The MXL 2003a: A Budget Microphone With A Good Vintage Sound?
In today's market there are hundreds of low-cost microphones geared towards the budget-minded consumer and hobbyist. While some of these microphones do sound quite good for the price, the majority of them suffer from an overly hyped sound, being both bright and shrilly on top, and having a deep, but muddy low-end response. Enter the MXL 2003a Large Diaphragm Condenser Mic, MXL's attempt at designing a mic with a more un-hyped vintage sound while sporting a pro-sumer price tag.
The MXL 2003a: Basic Design, Characteristics And Specs
The MXL 2003a is a Large Diaphragm Condenser mic featuring a transformerless design with a 3 micron thick vintage modeled capsule. It has a bass roll-off switch, as well as a 10 dB pad switch. Included is a high-isolation shock mount and 3 year warranty.
MXL 2003a Test In Home Studio
I first used the 2003a in my home recording studio tracking vocals for a new song I have been working on. The song was a down-tempo ballad which called for a more natural and detailed vocal tone that would be featured in the mix with little processing. My go-to and most often used mic for vocals is the Neumann U87, which has a beautiful mid-range warmth and smoothness with just a slight honk that really brings the vocals up front in the mix.
While it may not be the best mic for every vocalist (although it usually will sound great) after working with many different mics, it is the one I am most satisfied with. While I was testing out the MXL 2003a with my tracking headphones on, I heard a natural and present tone with just the right amount of air, but without any harshness or excessive brightness. Getting closer to the mic does yield a proximity effect which was appropriate for this particular song, but the effect was not as pronounced on some of the classic transformer-based LDC mics which I have been lucky enough to record with.
While the MXL 2003a did not have the low-end girth and mid-range presence of the U87 and other classic mics Iâ€™ve recorded with, it took EQ very well -- adding a few dB boost at 200hz added more body to the sound without taking away and of its natural detail and clarity in the higher frequencies.
MXL 2003a Test With Female Voice
My second test with the MXL 2003a was tracking vocals for a female singer who has an enormous vocal range, but a somewhat thin sounding voice which, when paired with the wrong mic, can sound overly bright and sibilant. While the 2003a may not have been my first choice for her voice, with a slight low-pass filter and cut around the 5k range, I was able to track a more than adequate vocal take that once again produced a very clear and un-hyped sound.
MXL 2003a Test Recording Guitar
The MXL 2003a also performed quite well when recording guitar. Some people love to use a pair of mics in a variety of configurations when tracking an acoustic guitar, but I've always preferred the sound of a LDC mic about 6 to 8 inches away from the 12th fret of the neck. My Martin dreadnaught has a tendency to get a little boomy on the low end, so enabling the bass roll-off switch took out the mud that I would have had to EQ out later on in the mixing stage. The MXL 2003a, perhaps due to the transformerless design, had an excellent transient response which really highlighted the punchy sound of my guitar. While it didn't have the same richness and warmth of my more expensive tube mics, the sound of the mic could actually work better in a song where the extra clarity and treble detail could help the guitar punch through a busy mix.
When recording clean electric guitar, I will often times ditch the SM57 for an LDC to give me a more un-hyped sound, rather than the strong mid-range push of the SM57. Since my Fender Twin Reverb produces a lot of decibels, I have to choose a mic that will not distort when faced with huge sound pressure levels. The MXL 2003a with the 10db cut switch engaged was able to handle the volume of the amp without any capsule distortion or unwanted compression.
The MXL 2003a is an excellent choice as an all-around instrument and vocal mic if you are unable to drop thousands of dollars on a vintage or boutique mic. It is one of the best LDCs in its price range (around $170 street) and performs as well as mics that cost 2 or 3 times as much. If you are looking for a character mic that provides a lot of color, this wouldn't be a first choice, but if you need a solid and reliable mic with a transparent tone and great clarity, I would highly recommend picking one of these up. Kudos to MXL for bringing to the market a great sounding mic for very small change.[protected/]
Review by Travis North