The new Audio-Technica AT4040 is not just another knock-off mic made to look and sound like one of the treasured classics. Nor is it another mic distributed by yet another company that doesn't actually manufacture microphones. Furthermore, it is not one of those products that relies on hype or gimmicks to spark the consumer's interest.
What the AT4040 is the culmination of ten years of serious R&D at Audio-Technica. The company's goal? To produce a superior product at a very affordable price. Though the 4040 does incorporate new technology, it is not a revolutionary product for Audio-Technica. It is simply the next step in the evolution of the company's 40 series of mics.
The 4040 is a large-diaphragm, side-address, “true” condenser microphone that operates in a cardioid-only polar pattern. Two micro switches on the lower edge of the mic body engage a highpass filter at 80 Hz and a 10 dB pad. The 4040 has a matte-black finish and weighs in at less than a pound. Its overall fit and finish would be entirely acceptable on a microphone costing three times as much.
The 4040 looks familiar, and rightly so — the body and grille are the same as those used on the venerable AT4033. Obviously, using preexisting castings helped in delivering the mic at a low price. But there was a sonic rationale, as well: company testing revealed that the 4033 body was both sonically transparent and resistant to noise (physical and RF) and shock. This is also the first 40-series mic to employ surface-mount circuitry rather than conventional through-hole construction — another move that helped keep costs low.
The 4040 features an aged, gold-vapor-deposited diaphragm that is a mere two microns thick. It employs a transformerless circuit design that is said to eliminate low-frequency distortion while providing improved transient response. The mic's self-noise is a respectable 12 dB, and maximum SPL handling is rated at 145 dB (155 dB with the pad engaged).
Like all 40-series microphones, the 4040 is manufactured in Japan, and each one is individually tested at Audio-Technica's Stow, Ohio, headquarters before hitting the shelves. The 4040 package includes an AT8449 shockmount, a nice embroidered velveteen dust cover (which will now be shipped with all 40-series mics), and a vinyl-and-hardboard storage case with foam-rubber lining.
The pair of 4040s I received for this review were not matched, nor did they have consecutive serial numbers (not that that is a guarantee of anything). Just the same, I found them to be extremely close sonically — when positioned in a XY-coincident configuration, I achieved a very high null by reversing the polarity on one of the mics.
I tested the 4040s extensively in mono and stereo setups and on a variety of sources. All tests were conducted using the following equipment for recording and monitoring: a Neotek IIIc console, Urei 809 and Fostex NF-1 monitors, a D.A.V. Electronics Broadhurst Gardens No. 1 (solid state) microphone preamp, an MCI/Sony JH-24 multitrack, and a Studer A 80 RC master recorder.
In tests, the 4040 gave me bright but smooth highs, flat or slightly scooped low mids (or high lows), and solid lows beneath the scoop. These results are borne out by the mic's frequency plot, which shows appreciable boosts (3 to 5 dB) at 6.5 and 12 kHz, a mild dip between 60 and 100 Hz, and a relatively flat low end extending down to at least 30 Hz (at which point the plot is cut off). Also notable were the mic's exceptionally good transient response and relatively open cardioid pickup pattern.
MOUTH TO MOUTH
Given its bright high end, the 4040 sounded surprisingly good on a loud, strident-sounding male rock vocalist, handling his bright, rather harsh voice without being unduly painful. However, I did have to try a variety of positions to discover the sweet spot, which proved to be slightly above the mouth of the singer and approximately four inches back. Fortunately, the singer wasn't a “spitter,” so I was able to get away with not using a pop screen.
Overall, the 4040 sounded similar to Audio-Technica's popular AT4033, but it was both cleaner and warmer sounding at the same time. The 4040 is also quite a bit less prone to popping than the 4033.
To test the 4040 on female vocals, I recorded my wife (a classically trained soprano) singing some traditional Celtic folk songs. We were both pleased with the sound, which combined a nice sense of air with a good mix of head and chest voice. Although no one would have mistaken the 4040 for a dialed-in Neumann U 47, the sound was more than respectable. Fortunately, my wife's voice is very smooth and balanced, so the accentuated highs delivered by the 4040, though evident, did not sound grating. However, I suspect a female singer inclined to brightness or harshness would likely be better served by a darker-sounding microphone.
I love shoving random mics into and around kick drums to see how they hold up. Perhaps I've been lucky, but the only mic I have ever toasted in this manner was a beyerdynamic M 88 — a mic that is, ironically, employed fairly commonly for kick-drum duties, especially by live-sound engineers.
Currently, my studio's 22-inch GMS maple kick drum is tuned to complement a '70s-sounding project that is in progress. I switched out the AKG d12e I'd been using with one of the 4040s, but kept the same preamp (the D.A.V.). With the 4040 placed about one inch into the drum, I got a good, solid fundamental note with excellent attack. Audio-Technica may be onto something with its claim that the 4040 exhibits “superior correlation of high-speed transients” — the 4040 does seem quite a bit faster than other mics I have heard in its price range. Incidentally, I didn't need to engage the 10 dB pad to prevent clipping of the 4040's electronics. I did note a fair amount of leakage — the cardioid pattern on this mic is fairly broad — but to the 4040's credit, the leakage sounded good when combined with the other mics on the kit.
I also gave the 4040s a go as drum overheads (again using the D.A.V. preamp), positioned four or five feet in front of the bass drum in an ORTF configuration. I was really pleased when I listened to the playback from the two 4040s. With the exception of the lowest note of the kick drum (the subharmonics, really), the sound of the drums was balanced almost perfectly. In addition, the transient response was excellent, and there was a complete lack of the high-frequency nastiness and harshness that low-cost condensers are generally prone to. With a bit of mild compression, I had a sound that was ready to go, without any corrective EQ. After adding a kick-drum mic, I had the kit sounding great with just three microphones.
Next, I pulled the mics back into the room, about 18 feet from the drum kit, to test them as ambient mics. Though I was again pleased with the results, it was in that application that I could tell the difference between a great five-hundred-dollar microphone and a great several-thousand-dollar microphone. The 4040s sounded really good, but certain other mics I have used — which cost three to ten times as much, admittedly — provide a more realistic sonic picture of the kit in the room, particularly in terms of three-dimensionality of the sound. However, the 4040s still sounded more than acceptable as room mics; they even sounded better than some costlier mics I have used.
Normally I prefer using a small-diaphragm condenser on tambourines, triangles, shakers, and the like, as they tend to sound tighter and more focused than large-diaphragm condensers. Though the 4040 captured more room sound than I like on these percussion instruments and made the tambourine sound a bit “splattery,” it still sounded good overall, and certainly had no problem keeping up with the fast transients.
I spent a good amount of time testing the 4040s on my Jean Larrivee Jumbo cutaway acoustic guitar, positioning the stereo pair in three configurations: ORTF, XY coincident, and as a spaced pair (one near the 12th fret, the other near the opposite side of the sound hole). The Larrivee is a loud guitar that pretty much embodies the “smile” EQ curve people often set on graphic equalizers: it's very bright and has lots of bass, but it is a bit recessed in the midrange.
Even on such a bright guitar, the 4040s were quite flattering no matter which stereo configuration I used. I got my best results using the XY setup with the mics positioned about four feet back and aimed toward the top of the guitar. In that position, the 4040s captured a very solid center image that was nicely blended with a good picture of the room's acoustics.
Some people refuse to put anything other than a Shure SM57 against the grille of a guitar amp. In my experience, though, a good condenser mic can get much closer to the actual sound of an amp. Not that a 57 is bad — it's not, but neither is it the be-all, end-all of guitar-amp microphones.
The 4040 did a great job on a Paul Reed Smith CE 24 played through a vintage Silvertone 1482 amp (a small tube combo amp with a single 12-inch speaker in a semiopen cabinet). With the mic positioned nearly against the grille and aimed toward the midway point of the speaker (between the cone and surround), I got a nice-sounding, throaty growl. A quick switch to a 57 yielded a sound that was lifeless by comparison.
Just for fun, I set up the second 4040 two inches away from the rear, open part of the cabinet (with the polarity reversed, of course). After micromanaging the mic's position a bit, I had a great, ballsy-sounding combination going.
JACK OF ALL TRADES
The Audio-Technica AT4040 is an excellent value in today's crowded microphone marketplace. Like its predecessor the AT4033, it redefines what to expect from an affordable large-diaphragm condenser microphone, in terms of both sound and build quality. The 4040 is sufficiently quiet, can handle high SPLs, and sounds quite good on a wide range of sources. In addition, it comes with a very nice and effective shockmount as well as a storage case and dust cover. All of that makes it not only an excellent choice for first-time condenser-microphone buyers — those most in need of a versatile, jack-of-all-trades kind of transducer — but also a useful addition to just about any mic locker. The 4040 would likely also be a good choice for stereo location recording, as the mics are very well matched right off the shelf.
Though there are certainly other desirable sonic flavors available from comparable, competing products, I believe you'd be hard-pressed to find an overall better-balanced performer than the AT4040. Indeed, in the large-diaphragm-condenser-mics-under-$500 category, the AT4040 could well prove unbeatable.
Richard Alan Salzis a producer, engineer, and composer living in Southern Vermont.
AUDIO QUALITY4.0VALUE4.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Sounds great. Excellent transient response. Very versatile — works well on a broad range of instruments. Very affordable. Includes nice shockmount, storage box, and dust cover.
CONS: Warranty extends for only one year.
Elementexternally polarized, DC bias capacitor (“true” condenser)Diaphragm1", 2µ, 24-karat-gold sputtered MylarPolar Patterncardioid (fixed)Frequency Response20 Hz-20 kHzDynamic Range133 dBSensitivity-32 dBV/PaSignal-to-Noise Ratio82 dBSelf-Noise12 dBPower48V phantomMaximum SPL145 dB; 155 dB with padHighpass Filter80 Hz, 12 dB/octaveAttenuation Pad10 dBDimensions6.69" (H) × 2.10" (D)Weight0.79 lb.