Thank you Turtle Beach/Neat Microphones for sending us this product to review!
Turtle Beach's Neat Microphones division has some amazing pedigree. Founded by the same people who founded Blue Microphones in the 1990s, they really know microphones, and know how to make them better, and at a lower price point, than most. In specialized fields like audio, you won't get the best results by just going to a factory and ordering parts - you need to really know what you want, and how to get there. And Neat certainly does.
The King Bee II is Neat's latest flagship product, and makes a wonderful first impression when you take it out of the box - like real care was given when designing it, and the build quality is impeccable. Included is a really hefty Beekeeper shock mount, and it's recommended never to remove the King Bee from there, as it both protects the microphone and prevents minor bumps and taps from making it into the recording. Most of the mic and Beekeeper's structure is made of metal, with some plastic or rubber in places where it's needed. It's a very heavy combo - almost two and a half pounds - that screams quality all the way. Even if it didn't sound better than my other microphones, I'd feel confident that it would last a long time while in service.
When it comes to microphone sound quality, there are actually quite a few components involved that work together to create a system. For the more common (in home use settings) USB microphones, there is not just the actual microphone module itself, which is typically of the condenser or dynamic variety, but a USB ADC (analog to digital converter) module, along with whatever is needed to power the microphone module. All of this happens transparently to the end user - you just plug it in and go - but behind that there are several pieces at work to bring you what your listeners hear.
The King Bee II is what is commonly called an XLR condenser microphone. This means two things: XLR is the interface (also called connection), and condenser is the type. Almost all condenser microphones require +48V phantom power, as this voltage activates the electronics in the microphone module. In some ways, XLR microphones have more in common with 3.5mm mics than USB ones – they are purely analog devices, despite needing power to activate the module. As a matter of fact, perhaps the least expensive way to use an XLR condenser mic may be to buy a +48V phantom power injector – then you could use a XLR to 3.5mm cable. I have not tried this; I went the more expensive but much better way: I purchased an XLR to USB interface with +48V phantom power built in.
While this is not a review of the interface we chose, it's important to realize that you can't separate out the microphone from the interface in use - they integrally work together to make a cohesive whole. We went with the Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen - and it's awesome. The Focusrite is a well known and understood device, that works flawlessly in Windows and Linux. Audiophiles with expensive measuring equipment have done extensive measuring of the interface and concluded that it's one of if not the best XLR interface/sound card combo in its price range - by a long shot. The very low noise floor of the input and output afford it a measured signal-to-noise ratio of over 100dB, which is not just marketing fluff - but measured. Lots of devices claim that, but few actually succeed - especially for $120.
This is relevant because, with this device, and the King Bee II's 6dB noise level, this combination should give us a remarkably good signal. And indeed it does. It's important to note that not all XLR microphones are created equal, and some may need a different interface, or perhaps a booster to work well. For example, some microphones need more gain, like some dynamics do, and this one may not supply enough in those cases. Thankfully, condenser mics, and this one in particular, are typically plenty sensitive out of the box - and this one works wonderfully with the Focusrite. For those curious, condenser mics tend to be more sensitive and accurate, while dynamics tend to be less detailed but accept a louder input - that is to say, they work well capturing the loud yell or impact better. That the King Bee II can handle inputs of up to 140dB is quite impressive, and can act as a jack of all trades for many.
So, I recorded a couple of, and of course it worked wonderfully with this. But to really get a good feel for how well it works, I had to find the quietest room in my house, and compare some mics to see how things came together. I ended up testing four mics for this comparison; two USB, and two XLR. The USB are the Roccat Torch and the Neat Bumblebee II. The XLR are the Moano AU-HD300, and of course the King Bee II.
To start with, the Torch is on the bottom of the pack. It just doesn't compete with the rest. It sounds decent, but nowhere near the clarity, and it's missing the fullness of the other mics.
The Neat Bumblebee II is really a great microphone, and I still think so. It's not quite as clear and detailed as the XLR mics, but that is mostly because of how great the Focusrite interface is. I am convinced that for the vast majority of home users, it's more than good enough - and if I didn't have an XLR interface, I would remain happy with it. I still use it for conference calls and such, where bringing out the 'big guns' is overkill.
The Moano is quite inexpensive, and offers great value (I only tested in XLR mode, not USB) but you are definitely getting something for your money when spending more on the King Bee II in comparison. The Moano is a dynamic mic rather than condenser, so you have some tradeoffs there. And I did have to crank the gain to get the best results from this one, but it also didn't pick up as much background noise - which is a consequence of its dynamic nature. In other words, you sacrifice the last bit of detail for less sensitivity - and depending on your use case, this can be a good thing. Another thing to note is that it's nowhere near as heavy (or as large) as the King Bee II - it's mostly made of plastic.
I'm sure you can infer what I think of the King Bee II from the above, but it's big, heavy, and sounds really great, while picking out all kinds of detail. The real trick with this microphone, since it's so sensitive, is to dial in the gain. For example, I found that if I wanted to get a lower noise floor, I had to lower the Focusrite's recording input level in Windows, then increase the gain knob in the interface as needed to tune it just right. Alternatively, if you want to eke out every last breath/scratch/strum of what you are recording, adjusting the gain in that way can help get you there. Doing things this way may take a bit more work up front, but the results are almost certainly worth it. And with a frequency pickup range is 16Hz to 20kHz, you're not going to miss anything. Not many mics I've seen have that; this is the first I've reviewed.
It must be said that since the King Bee II is so large and heavy, I had to purchase a large and heavy microphone boom stand in order to use it at my desk. It works fairly well, but it's not something small and light enough to just leave there all of the time - bringing it out is part of what I'll need to do every time I stream or record. The results are worth the effort, but this isn't a small thing - not only is it heavy at almost two and a half pounds, but it's large - just the base of the mic, not including the actual condenser sensor itself, is a bit larger than a cola can. Look at those specifications again - the microphone itself, without a cable sticking out, is around eight inches tall.
If you are looking for a simple, plug and play microphone that will meet the needs of most, I would recommend the Bumblebee II - it's a really great USB microphone. But if you are looking to record instruments, podcasts, or simply take a large step up into the XLR recording sphere, I highly recommend taking a good, hard look at the King Bee II. This is a monster of a microphone - and the details, published specs and frequency response, and tone is really great. I was talking to my brother who sadly lives across the country, but bought a several hundred dollar microphone for his band recordings, and we talked shop a bit, comparing this microphone with his. Spec for spec, this King Bee II was competitive or even surpassed his, despite being half of the price. Of course, as he correctly said, what it really comes down to is how it sounds. While comparing the two directly is sadly impossible, what I've heard here is really quite great. It does come at a cost - it's not a plug and play microphone. But what you get is worth it - if you need that level of quality.
If you are building a studio, at home or otherwise, and are looking at an XLR condenser mic - give the King Bee II a serious look. I really doubt you'll be disappointed. Unless (or until?) another microphone comes along and knocks my socks off, this one is definitely the King, and will be featured on all of my game streams going forward - unless I'm on the road. This thing is huge!