Editor’s Note: The AT4060, as many of you may remember, was previously reviewed in the September ’05 issue of EQ. The review was inaccurate due to improper usage. Somehow the ground lift switch, a feature for use in situations where hum compensation is necessary, was inadvertently engaged. Use of the switch under normal operating conditions will cause the microphone to be noisy — hence the reviewer’s statement regarding a “pretty atrocious noise floor” in the September ’05 review — well . . . we figured it worth another listen. With the original mic in hand (set to the correct default this time), J.J. Blair retackled the review, and here is what he had to say about it:
The Audio-Technica AT4060 ($1,495/street price $1,099) is a fixed cardioid, dual diaphragm tube condenser mic. It uses a 6922 vacuum tube, and unlike some similarly priced mics, it has a transformer. (For the record, I’m not a fan of transformerless mics.) The mic comes in a matte black finish, with a carrying case, a velvet cover, a cable, a shockmount, and a PSU.
The mic is solidly built, and the construction is very sound. The capsule mount is a design I’ve never seen before, and is apparently a patented A-T technology. Surrounding the capsule is a metal ring with a fine mesh on one side and holes that run all the way through, sort of like an exaggerated capsule backplate. This is apparently an A-T solution for acoustically controlling the frequency response inside the mic. Typically in mics, grill shape and the size of the grill mesh, not to mention the shape of the capsule mount, have been the ways in which frequency response is controlled acoustically. A-T seems to have a fresh idea here of how to further control the acoustics within the mic’s basket grill, so that they do not need to electronically alter the frequency response once the capsule passes signal.
The rest of the package is well designed, also. The shock mount is ingenious and solid. The PSU comes with rack ears, should you choose to rack mount it. It is also switchable between 110v and 220v, and has the aforementioned ground switch (just in case you forgot about it).
The mic utilizes an externally polarized backplate, with a dual diaphragm capsule and a fixed cardioid pattern. The inability to change the pattern response of the mic limits its uses somewhat, and it also limits the user’s ability to alter the frequency response of the mic through changing the pattern. However, it keeps the price down, and makes the mic affordable to the people who can’t spend thousands, yet want a good tube mic.
The frequency response of the mic, while not flat, doesn’t have the extreme peaks and valleys of some of the other mics I've encountered that are offered by other companies. The graph indicates a rise in response from about 20Hz to 200Hz, with the peak at 200Hz. Also, from 2kHz to what seems to be a standard roll off for tube mics at 12kHz, with the most prominence in the 6–10kHz range.
The mic had a pleasant tone on vocals both male and female. I recorded these vocalists using an Inward Connections Vac Rac tube pre, through an Apogee AD16X, to Pro Tools HD at 96kHz. I found that there was a great deal of proximity effect with this mic — it definitely likes to have a singer right up on it. I also found, though particularly with the male vocalists, that the mic sounded better the louder you sang; it seemed best suited for aggressive singing. Oddly enough, when I introduced a compressor into the scenario (a Urei 1176LN at 12:1 with fast attack and release) I liked the sound less. Generally, vocals tend to sound better with this type of compression, but it just made them sound woofier and less defined. In my opinion, compression definitely brought out all the wrong frequencies of this mic on vocals.
On an acoustic guitar, the mic has a pleasant and warm sound. It doesn’t sparkle like a C12, but I definitely preferred it over the U87 that we compared it to. Because of the proximity effect and fairly uniform off-axis rejection, you’ll definitely need to fish around for the sweet spot on any particular guitar — but this is hardly unusual for any LDC mic on acoustic.
I tried the mic with my 1958 Les Paul Custom through my 1952 Fender Deluxe amp, overdriven to a classic, crunchy rock tone. The presence peak was a little higher and wider than how I generally like my electric guitars to sound, but the mic’s headroom amply handled the amp’s sound without distorting. It had a good punchy sound, though I had to move the mic a little further from the speaker’s center, and more towards the cone, than what I usually do. Because of the brightness of the mic, it didn’t respond too well to me trying to EQ some high end in with a Daking 52270, in other words it got a little too brittle for my taste. But with a bright mic like this, you might find EQ unnecessary. In most cases, I would figure that a good choice of preamp and mic placement would better suit the sound than merely trying to EQ this mic for electrics.
With proximity effect being an issue, I didn’t care much for the mic trying to capture a mono piano sound from outside the lid of my Yamaha C7. However, when I placed the 4060 over the strings, it sounded warm and crisp. With that in mind, I would definitely need a pair or even three in this application. Furthermore, the close miking on the piano struck me as being very usable for A/B positioning, or even for using three of them near the piano hammers.
At AES, somebody commented to me how much they liked these mics on drum overheads, so I thought I’d give that a shot as well. In a mono overhead configuration, I actually found that the cymbals were a little too “splishy” sounding, and the snare didn’t have enough meat — especially compared to the Neumann U87 we A/B’d against it. It did a nice job handling the transients, but didn’t strike me as the killer mic for this application.
In general though, the AT4060 is a really good mic. It’s not going to make anybody throw away their Neumann U47s, but I don’t think it’s intended to. For anybody who wants to have a very solidly built tube mic that is affordable enough that you could get a pair of them for less than the price of a single U87, the AT4060 is definitely worth considering. A-T’s philosophy of not electronically coloring the sound made this mic much more pleasing to my ear than some of the Chinese tube mics I have heard, which seemed to have been obviously EQ’d by the mic’s internal pre amp. This mic is made in Japan, which has been making quality condenser mics for decades, such as the Sony brand. The packaging is well thought out and all the accessories are well designed and built, and look like they will definitely prove durable, which I can’t even say for some of the recent European mics. If you are looking to get into a tube mic with some warmth and a little more sparkle than you might be getting from any of your current solid-state mics, or you want to upgrade from some of the cheaper tube mics without breaking the bank, you should definitely check out the AT4060.