A great starter kit.
Whether you’re hosting a stream on Twitch, recording voice-over for a highlight clip, or making a podcast, having a good microphone is a must. This time around I’m looking at a cost-effective option from good folks at MAONO with the AU-A04 Studio Microphone kit. It features everything you’ll need to get up and running for only $63.99 (See it at Amazon), but at that low price is it actually as good as it promises to be? Let’s take a closer look.
MAONO AU-A04 Studio Mic – Design and Features
For being so reasonably priced, the AU-A04 offers quite a lot. The package includes the microphone itself, which is a USB-powered condenser and doesn’t require an audio interface to use, a shock mount, boom arm, foam windscreen, and pop filter. The last two accomplish the same thing, blocking plosives, so you’re free to choose the option you prefer rather than be stuck with one or the other. Purchasing these accessories separately would easily add an extra $40 onto any microphone purchase, so it’s great to see them included here. As it stands, the MAONO Studio Microphone Kit is a cost-effective option that literally gives you everything you need to start sounding professional on your live stream.
The first thing to look closely at is the microphone itself. At this price point, I would have expected to find a plastic body but I was pleased to see that they’ve used a sturdy metal design. The grill is the usual metal weave found on virtually all condenser microphones. Apart from the MAONO logo on the front, the body is completely smooth and very simply designed.
Given its price, I also expected a certain level of simplicity compared to more expensive mics like the Blue Yeti or HyperX QuadCast. That’s definitely the case here. Unlike virtually every other microphone I tested against (which were universally more expensive), there are no onboard controls for volume, mute, selecting a polar pattern, or connecting a pair of headphones for zero-latency monitoring. The AU-A04 offers a single cardioid polar pattern, which means it records only what’s in front of it and tries to reject outside noise. Everything else has to be configured using Windows sound settings.
The biggest loss here is not being able to hear yourself in real time. Without zero-latency monitoring, you have no way to know if you’re too loud or too quiet until after the recording is done. To set my levels, I recorded samples in Audacity and adjusted my recording level through the Control Panel until I found the right volume. After that, I had to consciously try to stay the same distance away from the mic to keep that level from changing based on my distance. When you can hear yourself as you record, you can naturally make these adjustments to your positioning without really thinking about it. Compared to a mic like the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+, it’s more cumbersome, but if you stay conscious of your positioning is also manageable. Considering that the MAONO costs roughly half the price of the AT2020USB+, it’s not a bad trade-off.
The boom arm mounts to your desk with a small C-shaped clamp that’s likely to scratch your desk. The top part features a soft pad to keep the visible surface of your desk safe but the bottom and inner edge don’t. I was dismayed to find that even though I was being careful, the edge of my desk still managed to get scratched after the first time tightening it down. The boom arm fits into the clamp with a hollow stem that isn’t made to last. It immediately scratched the first time I used it and the hollow design means it’s likely to deform if you tighten the clamp too much.
For a new streamer, the MAONO really does give you everything you’ll need to get up and running.
A bigger problem with the stand is that it uses a tensioning system with exposed springs to hold its place. Accidentally tapping a spring sends a loud reverberation right into your mic, even when using the included shock mount. In fact, pretty much any vibrations make their way through the shock mount, which makes me think it’s more for looks than anything else.
The two pop filters, on the other hand, work quite well. Since the AU-A04 is very susceptible to “pops” (bursts of air), they’re very necessary accessories. I tended to prefer the gooseneck screen filter rather than the foam windscreen since the foam has a subtle muffling effect, but both were very close.
Even though you’re clearly not getting a professional kit at this price, its shortcomings all feel very manageable. The weak stem on the boom arm? Don’t over-tighten it. The spring noise? Don’t touch the springs. The desk scratches? That’s the most egregious issue but is also easily remedied by covering the surface of your desk.I cut a square from an entryway rug and solved the problem for less than $5.
The only real thing you might want to upgrade is the shock mount, but since it’s already up on an arm, you’re already getting more isolation than a desk mount might offer. For a new streamer, the MAONO really does give you everything you’ll need to get up and running right out of the box.
MAONO AU-A04 Studio Mic – Performance
On a technical level, the MAONO AU-A04 promises big things. It features a 24-bit/192kHz recording rate, which is quite high res compared to the 16-bit/48kHz offered by the Blue Yeti or Audio-Technica AT2020USB+. For vocal recording, however, you’re unlikely to hear any difference whatsoever between the maximum recording rates for each of these mics, and how the manufacturer tunes each microphone capsule makes an even bigger difference.
Bass and mid-tone response offered the kind of improvement you can hear without knowing a thing about audio.
This makes the MAONO’s extended range a “nice to have” feature but doesn’t mean it’s going to sound any better in practice, especially to listeners who may be hearing you through a layer of internet compression.
To test the microphone, I used it for around a week for a spoken word recordings captured in Audacity. I was impressed by the clarity, and compared to a gaming headset like my daily driver, Sennheiser GSP-600, it’s a head and shoulders improvement. Not only is the microphone more sensitive, but the bass and mid-tone response offered the kind of improvement you can hear without knowing a thing about audio.
Of course, you can’t expect perfection from an entry-level microphone like this. Compared to the Yeti, the MAONO features less bass presence and the upper frequencies are too present, leading to sibilance where “s” sounds are almost sharp to the ear. Taken in isolation, it doesn’t sound bad, but compared directly to other microphones the differences are noticeable.
Another shortcoming is that the off-axis rejection, or the mic’s ability to cancel out sounds not coming from its recording area, isn’t very good. This is particularly important since the AU-A04 is so sensitive. That means that keyboard noise, mouse clicks, and whirring PC fans will all make their way into the mix.
On the other hand, turning down the recording level and simply moving the mic closer to my mouth helped and brought out one of its core virtues: good Proximity Effect. Proximity Effect refers to the natural bass enhancement of your voice by speaking very closely to the capsule. This is commonly understood as “radio voice” and also most clearly demonstrates the unique characteristics of a microphone’s vocal capture. Here, eliciting Proximity Effect adds an extra warmness to the mic that sounds much more pleasant than if you were speaking from six inches away or more.
To give you a better idea of how the MAONO AU-A04 stacks up against other popular streaming mics, I recorded a side-by-side comparison against some other, admittedly more expensive, contenders. I compared it against the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ ($149), Samson G-Track Pro ($127), HyperX QuadCast ($139), and the Blue Yeti ($102). After comparing the mics, I was honestly very impressed. Though there are differences and the more expensive options have an edge in certain areas, the MAONO fits right into this group of microphones while only costing half as much.
The MAONO AU-A04 Studio Microphone Kit is usually a bit less or more than $60 on Amazon.