those “conference room” type of microphones at your office, the AC-404 by MXL looks familiar with its shape and cable that would ideally connect to your laptop. Having a MacBook, though, I immediately wished for a USB-C cable as this microphone opts for USB-A, but it’s not a problem if you have the correct dongle.
Upon unboxing, you get the bare necessities including the microphone itself, the USB cable, and an instruction manual. Here are some highlights from the MXL Mics website before I dive into my likes and dislikes about the AC-404.
- Three capsule design for broad 25′ audio pickup with clear voice intelligibility
- 8 preset color modes offer a wide range of customizable options: White, Yellow, Red, Green, Blue, Purple, Magenta, and Auto-blend
- Easy USB connectivity for use with Mac and Windows
- Rugged, modern design with all-metal body construction
- 3.5 mm analog output for headphones
- USB Powered, no additional batteries required
What impressed me about the AC-404 that other USB microphones haven’t been able to in the past, ironically, is its output for headphones, but hear me out. I’ve tested out a few mics at Guitar Center and various other places, and one glaring oversight about many is they seem to expect you to listen to feedback through the computer’s headphone jack, which would be nice, if there wasn’t a bit of overlap in the audio you’d hear there versus hearing what’s actually being fed through the AC-404.
What I decided to do was invite a few friends over to record a test podcast in the effort to get a “conference room” type of vibe for recording. Typically we all have standalone XLR microphones ported into the Zoom H6 to record, but for this, we opted for just the “omnidirectional” type of setup of the AC-404. But to be clear, the AC-404 is not a true “omnidirectional” microphone. While being able to capture clear voices, it’s worth noting that the voices need to be in close proximity to the microphone, like when it’s placed on a dining room or coffee table. Longer tables and space gaps cause the audio to sound muffled and distant, which if you plan on using this for recording an interview or podcast will drastically make some voices sound better than others depending on who’s closest to the microphone.
With the headphone jack, I was able to daisy-chain a group of headphones using Belkin’s Headphone adapter that allows more than five headphones to be plugged up so my co-hosts could hear the audio, for what it’s worth.
In playback, I noticed that the AC-404 picks up a LOT of background noise, such as the air conditioning running in the background, and even my dogs collar shaking when he entered the room mid-recording. These are some issues that would be able to be cleared up in a bit of post-editing but at the compromise of damaging your audio quality. If you want a better solution though, the ultimate idea here is to find a quiet room. If you can manage that, then you are golden. The AC-404 cannot be adjusted to figure out levels of background noise and is not a fault of the microphone alone.
Overall though, because of its practicality, I will be keeping the AC-404 to use, especially on those travel podcasts where it’s my co-hosts and myself in an isolated room and times when I don’t want to carry my “podcast bag.” The LED lights are a nice touch as well, if you are into that type of thing. And if you’re wondering how this compares to something like the Blue Yeti Snowball for group recording, I have to say the frequency is a bit better, It doesn’t need a dock (it’s weighted so it can sit on a table with ease), and it honestly doesn’t need additional software to work. Should you purchase this over an XLR microphone? No. Should you purchase this if you’re on a budget and want great sound quality that won’t “eliminate” background noise but works great? Yes.
The MXL AC-404 retails for $74.95; it is available on Amazon [affiliate link] and from other retailers.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review unit
What I Like: Portable and weighted which works for mobile recording; No applications needed
What Needs Improvement: Does not isolate background noise