Audio-Technica''s ATM450 is a side-address, cardioid condenser mic that''s small enough to squeeze into tight spots, making it especially useful on drums and percussion.
Audio-Technica has completely re-designed its Artist Series line of performance-oriented microphones. One worthy model, the ATM450 ($369), is a small-diaphragm, side-address, cardioid electret condenser mic. It is a well-built, 5-inch-long charcoal stick with recessed switches on the body for an 80 Hz highpass filter and a -10 dB pad. Although no power supply is needed to polarize the permanently charged capsule, 11 to 52V phantom power is required for powering the onboard preamp.
The ATM450's stated frequency response is 40 Hz to 20 kHz, but the specifications don't mention tolerances for that range, and the frequency plot's resolution is 10 dB per division. Consequently, you're left to rely on your ears to judge the mic's real-world response. The specs also say that the ATM450 can handle SPL levels up to 152 dB peak and has a signal-to-noise ratio of 69 dB. Though the ATM450 is useful in the studio, this indicates that it is really a stage mic and not a mic for critical, high-gain recording situations.
The World's Address
The side-address orientation is somewhat unusual for a small-diaphragm condenser, and obviously changes how the mic is placed. In many live situations, especially on drums and percussion, it simplifies getting the mic into a tight spot. Other applications require techniques more often associated with large-diaphragm mics, such as XY stereo-miking configurations, where two ATM450s must be placed nose-to-nose with their bodies in-line with each other, as opposed to at the 90-degree angle you'd expect with front-address mics. That isn't a problem, just a bit different than usual, though placement did prove a little tricky when I tried using an overhead XY technique to record vibraphone.
The placement versatility gained from the ATM450's being a side-address mic is further enhanced by the included ATM8471 mount, which worked in every position I needed to squeeze it into. Sometimes the small things count for a lot. The side-address configuration means that there is somewhat more capsule exposure than with front-address small-diaphragm condensers. Though that might make the capsule more vulnerable to damage in a live performance, the ATM450 appears well constructed, so it wouldn't surprise me to find ATM450s in the field with dents in the grille but sounding fine. Still, you can't hand one to a roadie with the same impunity you could if it were a Shure SM58.
I tried the ATM450 on a variety of sources, especially percussion, acoustic guitar, and vibraphone (one of my favorite torture tests for any microphone or mic preamp). Overall, my impression was that it sounded truer than many other stage instrument mics, which are often strongly hyped in the mid-high frequencies. The ATM450's frequency response plot does show a significant high-end bump, however.
Acknowledging that the ATM450 is not positioned as a studio mic, I have been doing some 24-bit, 192 kHz recording work and have found that format to reveal a lot about microphone performance. I set up a little comparison test with the ATM450, an Earthworks SR77, and a Shure KSM141, both of the latter costing at least twice as much as the ATM450.
The ATM450 had a very appealing quality that struck a balance between the “documentary” sound of the Earthworks mic and the “in-your-face” sound of the Shure. For instance, shakers were clear, clean, and agreeably nonaggressive, and a few different hand drums all had nice body but also a clear presence of skin on skin (hands on the head).
If I were miking a solo or otherwise very exposed acoustic guitar, I'd be very likely to reach for the ATM450, which had nice body and shimmer. For a strummed acoustic guitar in a band, though, the KSM141's more forward mid-high frequencies would make that my choice. I wouldn't say the ATM450's frequency response is necessarily flatter than the KSM141's, but it does have a gentler quality to it that could be very welcome when heard through a typical horn-loaded club P.A., which can add edge to many instruments.
In the last 15 years or so, performance microphones have come a long way in terms of fidelity. Audio-Technica's Artist Series is an example of this trend, and the ATM450 is a superb specimen — versatile enough to cover a variety of different sources in live situations and a useful addition to a studio. It is an excellent, affordable, all-around utility choice for the mic cabinet.
Value (1 through 5): 4