The Definitive AKG C414 XLII Review
The legendary sounding microphone combining astounding sound quality with incredible versatility
Reviewed by: Paul Narang
Review date: February 2023
Current price: Around $900
AKG C414 XLII Review
|Astounding sound quality|
Choice of nine polar patterns
Excellent build quality
Switchable sensitivity and low-end roll off
|A bit pricey|
AKG C414 XLII Review
The AKG C414 XLII is a highly regarded condenser microphone with huge versatility. The construction quality and wide range of features make it the go to choice for a wide range of recording scenarios, both on stage and in the studio.
What is it?
The AKG C414 XLII is a high-end studio condenser microphone with a large diaphragm. It’s an update to the original C414 design, with a slightly brighter tone, suiting most of today’s popular music styles.
It’s remarkably compact for such a full featured large diaphragm condenser, and takes pride of place in most high-profile studios throughout the world. The AKG C414 XLII is commonly used for recording lead vocals, but it’ also excels at recording a variety of instruments.
The C414 XLII has a host of switchable options:
- 9 selectable polar patterns
- Multi-stage sensitivity reduction options
- Four-stage low end roll off capabilities
In the box
Apart from the microphone, the AKG C414 XLII comes with a:
- rugged metal flight case
- plastic shock-mount
- high-quality AKG pop filter
- foam windsock
The stylish case has a storage compartment for the pop filter and manual, but there’s enough room to house other accessories if you need to.
Dynamic vs condenser microphones
There’s two main types of microphones – condensers and dynamics, with the AKG C414 XLII being a classic large diaphragm condenser mic.
But what are the differences between condenser and dynamic microphones, and is a condenser mic the right choice for you?
Dynamic mics, such as the Shure SM58 are extremely durable, and can withstand a certain amount of rough and tumble. The robust mechanism means they’re also less sensitive to distortion from high sound levels.
However, the weight of the coil limits how responsive the mic can be, and it tends to struggle to replicate high frequencies and dynamic detail.
Dynamic mics are particularly suited to live and stage use. They’re ‘passive’ meaning they don’t require any power.
On the other hand, condenser mics don’t have all the sonic limitations of dynamics, and can deliver a lot of detail and clarity. They tend to be used for studio recording due to their ability to reproduce sound so accurately.
Condensers offer a higher output level than dynamic mics, but they’re a lot more sensitive to loud noises, handling noise, and tend to be more fragile. Theyre ‘active’ meaning they need a supply of ‘phantom power’.
The AKG C414 XLII Polar patterns
The AKG C414 XLII has nine selectable polar patterns, consisting of 5 main patterns and 4 ‘in-between’ settings. The 5 main patters are:
- Wide Cardioid
- Bi-directional (aka figure of eight)
A summary of the different polar patterns
The omnidirectional pattern picks up sound evenly from all around the microphone, like a sphere. Sound sources normally come from one direction, so think of the omnidirectional pattern as a great way of picking up room ambience as well as the sound itself.
Using a C414 in omni will give your recordings an open, natural sound. Of course, your room will need to sound great too for this to work.
Use the wide cardioid if you want to focus more on the sound source but still have a sense of the room. The C414 XLII sounds great in wide cardioid position when recording sounds spread across a wide area, like an acoustic guitar or a piano with the front panels removed.
The cardioid position provides a tighter sound with more directionality and isolation. Select the cardioid position on the C414 for on-stage applications such as miking up guitar cabs, acoustic pianos or drum overheads.
It can also be used in the studio with a reflection filter in the studio, for an up-front and contemporary pop vocal.
The hyper cardioid option is for isolating specific sounds on stage with very minimal bleed from other sound sources. Think of situations like using the C414 to focus in on the sound of the crown of a ride cymbal or featuring a soloist from an ensemble.
It’s also a good option in the studio if you’re recording in a room that hasn’t been acoustically treated.
Bi-directional (Figure eight)
The C414 in figure of 8 position is ideal for more specialised situations. It can be used with another mic for a ‘mid-side recording’ set up, or to record backing singers, one on either side of the mic.
Phantom power for the AKG C414 XLII?
As a condenser microphone, the AKG C414 XLII requires phantom power. Phantom power is a small, low voltage current sent to the microphone from a microphone preamp, mixing desk, or audio interface.
Most industry standard desks or interfaces are capable of providing phantom power, which is sent through the XLR cable to the microphone.
If your audio interface or mixer doesn’t provide phantom power, there is another solution: connect your mic to an external 48 volt phantom supply. Then connect the output of the phantom supply to the mixer, or audio interface.
Connecting the AKG C414 XLS
The C414 XLS uses an XLR cable to connect directly to the audio interface or mixer. XLR is the standard connector for professional studio equipment. An XLR connector is ‘balanced’, which means the cable is shielded from interference and carries a higher signal than unbalanced cables.
XLR cables are the only cables capable of carrying phantom power to the mic.
The AKG C414 XLS Design and Build
The C414 XLII is a very well-constructed microphone – you can feel the quality when you hold it in your hand. The buttons have some reassuring resistance and are easy to operate. The metal casing is robust and smooth.
The grille has a different colour in either side. There’s a gold side, which is the front for forward facing polar patterns such as the cardioids. The black side is the rear, only used for omni or bi-directional polar patterns.
The C414 XLII’s diaphragm is gold sputtered, which means a higher level of performance while recording sounds with higher SPLs.
There is the possibility to buy two AKG C414 XLII’s as a matched pair, but frankly speaking, the level of quality control at AKG is so high, it’s not really necessary.
AKG C414 Dimensions and Weight
The XLII has a neat and compact design compared to other microphones with similar capabilities. Considering the amount of features and flexibility of the XLII, it’s baffling how AKG have managed to pack so much into such a tight space.
At 300g, the AKG C414 XLII weighs less than a Shure SM58. Though unlike an SM58, it’s too sensitive to be handheld without picking up noise. The low weight and size make the AKG C414 XLII a great choice as an overhead, without the danger of causing the mic stand to droop.
AKG C414 XLII frequency response
The XLII responds very well to lows and mids, providing warmth and a true sense of perspective and depth. It has a near perfect flat response from 20 Hz, right up to around 2Khz. Of course, this doesn’t mean a boring sound – there’s a distinct clarity, definition and presence in the sound.
You have the ability to adjust the low-end frequency roll off to 40, 80 or 160Hz, which means placing it close to instruments without necessarily boosting the bass, due to the proximity effect.
As you would expect from a condenser microphone with so many features and possibilities, the frequency range of the C414 XLII has slight variances depending on what polar pattern you are using:
Omnidirectional frequency response
When you’re using omnidirectional mode, the C414 XLII has a flat response right up to about 6kHz where it adds a nice sparkle to the high end frequencies. It has some more wonderful presence in the high end, peaking at about 14kHz.
This results in clarity and definition, capturing the high frequency room reflections and capturing a true sense of the sound of the recording space.
Wide cardioid frequency response
The frequency response of the wide cardioid setting is similar to omnidirectional, but with a little more presence between 2 to 6Khz. This will give you some great definition without being too harsh, lifting the instruments presence and tone.
Cardioid frequency response
The cardioid pattern provides a little more of that desirable presence between 5 and 6KHz, about 5db, which will really help your voice to cut through the mix.
Hypercardioid frequency response
In the studio, the hyper cardioid pattern offers tight focus on the sound source and a generous, warm response across the low to mid-range. You’ll love the sparkly presence from 5-15Khz, peaking out at 6db at about 7Khz.
Figure of eight frequency response
The bi-directional pattern has a similar clarity and presence as other patterns but a slight dip of 1db at 1Khz.
AKG C414 XLII Sensitivity and Impedance
The C414 XLII has an impedance of 200 Ohms. This is classed as low impedance, which makes it suitable for use with very long cables without degradation to the signal. Make sure to use a balanced cable with this mic for the best possible signal.
The AKG C414 XLII has a generous SPL of 140db (no attenuation) and an impressive 158db with the maximum attenuation of -18db. This means you’ll be able to achieve a suitable gain setting no matter how loud your sound source is.
The XLII is an extremely sensitive mic, on which you’ll hear every expressive detail and nuance from your vocal and instrumental takes. But it’s not limited to quiet sound sources – the C414 XLII is equally at home on louder sound sources, such as a piano or drums.
Because the XLII is such a highly sensitive studio condenser microphone, I always use the included pop filter to guard against plosives.
AKG C414 XLII Sound quality
The AKG C414 XLII has a truly exceptional sound, with a warm, expansive sound across the frequency range. Whereas the C414 XLS is flat across the spectrum, the XLII has the addition of a gentle openness and sparkle in the higher frequencies.
This makes it particularly suited to vocalists, for that larger than life presence and sound. It also works well with a large selection of instruments, especially anything needing a gentle lift. The XLII’s response can easily be tamed in post, so better to have those extra harmonics present incase you need them during mixing.
The characterfully bright, yet warm sound is just at home in today’s contemporary pop recordings as it was back in the 50s. For anyone working in a software based environment, the XLII is a way to add some real character into the recording chain.
AKG C414 for recording vocals
If I had to pick the one task the AKG C414 XLII shines at above all others, it would have to be vocal recording. The large diaphragm and characterful capsule based on the 1953 C12 microphone, ensure a full response and warm tone.
Lead vocals recorded through the XLII have a silky smooth quality, often needing just a touch of EQ to sit beautifully in the mix. If you’re looking for an intimate or breathy sound, there’s the option to record the singer right up against the grille, using the multi-stage low end roll off to counteract the proximity effect.
The grille mesh is quite open, so its best to use a pop filter to avoid plosives. As luck would have it, AKG do include a high-quality pop shield with the microphone. There’s also a foam windsock to help reduce plosives further if needed.
The XLII is known for its brighter tone and clarity in the top end. A 5dB presence boost naturally enhances the clarity and definition of vocals, helping to lift them out of a busy mix.
AKG C414 XLII for recording instruments
Despite its natural place as a vocal mic, The XLII’s capabilities extend much further.
The XLII has so many variables and features there really is nothing it can’t handle. The high SPL (max 158db) means that you can place it in front of the loudest guitar amp with no risk of distorting.
Recording guitar cabs and other very loud sound sources has traditionally been the realm of the dynamic mic, which has a tail off in the higher frequencies. Being able to use a condenser in this situation will give you a much fuller frequency range and sensitivity to play with. And if there are any overload peaks, you’ll be notified straight away with the audio peak hold LED.
You’ll be able to position the mic very close to the sound source, minimising room reflections, for a warm and crystal-clear recording. And if the proximity effect is too much, you can easily tailor the bass response to your requirements.
The choice of polar patterns makes the XLII adaptable to whatever instrument is in front of it. A piano can be recorded with a pair of C414 XLII’s set on omnidirectional; or a violin with the setting on wide cardioid; and a vocalist playing acoustic guitar can set the pattern to figure of 8.
I’m yet to find an instrument that doesn’t sound good through an AKG C414. Everything benefits from the upfront clarity and velvety warmth.
AKG C414 in the recording studio
The combination of quality sound, light weight and small size make it my go-to microphone for most sound sources. Add to that the range of polar patterns available, and you have a condenser microphone which behaves like a chameleon, adapting itself to what ever situation you find yourself in.
But there’s more – the low roll off feature switchable between 40Hz, 80Hz or 160Hz means you can get right up close to instruments or vocals without necessarily having too much bass boost from the proximity effect.
The C414 XLII uses illuminating LEDs to indicate which settings are activated. It’s a nice touch to see where you are at a glance, and make quick adjustments.
The shock mount is light and very easy to use you just insert the mic and twist the base to secure it.
To summarise, the C414 XLII is an absolute pleasure to work with in the studio, virtually guaranteeing you both a technical and musical recording.
AKG C414 evolution of a classic mic
The history of the AKG C414 goes back to the 1950’s with the introduction of the the most successful tube vocal microphone of all time – the AKG C12.
While the C12 had an incredible sound, it was very large, and came with its own boxy power supply, making it unsuitable for use on TV. From the C12, came the C24, the C412, and the C414.
The first AKG C414 came out in 1971, featuring the solid-state C412, along with a CK12 capsule. It had the addition of a hypercardioid pick up pattern, making it useful for recording in acoustically compromised environments.
Over the next 50 years or so, the AKG C414 continued to evolve, as they tried out various capsules within the microphone. The AKG C414 EB was the very popular early version, using the CK12 capsule. It was known as the “brass ring capsule” as it was held together with a brass ring.
The CK12 capsule was complicated to manufacture, so AKG made new, simpler designs, that had a ring of white plastic replacing the former brass ring.
A popular version of the C414 with the new capsule was the C414 B-ULS (Ultra Linear Series) of 1986. It aimed to achieve a very flat, neutral sound, and had an improved noise floor.
There’s currently two AKG C414 models offered for sale today – the AKG C414 (XLS) and the AKG C414 XLII, which is reviewed here. The C414 (XLS) is designed for a neutral and pure sound, similar to the earlier C414 B-ULS.
Whereas the C414 XLII can be described as a condenser microphone with its own character – similar to the original C414 EB, but without the noise floor, and with the addition of a ton of switchable options.
AKG C414 XLII vs XLS
The C414 XLII and XLS are very similar mics, both evolving from the original AKG C12.
The XLS is the smoother in frequency response, with a similar sound to the vintage C414 UBL. And the XLII is the ‘character’ version, with a boost in the higher frequencies above 5kHz.
The C414 XLS would be the choice for anyone looking for a ‘truer’ representation of the sound, or working with overly bright vocals or instruments.
But for today’s modern mixing approaches, the C414 XLII will capture some useful harmonics, which can be invaluable at the mixing stage or during post production.
AKG C414 XLII vs Neumann U87 AI
The Neumann U87 AI is a large diaphragm condenser microphone with a velvety warm, neutral sound. It has a cult following amongst producers and artists, as it has an uncanny ability to make anything sound special.
The Neumann U87 AI has a flatter response than the AKG C414 XLII, with just a 2db boost starting at 5kHz. It also tails off earlier than the XLII,
dipping down steadily from just before 10KHz. This makes it more of a ‘warmer’ mic than the XLII, with slightly less treble response.
Areas in which the C414 XLII outperform the U87 are in the SPL and the features. The Neumann U87 would struggle to give you an undistorted signal above 127db, making the XLII the better choice for loud sound sources.
And the U87 AI has only three polar pattern options, Cardioid, Omnidirectional and Bi-directional, compared to the C414’s nine polar patterns. It also has a fixed low frequency roll off and a -10db attenuation switch, compared to the C414’s multiple options.
Both mics have classic pedigrees and designs, with the Neumann U87 coming in heavier and bigger in size. The price point will probably be a prominent factor in your choice, with the Neumann U87 AI costing over twice as much as the AKG C414 XLII!
AKG C414 XLII vs Neumann TLM 103
The Neumann TLM 103 is a natural contender to the AKG C414 XLII, with both condenser microphones sharing similar specifications.
The Neumann TLM 103 is large diaphragm cardioid, whose main strength is the classic Neumann tone. It retails for a similar price to the C414 XLII and has a comparable high frequency response.
The TLM 103 has a broad and consistent frequency boost rising from 3Khz to around 7Khz and peaking at around 5dB. This makes it a little more coloured than the XLII, possibly affecting sibilance for vocals and giving you more to have to in post production.
The Neumann TLM 103 rolls off at the lower end sooner than the AKG C414, possibly compromising the fullness of the bass. The C414 XLII has the advantage of being able to tailor the bass response to exactly as you need it.
The Neumann TLM103 is a good looking, great sounding condenser microphone, with low self-noise, and it ships in a smart wooden box. But it doesn’t have anywhere near the flexibility or features of the AKG C414 XLII which in my opinion make the C414 the preferred choice.
AKG C414 XLS and the proximity effect
Where you place the microphone in relation to your instrument or mouth can make a big difference in sound.
If there’s other instruments or singers in close proximity and you only want to capture yourself, it’s best to sing or play directly into the mic. This will also cut out some of the sound of the room.
Normally being close to the mic will add more bass, but with the C414 XLII, you have the option to tailor the bass response to your liking.
For a more natural, balanced sound, place the mic between 5 and 10 cm away from the sound source. There’ll be less of the proximity effect, and the mic will pick up more sounds from other instruments, and the acoustics of the room.
To bring in more of the room sound, and the instruments around you, place the mic 10 cm or more away from you. This is also a good position to account for any unexpected peaks in volume.
What else do you need?
The AKG C414 XLII comes with a pop shield and elastic mounting unit, but you’ll also need a:
- Microphone stand
Large diaphragm condenser mics like these have to be mounted on a stand. This will reduce any handling noise in the studio. Try a good quality boom stand, with a tripod base like the K&M 210/2
- XLR cable
If you invest in a premium condenser microphone such as the C414, it’s definitely worth getting a good quality cable. If you want the best quality XLR cables, try these. Go for the shorter lengths where possible.
The AKG C414 XLII isn’t a cheap mic, but what it delivers, and how it will enhance your music, I think of it as very well priced.
The combination of classic tone, small size and versatility make this a solid choice as your first professional condenser microphone, or for adding to your existing studio collection.
AKG C414 XLII Frequently Asked Questions
Does the AKG C414 XLII need phantom power?
The AKG C414 XLII is a condenser microphone, so it does require phantom power. You can receive power from the mixing desk, audio interface or a stand-alone unit
Can you use condenser mics on stage?
Condenser mics are a great choice for stage use as long as they have been designed specifically for live use. They’ll deliver a higher quality sound than dynamic mics.
Which artists use the AKG C414 XLII?
Artists seen using the AKG C414 XLII include Jacob Collier, Kurt Cobain and Freddie Mercury.
Read about our pick of the best mics for recording vocals