For a long time, there was only one brand you reached for when upgrading your microphone for voice-overs, streaming, vlogs, etc. Yeti. Affordable and with good sound they did the trick for most people. Then Hyper-X came on the scene with a microphone that didn’t really bring anything new to the table other than a cool aesthetic and nice vibration-reducing stand. The point is they didn’t really address the problem that most people have with using a condenser mic for live recording: noise. If you’ve used one before you know that they pick up absolutely EVERYTHING going on around you unless you’re skilled at setting up noise gates - but even then without a proper noise filter (usually done in post) the microphones will pick up the faint hum of your PC… from across the room. The Cougar Screamer-X comes on the scene with all the features we have come to expect and one additional game-changer: a built-in noise filter.
- Current Price: $149.99 (Amazon)
- Power Consumption: 5V /130mA
- Sample/Bit Rate: 96kHz/24bit
- Drivers: Three COUGAR exclusive 16mm Condensers
- Patterns: Cardioid, Shotgun, Bi-directional, Omni-directional
- Freq. Response: 20Hz-20kHz
- Sensitivity: -45+/-3dB (at 1kHz)
- Max SPL: 120db
- Dimensions: 100x75x193mm (134x136x257mm w/ stand)
- Weight: 310g (799g w/ stand)
- Connection: USB-C to USB-A
- Cable Length: 3m
RGB Stand/USB 3.0 Hub
- Power Consumption: 5V / 280mA at RGB Lighting
- USB Transfer Type: High Speed USB 3.0
- Connection: USB-C to USB-A Cable
- Dimension: 134x136x146mm
- Weight: 489g
- Cable Length: 1.2m
- Connection: 3.5mm Output
- Impedance: 32Ohms
- Freq. Response: 20Hz-20kHz
- Power Output: 120mW
- SNR: 96dB
Now if you’ve looked at this list and said to yourself “wow that’s a lot of specifications' then you aren’t alone. The Screamer-X is packed full of details to digest and it started from the moment I opened the box. The Screamer-X is, aesthetically, one of the nicer microphones I’ve had the pleasure of laying eyes on. The microphone itself is matte black and features a gigantic pop-stopper that pulls off it’s largeness without appearing overboard. I like that one was included - though you can buy cheap ones on Amazon it is nice to see a detachable popstopper included that fits the style of the product. Combining the additional pop-stopper with the one built into the microphone itself (like most others have) eliminates just about all of the harshest sounds you can throw at it. The following sample gives a decent idea of what you can expect with and without the pop filter and your mouse positioned in the “golden zone” - or about 4-6 inches away from the microphone.
The COUGAR Screamer-X comes with the standard patterns users have come to expect with this kind of microphone - you have cardioid, which picks up in a roughly heart shaped area in front of the microphone; shotgun, which is a super directional pattern that requires you to have the sound going directly into the condensers; bi-directional, often used for a single mic setup of a podcast to capture two people sitting across from each other; and lastly omni-directional for when you want to just capture everything going on around you up to and including the car accident happening two blocks away. Most people using the microphone for streaming or better voice comms will keep the microphone firmly locked in the cardioid or shotgun setting as they do the best on eliminating unwanted background noise.
On the subject of unwanted noise the largest complaint with condenser microphones is their ability to pick up just about every type of noise in your environment. Whether it be the hum of your PC or the AC flicking on you can be sure your microphone is going to hear it and, as a result, the people on the other end of your microphone will too. COUGAR has come up with a solution that leverages learning technology to work for you, promising to eliminate unwanted background noises while keeping your voice intact. For the most part, they deliver on this promise. In my testing of the noise-reduction feature (a small switch on the bottom of the microphone that toggles on and off) I’ve found that it indeed eliminates unwanted noise quite well - though it doesn’t come without a sacrifice. For my testing I used a box fan positioned on a window approximately 10 feet away from my desk on it’s lowest settings, producing a nice low humming noise. I tested with both noise reduction on and off at various positions away from the microphone. For consistency I used the cardioid setting across the board and I want to note that COUGAR does recommend using the shotgun pattern when using noise reduction and at a certain distance from the microphone. That being said, even with using the non-recommended pattern, I came away impressed with what they’ve accomplished for an on-device noise reduction solution. Here are the samples:
The first sample tests the Screamer-X with the fan running in the background with noise reduction turned off. You can clearly hear the fan humming in the background in addition to the Screamer-X doing an outstanding job picking up the quality of my voice. It clearly sounds best when I am positioned close to the microphone ( about two inches) which falls within the COUGAR recommended 15cm with a slight reduction in overall warmth when at six inches. As with all condenser microphones the further away you are the less the richness of your voice comes through which is clearly evident when sitting back in my chair and almost a foot and a half away from the microphone.
The second sample has noise reduction turned on and this is where we start to see the tradeoff. To my ears I can hear at two inches that we have lost something to the noise reduction algorithm. That’s not to say that my voice doesn’t come through clearly, just that in the elimination of the fan noise my voice has lost some of the lows that come through with the reduction turned off. Depending on your situation this could be completely acceptable as a trade-off and there is nothing to say that the reduction won’t get better in time with more learning and firmware updates. Listening to the sample, however, it becomes clear that the further your mouth from the microphone the more the noise reduction messes with your recording. It takes on an almost mechanical quality as the algorithm struggles to detect background noise and vocal sounds. I can’t be positive if this is the case with all background noise or the specific frequencies of the fan I used for testing so I’m inclined to give COUGAR the benefit of the doubt and congratulate them on the innovation in the microphone market.
If you aren’t looking for noise reduction, however, you still wouldn’t go wrong with picking up the Screamer-X. COUGAR has clearly done their homework with the Screamer-X doing an outstanding job picking up the authentic quality of my voice - it comes awfully close to the quality of my Rode XLR if I’m recording in the golden zone and I can’t really think of a better compliment when it comes to a condenser microphone. The monitoring port is an excellent touch, especially for people who stream, allowing them to ensure proper recording volume over their content. I can’t be positive exactly how different COUGAR implemented their gain knob but even “cranked to 11” doesn't distort my voice in the slightest, which is more than I can say for other microphones that have come across my desk. These points coupled with the fact that the RGB stand comes not only padded out the wazoo to eliminate vibrations but with an integrated USB 3.0 hub combine to make the Screamer-X a rather appealing buy.
COUGAR has delivered an outstanding condenser microphone in a pleasing package. They’ve paid close attention to detail in both their stand and microphone and have seemingly done their research on the biggest complaints in the condenser mics user market. While their solution isn’t perfect it is a step in the right direction at delivering affordable and quality recording options to a multitude of users. Without utilizing their noise reduction feature it is still one of the best sounding microphones I’ve used and for that reason alone it is an easy recommendation to make.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.