The Audio-Technica AT5040
Audio-Technica is known for reasonably priced mics that do a good job—thank you and goodnight. Up until now, their best 40 Series models (such as the AT4050) usually take a back seat to more expensive mics from Neumann. However, at about $3,000, Audio-Technica’s AT5040 cardioid electret condenser microphone comes out of the gate with a bang. The AT5040 is a very different mic for a number of reasons and I think these differences win Audio-Technica and the new AT5040 “top shelf” status.
Designed with the aid of two anechoic chambers—one at A-T Japan and one at their U.S. facility—the AT5040 has a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz; even rising gently a few dB below 80 Hz. There’s also a gentle presence boost of 2 dB that begins at 1 kHz, achieves 2 dB about 3 kHz to 4.5 kHz and then dips back to zero at 5 kHz. There’s a slight wiggle and then a short 1 dB plateau between 9 kHz and 11 kHz. By 20 kHz, the frequency response is down 2 dB. This curve works very well on male and female voices, among other things.
Open circuit sensitivity is a walloping −25 dB (56.2 mV) relative to 1 Volt @ 1Pa. Audio-Technica makes the point that because they were after “sonic purity” before anything else (including manufacture cost), there are no switches, pots or transformers to degrade the output.
We’ve all heard that using electret designs may result in quality compromises; however such microphone capsules can be designed and built which exceed the performance of some externally polarized capsules. That’s what’s going on with the hand-assembled AT5040. Yes, it’s an electret condenser and has four rectangular, two-micron, electret diaphragms. These electret capsules require fewer electronic parts, adding to the “less is more” AT5040 philosophy.
Rectangular diaphragms have been used in other microphones (notably Sanken, Pearl and Milab), so this is not a first. Combining the area of the four diaphragms is the theoretical equivalent of a round diaphragm that’s about an inch-and- a-half in diameter. That part is different.
A single round diaphragm with an inch-and- a-half diameter would be problematic due to size and mass. If you were able to make a usable round diaphragm that big, there could be two benefits: low self-noise and high sensitivity. The self-noise of the AT5040 is 5 dB-A, making it one of the quietest mics on the planet. The increased diaphragm size also makes it one of, if not the most sensitive mic on the market, requiring less pre-amp gain than just about every other mic out there.
So, where would you use that extra sensitivity? The recording of very low level sources in very quiet environments immediately comes to mind. I realize that TV Technology readers may have applications outside of everyday audio around the station. In some of those situations, especially those where the source and ambient sound are very quiet, this mic will shine. Also, as the AT5040 has no output transformer, it has a wider bandwidth. When I zoomed in on the timeline I could see low-frequency components in the waveform that I’ve never seen with any other microphone.
Let’s look at the AT5040 as a booth mic. Even with the AT5040 as flat as it is, A-T has designed in enough sparkle to do very nice things for male and female voices. The microphone has a rich clarity on male voices especially, with no harsh edge, along with a slight, chesty thickness that reminds me of the time when I used to smoke half a pack (or more) of cigarettes every day.
I work regularly with talent Molly Moores, recording her for a flight of radio and TV voiceovers each month. Molly has a great voice, but with the wrong mic, her sibilance can peek out a bit too much, especially when she’s rushing to get all the copy in and using compression and limiting to increase the “punch.” I tried the AT5040 mic on her and found that we didn’t have to use any equalization. (I could have nudged things around 125 Hz up slightly, but the AT5040 was very complimentary to her chest tone and again, no edginess.)
I was concerned that off-axis sound across diaphragms this large would result in scattering and messy phase response and worked the mic from each side, and the top and bottom in search of some sort of smeariness or beaminess, but found none. There is a fairly narrow angle of acceptance for high-frequency response. Anything greater than 20 degrees either side of center and the high frequencies roll off, but the roll-off is well-behaved.
Depending on the abilities of your voiceover talent, you may not need a pop filter for this microphone, but it’s not a bad idea to have one for talent who haven’t learned how not to pop a mic. Also as this mic hears very low frequencies, it might catch some breath eddies.
The AT8480 shockmount is exceptional in design, giving the mounted mic a very finished look as well as being highly functional and very easy-to-use. The non-reflective finish of both the mic and suspension mount would make the pair a likely candidate for the desk on an upscale TV talk show.
The AT5040 is the first in Audio-Technica’s new 50 Series. It will be very interesting to watch what they do with this grand new effort. At $3K, this microphone will be out of reach for some buyers, but so are Volvo, BMW and Mercedes Benz. The AT5040 makes a statement and repositions Audio-Technica as a high-end mic manufacturer.
Ty Ford has been reviewing professional audio gear for over 20 years. Find out more about him atwww.tyford.com.
Studio and booth recording
An exceptionally sensitive quiet and sensitive condenser microphone
MSRP, $2,995 (with custom suspension mount)