Tom's Hardware Verdict
The King Bee II from Neat Microphones is a great choice for up-and-coming content creators. It sounds great, is built like a tank, and includes needed accessories without breaking the bank.
+ Smooth and detailed capture, perfect for vocals and instruments alike
+ Included shock mount and pop filter
+ Unique design that’s less divisive than original King Bee
+ Well priced for the quality and included accessories
+ Very low self-noise
May be too heavy for some boom arms
Requires a good audio interface for the best performance
Lacks added features like alternate polar patterns or a high-pass filter
Why you can trust Tom's Hardware
Whether you’re creating videos for YouTube or streaming to Twitch, few things are as important as the quality of your audio. A video can be sub-par, but when your content is painful to listen to, viewers will tune out, which is exactly why investing in a good microphone is so important. If you’ve already invested in one of the best gaming microphones and are ready to level up your setup, it’s time to consider a microphone that’s able to grow with you over time. The good news is that you don’t need to break the bank to pick up a great studio microphone that will sound great years into the future.
The King Bee II is exactly such a microphone. It features a large condenser capsule that delivers a rich, realistic sound that’s perfect for vocals and instruments. And because your microphone may just wind up guest starring on your stream, it also features a unique design that feels like it came from the Fallout universe. At $169, it’s reasonably priced and even includes a shock mount and pop filter for added value. You’ll need a good audio interface to make the most of it, but if you do, it’s an excellent choice for all forms of content creation.
Neat Microphones King Bee II Specs
|16 Hz - 20 kHz
|8.5 x 3 inches
|134 dB (@ 2.5k ohms)
|Weight (in shock mount)
Design of the King Bee II
Neat Microphones has always had a unique design language. Its first-generation products leaned heavily into the bee theme with strong black and yellow styling.
Though the original King Bee was highly regarded for its audio quality, its honeybee striped body left some users wishing for something a little less straight from the hive.
The King Bee II gets rid of the yellow and sticks with the black, but still manages to look unique and eye-catching. It’s built like a tank but its metal body tapers downward like the abdomen of a honeybee (or a bullet). The microphone capsule is hidden behind a three-inch circular grille that’s flat on one side and rounded on the other. Together, you have a head and a body. Stick a pair of wings on the back and it would be a king bee indeed.
Despite the insect theme, there’s something that feels distinctly vintage about the mic. Maybe it’s the lack of hard lines and angles, or maybe it’s just the Neat logo with its Saturn-like ring stamped the front, but I can’t help but think of the Fallout video game series when I look at it. The King Bee II would feel right at home in that retrofuturistic version of the 1950s United States.
It might seem counterintuitive to focus on looks to such a degree, but in the age of face cams, looks matter, even for audio devices. And, on that level, the plain black of the King Bee II should fit better with more setups than the original King Bee. The change between the two models makes the difference between being a cool talking point and being a flat-out distraction to viewers.
Like the original, the King Bee II uses a 36mm condenser capsule. It features a wide frequency response range of 16Hz - 20kHz, exceeding that of many competing condensers like the Beyerdynamic Fox or Blue Yeti Pro. That wide frequency response range allows it to deliver exceptional clarity and detail for lifelike audio capture. That same quality also means that the microphone will pick up a greater amount of noise in the surrounding environment.
Using any condenser mic requires more planning and preparation than the competing dynamic microphones currently popular in the world of content creation (like the Shure SM7B), but the results are hard to beat if you’re after a natural sound. The King Bee II picked up every keystroke from my mechanical keyboard, no matter how quietly I typed. It even picked up the sound of my PC’s fans on quiet mode. The most popular solution is a noise gate (such as the one built into OBS), as it will mute the microphone when you’re not talking, but if you find yourself contending with a lot of outside noise, a condenser microphone may spell trouble regardless.
The mic comes equipped with a single cardioid polar pattern. For most people, this will be all they need. Cardioid is tuned to pick up sounds occurring directly in front of the capsule, reducing the sound from the back and sides. This polar pattern is a great fit for single-source recording, like when you’re recording solo or broadcasting yourself to YouTube, but if you’re interested in face-to-face interviews or a multihost podcast, a multi-pattern mic is going to be a better fit. Off-axis (back and sides) rejection also isn’t the strongest, so you’ll hear more of what’s surrounding the mic than on a more directional condenser like the Earthworks Icon Pro.
Unlike many microphones popular among gamers and streamers, the King Bee II connects over XLR instead of USB. You’ll need a USB audio interface capable of delivering 48V of phantom power to drive the microphone and send its signal through to your PC. That’s an added cost, but if you plan on creating content into the future, it’s not a bad investment.
Most of the best gaming microphones connect over USB. and it’s easy to see why. A USB microphone is plug-and-play and easy to get up and running with. They often include headphone jacks and act as external sound cards for your PC. But, as many creators discover, they’re unable to grow alongside your setup. By connecting over XLR, the King Bee II is able to be plugged into other audio devices, such as a mixer for dual PC streaming. It’s also able to connect to standalone effects units to further enhance its quality or streaming consoles like the T.C. Helicon GoXLR. USB microphones don’t have that ability, so if you decide to upgrade in the future, you’re stuck buying a new microphone in addition to your upgraded gear.
The King Bee II benefits from higher quality interfaces too. It features an exceptionally low amount of self-noise (6dB), so there’s nearly no audible hiss generated by the microphone itself. In combination with the frequency response range and sound character of the microphone capsule itself, this helps ensure that what you’re hearing on the recorded track is exactly what went into it, without the mic getting in the way. Cheaper interfaces often have low-quality components that create a quiet hissing sound, negating one of the benefits a condenser mic offers. It’s not necessary to spend hundreds of dollars on an interface, but it is worth investing in one that has positive user reviews about its preamps.
Along with the microphone, Neat also includes a pop filter and shock mount. Both are custom-made to match the mic. The shock mount tapers down to match the body, and the pop filter snaps into place flat against the plane half of the grille. The pop filter works well and blocks all but the most powerful plosives (gusts of air caused by “p” and “b” sounds). It also has a neat honeycomb pattern in front of its mesh filter. All bees, all the time. The shock mount doesn’t work quite as well, isolating the mic from the sound of the arm itself when making adjustments but still letting even minor bumps straight through into the recording.
One accessory will still need to be purchased separately, and that's some kind of stand to put it on. This isn't uncommon among studio XLR microphones but is definitely something to bear in mind if it's your first. You'll need a strong boom arm, too, if you opt for one over a desktop stand. At nearly two and a half pounds, the King Bee II is simply too heavy for many entry-level boom arms to hold without drooping.
Sound Quality on the King Bee II
Looks, accessories, and specs might be important, but nothing trumps sound quality when it comes to a studio mic. Neat promises “the clearest, most accurate sound found anywhere” and while that might be a little bit of a reach with the decades of mics now available on the market, there’s no mistaking how well-tuned and natural it sounds.
The work week I spent with the King Bee II was the definition of mixed-use. I spent time recording voiceovers for an upcoming video review on my YouTube channel. I recorded keyboard typing tests. I tracked a new song in audacity with multiple acoustic guitar layers and a vocal line (I’ll save your ears the pain of hearing it). I recorded nearly a dozen isolated tracks in Audacity. In each of these, the track I got back sounded exactly like what I put in and was rich in detail.
Here’s a sound sample so you can hear it for yourself:
Much of this has to do with how Neat has tuned the capsule. According to a frequency response graph included in the documentation, from 50Hz all the way to 2kHz, the response is a straight line. There’s no coloration. Higher than that, between 2kHz and 8kHz, the response elevates and brings out details in vocals and instruments. The King Bee II does a great job of retaining even small micro-details, like the texture of voices or how guitar strings resonate in harmony with each other. The tuning adds life and energy to recordings.
There is a bass roll-off at 50Hz (getting rid of some unwanted room noise), but I was impressed by how full and rich my voice sounded. I don’t have a natural radio voice, but it did a great job of capturing those bass frequencies, giving me that extra bit of oomph I usually turn to dynamic mics for. The capsule has a moderately strong proximity effect that sets in at about 3-4 inches (proximity effect is the extra bass when speaking close to the microphone). By turning up the gain, it still manages to sound full up to a couple of feet away, but by that point, the distance adds unwanted reverb from the room, hurting the quality in a different way. It’s safe to say that within any reasonable distance, it’s possible to get this mic sounding good with only a turn of the gain knob.
The only downsides I encountered were the mic’s sensitivity to plosives without the pop filter installed and the lack of any kind of high-pass filter or volume-reducing pad. Simply installing the pop screen mitigates the issue with plosives, but it does color the sound ever so slightly to sound a hair less full. The lack of high-pass filter or pad is a bigger omission, making it harder to cut out low rumbles or mic very loud sources. These added features would probably have driven up the price, however, so it feels like a fair concession to keep the mic accessible.
The Neat King Bee II surprised me. Having never used the original King Bee II, I can’t make that comparison. But, I’ve used many great microphones from some of the biggest brands in the business: the Audio-Technica AT4040, the Blue Microphones Bluebird, the Earthworks Icon Pro, the Rode Procaster and Broadcaster and many more. This microphone easily earns its place alongside that list of favorites with its natural, full sound, and it does so while costing $50+ less than the cheapest of those competitors.
Well, it’s cheaper if you already have an audio interface. If you’re purchasing one of those at the same time, the cost proposition changes and $169.99 easily jumps to $200 or more. Depending on your choice of interface, that could still be a good value, but may also push outside of your budget for a microphone setup.
If that’s the case, there’s no shame in picking up a great gaming microphone. After all, a great “gaming” mic is probably just a great-sounding mic in general. The Beyerdynamic Fox is an excellent choice for just over a hundred dollars. The Elgato Wave 3 is another exceptional option that even adds a GoXLR-like software mixer for only slightly more.
If you do have an interface, or don’t mind buying one, the King Bee II still rules the hive when it comes to overall quality at this price.
Chris is a regular contributor for Tom’s Hardware, covering mechanical keyboards, peripherals, and content creation gear.
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