We put this good‑looking brace of mics from new UK company Maroon Audio to the test.
Maroon Audio are a small UK audio company who produce affordable studio microphones, which they aim to keep competitive by selling only direct via the Internet, presumably because this eliminates the retailer's markup and saves on the cost of having reps calling on music stores, and salespeople answering the phone. Their literature describes them as musicians and recording engineers who decided to "make their own microphones”, although a close inspection of the mics themselves suggests that they chose to have their mic designed and made for them in the Far East. Don't let that put you off, though, because they both look and feel like very capable microphones, and the prices are very attractive too.
Currently there are two models, the tube MT100 and the FET MC200, both of which are multi‑pattern capacitor microphones, and judging by the similarity in their frequency plots, I suspect they use the same dual‑diaphragm, gold‑on‑Mylar capsule, which is 35mm in diameter and centre‑terminated.
Starting with the least expensive of the two, the MC200 is a solid‑state design and has a pretty high bling‑factor, with a gold‑coloured mesh basket, a wide, stubby body finished in slate-grey, and a comprehensive array of switches. In addition to the cardioid, omni and figure‑of‑eight pattern switch, there's a high‑pass filter that offers flat (no filter) or a gentle 6dB/octave roll‑off at either 75Hz or 150Hz, plus a pad switch that can be brought in at ‑10dB or ‑15dB.
Unscrewing the base of the mic reveals a transformerless circuit that makes intensive use of surface‑mount components, an approach that conserves space and eliminates unnecessary wiring. Such discrete capacitors as are used, while not esoteric, look to be of decent quality, and the overall standard of build gives no cause for concern. The usual heavy, machined locking-ring secures the base of the mic, and it is this, along with the chunky XLR housing, that gives the mic a reassuring weight. Gold plating is applied to the XLR pins to prevent corrosion.
A rather impressive metal shockmount comes with the microphone, and it's all packed into an aluminium camera-case, along with a vinyl zip‑up pouch and a foam windshield. The mount uses a threaded locking ring to fix securely to the microphone base. Physically, then, this is an impressive‑looking piece of kit for the money, but what of its characteristics?
First off, the manufacturers claim a self noise of just 11dB (which is respectably low), and a maximum SPL, with the 15dB pad switched in, of a hefty 148dB — which means that little short of an explosion will cause it to overload! A distortion figure of better than 0.15 percent is quoted and, as with all conventional capacitor mics of this type, 48V phantom power is required. The expected 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response shows a few humps and bumps in the 3kHz and up region, suggesting that there's a touch of deliberate presence lift to add 'air' to the sound.
If the MC200 looks tasty, the MT100 is positively sexy, and features the now familiar 'pancake' basket, supported above the main body on a narrow neck. This time, the basket is a less ostentatious satin-silver colour, which I prefer, along with the same slate‑grey finish for the body, and there's a cut-out logo, so that you can watch the tube glow during those long, dark winter evenings. As with the MC200, the MT100 offers selectable omni, cardioid or figure‑of‑eight patterns (this time via a nine‑way rotary switch on the included power supply, which provides additional interim settings), but its higher voltage tube circuitry uses discrete components (including metal‑film resistors), and is based around an Electro-Harmonix dual‑triode 12AT7 tube in a snug‑fitting ceramic base. The output stage is built around a balancing transformer, and although pad and LF roll‑off switches are again fitted, these offer just bypass or ‑10dB and one, unspecified, low‑cut filter setting.
The MT100 comes in a large camera case that contains a wooden box for the mic itself, a silver version of the shockmount used for the MC200, the dedicated power supply, with dual mains‑voltage switching, the necessary seven‑pin XLR cable to connect the mic to the PSU, and a foam windshield. Mains power to the PSU comes via an IEC socket. A mains cable is provided, and the output is on the usual three‑pin XLR. Given that the mic has its PSU, phantom power is not required.
According to the spec sheet, the capsule is, again, 35mm in diameter and, as mentioned earlier, the frequency‑response curves are essentially identical to those of the solid‑state MC200 — which suggests that the mics use the same capsule. The equivalent noise level is higher, at 18dB, (A‑weighted), but this is typical for a tube mic of this type, and certainly not excessive. The maximum SPL measured at 0.5 percent distortion is 134dB.
The MT100 costs around twice the price of an MC200 — which is fair enough, because tube mics and power supplies obviously cost more to build.
As a vocal mic, the MC200 achieves a good balance of warmth and projection, although to really milk the low end you'll need to work fairly close up to encourage a bit of proximity effect, because the bottom end can sound just a hint light with some voices when miking from distances of more than six or seven inches. I compared it with several other mics, and its overall tonal balance came closest to the Audio-Technica AT2020 — but with perhaps a hint more sparkle at the high end, and not quite as much depth (unless used a little closer, as I explained earlier). A Rode NT2A, by comparison, was noticeably more weighty at the bottom end, but with a less pronounced high‑end — so, as ever, it's a matter of fitting the mic to the character of the vocalist or instrument, rather than saying it is good or bad per se.
I found the tonality to be pretty consistent between patterns and, as with most mics of this type, there's a bit of a thump, followed by a couple of seconds of settling time, when you change patterns. Noise wasn't a problem, and susceptibility to popping was about average for this type of microphone, so as long as you use it with a pop shield, there should be no problems. It's also worth mentioning that the gentle LF filter has much less of a detrimental effect on vocals than most 18dB/octave designs, even at the 150Hz setting, although this benefit comes at the expense of effectiveness against seriously intrusive low frequencies.
Although the MT100 has a similar frequency response on paper, the tube gives it a slightly compressed sound, which helps to thicken up the low end without robbing the high end of clarity. Going back to my comparisons, the high end, again, sounded not unlike that from the AT2020, but the low end was more like that of the Rode NT2A. Overall, this mic flatters vocals, making them sit solidly in a mix without dulling them — which is pretty much what you'd expect from this type of design, where both the tube and transformer tend to colour the sound in a musically pleasing way. As with the MC200, the LF filter didn't thin out the vocals in any noticeable way.
Both mics also give perfectly acceptable results as general‑purpose instrument mics, so if you needed to record the occasional acoustic guitar or a spot of percussion, they'd cope without problems. You can also use them on guitar cabs, where they won't mind the high SPLs involved — but here any sonic judgement has to be subjective, because when recording electric guitar, it's not just a question of having the right amp or mic: getting the combination of amp and mic right is what gives you the best result.
I really liked the slightly more open and natural vocal sound in omni mode, although you do need to make sure you have a sensibly dead vocal recording area to use an omni-pattern mic in this way.
One thing that I did find mildly disappointing was that while checking the consistency of the sound across the different patterns (which was pretty good), the switch started to turn inside the box, so it clearly hadn't been adequately tightened during manufacture. This should be easy enough to fix with the right spanner, but problems like this really should be addressed before the mic gets to the end user.
Both these mics perform well at their respective price points, and although they have something of a tonal character, especially the MT100, this isn't so pronounced as to sound unnatural. The MC200 seems like a good choice for singers who need a bit of help with definition, while the MT100 flatters both the low and high end in a very musical way.
What's more, although the web site doesn't mention it, because these are sold via mail order, distance-selling regulations in many territories give you a right to return a product within a set period of receipt (seven days in the case of the UK/EU) if not satisfied with it for any reason, although goods must be returned in as-new condition. A standard 12‑month warranty also applies.
The sheer number of mic reviews we run shows that there are now many mics that can do a similar job to a similar standard, but all have their own voicings, and it always comes down to picking one that suits you. From the time I've spent with the Maroon Audio microphones, their sound and build quality bear comparison with some of the more established mics in this price range — and, if nothing else, their appearance means that they deserve a closer look!
Oh, where do I start? If you're after a similar tonal balance, then the budget Audio-Technica AT2020 is great if you don't need multiple patterns, otherwise the multi-pattern sE Electronics Titan is currently selling at little more than the MC200. The MT100 competes with the likes of the Rode K2, but quite frankly there are so many such mics available now, especially those built in the Far East, that's its almost impossible to list alternatives.
- Eye‑catching design.
- Good quality accessories and packaging.
- Well‑balanced vocal sound.
- Slightly loose pattern-selector switch on the review MT100 PSU.
- Mail order keeps the price down, but means you can't try before you buy.
The affordable mic market is probably the most saturated sector of the audio industry today, but this, in turn, gives the end user plenty of choice. Nobody said these mics will have an easy job pushing their way to the top of the heap, but they are certainly worthy of serious consideration.
Maroon Audio +44 (0)7966 793963.