The AKG Ara USB condenser microphone lets content creators effortlessly record studio-quality audio right on their desktops, with a speech-optimized sonic signature and two focus patterns for capturing a single source or everyone in the room.
What makes Ara sound so great? And what’s the difference between Ara and its larger sibling, the AKG Lyra? Contributing Editor Sarah Jones got a chance to chat with AKG microphone guru and Director of Recording and Broadcast, Chris Hansen to learn more about the technologies under the hood of this truly versatile plug-and-play microphone.
For people who have never used a USB microphone, what are the advantages? Why not just go with a traditional mic? One of the key features that we designed into Ara was the concept of simplicity. When you are using a traditional analog microphone, you usually need another device that will sit between the analog microphone and the computer. The biggest benefit of USB is its ease of use. You’re going to go with one cable—a common USB cable—and you’re going go straight into the computer. We’re also using class-compliant drivers; the user won’t need to download an extra set. You just plug the microphone into the computer and go into the sound menu, where the microphone shows up as a device.
Given that the AKG Lyra USB mic has been so successful, particularly in the content-creation community, why introduce a second USB mic? Well, we wanted to do two things. We wanted to add another microphone in the portfolio at a more affordable price point. The other reason is, when we looked at the market for USB microphones and drilled down to a lot of the common use cases, there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all microphone, because you’re talking about requirements for a podcaster, a gamer, a musician, a Zoom meeting, a digital video streamer – the list goes on. Those all have very different requirements for their product needs. So this was an effort to fill a need for a different customer, with different performance features and at a different price point.
What would you tell someone who is interested in an all-purpose mic, who may be looking to record music as well? A few features differentiate the two USB mics. The Lyra microphone, which is a little bit more expensive, has four polar patterns. And it also has a higher-resolution sample rate, meaning that the digital audio that the microphone is capturing has a much higher resolution and is available to work with a wider number of platforms. From that standpoint, there’s a little bit more flexibility with the Lyra.
Take a Tour of the AKG Ara: Check Out The Walkthrough Video
With the new Ara microphone, we were definitely trying to target voice and speech. We selected the two most commonly used polar patterns, which are cardioid and omni, and gave them user-friendly terms: We called cardioid Front mode and omni Front + Back mode. If I was conducting a face-to-face interview, I’d switch the mic to Front + Back. I could still use just one microphone and it would be able to perfectly capture both of our voices.
You touched on sample rate. Ara is 24-bit/96kHz. Why is a high-resolution sample rate so important? A lot of people wonder what high-res audio means. The sample rate of a compact disc is 44.1 kHz. That’s considered high-res. That means 44,100 digital sound samples take place over one second of time. Now, you can go down or you can go up. Usually, when you want better resolution or a better audio signal, you’ll go up. The Ara goes to 96 kHz, so you get twice the resolution that you get on a compact disc.
The other reason is, with all of these digital audio platforms, whether you’re publishing to Apple Music, or Spotify, or you’re cutting audio that’s ultimately destined for a video production, maybe it’s YouTube or a Zoom call or some other live-streaming platform, all of these platforms have different sample-rate requirements. We actually give users the ability to scale up or down to meet their platform requirements.
Ara has convenient controls right on the front of the mic—including a no-latency headphone jack. Yes, all of the controls, including a pattern selector and a headphone volume knob, are on the front of the microphone. Those design concepts first appeared in Lyra. We wanted to give users the full control set within arms’ reach, so if they’re in the middle of a production and they need to adjust the headphone volume, they don’t have to turn their attention away from the production and check the computer and find the knob.
With both Lyra and Ara, we included a headphone jack. When you set up, if you want to use the onboard headphone jack, all you do is go into the sound settings and select the microphone as both the input device and the output device. And now you can just pick your sound up off of the microphone. From a design standpoint, we put it in a very logical place. It’s right next to the USB connector, so both of your cables travel in a downward direction. It’s a convenience factor for a lot of users.
Speaking of convenience, I can easily use this mic with a pair of headphones and my laptop, or even my phone with an adapter, as a minimalist mobile rig for recording on location. That’s all you need. And, the microphone is lightweight. It travels easily and collapses easily. We also built a removable base stand into both Lyra and Ara. You can set up the microphone on your desktop. And if you want to use a boom arm, then you can just unscrew it; it’ll mount to a standard boom arm with a threaded adapter, and it’ll mount to a standard microphone adapter.
So, how do you make sure these microphones are ready for the real world? That’s actually exactly what we do: we put them through real-world paces. These products start out as drawings, so we plan what the mic will look like, where the controls are going to go, etc. But we learn valuable lessons in real use. For example, as we were going through the last phases of product testing, we thought we had left enough distance for the cable channel below the mic. But when we physically created the first product and set it up, we realized that we hadn’t. It’s one of those things where you can plan as well as you want, but you have to actually test physical elements.
And then we conduct a lot of audio tests. On the Lyra microphone—this was pre-pandemic—we booked a recording studio and we hired singers, voiceover artists and musicians, and went through a lot of real-world testing. The pandemic made it harder to do that for Ara, but Ara is designed primarily for voice and speech, so we ran it through all of those paces and tested it in multiple configurations, in multiple locations, on multiple systems. We ran it fully through its paces before everyone agreed it was ready to go. And, based on the incredible feedback we’re getting, it looks like we got a lot of things right.
AKG Ara Resources
- Product Details & Ordering
- Quickstart Guide
- Overview Video
- Walkthrough Video
- Launch Event Webinar
- An AKG Microphone For Every Application
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