Mackie EM-USB review: What is it?
With USB microphones gaining in popularity thanks to podcasting and their simple connectivity philosophy – they really are plug n play (or plug n record) – many of the big guns in the audio industry are now offering some exceptional, low cost budget podcasting microphones. Mackie has over 30 years of experience producing pro audio gear and has a complete range of microphones in the form of the EleMent Series, and the Mackie EM-USB on test here looks like one of the series' stand-out options.
There are four USB microphones in the EleMent series: the entry-level 91CU, and the higher end Chromium and Carbon models that both offer selectable polar patterns which means they offer great flexibility for many recording situations. However, the EM-USB reviewed here represents not only great value but it is also the general purpose, do-it-all model in the EleMent range. It is aimed at remote workers, home learners and studio owners plus, of course, podcasters and live streamers.
Like the other USB models, EM-USB is a condenser mic so very much suited to detailed studio tasks and vocal recording. You wouldn't want to take it far out of the studio, mind; condensers like this are not suited so much to the rough and tumble of life on the road, although Mackie also offers a dynamic non USB Element in the form of the great value EM-89 D if you are in need of a live mic option for more rugged tasks.
EM-USB, says Mackie, has everything you need in one package so comes with a tripod mount which makes it easy to set up on your desk, plus a mic clip and USB C cable. You also get a decent set of software which includes Pro Tools First and a bundle of plugins (for Pro Tools and Tracktion Waveform) should you require extra DAW recording and sound effects like EQ, reverb and compression.
Mackie EM-USB review: Performance & verdict
The Mackie EM-USB features a fixed cardioid polar pattern, so captures sound in front of the mic, rejecting noise behind it, so you can easily home in on your target and be confident that some extraneous noise will be rejected. In our tests we found it simple to aim and shoot, as it were, and it's easy to get clean recordings.
The mic features controls for or gain, muting – great for podcasting when you want to duck in and out of chats. It also features headphone monitoring and, as with other USB mics, there's no need for a separate audio interface and you can control all levels, in and out of the mic, directly with it – no need to even touch the computer should you wish. This is great in operation as you are in total control over your casting with a microphone right in front of you rather than wrestling with a mouse and computer while trying to talk at the same time.
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The headphone monitoring feature is a particularly useful option for the hustle and bustle of live streaming – you can keep an ear or two on what you are saying while chaos, or video games noise erupts around you (check out our guide to the best studio headphones for our top picks)It doesn't have zero latency monitoring though, so you will probably have to wrestle with recording and buffer size options in your DAW to keep delays to manageable size. You can check out how to do this in the hand-on demo videos we have linked to below.
The mic is very solid in both operation and build, delivering very decent, neutral vocal recordings especially, although we also tried it on instruments just to get a feel of how it stands up in the recording studio. On acoustic guitar in particular, you will get better results, especially in the high end of the frequency range, than you might expect from a mic so clearly aimed at podcasters. It feels rugged too – you wouldn't want to drop it, but will have the confidence that it could take a knock or two.
Mackie EM-USB review: Hands-on demos
Mackie EM-USB review: Specifications
- Includes: tripod stand, mic clip, USB-C cable
- Sample rate: 48kHz
- Bit rate: 16-bit
- Capsules: 14mm condenser capsule
- Polar patterns: Cardioid
- Frequency response: 30Hz – 18kHz
- Max SPL: 130dB
- Contact: Mackie (opens in new tab)