AKG ARA USB Condenser Mic: Stellar on Camera and Present in the Mix


In a world nearly overrun by USB microphones, I set out to see what sets the AKG ARA apart from the masses. Since there’s no shortage of USB condenser mics available, even with the current supply chain issues, people can still be picky and not resort to settling for a less-than-ideal solution. So, considering the demands of present-day content creators, livestreamers, podcasters, vloggers, and musically gifted online personalities, does the ARA deliver? Let’s find out.

AKG ARA Professional Dual-Pattern USB Condenser Microphone
AKG ARA Professional Dual-Pattern USB Condenser Microphone

Ease of Use

If a USB mic isn’t easy to use, it may find itself boxed up and on its way back to the dealer rather than being gainfully employed. A truly straightforward microphone should work right out of the box, equally well with computers and mobile devices. I’m relieved to report that the ARA made good on its plug-and-play claims when I tested it with my MacBook Pro laptop and iPad Pro.

The ARA has a USB Type-C output port, and it comes with a USB Type-C to USB Type-A cable to allow connectivity with most Mac and Windows computers. I had an existing USB Type-C cable for hooking up the iPad, but I didn’t have an Apple Lightning to USB Type-C adapter to test my iPhone. That didn’t concern me because I prefer the iPad over the iPhone for audio production. Plus, AKG plainly states that the ARA is compatible with “iOS and Android tablets and phones.”

Whether plugged into my laptop or iPad, the ARA functioned flawlessly as a 1-input / 2-output USB audio device. Of course, it’ll run at CD-quality resolution (16-bit / 44.1 kHz), but it also supports high-res recording at up to 24-bit / 96 kHz.

To confirm this, I checked the ARA with Garageband at 16-bit / 44.1 kHz (on the iPad) and with Pro Tools at 24-bit / 96 kHz (on the laptop); both setups were thoroughly fine, with no glitches or hiccups. My MacBook Pro and its old operating system (10.13.6) didn’t automatically switch the system input and output to the ARA, so I recommend doing that manually if your OS behaves the same way. All it took was a quick Option-click on the Speaker icon near the top right of the menu bar to make that change, so even apps like Zoom and Teams would use the ARA by default.

Sound Quality

Next up in terms of importance, at least for me, is the mic’s tone. A mic’s primary purpose is to capture sound, so it’s pointless if it can’t do that well, no matter how intuitive or attractive it is. Since the ARA doesn’t have adjustable EQ, filters, or dynamics processing, its sonic signature isn’t artificially enhanced, and it doesn’t require selecting a preset or remembering to switch settings to get the characteristic ARA sound. In fact, the mic only has one control that impacts its pickup traits—the two-position mode selector (more on that next).

The most common source the ARA will hear in its lifetime is the human voice, either in the form of spoken word or heartfelt vocal performances. So, that’s what I tested first. If you’re recording one person, you’ll typically use “Front” mode, which employs a cardioid polar pattern to reject sound entering behind the mic. This helps reduce the pickup of ambient noise, but please be aware that a live (reverberant) room will still sound like a live room; don’t expect the ARA to transform your kitchen into a sound-isolated recording studio.

Front mode gave an inviting tonal quality with clear lows and a present upper midrange, without being harsh or hyped. Compared to many low-cost mics that can sound brittle or boring, the ARA came across as refined and rewarding. When you think about AKG’s list of legendary mics, such as the C12 and C414, it is in no way surprising that the company refused to let the ARA leave the factory without a solid score in the sound department.

As I got close to the mic, Front mode expectedly displayed a nice proximity effect. It’s highly complementary for thick, in-your-face broadcaster tone, but a pop filter should be used to help control strong vocal plosives during phrases like, “Hey Paulie, park the car on 65th and Central Park West.”

I also broke out my old Yamaha G-245S classical guitar to test the ARA’s ability to reproduce subtleties across the frequency spectrum. Again, the mic provided a pleasing result. Whereas some mics make the Yamaha sound thin and others turn the low-mids into distasteful boominess, the ARA captured my guitar with a smooth, yet clear imprint. The lows were defined and the trebles were musical; the instrument’s problem areas were no problem for the ARA.

Front & Back mode is technically an omnidirectional polar pattern, which picks up sound from all sides. As you might suspect, this is advantageous when tracking acoustic instruments in wonderfully ambient spaces, or when recording groups of people (e.g., interviews and roundtable discussions/podcasts). The output level in Front & Back mode is slightly lower and the proximity effect is gone; it’s a different pickup pattern for a different purpose.

Looking the Part

Appearance is another strength of the ARA. My wife is slightly desensitized to visually impressive microphones from her time working in studios on Music Row in Nashville, but when she saw the ARA, she immediately offered her unsolicited opinion, “That’s a cool-looking mic. How much is it?” After I told her, she said something that made a lot of sense, “That mic costs less than what people would spend on an outfit (or hair and makeup) to look cool sitting behind it.”

Eye-catching style is an important on-camera quality that content creators use to draw in viewers and generate engagement with fans. The ARA looks classy and expensive, not flashy or desperate. Not just that, it also feels expensive, with a sturdy build and confidence-inspiring weight. Its desktop stand can be removed to allow mounting on a mic stand or boom arm. Yes, it would absolutely give off that “pro” vibe on a broadcast arm.

The Feature Set

Aside from the mode selector (Front or Front & Back), the only other control is a headphone volume knob that doubles as a mic mute switch. It’s a crucial addition because the ARA automatically routes the live mic signal to its 3.5mm headphone jack, and you don’t want to hear that when you’re just listening to playback of your tracks.

In normal recording conditions, you’ll be grateful for the ARA’s real-time, zero-latency monitoring capability. It ensures you won’t have an echo of yourself in the headphones, distracting you while you try to perform. For DAWs that can’t disable software monitoring (I’m looking at you, Pro Tools), you should mute the DAW channel during the take to avoid a latent signal double.

The ARA doesn’t have tactile gain control on the mic, but you can easily adjust the input gain using the sound settings in your operating system. Knob-fiddlers may be bummed by that, but it’s in no way a deal-breaker.


Back to the question I asked in the beginning of this piece… does the ARA deliver for its intended audience? YES. It may not have fancy app integration and high-tech bells and whistles, but it has a big name, a bold look, and great sound. Plus, it comes with Ableton Live Lite, a powerful and popular music production software.

The ARA is sure to illicit some interest, opinions, and interesting opinions, and you can let us know what you think about it, in the Comments section, below.