AKG Ara -- a stylish and versatile USB microphone [Review]
With more and more of us working from home and conducting our business and personal lives via video calls, microphone quality on our devices has become a serious issue.
The in-built mics on laptops are OK but if you want to make presentations or create podcasts, make music, or just make a good impression on Zoom, then you really need something better. Step forward the AKG Ara.
In the box is the mic itself with weighted a swivel base, a USB-A to C cable and a threaded adapter to allow you to mount the mic to a studio stand. You also get a download link and license code for Ableton Live Lite -- a recording and MIDI sequencing program for music makers.
The Ara has a rather pleasing retro appearance, sitting in front of it you feel as though you should be announcing, "Peace in our time" or a depression era "New Deal". The base is heavy and has a soft pad underneath so it won't move around on the desk or mark the surface. On the back is a USB-C socket to connect it to your system and a headphone socket. On the front is a volume control for the headphones, this doubles as a push-to-mute feature for the mic, and another switch labeled 'Front' and 'Front & Back' -- this is the clever bit.
The microphone has something called 'Dual-Capsule array' in Front mode this captures sound from the front of the mic only, so it’s ideal for recording podcasts or vocals or for use on calls where there's just you. Switch to Front & Back and it captures from all around, making it useful for conducting one-on-one interviews, conference calls or recording groups of musicians.
In use it's a definite step up from your PC's on-board mic, the stand allows you to tilt it to find an optimum position. The dual capsule feature while not perhaps as good as having a separate mic for every participant in an interview or call does a decent enough job. Crucially this isn't a device that you'll use only for Zoom or Teams, if you're into creating podcasts or even making your own music it's good enough to handle that too.
At $99 there are cheaper microphones out there, but the Ara is solidly constructed and the dual-capsule feature makes it a versatile piece of kit. You can buy direct from the AKG site.