Plugging the mic directly into the computer via USB.

We are looking at a mic…the MXL Tempo…but it is different from most other mics we have reviewed. You don’t plug this mic into a sound system, but rather you plug it directly into your computer.


Welcome to the world of USB mics.



What these things basically do is combine two pieces of gear into a single unit:  a mic and an analog-to-digital converter to interfaces with a computer for recording.


This makes the process of getting audio into your computer way simpler and a lot less expensive.  Instead of plugging a mic into a console with a USB/FireWire output or a USB/FireWire recording interface (and plugging that into the computer), you literally just plug the mic straight into the computer and you’re ready to go.


So, as with the other mics of this type (look for upcoming reviews), the MXL Tempo is simple to use.  Another nice feature is it doesn’t cost a lot of money; you can pick one up for a Benjamin and get change back.


I found it to be a nifty product of the “plug and play” variety. 


mxl tempo usb 2 042813


The product is lightweight and portable making it ideal for mobile settings.


As shown in the video, there are many practical applications for the Tempo.  For PC or Mac users this microphone can be used for musical recordings, voice over recordings, web and podcast related applications, and more.


Some food for thought:


The Tempo is a condenser mic.  And like all condenser mics, it require phantom power to operate.  The cool thing here is the Tempo simply draws its required power from the USB port when it is plugged in: no problem there.


Next, the owner’s manual states the Tempo is a cardioid mic, however, according to the polar pickup pattern the mic is actually a variation of a hypercardioid. (see the graphs below).



See that bump at the 180-degree point on the Tempo’s chart? That means there is a “node” at the back of the mic that picks up nearly as much sounds as is picked up at 90 degrees off center. The name “cardioid” refers to the generally heart-shaped pickup pattern that you see on the left.


Is that good or bad?


Neither, really but it does mean that in a typical use you will pick up more of the room than you would on a mic without the node at the back.  One of the uses (of this pattern) you will see on the video is where a single person was recording a guitar and vocal directly into a laptop computer…it can be kinda cool in that it picks up some reflected sound which can make the recording sound more “natural.”


Finally, there’s a feature that is typical on USB mics that might throw you for a loop if you have never used a USB mic before: a headphone jack.  


Why a headphone jack on a mic?


It is for monitoring what is going into the recording program, and it is all about battling an evil thing called latency.


This is a review not a tech piece so the short version:


All digital audio suffers from some degree of latency. This is the time it takes to convert the sound from analog to digital, process that digital data and then convert it back to analog so you can hear it.


If you were to plug the Tempo into your computer’s USB jack and headphones into the computer to listen to what was being recorded, there is a good shot that there would be enough of a delay between you playing or singing and then hearing the notes in the headphones that it would be difficult or even impossible to perform.


A headphone output on the mic itself allows you to monitor your performance before it is converted to digital so there is no latency at all to deal with.


There’s one more curveball this microphone offers in terms of how you use it.  This microphone has a great potential in an office setting or when you need to capture public speaking events.  This fits some of my needs, so my MXL travels with me night and day.  


With its ease of use, quick set up time, lack of clutter and low price, many musicians and songwriters will be reaching for this first to capture their inspiration while it strikes.  This is a viable addition to any musician’s toolbox.



– K Bo