The affordable sE Electronics sE X1 capacitor microphone is now available with an onboard USB converter, so that it can be plugged straight into a computer without the need for a separate audio interface. Many USB mics can only manage 16- or 18-bit conversion at sample rates of up to 48kHz, but this one really pushes the boundaries, with full 24-bit resolution and a maximum sample rate of 192kHz (lower rates are supported too). Included in the box with the mic is a simple stand-mount clip and USB cable. There's also an optional sE shockmount/pop shield kit, which I recommend adding to your shopping list if you don't already have this side of things covered.
The mic is built around a large-diaphragm, centre-terminated, fixed-cardioid capsule, which measures 1.08 inches in diameter. This feeds its signal into a transformerless FET mic preamp. As with the XLR version of this mic, there are 10dB pad and LF-cut switches, but you won't need 48V phantom power for operation because all the necessary power is drawn from the connected computer's USB port and then multiplied up to the required value inside the mic.
The mic's USB port takes the place of the usual XLR connector and accepts a standard-size USB cable rather than a miniature 'camera' type, thus helping to make the connection more secure. As the microphone is recognised as a class-compliant device, no extra software driver is needed (and it should thus work with an iPad/iPhone via a Camera Connection Kit).
A surprisingly powerful headphone amp is also built into the mic, so that you can monitor your recordings without the need for an additional audio interface. A +/- rocker switch turns the 'direct' level of the mic in the phones mix up or down; there's no way to control the overall phones level from the mic, so you'll need to use your DAW's master fader to keep things comfortable. The phones connector is a 3.5mm TRS mini-jack, thus providing for stereo playback. This being a single mic, recordings are, of course, in mono, although the mic does show up as a stereo source in your DAW, with both channels carrying the same signal. You only need to select one channel when recording.
In other respects, the recorded sound seems identical to that from the XLR version, which in itself is no mean feat. There's no undue noise (the quoted figure for the sE X1 is an EIN of 16dB A-wtd) and the voicing has that same solid low end and airy high end that I noticed when reviewing the original. There's obviously a presence hump built into the frequency response, but this doesn't sound overdone and it's high enough up the audio spectrum that it doesn't result in any harshness. With no pad, the default gain was about right for recording vocals while still leaving adequate headroom. If you get a particularly loud vocalist, you can always switch in the pad. I also had no problem when using the mic with Logic Pro on a Mac in designating the sE X1 USB as my input device and my usual audio interface as the output device.
Whether you intend the sE X1 for podcast recording or voice-over work, or as an all-round music recording mic, this version offers a good level of audio performance and excellent USB audio specs for a modest price. Its build quality is both tidy and rugged — and I have to say that I do like the styling! Not everyone needs a USB mic, but if you are one of those who would find one useful, this model will do the job very nicely. Paul White
£238 including VAT.