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Testing the Audio-Technica AT2020 microphone

Audio-Technica’s AT2020 features a custom-engineered low-mass diaphragm, providing extended frequency response.

On stage

Audio-Technica sent its latest microphone, the AT2020, to the folks at Broadcast Engineering, who asked me to give it a thorough testing. My findings: This mic stands up to the sounds of rampant guitars, concrete-cracking drum beats, piercing screams of aggression and passionate lyrics.

The first test was in a bar on stage with multiple sound sources. I placed the mic at center stage for the lead vocal of a punk rock band. With its high sound pressure levels (SPL), handling capability (144dB) and wide dynamic range (124dB, 1kHz at maximum SPL), the mic never showed any signs of overloading, even when the lead vocalist was screaming out the lyrics.

Isolation was key in getting a good sounding vocal, and the mic has a fixed cardioid polar pattern that provided ample isolation of erroneous sounds. The AT2020 is a side-address condenser microphone and showed slight fluctuations in frequency response (5kHz) when the performer moved side-to-side. However, the performer had to work the mic in a tight space to avoid those slight variations.

In the studio

He was also mainly 3in to 4in away from the microphone. I noticed a big drop in amplitude starting at 6kHz when the performer backed off of the mic 9in to 12in. This microphone performs best between 2in and 6in and directly in front of the capsule.

The second test was in a studio environment while recording narration for a National Geographic documentary. The narrator had a low, deep voice with great presence at 5kHz. The mic handled this presence in a natural-sounding way, but I was a little disappointed in the overall low-frequency response. The sound was not the warm, deep sound that I know the narrator possesses. By no means did the mic sound harsh or too bright, and it was good enough to use in this application. However, it just did not have that rich, warm sound of more expensive and larger diaphragm mics.

Next to strings

The mic handled the proximity effect of low frequencies well — even when the narrator popped his Ps. I was impressed with its performance when recording a sibilant-sounding source. The sibilance was not harsh but rather smooth. The mic showed a slight bump in amplitude at about 9kHz, which helped project the voice.

Against a competitor

The AT2020's lack of warmth showed problems when trying to record an acoustic guitar. I placed the mic 6in away from the base of an acoustic guitar and recorded a performance in an isolated studio. This mic is a better vocal, narrator or radio microphone than an acoustic guitar microphone. However, it sounded good when placed 6in in front of a Marshall guitar amp. The mic handled the high SPLs well and sounded natural and flat between 300Hz and 5kHz.

For kicks, I tested the mic against a Neumann U87 condenser mic using a male and a female narrator. With the male voice, each mic showed good presence and a natural sound. The Neumann U87, as I expected, had a warmer-sounding characteristic than the AT2020.

A good mic for the project/studio market

On a female voice, the AT2020 represented the sound naturally and handled the sibilance smoothly, not harsh or too bright sounding.

With the mic's low price in relationship to that of the Neumann, it's an exceptional value for a smooth, natural-sounding instrument, with all the performance advantages of a high-quality studio microphone. It seems to fit perfectly in the project/home studio market.

Rob Fritts is the senior mixer for Henniner Digital Audio.