I’m a microphone connoisseur, or I at least I think I am.
When USB mics came onto the scene I was excited, and skeptical. Shortly thereafter, I found myself disappointed. Though USB mics got the job done, it seemed to me that their quality left something to be desired.
I loved the idea of a plug-and-play situation where we can all record ourselves or do interviews at the drop of a hat. Imagine digging into your backpack and capturing a performance by the next Elton John or a famous sports hero with air-able quality.
Flash forward eight years, and today everyone is getting pretty good at this technology. Still I do think USB microphones have been a bit rocky. I want something that is fast and quick to set up, yet of high enough quality that is more than just “audition-quality.” I want something that I can actually put on the air.
The Aphex Microphone X with analog processing may be it. This USB mic is quiet; and that’s the thing I care about most.
Traveling provides some challenges, so when you have a shot at an important interview, having confidence in your gear is a big deal. When recording in a hotel room or a room just off of the stage of an auditorium or locker room, how it performs is paramount.
The Aphex X comes with Aphex audio processing, meaning it has some advanced features that aren’t typical to USB microphones.
Aside from performance up to 96k, 24-bit audio, the mic comes with an analog aural exciter enhancer, an analog “Big Bottom” enhancer, an optical compressor and a headphone amp — all are onboard the actual microphone.
The mic also comes with software and a desktop tripod. Loading the software was easy enough; use the disk, or do as I did — just plug it in and let Windows go after the drivers on its own.
With all the tonal options on the mic, I believe Aphex has given the producer a lot of choices that can be made prior to recording. You can truly adjust a great deal of characteristics prior to capturing the audio. The mic offers a 3.5 mm jack for headphones for this purpose.
I had to adjust my own DAW program to simply see the Aphex as an option in the input, and I was off. Levels were low, but it improved by simply adjusting the knob on the mic.
The first button on the mic engages the optical compressor. It’s designed to “knock it down” or keep it from clipping. It works.
Next is the button that activates the two onboard processors: Aphex developed the “Aural Exciter” and the “Big Bottom.” Both are used to enhance your audio prior to recording.
The Aphex X USB is unique because of these options alone. I think these are a nice enhancement to USB mics that most microphones of this kind do not offer; I would prefer to add compression and EQ on the “backside” or in my DAW system. And, honestly, my clients generally want unproduced, raw VO.
I was anxious to show an audiophile who owns his own studio the weight of this USB mic and the promise of what I was hoping was a turn on the USB front. When I told him about, he was skeptical.
However, when I recorded 60 seconds in a hotel room to judge its pack-n-play performance and emailed him the results; he texted me: Hey, this sounds pretty good.
My only criticism is this: I don’t care for the Aphex effects on the mic with “my voice,” but I do like how “warm” this mic is with no effects engaged. And proximity to the microphone applies a lot of warmth.
The basic features:
• Project Channel built into this microphone.
• Includes Aphex opto compressor, Aural Exciter and Big Bottom
• Built-in headphone amplifier from HeadPod 4
• Connects to computer via USB 2.0, compatible with Mac OSX and Windows. 24-bit, 96 kHz recording
• Includes desktop stand and recording software
As I said, I do travel a lot, and I did use the Aphex to voice track an air shift from a hotel room in San Jose. The mic did well. The room had its challenges. I did use the bed pillows all around the mic and managed to knock some of the noises from a large hotel room. But it did go on-the-air.
At $199, I think it’s a nice piece of equipment to have for travel and to do on-the-spot interviews or auditions; and it could come to the rescue in an emergency.
Specht is creative services director for Cumulus Kansas City.