Maono AU-A04T Desktop Studio Mic – Design and Features
When we looked at our first product from Maono, a similar kit with a boom arm instead of a desk stand, I was impressed by how much they included for the price. The exact same is true with this kit. It has everything you would need to start delivering high quality audio to your stream or podcast at a very affordable price.The AU-AO4T kit ships in an aluminum hard case with two layers of hard foam cutouts to hold the microphone and its accessories. It reminds me of a Pelican case, but is far more lightweight and nowhere near as durable. It will allow you to travel with your gear, though, and should protect it through a good fall. Just don’t go throwing it down a flight of stairs or anything. Inside you’ll find the mic and its adjustable desk stand, a shock mount, foam windscreen, gooseneck pop filter, and the USB cable.
The microphone is simple and unadorned, though sturdily built with an all-metal construction. The mic feels solid in the hand, though lightweight, and the capsule is protected by a woven metal grill. At this price point, you do make some sacrifices though. While a mic like the Blue Yeti has knobs for selecting your recording pattern and setting the microphone’s volume, the AU-A04T records in a single cardioid pattern and leaves gain control to the Windows Sound settings.
In general, this isn’t a big deal, but it does mean a bit more trial and error to dial in your recording levels when first setting up. The single recording pattern also means that the microphone is only made to be spoken into from one side, so interviews across the table are, um, off the table. Please tip your waitresses.
One thing I really like about the microphone is that it uses a USB Type-B header, the same as most printers. Type-B is nice and thick with a good track record of reliability, which is important for a kit that’s clearly travel-ready.
I was also quite impressed by the stand. When I first saw it, I thought I would need to crane over to get close to the mic. Instead, by loosening a knob, it can actually be extended another six inches to be positioned right in front of your mouth for the best possible capture. Even fully collapsed, it stands higher than the already-large Blue Yeti, but when fully extended, it can even be used while standing at your desk. My only criticism of the stand is that it needs more padding on the bottom to prevent scratching your desk.
The other accessories also proved to be quite useful. You have your choice between a foam windscreen and an adjustable pop filter. Having the option to choose is nice and both work well to block plosives. The foam windscreen ever-so-slightly muffles the sound, so I went with the pop filter. It was easy to attach and adjust, and stayed in place well even though it’s mostly plastic, which isn’t always the case with entry-level accessories like this.
The only thing I was really disappointed by was the shock mount. It appears to be the same one used in the AU-A04 kit and transfers just as much vibration to the mic as that one did. Which is to say, just about every vibration. Whether it’s taps on the desk, sliding a glass to take a mid-match drink, or just typing on your gaming keyboard, all of these sounds make their way right into the mic, which makes me think the shock mount is more for looks than actual function.
Still, the fact that you’re getting this many accessories and an aluminum carrying case for less than $70 is a great value. The HyperX Quadcast, which retails for $139, only offers a shock mount and basic tilt stand. The $199 Razer Seiren Elite has a similar stand and throws in just the foam windscreen.
Maono AU-A04T Desktop Studio Mic – Performance
The microphone included here appears to be the same one included in the original Maono Studio Microphone Kit. It’s hard to tell since there’s no markings other than the logo on the mic itself, but it’s likely given the model numbers of each kit. This is a good thing since the microphone I reviewed in that original article offered impressive performance for the cost. Still, to be sure, I re-tested everything here to see how this version would perform.
The AU-A04T features a single condenser capsule that provides a cardioid polar pattern. This means that the microphone will attempt to pick up the sounds occurring in front of it and reject most noise from the back and sides. Cardioid is also the most common pattern used by streamers and content creators as it is the de facto standard for spoken word recordings. It’s also a side-address microphone which means you’ll talk into its side rather than its top like some dynamic broadcast mics.
The mic features an impressive 24-bit/192kHz recording rate. Compare this to the 16-bit/48kHz on well-loved the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ which costs more than double and you can begin to see why its $65 price tag including accessories is so surprising. That said, even dedicated audio enthusiasts would be hard pressed to hear a difference between 24-bit/192kHz and 16-bit/48kHz in spoken word recordings, so this is more of an “on paper” bonus unless you’ll also be recording music.
One of the first tests I put a new microphone through is assessing its noise floor. Put simply, what I want to know is how much white noise the mic will generate when set to an acceptable recording level. The results here are middling. It’s certainly less than a headset like the Corsair Void Pro RGB but is definitely more audible than on the Blue Yeti. This is largely due to the lack of any built-in gain control which makes it impossible to adjust how loud the signal is coming from the microphone itself.
Setting that level was a bit tricky too. Without a headphone jack to monitor your levels from the microphone, there’s no way to hear yourself in real time and adjust on the fly. I had to perform several test recordings in Audacity until I was satisfied with my levels. When recording, I also had to be careful to stay the same distance from the mic to keep from getting too loud or too quiet. In truth, I didn’t find this to be that big of an issue since it’s something you can quickly learn and adapt to, but it does leave the door open to not realizing when your audio has gone bad until after the stream is recorded.
Compared to the HyperX Quadcast, I was impressed at how similar the quality of the recording is. The bass response is slightly less but the clarity remains quite good. The AU-A04T also offers an impressive proximity effect to make your voice sound rich and full. I tested it against both my Sennheiser GSP-600 and my HyperX Cloud Alpha gaming headsets, both of which are known for their excellent quality, and the AU-A04T is a hands down improvement in every way. It really was no competition and remained so when I tried it against my ModMic 5.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. When it comes to off-axis rejection (sounds not from right in front of it), the AU-A04T falls short of every other condenser mic I tested against, including the Yeti, QuadCast, Samson G-Track Pro, and the original Razer Seiren Elite. Sounds from the back and sides are quieter but are still perfectly audible, which is a problem if you’re avoiding outside noise like a mechanical keyboard or noisy roommate. Likewise, the mic handles plosives worse than any standalone mic I’ve ever used, distorting so bad that it cuts sounds right off when hit with a burst of air. Thankfully, the windscreen and pop filter completely remedy this.
The other concern is that any time I moved the microphone more than a foot away, it wasn’t able to hear me well. Even at maximum volume, I was still around 20dB quieter than if I had the microphone in front of my mouth. This means that with the mic pushed back on the desk, you’ll still be audible but hard to hear and won’t stand out from any other sounds in the room.
Are all of these deal breakers? Not really. It’s simple, really: use the pop filter and place it close to your mouth. Do those two things and the Maono AU-A04T is able to deliver truly impressive quality for its modest price.
The Maono AU-A04T Studio Mic with aluminum carrying case has an MSRP of $64.99.
This article was originally published by IGN.COM