AKG, a manufacturer of headphones, microphones and wireless microphone systems recently introduced its Ara USB microphone.
Designed as an affordable USB microphone, the launch of this new microphone comes at a perfect time as more people now work from home (WFH) on a fulltime basis or work on a hybrid work schedule (splitting time between the home and office).
The versatile Ara can be used as a plug-and-play microphone to improve the sound quality of collaboration meetings at home or in the office without breaking the bank.
Additionally, the new USB microphone provides an affordable solution to record music for singer-songwriters looking to sketch out song ideas.
Trying the Ara out for myself, I used it for conference calls, and I even tried out some acoustic and electric guitar recordings.
AKG Ara USB Microphone Features and Setup
The microphone comes in a box that includes a USB-C to USB-A cable, as well as a microphone stand adapter; a quick-start guide, and a registration card for Abelton Live 11 recording software.
The reasonably priced AKG Ara features a simple USB connection to allow for fast hookup to computers, including my Apple MacBook Pro, and its stand adapter allows for use for applications that include collaboration and podcasting.
CE Pro Specs:
- USB 2.0 connectivity
- Polarized condenser microphone (two capsules) with selectable front or front and back modes
- The Ara provides a 24-bit/96kHz bit rate and sampling frequency
- AKG rates the Ara to handle up to 120dB
- Headphone output impedance rated at 16 ohms/91db sensitive
- MSRP is $99
Pulling the microphone out of its box I connected the USB-C to USB-A cable to one of the USB-A inputs on my iOGear USB-C hub that I connect to my MacBook Pro. I then plugged in a pair of Audio Technica earbuds into the microphone’s headphone output, which is located next to the USB-C input on the bottom panel of the Ara.
That is pretty much the setup of the microphone. Once it is physically connected, I would go into my System Preferences and make sure the AKG Ara was selected as my audio input and output. I would do the same thing using programs such as Zoom. To do this with the popular collaboration platform I would go into Zoom’s preferences and make sure the microphone was selected as my audio input and output source.
I cannot speak to how the Ara would connect to a PC and the ease of its connections using PCs, but with Apple computers the setup couldn’t be any easier for recording podcasts, music and collaboration calls.
Performance and Final Thoughts
Most of my use of the microphone was for collaboration applications. Regardless of whether I used the microphone with Zoom or Microsoft Teams the AKG Ara provided a high level of intelligibility for my co-workers.
I also felt the same was true of podcasts and video recordings. Using the Ara microphone on a regular basis I tried the capsule configurations the AKG product offered: front, and front and back.
In my opinion I think both capsule operational modes sounded quite similar, but the front and back mode did offer a bit more air. I attribute those slight differences to the fact that using both capsules enables the Ara to capture more of the room. The front and back setting I think sounded best with an acoustic guitar, but if someone would like a “bigger, more open” sound to their spoken word content the front and back capsule setting could deliver the desired result.
For those wondering, the Ara is priced similarly to the popular Blue Yeti microphone, which has been on the market for a very long time.
The Ara offers similar, but not as many features. One feature I would like to see on the Ara that the Yeti offers is the gain control. This feature would make the Ara a little more flexible to use the microphone in a few more recording situations such as electric guitars for music production. I would like to point out that Mac users can go into “System Preferences” and the “Audio MIDI” options to pull the input gain down, but that requires an extra step versus using a gain knob on the Yeti. AKG’s step-up USB microphone the Lyra does provide a front-panel gain control if you want to move up a model in AKG’s line.
Anyway, when I recorded a few sound samples of the Ara with an electric guitar I placed the microphone about 6 inches from my Orange 1×12 cabinet, which was connected to a Bogner Atma amplifier head. Finding the volume was digitally clipping the microphone I first moved the microphone a few inches further away from the cabinet, then ultimately, I turned the amp down to get the recording levels to a place where the microphone wasn’t clipping.
Acoustic guitar and spoken word, however, did not clip the microphone. My conclusion is that musicians could use the Ara for turnkey, basic singing/songwriting activities, but the microphone will require more setup for use with amplified instruments.
Validating my thoughts as a singer/songwriter tool, I recorded myself strumming a few chords on my Taylor 314ce acoustic guitar with the Ara placed about 8 inches from the guitar’s sound hole using front capsule, and front and back capsules.
Getting back to the topic of podcasting and collaboration, and the aesthetic element of those activities I think the through its size the Ara is easier to place in locations out of sight from conferencing cameras. This allows Ara users to maintain high levels of audio-conferencing quality without the microphone being seen. The Yeti due to its larger size in my opinion is more difficult to hide. My preference is to have the microphone out of view from the camera lens, so in this application I prefer the Ara.
It’s hard not to like the overall package the AKG Ara USB microphone offers. For reasonable money you get a microphone that supports conferencing, podcasting and singing/songwriting applications without compromising sound quality. The microphone is easy to set up and its size enables users to employ it discreetly.
If you are someone looking to improve the quality of your conferencing calls, podcasts or someone looking for an easy-to-use singing/songwriting tool, be sure to check out the affordable AKG Ara USB microphone.
To hear sound clips of the AKG Ara click here.
CE Pro Verdict:
- Easy to setup and use immediately
- Clear sound quality makes it a natural fit for use with today’s collaborative platforms
- Can be used as a tabletop microphone or it can be mounted to mic stands
- A gain control would make the Ara more Singer/songwriter friendly
- The headphone input is tight. Pulling out male 3.5mm headphone cables takes some work