It is difficult to make a microphone that stands out these days. The basics of audio capture haven’t changed much in decades, and the main distinguishing factor is cost. If you have a lot of money to spend, there’s already a perfect mic out there, but getting the best sound for a lower price can be more difficult. This is where the King Bee II, from Neat Microphones, excels.
The King Bee II has a relatively large 34mm condenser diaphragm, which makes it much better at picking up low frequency sounds than many condenser mics in its price range. Combined with great hardware and extremely low background noise, you get incredibly clear, precise, and rich sound for well under $200.
The last time I felt such satisfying weight pulling a microphone out of a box was the first time I unboxed a Blue Yeti. Many people might find the King Bee II unnecessarily heavy, and that would be hard to argue, especially if your mic arm can’t handle the weight, but I like it.
The mic features a tapered cylindrical body that is subtly reminiscent of a bee, with a round lollipop-shaped diaphragm (the membrane that detects sound) protruding from the top. This second-generation model is an improvement over the company’s previous design, which was UNsubtly bee-like, with bold black and yellow stripes. The King Bee II may be less visually striking, but I can think of very few scenarios where the best possible design choice is thick and yellow. For me, the new body is a welcome change.
The tapered design means it needs a custom shock mount, which it comes with. In my experience, the shock mount worked fine, with only occasional bumps. I mainly use my mic to record voiceover, which allows for multiple takes, but I would still feel comfortable using it in a live broadcast situation. However, the need for a custom mount means that most third-party mounts won’t work as well, which is something to consider.
It comes with a built-in pop filter, which is nice not having to worry about buying separately. In another subtle nod to the bee brand, the filter features a honeycomb pattern. In my experience, the pop filter was effective in reducing some plosives (think big “P” sounds), but it wasn’t a miracle. If you have a more serious problem with pops, you may need a third-party filter or move away from the mic.
The sound of silence
One of the nicest features of the King Bee II is its low background noise. Previously, I used the AudioTechnica AT2020, a common entry-level XLR mic that’s pretty decent if you’re new to voice-over or dubbing work. However, the AT2020 has a relatively high self-noise level of 20 dBA.
The result is a hiss that is present on every recording, no matter how quiet I make my recording space. Currents passing through any electronic device make a small amount of noise, so to some degree this is unavoidable, but the King Bee II reduces that noise to just 6 dBA. That alone is significant enough that if I were buying today, I’d spend an extra $70 (or $50 when it’s on sale) for the King Bee II. Not only is it much easier to get a clear signal, but my voice sounds richer through this mic, simply because it’s not jammed by the noise that the microphone itself makes.
A solo experience
While it excels in many of the basics you’d expect from general-purpose mics, the King Bee II has some surprising limitations that might rule out some use cases. The biggest drawback is that it only has a single cardioid polar pattern. This means it will only be really good at picking up audio directly in front of the microphone. If you’re hoping for one mic to record an interview between two subjects, you’ll have to look elsewhere or get two mics.
Also, while this should go without saying for a studio-focused mic like the King Bee II, you’ll need an audio interface capable of providing phantom power to use it. Check out our guide to upgrading your home recording studio for more information on this type of equipment, if you don’t already have it.
The King Bee II’s relatively low price for quality puts it in a unique place where it feels like it should sit right next to USB mics like the Blue Yeti. However, this is a more studio-oriented mic, and if you don’t already have the interface and related gear to record better sound, the price of entry is higher than the mic. himself. Expect to spend at least a hundred dollars for a decent interface.
On the other hand, if you already have this gear and are looking for an affordable mic for single-source recording, the King Bee II is hard to beat. It picks up impressive, accurate sound while being far less finicky (and loud) than the other mics it competes with. If nothing else, it convinced me that I could do better than the voice recording setup I already had for a similar price.