Once Winter NAMM starts to hit each year, we can’t help but geek out when it comes to being able to explore new products within the world of music equipment, and more specifically for our niche: microphones. Mackie surprised us getting into the mic game when we hit their booth this year for 2020 since we’re so used to their products being predominantly speakers and DJ gear (although they had done so previously with their in-ear monitors and headphones, so we like their confidence when it comes to experimenting with different gear categories). Once we noticed some microphones at hand, we got down to business and tried them out ourselves with the time we had. Here is our write-up and review of the new EM-USB microphone by Mackie, so let’s get into the details and see what they plan on competing with in the upcoming years (especially in such a crowded category when it comes to USB microphones).
Mackie EM-USB condenser microphone features
- Recommended for streamers, podcasts, interviews, and more
- USB-C connection directly into computer
- On-board gain control and monitoring
- On-board mute button
- Cardioid polar pattern
- Software bundle included (we’ll elaborate later)
- Included tabletop tripod and mic clip
- Rugged build housing
Standout features, design and build
First and foremost with this particular USB mic, we’re really digging the on-board gain control, monitoring and mute button. The mute button in particular is going to be very convenient if you’re podcasting, streaming or really any other type of use that may include wanting outside noise to be cut out when you aren’t using it or feel like taking a break (perhaps podcasting in front of an audience and you want to keep it down while the other is talking? Or your partner is going for a story and you want to tune out your coughing or breathing?). The gain control is also a great feature for us, especially with recording vocals or some type of audio for music or content creation as we’re nitpickers in regards to mixing — you never know when you need to tweak the gain on the fly. Lastly, the monitoring of course to us is almost mandatory at this point in the game of USB microphones, considering we have to hear ourselves while we talk — plus adjusting that volume separately is super convenient (perhaps the gain needs to be up to record but you don’t want your playback to be as loud while you’re recording).
When it comes to actually using this microphone, it’s what USB mics are most known for — usability. What’s nifty with USB microphones is their ability to act as it’s own audio interface. If you want to save some money on purchasing an external mic preamp or perhaps audio interface, USB mics (especially this one) don’t need anything else — just plug it in and you’re good to go. Your computer should recognize it instantly and download the drivers automatically and it’s the same for the EM-USB.
In regards to build, we noticed mainly with all of Mackie’s new EleMent microphone series, the builds are great quality here, something Mackie never messes up on. It’s not going to break on you easily even if you drop it on accident — no cheap plastic here, and the included desktop tripod is a higher-grade material that will definitely come in handy for those who need this mic to sit snug on their desk.
Sound quality of the Mackie EM-USB
What’s the most important aspect of a microphone? The answer is obvious here, so we won’t waste any more of your reading time. Let’s talk sound quality. It’s hard to convey what we think is “good quality”, or even describe a microphone’s sound objectively using superlatives that may resonate with you. So a large part of reviewing microphones for us is sticking straight to the numbers first (especially when it comes to USB microphones). The EM-USB condenser microphone’s bit-rate and resolution hasn’t been provided yet and we didn’t catch it at the show so we are going to wait until they release the technical specs and include it in here. We’ll do our best to explain the (pretty subjective) sound quality below.
The marketers, biased bloggers (not us, promise) and eCommerce sites that want you to buy it are going to call the sound quality of this using a lot of different words, such as ‘pristine’, ‘crystal clear’, ‘beautiful’, etc. We’re not going to cram more of those adjectives into your head but give you a heads up — the audio indeed does the job here. It’s definitely not going to mimic studio-quality condenser microphones that are straight up meant to be as sensitive as possible for professional audio, but we don’t expect that considering those mics go for double, triple the price of this (and many other USB mics in general). Our main concern is this — does it compare with others in the USB mic game within the same price? Yes. Is it “better” than any of them? How are you really able to tell? Human ears can’t even detect the difference really between 16-bit and 24-bit. But the biggest concern to leave you with is that yes, the Mackie EM-USB gets the job done in regards to sound quality and isn’t going to sound cheap, murky or bad. Especially if you’re podcasting, streaming or creating content in general for the internet, you are totally fine here.
If you’re indeed recording vocals for music, it isn’t completely professional and we don’t usually recommend using a USB microphone for recording vocals since you don’t get as much of a raw sound and sensitivity as real condensers, plus not being able to use a interface or preamp doesn’t give you as much room for customizing your sound as we’d like. But if you absolutely must do so and your budget is low, or you’re creating a new home studio, be our guest — it’ll be fine for now and you can upgrade later.
Included software bundle
This is going to be a make or break for many people, considering nowadays a lot of USB microphone are relatively the ‘same’ when it comes to sound quality (especially the technical aspects, such as bit-rate and resolution). Even if you do prefer a few buttons on the front as compared to others, we don’t think that’s a big deciding factor when all of the specs of certain compared USB microphones are lined up. So here’s where the bigger fish to fry comes in — software! Here’s where your money is going to start being worth it. A question to ask is this — am I in the market for a digital audio workstation (music software), plugins (both VST sounds and effects), and more? Or do I really just need a microphone and am I focused on getting the best quality of mic for my money?
Here’s what we’re getting with the Mackie EM-USB in regards to software, sounds and effects. First and foremost, a copy of Pro Tools | First, essentially their version of a ‘beginners’ or ‘trial’ copy of the beloved digital audio workstation. Mackie recently partnered with Avid so you’re going to be seeing this a lot more often. If you don’t have a DAW yet, or have always been itching to dive into the deep world of Pro Tools, this is a big deal. Next we have something called Waveform OEM, which is another DAW that’s a little less known than the popular music software out there, but may be a little fun to play with if you still don’t have any software at all.
Lastly, let’s talk effects. Mackie really crammed a lot in here. We have “The Musician Collection” for ProTools | First, which has 23 plugins (notables include 304E EQ, 304C compressor, BBD delay, and Eleven Lite). You then have “The DAW Essentials Bundle” for Waveform OEM with 16 effects plugins (like compressor, reverber8, limit and equaliser). Our only gripe here is that these effects only work with their respected DAW, and can’t be used with other software if you’re already using a particular digital audio workstation. Interestingly enough Mackie doesn’t include any VST sounds, but focuses on effects. That’s because they’re really marketing podcasters, streamers and other non-musical uses as the years go by, which is fine with us. Pro Tools | First or even Waveform OEM is going to be good enough if you’re trying to just record some simple audio with a few talkers and music in regards to streaming or videos.
What’s in the EM-USB’s box?
- One (1) EM-USB condenser microphone
- One (1) USB-C cable
- One (1) desktop tripod mount
- The software bundle (you download these — CD’s don’t really exist anymore)
Concluding our Mackie EM-USB review
This USB microphone here is perfect for streaming, content creation (whether that’s YouTube videos or vlogging in general), podcasting, and yes, even music recording if you need something cheap (in particular vocals or guitar). We think it’s going to make it’s way through the ranks as the year goes by and USB microphones continue to evolve, especially within the lower price-point with a street price and retail of $150 (double check sites to see exact pricing at the moment). If we could give you two comparisons to look into the other’s software or overall design to for some options, we’d say this gives both a few of our favorites. the Blue Yeti and Audio-Technica AT2020USB+, a run for their money.
The EM-USB doesn’t necessarily bring features of a USB microphone that make us say that it’s going to change the game or anything, but Mackie here is merely giving us another great option for a USB mic that offers affordability, up-to-par sound quality (anything lower than our bit-rate and resolution here is considered old now), and of course, a very massive software package that in our opinion appears to be relatively above-average. Again, it will definitely matter if you need the software or not (some great effects included as well as DAW), but even if the software wasn’t something you completely needed, this is a good option to buy if you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a USB microphone. The Mackie EM-USB condenser microphone will be around for a while, but you can always read our best USB microphones guide for a better comparison of some of the more popular models (but have had more time to sit in the game) out there for the time being. All in all we’re digging it, Mackie.