The Bonneville International Cluster in St. Louis recently consolidated its four stations, heritage country WIL, modern A/C WVRV, smooth jazz WSSM and adult standards WRTH-AM. We built a new facility that incorporates a performance studio and also gave us access to a 144-seat auditorium within the surrounding office complex.
Our move into the new facility expanded the engineering departments' responsibilities. The engineering department is now called on to perform many different and challenging tasks by the various formats including live remote broadcasts, in-studio performances by guest artists, performances by competing bands in local contests, performances of guest artists at remotes and recording of performances.
While sound recording and PA mixing are not our primary mission, we are in a unique position to provide this extra support for the radio stations and must maintain an abundance of quality microphones and ancillary equipment for use in all these situations. I am always on the lookout for a good quality microphone at reasonable cost to send to these events and I was eager to evaluate the newest addition to the Audio-Technica line-up, the AT2020.
At first I was concerned about the low cost of this microphone. My previous experience with low cost condenser microphones had not been positive, so my expectations were not high when I began the evaluation. I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of this microphone. The AT2020 is a large-diaphragm, side-address condenser microphone with a fixed cardioid polar pattern. It has an extended frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz. The output impedance is 100Ω via a three-pin XLR male connector. It is well constructed, compact in size and lightweight. It requires 48Vdc phantom power, which is usually supplied by a mixing console or by a separate in-line power supply. Included accessories are the stand mount for ⅝"-27 threaded stands, a ⅝"-27 to ⅜"-16 threaded adapter and a soft pouch.
In the studio the mic demonstrates a smooth linear frequency response with a crispness and clarity in the upper frequency range common to other Audio-Technica microphones, yet the AT2020 displayed a more pronounced low end than other Audio Technica mics, the AT4033 in particular. The lightweight design allows the mic to be easily mounted on a studio boom with the included pivoting stand mount. A shock mount is also available. The compact size of the mic does not interfere with any sight lines. With the cooperation of a local voice-over talent, I compared the AT2020 with a Rode NT-1000 and a Neumann U-87 in a real studio environment.
The AT2020 had a much more pronounced and clearer high end than the NT-1000 and was less boomy on the low end. The mic was more forgiving on placement and worked well even when close miked. In comparison with the U-87, the AT2020 was not nearly as flat or transparent, and did not have the same natural and open feel as the U-87, but the AT2020 handled plosives and pops that overloaded the U-87 and the NT-1000. The voice-over talent could not overdrive the AT2020 even by speaking extremely loud.
Performance at a glance
High SPL handling (144dB)
Wide dynamic range (124dB)
Fixed cardioid polar pattern
Extended frequency response (20Hz to 20kHz)
For me, two drawbacks of the mic are its lack of pattern switches and more importantly is the absence of a roll-off filter; that limits its usefulness in some circumstances. I preferred the sound of the AT2020 to that of the NT-1000 and was especially impressed with its dynamic range. The AT2020 is easy to work with and much more forgiving than the other two microphones. The AT2020 microphone would be a good choice for less experienced or non-professional announcers.
During the evaluation, I tested it in a live PA situation with a popular country singer. We were presenting this singer in our auditorium and recording the concert for later use on-air. I used the AT2020 to mic the performers' acoustic guitar. I generally try to separately mic acoustic guitars in addition to using the built-in pickup on the guitar itself. By miking the guitar separate from the pickup I can get a richer, fuller sound from the entire instrument, not just the sound of the strings. I placed the mic slightly up the neck and pointing toward the sound hole to capture the dynamics of the performance. The cardioid pattern of the mic suited this application well, limiting the pickup of off axis sounds and preventing feedback. The high SPL handling and wide dynamic range allowed me to capture the percussive sounds of the pick on the strings without overloading. The extended frequency response captured the full tonal qualities of the strings and body with little EQ. I was surprised at how well it performed in this application. With its wide frequency response, high SPL handling and cardioid pattern, a pair of these mics would also work well as a stereo overhead mic set. Due to its low cost you won't mind taking it out of the studio for mobile work.
Overall, the performance of this mic compares well to other much more expensive condenser microphones. It will not replace a high-end condenser microphone, but on a cost vs. performance basis it is tough to beat. This microphone would be ideal for a home studio or entry-level use and it is well suited to mobile recording environments. It is a good choice for remote broadcasts where quality sound is required and you don't want to risk a more expensive microphone. A windscreen is available for this mic but it wasn't needed on any of my tests.
Rice is engineering director of the St. Louis Radio Group of Bonneville International, St. Louis.
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