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AKG C414 XLII review

If you’ve ever watched Conan, Letterman, or Johnny Carson (if you’re a bit older), you’ve probably noticed that little box-shaped microphone sitting on their desk. Well, in Johnny Carson’s day, that microphone was most likely the C414 EB, the original model of what I’ll be reviewing today.

AKG has been updating and revising the design of the C414 since the mid-70s, with varying results. Some models were brighter, while others were noticeably darker. In this review, I’ll be taking a look at the C414 XLII and what it has to offer.

About the author

I’m a producer, audio engineer, and songwriter with over 10 years of experience with a wide range of gear and recording techniques. I’ve worked with a huge variety of microphones from Shure, Electro-Voice, Neumann, and AKG, among others.

AKG C414 XLII condenser microphone review
Image: EUMSMUSIC
  • multi-pattern condenser
  • 20 Hz – 20 kHz range
  • 140 dB max SPL
  • 6 dBA self-noise
  • 200 ohms impedance
  • 23 mV/Pa sensitivity

Final verdict on the AKG C414 XLII 5.0

What is there to say? This is a great microphone, and anybody with a brain will tell you you oughta have it in your arsenal. It’s amazingly versatile in the studio, and it sounds great on nearly everything when used properly.

What I like

  • Amazing sound quality.
  • Versatile.
  • Clarity.
  • Durable.

What I don’t like

  • Not cheap.
Buy AKG C414 XLII at: SweetwaterAmazon

Contents

Use these jump links to navigate to the desired section of the review.

Polar pattern and frequency response 5.0

The C414 XLII is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. It sports a frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz, a maximum SPL of 140 dB (or 158 dB with the -18 dB pad), and an output impedance of 200 ohms. It also allows you to switch between nine separate polar patterns: omnidirectional, wide cardioid, cardioid, hypercardioid, figure-8, and four intermediate polar patterns.

If that wasn’t enough, the rear panel features two pads: one for pre-attenuation (0, -6 dB, -12 dB, -18 dB), and a low-cut filter (0, 40 Hz, 80 Hz, 160 Hz). It requires 48 V phantom power.

Even without the added features, the C414 XLII’s performance would be outstanding. It can faithfully capture nearly any and all sound sources. The high-end is brilliant, detailed, and extremely polished. This high amount of clarity might not make it the most suitable candidate for every application, depending on intent, but when it does the results are without flaw.

There is some coloration on this mic, chiefly a small divot around the 1-2 kHz area in its cardioid setting, as well as a slight boost around 5 kHz, and another recess at the 6-7 kHz mark (which can cause a helpful de-essing effect).

The C414 XLII produces basically zero self-noise, and sounds incredibly clean. Proximity effect can be an issue at times, so best to position this microphone at least six inches away from your source to avoid this.

Let’s review the most common uses for this microphone.

Studio vocals 5.0

This is one of my favorite microphones for vocals, and usually one of the first I reach for. If I’m working with a slightly more nasal vocalist I might try something else to avoid over-emphasizing the high-end, but it depends on style and preference.

Live vocals 4.7

You might think that a condenser of this stature would be a bit too sensitive to be used as a microphone for live performances, and for the most part, you’d be right. However, the ability to adjust polarity, pre-attenuation, and filter out some low-end, makes the C414 XLII quite adept and flexible in live scenarios.

Newer models might be more troublesome to ring out since the capsules are a bit more sensitive, but this isn’t the end of the world – nor does it discount the C414’s usefulness.

Guitar amps 5.0

The C414 XLII is a great choice for guitar cabinets, especially with its high SPL of 140 dB. Some folks worry about whether or not blasting some riff out of an amp with heavy distortion will in some way ruin the capsule – it won’t.

In fact, if you’re seriously pushing your amps to the 140 dB mark, the more significant fear is whether or not you’re wearing hearing protection (earplugs). The mic will make it out okay, but your ears probably won’t at those levels.

Bass amps 3.0

This definitely wouldn’t be the first microphone I reach for if I’m about to lay down a bass track. I can see it working in certain contexts, although most likely with the added support of a second microphone or a DI box to dial in the low-end.

Acoustic guitars 5.0

This microphone is great for recording acoustic guitars. People use the C414 for acoustics all the time without issue, as do I. If you’re looking for clarity, presence, and intimacy, this mic is extremely capable.

Drums 4.8

I’ve used this for recording drums countless times. It’s great for snare tops, bottoms, hi-hats, overheads, and even room mics every once and a while. I probably wouldn’t opt to have it as a kick mic or in a knee mic position but I’m sure people have found success in these applications.

My advice is to experiment and see what sounds good. The C414 might not be the most versatile drum microphone, but overall, it’s more than capable of handling drums.

Build quality 5.0

This is a beautiful microphone. Its box-like body hasn’t changed since the days of the C414 EB in the 70s, and the golden grille is stunning. While its general construction is sturdy and durable, be very careful not to drop this microphone. Obviously, you don’t want to mess with the grille or make the mic less attractive, but what’s more valuable is the extremely delicate capsule within.

If you have the means to throw out well over $1K for a replacement, maybe you can be a bit more lax with your handling. However, the rest of us should be mindful and keep it in the case.

Compared to other microphones

The AKG C414 XLII is a great, versatile microphone, and one of my best mics for recording vocals. But here are a few alternatives to consider in comparison.

AKG C414 XLII vs C414 XLS

The XLS and XLII are equal in terms of quality, although they have slight differences in character that might sway you towards one over the other. The XLS doesn’t have the high-end boost like the XLII, making it noticeably darker-sounding.

Ultimately, they both sound good, but some people are quite opinionated about their preferences regarding this. If you can, try A/Bing them to see which you prefer. Otherwise, you can’t really go wrong.

AKG C414 XLII vs C214

The C214 isn’t a true condenser, nor is it as versatile as the C414, nor is it as clean-sounding. That said, it’s still a great microphone. I would urge you to buy a C414, although buying a stereo pair of C214s for nearly the same price isn’t a terrible idea either.

AKG C414 XLII vs Neumann TLM 103

Running through the differences quickly, the C414 XLII has nine polar patterns to switch between while the TLM 103 is only cardioid. Also, you may find it hard to get a great performance out of the Neumann in an untreated room, since it will most likely pick up on any and all reflections due to its sensitivity.

That being said, these are both great microphones which equally deserve a spot in your mic cabinet. Go with your gut.

AKG C414 XLII vs Neumann U 87 Ai

My advice? Leave getting a U 87 for when you have big clients coming your way who expect you to have one. Otherwise, there isn’t much point in sinking well over $3K for a microphone (legendary as it may be) when you could easily take that money to invest in more pressing matters to pull clients in, i.e. acoustic treatment, preamps, a diverse set of microphones, food, rent, etc. Do what you want, but think about priorities.

Read the full Neumann U 87 Ai review

Who is the AKG C414 XLII best suited for?

The AKG C414 XLII is best suited for anybody looking for a workhorse LDC to have in their arsenal. Regardless of your level of experience, skill, talent, whatever, the C414 XLII is worth the investment.

Buy AKG C414 XLII at: SweetwaterAmazon
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