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Aphex Microphone X Review

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 | by


USB microphones are an affordable and simple way to record audio into your computer or portable device. Just about every mic manufacturer and their grandma have released their own USB microphones. Some have even created USB versions of their most popular mics, such as the Audio-Technica AT2020 USB.

But what about a high quality USB mic that lets you simply dial in that perfect sound, right at the source, preventing you from having to fudge around with EQ and compression after recording? Well, Aphex has created the very first USB mic to do just that.

For all the specifications and features of the Microphone X, check out the Microphone X profile page.

Microphone X Features

When first lifting the microphone from its packaging, in the most non-creepy mic-drooling way possible, the first thing I noticed was weight and quality. This is no flimsy super-glued-together USB mic. It has the look, feel, and build quality of similarly priced XLR microphones. The silver and black colors add contrast to make it pop. Microphone X is definitely one of the sexiest USB mics I’ve laid my creepy blue eyes on.

The microphone has a high-output headphone jack and corresponding volume knob. A less common, but highly useful, feature is the input level knob — which essentially gives you control over the built-in analog preamp.

Unlike many other USB mics, Microphone X records at a bit depth and sample rate up to 24/96, giving you more headroom and a lower noise floor than 16-bit USB mics. And you can use the Microphone X to record directly into your iPad.

But what really makes this USB mic special is its tone control features. The controls are located on the back of the microphone:

  • An on/off button enables an optical compressor.
  • An on/off button enables the “Aural Xciter” and “Big Bottom” controls
  • 2 separate variable dials for controlling the amount of “Xciter” and “Big Bottom” tone shaping

Unfortunately, turning up the “Xciter” knob didn’t make me more excited to fold laundry. But it’s much better at enhancing high frequencies of the recorded signal in pleasing way. It adds sparkle and shimmer differently than an EQ boost would.

And fortunately turning up the “Big Bottom” knob didn’t make my ass twice as wide. I’ll let my addiction to fried tortilla chips take care of that. But instead it adds weight, warmth, and rounder tone to the low frequencies of the recorded signal.

Aphex was smart in giving me the freedom to dial in just the right amount of Xciter or Big Bottom. This is essential. Because, with all audio processing, it can be easy to add way too much processing — resulting in your audio sounding like total crap.

My favorite feature on this mic is the optical compressor. Optical type compressors can offer the most transparent compression to audio, especially on vocals and voice over. I’ll admit that I was initially afraid to turn it on — because all you get is “on” or “off.” But Aphex does not disappoint. This feature adds just the right amount of compression, even to highly dynamic recordings. It smoothes the peaks and raises the quieter audio passages without making the track sound like it was obviously compressed.

That’s enough of my babbling. Let’s hear some samples! If you actually read every word up until this point — you’re too kind. Now stop being kind and use your ears!

Voiceover Samples

Because voiceover is how I pay for my fried tortilla chip addiction, we’ll begin with some voiceover samples.

For all the voice over samples below, I recorded a sample with none of the options engaged on the Aphex. No compressor, exciter, or big bottom. Just raw and naked (yea baby…). I then proceeded to dial in each knob until I found a sweet spot and recorded another sample.

Jordan Reynolds' Control RoomAnd finally (will you shut up yet, Jordan?) for the sake of comparison, I recorded the same voiceover scripts on the Studio Projects LSM USB Microphone and my Audio Technica AT2020 running through my Shure X2U USB audio interface. These two comparison options both cost less than the Aphex, but come with fewer features. All three mics were recorded slightly off-axis, but still pointed towards the mouth. And since many people may likely be recording in not-so-great sounding rooms, I recorded out in my more lively, but still acoustically treated, control room, instead of my vocal booth.

Commercial Samples

(Working distance: 6 inches, slightly off-axis)

Studio Projects LSM  Studio Projects LSM   
Audio-Technica AT2020  Audio-Technica AT2020   
Aphex Microphone X  Microphone X, Raw   
Aphex Microphone X  Microphone X, Processed Microphone X processing:
  • Optical compressor engaged
  • Xciter at 9.5 o’clock
  • Big Bottom at 12 o’clock

The “processed” Microphone X track produces ready-to-send-out audio. The processor effects are subtle. And that’s what you want with features like these. You don’t want to drastically transform the sound from it’s original source.

The Microphone X has the smoothest sound across the spectrum. Nothing too boomy or harsh. And I love how smooth the compressor sounds on a dynamic read like this. It’s the same amount of compression I would apply to a voiceover track if requested by the client.

The AT2020 also sounds great but I would end up applying compression and EQ with plugins to obtain my desired sound.

Narration Samples

(Working distance: 4 inches, slightly off-axis)

Studio Projects LSM  Studio Projects LSM   
Audio-Technica AT2020  Audio-Technica AT2020    (via Shure X2U at 16 bit)
Aphex Microphone X  Microphone X, Raw   
Aphex Microphone X  Microphone X, Processed Microphone X processing:
  • Optical compressor engaged
  • Xciter at 9.5 o’clock
  • Big Bottom at 11.5 o’clock

The Microphone X sample with processing sounds pretty much ready for broadcast. Maybe some de-essing could be applied in post, but that’s about it. The three analog processors on the mic allowed me to get very close to broadcast-ready, quickly. The Microphone X really shines on this type of narrative read.

Sick of hearing my voice? Yeah, me too; I have to edit and listen to it all day. But I get paid for it, so complaining would make me look like an ungrateful… well, never mind. Let’s hear how this solidly built Microphone X sounds on an acoustic guitar, shall we?

Acoustic Guitar Samples

The guitar is a Taylor DN3, dreadnought body, with fairly new strings. I asked my wife, who is a much better guitar player than moi, to strum with a medium sized pick. Both samples were recorded with the Microphone X pointing slightly downwards at the 12th fret, 14 inches away, in my acoustically treated control room.

 Acoustic Guitar, raw track   
 Acoustic Guitar, Processed Microphone X processing:
  • Optical compressor engaged
  • Xciter at 10 o’clock
  • Big Bottom at 11 o’clock

I was pleasantly surprised at how good this mic sounded! I really didn’t have to spend much time positioning the mic to find the sweet spot. I know some of you may be thinking that the raw track sounded better because it had more dynamics. But I was thinking, “How can I get an optimal mix-ready acoustic guitar sound?” Which is why I tried, and liked, the compressor. The compressor smoothed out the track’s dynamics and made it ready to throw in a mix with little tweaking. And the “Big Bottom” brought out more warmth in the guitar, with the “Xciter” tweaked to add that always desirable acoustic sparkle. Thumbs up from me on acoustic guitar!

I offered a long back rub to my wife and she agreed to record some vocal samples. Welcome to marriage, folks; you become a great salesman.

Female Vocals

(Working distance: 6 inches, slightly off-axis)

 Female Vocal, raw   
 Female Vocal, Processed Microphone X processing:
  • Optical compressor engaged
  • Xciter at 12 o’clock
  • Big Bottom at 1 o’clock

Alright, my hands hurt. I’m back from giving the ultimate back rub.

I thought the Microphone X sounded pretty decent with all processing disabled. But I wanted a more intimate, warm, and dynamically controlled tone. Boosting the “Big Bottom” added the warmth I was looking for. And the compressor smoothed it out, which will allow it to fit into a mix well.

Microphone X Usage Tips

This microphone lends itself to being more bright than dark. Recording voiceover or vocals off-axis produces the best sounding results: reducing sibilance, plosives, and mouth noise. Aim the microphone at your mouth, but not directly in front of you. Positioned slightly off to the side, yet angled towards your mouth, Microphone X produces a good balance between the low and high frequencies. This was a key discovery with this mic.

Its very high powered headphone amp, which many USB mics don’t offer, plays back computer audio only. So, when monitoring, setting your driver buffer settings to 128 samples or lower will produce the least amount of playback latency. And the Aphex performed just fine on my Mac Mini at 128 samples. No hiccups.

Finally, be aware that the Microphone X’s output level is fairly low. You might get better results if you use a closer working distance than you are used to.

Conclusion

The Microphone X is particularly great if you:

  • need a simple, non-technical way to record high quality audio without having to learn how to use compression and EQ
  • need a portable solution, while still desiring fine control over the audio being recorded

With its pro build quality, analog tone controls, and ability to quickly dial in an awesome sound — this ain’t just another USB mic.

There is no “what you hear is what you get” with this microphone. Whether you just want to be inspired by turning the knobs until something grabs your attention, or you’re a pro and know exactly what you want dialed in, this mic satisfies.

You can tell Aphex really had vocals in mind when designing this mic. And the human voice is one of the most wild and dynamic sources you can record. The Microphone X handles it well, and the compressor doesn’t over compress like many one-button compressors.

I found the Aphex Microphone X to have less inherent noise and a flatter frequency response when compared to the Studio Projects LSM. These are very different sounding microphones, and both have their strong suits. But in this particular use case, the Microphone X has an advantage with its tone-shaping features.

This experience has actually changed how I feel about USB microphones — the Microphone X brings the reputation of USB mics one big step forward.

Posted in Microphones, Reviews, voiceover | 12 Comments »




12 Responses to “Aphex Microphone X Review”

  1. Jon

    March 23rd, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Great sounding mic. Would love to see how it holds up against a dynamic such as a RE20. For recording podcasts on the road this might be a better bet than my Rode Podcaster, which is very bright.

    Will be looking out for these in Europe.

  2. Jordan Reynolds

    March 25th, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Jon: I agree that it would be interesting to hear it next to a dynamic mic for podcasting purposes. If you ever get your hands on a Microphone X, please share comparison files with your Rode Podcaster!

  3. matthew mcglynn

    March 25th, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    I will post that comparison once I get the X back from Jordan. I have a Podcaster here.

  4. Brian Amador

    March 28th, 2014 at 5:43 am

    What I found interesting in the samples was how much better the Studio Projects LSM sounded than the other two mics, even with the “enhancements” on the Mic X. I found the Mic X to be a little flat and one-dimensional. It would be interesting to include the Apogee MiC in these comparisons. Thanks.

  5. David Sigmon

    March 29th, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Thank you Jordan for the terrific and detailed review. Your insight is always helpful, and entertaining.
    DS

  6. Jordan Reynolds

    March 31st, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Great to hear from you Brian!

    That’s interesting you say that. I personally find the LSM to have too much of an artificial low end boost – even at an off axis, further distance from the mic. Too muffled sounding in my testing but still a decent sounding USB mic.

    I found the AT2020 and the Aphex X to be much more natural and smooth across the frequency spectrum.

    I’d love to hear it side-by-side an Apogee MiC too!

  7. Jordan Reynolds

    March 31st, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    David: Thanks for the kind words. I try to mix the tech talk with humor the best I can!

  8. Matt

    June 24th, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Does the headphone jack on the mic provide 0 latency?

  9. Jordan Reynolds

    June 27th, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Matt: No, the headphone jack is only for audio playback from your computer, only. It does not provide real-time zero latency monitoring of whatever is being recorded. You’ll have to setup monitoring playback in your DAW to achieve this with the Aphex X.

  10. Shahir

    July 12th, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Hello,

    I’d like to buy the Aphex mic x but i also like the Rode NT USB. Do you maybe know which one is better. I want to use the mic for recording music.
    I have my doubts so i just can’t get it right to which one i should buy its so difficult.

    Shahir from The Netherlands

  11. matthew mcglynn

    July 12th, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    @Shahir, I have both mics on hand, and hope to post some comparison audio within 30 days.

  12. Shahir

    July 13th, 2014 at 2:57 am

    Actually i already know how they both sound, but they seem to me both really good.
    The problem is i want to buy one but i just can’t decide. Which of the two seems to you better.

    Shahir

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