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Audio-Technica Artist Series Microphones

October 25, 2006
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ATM650 HYPERCARDIOID DYNAMIC INSTRUMENT MIC

Well, it looks like a snare mic, so I thought I’d try it there first. I positioned it in my usual starting point: on the side of the snare shell, about 3" from the wood. I find this technique usually gives me a good balance of attack and snare rattle, with a warm, balanced sound — provided the mic is up to the task. If you’re going to try this technique, be careful you don’t aim the mic at one of the snare’s vent holes, or you’ll get a nasty blast of air directly to the diaphragm every time the drummer whacks the snare.

So how did it sound? Nice. It was somewhat similar to the “old snare standard” mic. There’s a presence peak centered at around 5kHz that really helps things to cut through. The attack transients are excellent for a dynamic microphone, and off-axis coloration was fairly minimal. Rejection off-axis is very good, which certainly helps. By pointing the mic at the snare, but angling it a bit so that the null point (135º) was aimed toward the hi-hat, I was able to reduce hat leakage into the snare mic by a significant amount — a lot more than would have been possible if I was using the old standby.

On guitar cabinets, it performed as I suspected it would after my snare drum experiences. If you want a mic to help a guitar cut through the mix, the presence peak on the ATM650 will definitely get you there. On the bottom, it rolls off about 6dB/octave below about 100Hz, and the low midrange comes across as fairly flat — both of which mean it may not be your best option if you’re working with drop tunings or are trying to capture corpulent amounts of beef down low. It’s built like a rock and looks like it should withstand the occasional drum stick hit without caving in. Overall this is a crisp, defined, and well-built microphone with a nice hot output, due to the neodymium magnet.

ATM450 SMALL DIAPHRAGM CONDENSER MIC

This has to be one of the more interesting new small diaphragm condensers I’ve come across in a long time. It looks like your typical pencil condenser, but instead of being end address, it’s actually a side address microphone — “honey, I shrunk the C12!” On a stand, it made me think of a mini-me version of the C12, as it’s 1/8th actual size. This is a surprisingly small microphone. Small size and side address means you can sneak this mic into really tight spots with ease. It also means that it presents a smaller target for drum sticks.

Condenser mics on toms can be a beautiful thing, but most of us resort to dynamics due to the large size and difficulty with placing most condensers up close around a drum kit, and due to the cost of replacing them if they get hit. That’s not an issue with the ATM450. I was able to have it peek just a couple of inches over the edge of the drum rim, angled about 45º towards the sweet spot, and it gave me a very natural and accurate-sounding image of the drum. With “heavy hitters,” the onboard 10dB pad kept levels and overload in check. I wish I had a pair on hand so I could have tried these as stereo overhead mikes, but my experiments with close and distant miking of hi hats, cymbals and hand percussion, and tambourine (all of which sounded excellent) suggests that they’ll probably perform well in that application.

With acoustic guitar, I found the ATM450 to have a tonality similar to my AT4041s — clean, crisp, and articulate without hype or flatter. The onboard –18dB/octave @ 80Hz high pass filter helped to keep the timbre from getting too “boomy” when the microphone was at “up close and personal” distances from the source, and works well at reducing room rumble.

The AT8471 stand mount is a wraparound rubber design with a tightening thumbscrew. A-T calls it an “isolation clamp,” and while I didn’t find it to be quite as effective as a spyder/elastic type shock mount, it was definitely more effective than most clip type stand mounts at reducing stand-borne vibration. It also held the mic quite securely, while still allowing for easy adjustment of angle and position. A foam-type windscreen is also included, which can be useful for reducing wind noise, but had A-T not included it I really wouldn’t have missed it.

This mic really isn’t at its best when used for vocals, and the foam windscreen dulls the extreme top end a bit, as expected from any foam windscreen. Unless you really need to use it — for example, when taking the mic outdoors on a windy day — I would suggest foregoing it and allowing the mic to breathe naturally.

But minor quibbles aside, I suspect this is going to be a very popular microphone due to the good sound and excellent placement options, thanks to the small size and side address design. This is definitely one of my favorite mics from the new lineup.


ATM250 HYPERCARDIOID INSTRUMENT MIC

This one has a big, bold, and punchy tone that takes hot source levels and begs for more. This mic just wouldn‘t overload for me no matter how hard I slapped it sonically. I placed it about 4" above the floor tom and angled slightly inward; the result was a big and deep tom tone, with a ton of chest thumping bottom end beef. I would describe the sound of this mic to be almost “pre-EQed,” with a flat midrange and two bumps in the response — one centered at about 80Hz and the other at about 3–4kHz. It is nearly perfectly optimized for toms and kicks.

I am usually not a fan of pre-EQed mics, and normally prefer to dial that in myself, but this one really works well, and Audio-Technica did a good job of selecting the frequencies to boost and dip to make the source sound great. I could see where live FOH folks will love this mic; you can set it up in a hurry and get a great sound out of it with minimal muss and fuss. In that respect, it reminded me of an improved ATM25 (which in my opinion has always been a very good kick and tom mic), but the 250 has a bit more fullness down low and a touch more extension up top.

This mic also sounded very good on guitar cabinets, especially if you’re looking for a little more beef down low than you would get from the ATM650. The only downside I can see to this microphone is that it is somewhat larger in physical size than the old ATM25, which means placement on rack toms may be more difficult than with the older microphone.


ATM250DE DUAL DIAPHRAGM MIC

This is very similar to the ATM250 in several respects, and when using the dynamic capsule in the ATM250DE, they both sound pretty much identical to my ears. Both use similar bodies, although the ATM250DE’s grille is a little bit longer. However, the ATM250DE adds a second condenser element inside the same housing. The two diaphragms are perfectly aligned so that there are no phase differences, which means that with one stand you can capture two different tonalities from one mic, and still not have to worry about flipping phase at the console or mic preamp. Each mic’s output is sent out via an included 16' cable that terminates to two separate XLR connectors, and each is clearly marked so you know which plug is for the dynamic element and which one will need phantom power (11–52V) applied to power the condenser element.

The condenser is similar in tonality to the ATM450; it has a –10dB pad and a –12dB/octave low frequency roll-off switch. Unlike the hypercardioid ATM450, the polar pattern of the ATM250DE’s condenser element is cardioid, and the wider pattern allows it to pick up a bit more of the shell resonance when placed inside a kick drum. Both the ATM250 and 250DE include the same AT8471 isolation mount that is included with the ATM450, and they did equally well at securely holding even these larger and heavier microphones where you put them.

CONCLUSIONS

All of these new A-T mikes are built very well, and look like they would weather the storms of live touring or busy studio schedules without giving up the ghost at an inopportune moment. All four mics impressed me a great deal with their no-nonsense performance and quality sound, and the prices for them seem quite reasonable given their level of quality. While there are a lot of instrument mics on the market, these are definitely worthy of serious consideration; Audio-Technica’s Artist Series has been a hit over the years, and the revised edition make the lineup only that much more potent.

Product type: ATM650, ATM250: Instrumental dynamic mics. ATM450: Small diaphragm, side address, fixed-charge back plate permanently polarized condenser. ATM250DE: Dual element condenser / dynamic instrument microphone.

Target market: Recording studios and live sound engineers who need high performance, rugged, and cost-effective microphones that are suitable for a variety of live performance and instrumental recording applications.

Strengths: Good off-axis rejection and minimal off-axis coloration on the ATM650. Unusual side address design of the ATM450 makes placement extremely easy, even in the tightest of locations. ATM250 and ATM250DE pre-EQed specifically for toms and kick drums, which makes getting a good sound fast and efficient. High maximum SPL handling, good sonics, and excellent build quality throughout the entire product line.

Limitations: Nothing significant at these price points.

List prices: ATM650 $169, ATM450 $369, ATM250 $329, ATM 250DE $549

Contact: www.audio-technica.com

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