PCRECORDING.COM - Marshall MXL2003 Review:
Manufacturer: Marshall Electronics
I had the good fortune to review the baby brother to the MXL 2003, the MXL 2001-P. I thought very highly of that microphone for the price and looked forward to testing the 2003. While both the 2001 and the 2003 are large diaphragm microphones, the similarity stops there. The 2003 features a 1.06" capsule coupled through an electromagnetic screen that routes to a FET preamp with a wideband transformerless output. Its specifications are detailed below.
The microphone frequency response is depicted below in the graph. As you can see, the microphone has a very flat response across all frequencies, employing a cardiod pattern. There is a very slight peak at either end of the frequency spectrum.
I received a pair of 2003s from Marshall. They come in a nicely padded box, the microphone and the SM-3 are bundled together with a small manual. This microphone feels robust and is heavy. At 530 grams, it considerably outweighs even the 2001, which felt substantial. Its matte black appearance is nothing spectacular but is nicely done and looks professional. Having the MXL 56 bundled with this micrphone is handy and ensures isolation of the microphone from vibration.
Testing microphones is a bit science and a bit art. I set up my system to record a clean dry signal, I isolated the microphone away from the noise of my computer and set the input levels as high as I could while still avoiding clipping. My system is a Celeron 366 (OC'd to 550), Win98SE, 128 meg RAM, 20 gig Maxtor HD, and a variety of soundcards. I covered my CPU with some sound deadening material, (allowing airflow though), and I placed the microphones as far away from my monitor as I could. Not very scientific but as real-world as I could make it. I wanted to test several different types of sound to hear what the microphone could do.
I ran a comb over the edge of my studio table with the microphone about six inches away. The microphone picked up the "thrip" buzz-like sound cleanly with a discrete increment of sound as each tine went over the desk edge. (As an aside, I ran this sound through some of the DirectX effects I have on board, boy was that fun. Try it with a heavy flanger!).
I often work early in the morning. I recorded the birds chirping in the woods behind my house by sticking the microphone out the window. The microphone captured each birds unique sound. I also recorded my keys jangling and was able to hear the diffrent sounds each key made against each other.
This microphone is tremendously sensitive to detail - - to be able to so easily capture the sounds of my comb and the keys indicates that the microphone is fast and able to react quickly to changes in the signal. This speed aids in capturing detailed sounds. I became keenly aware of just how careful I would have to be to minimize environmental noise when recording with this microphone.
I recorded a variety of instruments. These included handdrums, Gibson Gospel acoustic guitar, flute (bamboo, Native American), drums, and electric guitar. I also recorded vocals, both my own, and a choir I am working with on a project. Lastly, I used the microphone pair throughout a series of reviews and some projects for this site and personal projects.
I have been working on a compilation of my own music and working with an accapella choir that sings traditional Catholic religious hymns. I recorded in my own studio and in a church with these microphones. Throughout, the 2003 was sensitive and accurate. Overall, there was little "coloration", no overemphasis of any frequency range. However, the microphone tended to make everything sound very pleasantly full. For more details, read below.
My main instrument is my Gibson Gospel acoustic guitar. I like to use Drop-D tunings, and a variety of other alternative tunings while finger-picking and flat-picking. I am primarily a solo singer-songwriter and rarely work with others. It is critical to my sound to have a robust, present bottom-end to provide the rhythm base for my playing. Using the alternate tunings facilitates this. However, some microphones tend to make the bottom end of these tunings sound muddy. I experiemented with a variety of microphone placement positions. Eventually, I used two 2003s, one at the twelfth fret, 8 inches away, and the other facing the body at about two feet.
I love the way my guitar sounds and have been frustrated in the past is getting a great sounding recording of it. Using a DropD tuning, I recorded the initial track of a new song. I played it back through my monitors and just said "Wow." I was very impressed with what I heard. The microphone recorded the guitar beautifully, capturing its essential character, very full, robust and resonant. I often like to put my ear directly on the body of my guitar as I am playing to immerse myself in the sound. I had that same feeling in listening to my guitar tracks. I particularly appreciated the way the microphone captured the bass end of the guitar, which was very clear, easily distinguishable from the highs. Overall, the microphone imparts a "presence" to the guitar. The guitar seemed like it was sitting right inside the monitor speakers, up front and center.
One caveat, this microphone is very sensitive - - I had to be keenly aware of my breathing, my fingers on the body and the environment. I could hear myself breathing in time with the music on my first couple of takes and had to redo it. I would love to hear this microphone record an open grand piano. The fullness of the piano sound with its robust bass and crisp highs would be an ideal application for this microphone.
I have a bit of a raspy affect to my voice. The microphone picked this up cleanly and accurately (is there a theme here?). It actually made me sound kind of good. (Must be a good mike!). My vocals tend to vary widely in volume and in tone, all of which the microphone effortlessly handled. The microphone nimbly picked up on whatever vocal nuance was thrown at it. In contrast to the 2001-P, I thought this microphone sounded equally good on my voice as it did on the instruments. Again, I had to be mindful of the sensitivity of the microphone, it picked up every breath intake/exhale during recording.
The choir I am working with is itself an interesting story that I am developing an article on. The choir consists of five family members and three close friends, three men and five women. Two of the women sing mezzo-soprano, hitting some incredibly high notes. But I digress, I brought my PC system into a local church for a straight to disk practice session. The church had moderately good acoustics but was not set up for recording on this day. I used both the 2003 and the 2001 at different intervals and in combination.
I noticed a difference between the 2001 and the 2003 when it came to recording the female voices. I noticed that the 2001, with its peak at the top end of the spectrum sounded a bit saturated with these high notes, whereas the 2003 did not overemphasize anything. There was no saturation I could detect from the 2003, it just handled whatever was thrown at it. I was able to discern the male tenor and bass voices easily from the female singers. I concluded that I could truly trust this microphone to capture an accurate and detailed recording of the choir's music.
Again, the 2003 was very sensitive to environmental noise, picking up a ventilation fan in particular, that had not been turned off for the rehearsal. When I eventually get to the final recording session, I will be using only the 2003s.
I tested the SPL specification of 130 by varying how loud I sang - - from whisper quiet to shouting but was unable to make the microphone crap out. I did not have an occasion to test the preattenuation switch nor the bass cutoff switch. As a solo musician, I rarely am bombastic enough to warrant using the preattenuation switch and my instrumentation rarely reaches below 150Hz anyway. However, these features broaden the applications that this microphone is ideal for considerably, such as acoustic grand piano, brass instruments, kick drums, miking electric amplifiers, etc.
The microphone comes with a shock-mount, the SM-3, which was very handy. It suspends the microphone in a sleeve held up with thick rubber bands. These rubber bands are secured to a spring steel structure. It works well as a shock mount - - isolating the microphone from external vibrations. This is a good thing because this microphone is so sensitive as that it would likely pick up any vibration sounds that might reach it. However, over time the rubber bands would tend to come off and I had to reconstruct it. I was advised that the metal used in the SM-3 is spring steel - - making it relatively immune to attempts to bend it in. I might risk breakage if I were to try to bend it in. A redesign that holds the rubber bands more securely would be a good idea.
The 2003 features a switch that turns on a preattenuation switch that reduces input by -10dB or a bass rolloff switch. These are welcome features but you can only use one at a time. This could be a problem if you have a situation that may need both. Marshall should consider putting a switch for each to cover this situation.
The microphone is so sensitive that the recording environment needs to be very quiet, with careful attention to isolating the microphone from any extraneous sounds. This is a good problem to have but something a user should be mindful of. Its sensitivity should enter the buyer's consideration with respect to what the expected environment will be. For instance, I would not recommend this microphone if it is to be handled at all during recording. Another instance would be if there are any pedestrian noises, walking, sheet music, etc. in the recording environment.
At $399.00, the MXL2003 is a tremendous mid-price value in the microphone market. It simply sounds great and imparts a beautiful "presence" to the instrument you are recording. It gives you full-sounding detailed recordings of your instrument without overemphasizing anything. I was particularly impressed with the way it sounds on my acoustic guitar. It would also be ideal for other stringed instruments and any other multi-tonal instrument that requires a fast, nimble and accurate microphone. Its sensitivity results in very detailed recordings but may limit its use to applications where the environment is somewhat controlled and static, in other words, it is best not move this microphone during recording. In closing, this is a microphone I will confidently take with me on my next set of projects.