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USB and firewire desks are rapidly being used in replacement of mixing desks and USB audio interfaces. As a result of this, we have teamed up with Matthew Johnstone, a local musician and audio professional, to check out the latest offering of USB microphone from Audio Technica stacks up.
Our experience of USB mics had been disappointing thus far but we had high expectations going into this session, seeing as the AT2020 was a studio mic in its own right prior to the release of the AT2020USB and new AT2020USB+ with headphone amplifier, volume and mix control. Both these newer offerings come with a tripod desk stand, pivoting stand mount and soft protective pouch which, upon initial inspection, all appeared to be of reassuringly high quality and solid construction.
As far as aesthetics go, a blue LED that illuminates when the mic is plugged is the only feature that isn’t perhaps in keeping with a professional studio environment. We personally felt that it isn’t aimed at that customer base but Matthew found it to be unnecessary and took quite a dislike to it (and laboured the point extensively).
To give the microphone a thorough going over, we tested it in the environment in which we would expect it to be used; with a pre-installed and free-to-download piece of recording software (Garageband and Audacity on both Mac and Windows OS), in a living room on common instruments. The instruments we had to hand were a pair of acoustic guitars, an electric guitar, ukulele, keyboard, percussion, and vocals (played individually and in various combinations).
With the two programs listed above, we found connection to be quick and simple. Routing playback and monitoring the feed through the computer or microphone’s integrated headphone socket was painless and the mic/computer monitor mix was a welcome feature. This lag-free, high-output mini-jack socket provided good quality sound with ample headroom for most applications.
What the included tripod lacks in stability and versatility, it more than makes up for in its compact design and construction quality. An anti-vibration microphone cradle and full-sized mic stand would have made microphone placement a simpler process but that would have, in fairness, detracted from the whole point of this ‘solution’.
After a little experimentation with placement, we found the input signal, although perhaps a little low for a solo, finger-picked guitar at any distance, to be crisp and have a low signal-to-noise ratio which meant any normalising/gain increases post-recording didn’t result in any noticeable drop in quality. On most of the instruments tested, the frequency response was relatively smooth, but where we found the AT2020USB+ excelled was in spoken word and capturing multiple instruments at a distance.
A fellow musician (who is also an engineer at Audio Technica) said he often records band sessions with this microphone and is invariably impressed with the results.
For the acoustic guitar, considerable EQ’ing was required. A peak at the low-mids made for a wooly sound with most placements. That said, a little bit of post-production resulted in a more than satisfactory sound quality for demos, Youtube videos, etc.
Overall, this is a capable and useful microphone for the majority of applications. This USB version of Audio Technica’s entry level studio condenser (the AT2020) offers a compact and simple solution to good quality recording without the need for extensive, expensive, and bulky traditional studio setups. Easily stored in a guitar bag or rucksack, it offers a complete answer to those on a budget, situations where space is at a premium, and a portable solution is needed for recording band sessions, podcasts and voiceovers.
Usability: 10 out of 10
Versatility: 8 out of 10
Features: 9 out of 10
Sound Quality: 8 out of 10
Overall verdict: 9 out of 10
To hear a sample of the recordings made, click HERE.
The Audio Technica AT2020USB+ is currently available to purchase online from our webstore.
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