What is it?
As the market for low-cost USB microphones has grown, there’s been an explosion of items from little-known brands - mostly from Asia - offering similarly spec’d products - on paper at least - as their more recognised peers. Naturally, there will be a mix of good, bad and ugly products so there is a risk in moving away from a respected name, and choosing one of these largely unknown brands often takes a leap of faith from the consumer. As with any growth market, however, the quality rises to the top. Everyone has to start somewhere, right?
Maono is one such name. Looking at the generic search page for USB condenser mics on a certain large internet retailer, it would be easy to overlook them. There are hundreds of variations on essentially the same theme, and if you’re set on ignoring the established names like Shure, Blue and Rode then you may as well be sticking a pin in the list and picking the first one you land on. Which is why we’re here to help. We’ve done the hard work and believe we’ve found one of the best inexpensive USB condenser mics on the market.
The Maono PM421 is a USB condenser, which is ideal for a range of different use cases, and delivers audio fidelity and sound quality way above what you’d expect for the price which, if you’re interested, sits around the $/£80 mark. In this Maono PM421 review we’ll outline why we rate this mic so highly - going so far as to place it in our guide to the best podcasting microphones - and explain what its ideal use cases would be.
Performance & verdict
The Maono PM421 is a low-cost, USB condenser mic that delivers all the benefits of USB functionality, with audio quality which sits above what you’d expect in the price range. Out of the box, we can instantly put to one side the assumption that a low cost and unfamiliar brand name must equate to poor quality. The PM421 immediately has a nice weight to it, while the matte black die-cast metal casing gives confidence this is a product that will survive life in the studio. As an added bonus, the PM421 comes complete with a range of accessories that you’d normally have to buy separately. There’s an external pop filter, shock mount and desktop boom arm, along with a long USB cable, so immediately you’re good to start recording.
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The PM421 has a cardioid pickup pattern, so is ideal for speech and instrument recording, although we’d suggest the former of those two options will draw the most users. On the mic’s body, there is an input gain control and a nice one-click mute button that changes colour so you can see if you’re broadcasting or talking to nobody. We’ve all done it. Other than that the mic is nice and uncluttered, and should be simple enough for anybody to use without referring to the manual.
That last point is among the key reasons why USB microphones have become as popular as they have. People are, by and large, familiar with computers and USB peripherals, and demand that same simplicity be transplanted onto their microphones. Thankfully, the PM421 is class-compliant, meaning it will work on any operating system without the need to download extra drivers. You simply plug it in and your computer will recognise it as an audio interface.
One potential downside is that the PM421 does not come with a headphone input on the mic itself, instead relying on you using the headphone jack on your computer. There’s also the age-old issue of Windows only being able to recognise one audio interface at a time, so if you’re planning on integrating this into a Windows system you’ll need to keep that in mind. But if you’re in the world of audio interfaces and ASIO drivers then the chances are you’ll be looking for something more specialist.
Instead, the Maono PM421 offers a well-designed, simple way to upgrade your computer’s microphone, without too much in the way of frills. Audio fidelity is good for the price, running at 24-bit up to 192kHz, although we did find background noise could be an issue at higher gain levels. For the majority of speech-only applications, this won’t be an issue but you might want to look elsewhere for recording those vintage guitars and amps.
Overall, there’s a lot to like here. If Maono keeps producing microphones like the PM421, we can’t see it being long before it starts building a reputation and making a mark on the wider audio technology world.
Real Hardware Reviews
- Type: Condenser
- Frequency range: 20 - 20,000 Hz
- Gain range: 40 dB
- Resolution and sample rate: 24 bit up to 192 kHz
- Connections: USB-C
- Controls: Input gain, Mute button
- Weight: 1.3kg
- Contact: Maono