The MCE 90 is part of beyerdynamic’s new, affordable 90 Series microphone lineup. The MCE 90 is a side-address studio vocal/instrument microphone; the line is rounded out by a small-diaphragm instrument mic and a stage vocal mic. Folks on a tight budget will be happy to learn that the MCE 90 represents beyerdynamic’s venture into a lower price point for this type of microphone.
Product PointsApplications: Studio recording; live sound
Key Features: Fixed cardioid pattern; midsize electret element; pad; bass rolloff with treble boost
Contact: beyerdynamic at 800-293-4463
+ Great price
+ Smooth, accurate sound
+ Near-perfect cardioid pattern
+ Low-cut and pad switches
– Bass rolloff a touch too much
– Switches very hard to flip
The Score: A smooth-sounding, affordable mic well-suited to instrument recording or reinforcement.
The MCE 90 is a compact, sturdy-looking mic roughly the same size as a Neumann TLM 103 or an AKG C3000. A large slot, which runs all the way around the belly of the mic, locks it into the supplied shock-mount basket. Underneath the mic are a pair of recessed switches. One switch engages a 15 dB pad and the other kicks in a low-cut filter that slopes off below 100 Hz. This low-cut switch also engages a 3 dB lift affecting frequencies above about 2 kHz.
I’ve seen the MCE 90 mistakenly touted in certain catalogs as being a large-diaphragm condenser mic – it really has more of a midsize diagram (roughly 5/8″). After polling a number of engineers and manufacturers it seems that 3/4″ is considered the border between mid and large. One person polled even called 5/8″ a small diaphragm.
The MCE 90 is also an electret design, with a permanently charged backplate. Historically, this has been a less-expensive way to build a capsule. Though electrets used to be found primarily in very cheap (and often bad-sounding) mics, the technology has come a long way – electrets are now capable of turning in excellent sound. For example, the Audio Technica 4033 and Shure KSM 32 (both midsize electrets like the MCE 90) are great-sounding, versatile microphones.
After auditioning the MCE 90 on a variety of instruments and voices, I would describe its overall sonic character as smooth. The microphone doesn’t have tons of high-end sheen, nor does it have the strong uppermid bite of some comparable microphones. Nor does it sound particularly dark. Its sound is very balanced across the frequency range.
I found that its real strength lay in in-strument miking. The MCE 90 captures a very natural sound, one you can bump in any direction desired with just a few dB of EQ. It’s uppermid and treble response is pure, without any of the phase anomolies the ear sometimes perceives as a pinched or smeared sound.
The microphone was full and warm on acoustic guitar, and its performance on a snare drum’s top head was excellent – fat and snappy. For recording percussion, the MCE 90 was detailed but not too bright.
The MCE 90 wouldn’t be my first choice for vocals, although it does have potential. Compared to a few midpriced large-diaphragm microphones, the MCE 90’s sound just isn’t as open or exciting – it simply doesn’t have the top-end boost and resonance that sounds so great on vocals (and so bad on many instruments). For a very bright- or thin-sounding voice, however, the MCE 90 may be perfect.
Proximity effect of the MCE 90 is strong but not overwhelming. I found the mic sounds best 12″ or more from the sound source. The mic’s low-frequency rolloff is said to kick in at 100 Hz, but I heard its effects well in the male vocal range. The effect of this switch was too much in most cases – it really thinned out the sound. Add the treble boost on top, and the MCE 90 suddenly has an overly bright, brittle character. I found few instruments or voices sounded good with the switch in this position.
The MCE 90 has a nearly textbook-perfect cardioid pattern. Rearward rejection stays strong at both frequency extremes, and high-frequency pickup doesn’t get overly tight out front. Very nice.
The shock-mount basket feels secure enough, although it’s made entirely of plastic. My only concern with the ultrastiff elastic bands that hold the inner mount in place is that they don’t feel supple enough to dampen vibration. In my real-world tests (banging, tapping and stomping), the microphone picked up some low-frequency mechanical noise. On the other hand, it’s pretty nice to get a shock-mount basket thrown in with a $699 microphone.
The MCE 90 is remarkably similar to Audio Technica’s 4033. They both have midsize, electret capsules with fixed cardioid patterns and their physical construction and grille assemblies are similar. One difference is that the MCE 90 benefits from pad and bass rolloff switches.
I think the bass rolloff is heavy-handed for most applications, however, and its effects are only made worse by the treble boost. In several miking applications, I found myself wanting the treble boost without the low-frequency rolloff. I would gladly pay another $50 to have these two filters on separate switches and I think many MCE 90 owners would agree.
My only other complaint with the MCE 90 is with its switches. They sit in a recessed ring beneath the microphone and the switches themselves are also recessed. They’re tiny, stiff and virtually impossible to move. You can forget toggling them with fingernails or keys – a thumbtack or other pointy object is necessary.
The MCE 90 is a well-behaved, smooth-sounding electret condenser mic that works great for most instrument applications. It’s not a first-pick vocal mic to my ears, but it does the job for vocal recording. Only slightly flawed by a heavy-handed bass rolloff filter and hard-to-flip switches, the MCE 90 is worth a closer listen.