AKG P420 Review: Can this mic solve your problems?
The problem is, the microphone you use to record defines your sound. When you’re just starting out, most of us can’t afford a Sony C-800G or a Brauner VM1S.
After you find a price you can accept and buy that first mic, you usually don’t know what you’ve got. It takes time to figure out your mic’s overall character and to understand what that mic wants to do.
With this review, I hope I can help you avoid some of the pitfalls that I made. Most of us start with a low to midrange condenser microphone in the class of the AKG P420.
This is a crowded market and it’s hard to choose. Most of us can’t afford to buy different mics for different situations so we try to get something suited to a wide range of applications.
In making the P420, AKG has targeted you, the person looking for his/her first microphone for the home studio. This is a mic made for a wide range of applications. We unboxed it and tested it in various settings, and we were very pleased with the results.
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AKG P420 Review
Sound Quality – 4.5
Build / Durability – 4.5
Value – 5
Versatility – 5
- Versatile: can handle almost any application in the studio.
- Great price
- Offers three polar patterns: cardioid, figure-8, and omnidirectional.
- Nice sound for its class
- lacks character of higher end condensers
If you can only afford one microphone and you’re starting a home studio, you can’t go wrong with this mic. Good sound, extremely versatile, great price.
What’s in the box?
The AKG P420 ships with a shock mount, a steel carrying case with a foam mould that fits the mount and mic, extra strings for the shock mount, and an adapter screw to fit differently threaded mic stands.
The case is steel with high-quality foam that won’t fall to bits like cheap foam cases. The shock mount fits its mic much better than most.
Right out of the box, before even trying out the mic, I was impressed considering one might spend more than this mic’s total price on a shock mount and case alone.
Who this Mic is for
- Beginners looking for their first microphone for the home studio
- Those who need one microphone to do everything in the home studio
- Recordists looking for a quality low-cost multi-polar pattern mic
- Producers/Engineers/Artists looking for a versatile, low-cost, quality condenser microphone.
Who this Mic is NOT for
- Those looking for a microphone for live gigs (consider instead a dynamic microphone like the Sennheiser e935 or Shure SM58. Check out all of our audio equipment reviews.)
- Those looking for a less neutral sonic signature, those looking for ‘character’
Alternatives to the AKG P420
A fixed-cardioid cousin of the P420 with a brilliant, modern sound. Excellent for vocals.
A super-quiet mic with switchable polar patterns. Another swiss-army mic with an honest, slightly warm frequency response.
The problem with most mics in this price range is that they try to make up for their weaknesses with unnatural frequency response. This is usually done by overly boosting the highs (5-10 kHz).
Over-boosting makes the mic sound better on monitor headphones before compression and gain are added. In the end, however, with compression and gain and doubled tracking, you find yourself with a shrill-sounding result. Similarly, a boxy result occurs when the mids are strangely boosted (350 – 600 Hz).
AKG P420 Frequency Response Chart
AKG has done a nice job with the P420 of making a mic that suits a wide range of applications, and yet still sounds decently balanced.
The sonic signature of this condenser is neutral, on the slightly warm side. With a frequency range from 20Hz to 20 kHz and a maximum sound pressure of 135dB (155 dB with the attenuation pad), this mic is designed to work the widest range of home studio applications.
That means it should handle anything from intimate close-miked vocals to face-melting guitar shredding, or jaw-dropping drum solos. So we tested it.
AKG P420 Review: The Test
We used a Universal Audio Apollo Solo Interface recorded with Logic Pro X. There is no EQ or compression applied to any of the audio clips here. We adjusted the gain from the audio interface to taste. The guitars were a Martin steel-string acoustic guitar and Fender Strat plugged into 40 Watt Fender Champ.
Sung Vocals Test
AKG state that the P420 is “perfectly suited for ensemble recording, grand piano, woodwind and brass instruments, as well as drums and percussion”. They don’t mention vocals. But we know the rule for microphones is: if it sounds good, it is good.
It may not have the silky character of higher-end condensers, but it definitely produces studio-worthy results for vocals. It picks up a lot of detail with a slightly warm character to it.
It will pick up neighboring noise like most condenser mics. In our tests, however, in cardioid polar pattern, it didn’t pick up much at all from the rear. For example, it picks up the guitar on my lap here, but not the bounce off the wall.
Spoken Vocals Test: Sibilance, Plosives
The neutral character of this mic makes it great for spoken voice applications. We would recommend using an isolation shield behind the mic, or using a treated room for all condenser mics.
Sibilance and plosives are under control using a pop filter.
Acoustic Guitar Test
As with all microphones, you will need to experiment to find the sweet spot in terms of position. This test is pointed at the 12th fret. For my taste, I like this sound better than my Neumann TLM 102 on acoustic guitar. It produces clean detail with a warm cushion.
Electric Guitar Test – Clean and with Distortion
On electric guitar, the P420 had no problems with the high volume on the distorted test nor any problems picking up details of the clean amp. I prefer a little more character (like a Shure SM57), something less neutral for electric guitar, but this is subjective business.
After testing, we can safely say that the AKG P420 can handle just about anything you throw at it in the studio. One of the reasons for this is the ability to switch polar patterns.
Most large condenser microphones offer a cardioid pattern. Pointed toward the sound source, the area picked up by the mic forms a heart shape pattern in front of the microphone. This pattern is ideal for single instrument or vocal recording, focussing on the source sound.
Thanks to some clever electronics, the AKG P420, there is a switch on the microphone that allows for two other pickup patterns: figure-8 and omnidirectional.
Figure-8 picks up sounds in front and behind the mic, rejecting the sides. This is great for mid-side techniques, miking drums with a single mic, or picking up a guitar amp and the sound of it bouncing off the rear wall.
Omnidirectional picks up the entire circle surrounding the mic. This option allows you to record an ensemble surrounding the mic, or a live set-up in a cool room.
Also of note on versatility, this mic comes with a -20 dB attenuation switch for high pressure, loud sounds as well as a high pass filter switch to cut out unwanted city rumble.
The AKG P420 is a well-made, sturdy mic, that doesn’t feel like it will break any time soon. AKG is one of the top mic brands, trustworthy in the build department.
The design doesn’t challenge the standard condenser microphone look in any way. But still, it’s nice to look at, with a black metal body and contrasting steel mesh.
What People Say ABOUT the AKG P420
I use this for recording drums. I’m so impressed with the build and the flexibility of this mic. If you’re a producer/engineer looking to record with mid-side techniques, this mic switched on the figure-8 polar pattern is fantastic. You can’t make a wrong choice at this price
Phillip Jürgens, Drummer/Sound Engineer
I use this microphone (so far) only for spoken word applications. I’m totally satisfied. It’s clear and natural, not too sibilant, with a wide dynamic range. It could be sweeter in the midrange, but I adjust that with EQ. The excellent included accessories set a standard that all microphone makers should follow!
Mark Langton, Podcaster and Voice-over Artist
I have recorded in my home studio for over ten years with different mics and have achieved okay results on my mixes. When I switched to this mic, I experience a whole new world! Mixing is somehow working even for me, a self-taught recordist. Its relatively neutral character makes me sound like I know what I’m doing. Enormously happy!
Susan McDaniel, Folk Singer
Related or Mentioned Gear
AKG P420 Condenser Microphone
Sennheiser e935 Dynamic Microphone – a step up from the industry-standard Shure SM58 in sound quality.
Sennheiser e965 condenser microphone a class up from the AKG P420.
Pro Isolation Shield, recommended if you don’t have a treated room and you use a condenser microphone
Pop Filter, helps reduce plosive and sibilant sounds on vocals
Shure SM57, the most popular utility dynamic microphone.
Neumann TLM102, a great all-rounder condenser mic, a recommended mic in a higher class than the P420.
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