Most of today's microphones are tremendously complex. Many feature switches and pads for filters that you can spend hours fiddling around with, but I just find all this confusion.
I want a simple device that does the job.
In this Audio Technica at2020 review, we’re going to investigate one such device: the Audio Technica AT2020. It is an attempt to return to basics, eliminate unnecessary features, and give users a purer experience.
Has it been successful?
Presenting the Audio Technica AT2020
The Audio Technica AT2020 is a condenser microphone, designed to help you make reliable, beautiful, professional recordings for podcasts, YouTube videos and music creation.
The mic is the little brother of the larger, higher-quality and more feature-packed AT2035. It eschews the large diaphragms of the latter and instead invests in high-quality construction materials.
While it’s not for people wanting to do highly specialist or sensitive recording, it can still pick up all the subtleties and nuances in human voices, making it perfect for amateurs. Podcasters, YouTubers, and even singers will love this device.
- High dynamic range
- Durable construction
- Great for projects and home studios
- Cardioid polar pattern
- Highly versatile
- Diaphragm quality not as high as other models in the range
- No custom shock mounting
- May struggle at extremely high sound pressures
Features & Benefits
With the growing popularity of podcasts, YouTube channels and live webinars, an increasing number of people need affordable, quality microphones. Finding a device that fits the bill, however, can be a challenge.
The beautiful thing about the AT2020, in my view, is that it provides all of the features that any amateur could want, but without the hefty price tag.
Comprehensive Frequency Response And High-Quality Transient Response
Microphones, like the human ear, can only pick up sounds in a particular frequency range. Many, for instance, struggle to amplify sounds with frequencies lower than 1 kHz and higher than about 15 kHz. Thus you some mics are not fit for purpose.
AT2020’s “low mass diaphragm,” however, can pick up sounds from across the spectrum, whether high-pitched or low and whisper-quiet. What’s more, the degree of amplification you get from different frequencies doesn’t vary much across the range. The added smoothness you get helps you cut down on the need for large amounts of editing after the initial recording.
Finding an affordable, studio-quality mic is a challenge, even today. Audio Technica, however, has done well to use the lessons it's learned from other products in its range, including the AT2035, to slash manufacturing costs. Many of the parts on the AT2020 come from the AT2035 with only minor modifications. The difference in price emanates from the manufacturing of the diaphragm. The AT2020’s has higher tolerances and a smaller diameter, bringing prices down.
Audio Technica, therefore, solves a fundamental problem in the world of microphones: how to combine condenser performance, robustness and versatility into something that the majority of people can afford. Put simply; it’s good enough for most users.
Excellent Dynamic Range
The third benefit of the AT2020 is the excellent dynamic range.
Cheap microphones have low dynamic range, meaning that they are only capable of recording sounds at “medium” volumes: not too loud and not too quiet.
The vast majority of microphones, therefore, can accommodate the volume of a normal human voice. However, if your recording features whispers or subtle wildlife sounds, then you’ll need to look for a product that has a high dynamic range.
Here’s where the AT2020 excels. The microphone can record sounds up to 144 dB – louder than shouting at the top of your voice at point-blank range – making it great for a wide variety of applications, including recording live music. (I particularly like this feature because it means that I don’t have to buy sound mitigating technology for my instruments. I can just play them raw, and the mic will still pick up all the detail in the music).
Can Be Suspended
Remember how I said that the AT2020 was a “versatile” microphone? Well, here's the reason: you can suspend the AT2020 using Audio Technica’s AT8458 attachment. All you do is fit the attachment to your ceiling or wall, and you’re ready to go. The AT2020 microphone slots into place and with a quick twist of the tightening appliance, it’s ready to go.
I can imagine this being an excellent addition for people who want home recording studios for singing or recording narrations. Standing helps to enhance the voice compared to regular sitting.
Low Operating Noise
Microphones, believe it or not, can create sound by mere virtue of their existence. Air rustling around the receiver or electrical current passing through wires can stimulate the diaphragm, creating a false sound signal.
Audio Technica, however, users a range of isolating technologies on the AT2020 that help to cut down on operating noise, providing users with a crisper, clearer sound. The company claims that the AT2020 should be able to drop endogenous noise levels to as low as 20 dB, right on the threshold of human hearing.
The low operating noise means that you can pair the AT2020 with the most advanced sound recording equipment in the world, and it won’t be the weak link.
While robust construction is something that manufacturers focus on across the condenser mic industry, the AT2020 is no exception. The microphone is of exceptional quality, using many of the same chassis parts as its much more expensive bigger brother, the AT2035. The manufacturing complies with the strict standards that Audio Technica sets for products across the board and means that this is a microphone that will last you for many years to come.
Cardioid Polar Pattern
Like many microphones in its class, the AT2020 uses a cardioid polar pattern to help improve recording quality. The mode reduces the sensitivity of the receiver to incoming sounds from the side and the rear and helps to focus only on those coming from the front in the direction of the user.
I particularly like this feature in situations where you are trying to interview somebody in front of you, but there are people to both the left and the right. The microphone blots out the sounds coming from these people, while emphasising that coming from your subject.
Screw Fixture For Accurate Mounting
One of the most important aspects of any microphone is the quality of the mounting hardware. Users need to be able to adjust their microphones to any height and angle to ensure optimal operation.
I’m happy to say that you won’t experience any issues adjusting the AT2020. It comes with the AT8466 attachment that lets you attach the microphone to a conventional stand or a tripod.
So what do regular users think about the Audio Technica AT2020 condenser microphone? After all, it’s their opinion that matters, not that of some random reviewer.
It turns out that most people received the product favourably. Here are some reviews from around the web that I found on Google.
As you can see, the reviewers found the AT2020 just as usable and as high-quality as I did. For the price, it is never going to be the best on the market, but it does surprisingly well, making it a smart choice for all but the most professional of users.
The AT2020 isn't the only product out there, of course, vying for customers looking for an entry-level condenser microphone: there are many other products in the running.
MXL’s 770 microphone occupies almost the same price point as the AT2020 and, like the offering from Audio Technica, comes with a small-diaphragm microphone. The big difference between the 770 and the AT2020 is that the 770 uses a high-quality FET preamp which MXL says provides superior support in the high-frequency range.
- Comes with pad and roll-off switches
- Shock mount and case included
- Pre-attenuation switch
- Equivalent noise of 20 dB
- 6-micro, gold-sputtered diaphragm
Behringer B-1, like the AT2020, uses a range of high-quality components to make it more durable, as you might expect from a German manufacturer. However, it differs in one important way: it’s wireless.
The fact that it is wireless makes the B-1 great for those who want to record on the move. It’s also ideal for recording sounds on the street.
Here’s how it compares to the AT2020:
- Wireless features let you record wherever you are
- Aluminium transport case included
- Ultra-low base noise – just 20 dB claimed
Thronmax’s MDRILL One uses an exclusive technology called Vertigain that provides up to 10 per cent more clarity and accuracy than similar USB microphones. The company markets it as perfect for gamers, business professionals, YouTubers, podcasters and many more.
Here’s how it differs from the AT2020:
- 7-colour mood lighting ring
- Vertigain technology
- USB plug and play
- Synchronise your microphone LEDs with other PC peripherals, like your mouse
Conclusion: How Did The Audio Technica AT2020 Stack Up?
So what conclusions can we draw from this review?
First, we can safely say that Audio Technica has done what it set out to do: create a reliable condenser microphone capable of studio-like quality, all at an affordable price point. It does away with unnecessary features and gives users a pure experience.
We can also say that the microphone provides a tolerably high sound quality – way above what I thought was possible at that price point.
All in all, therefore, this is a great microphone, especially for people who would prefer to avoid paying for gimmicks. For those who need something genuinely studio-quality, however, the AT2035 is the better choice.
Click here to check out the product for yourself.
Things to consider before buying a condenser microphone
Are you considering buying a condenser microphone? If so, there are several things that you need to consider.
Ask Yourself If You’re The Type Of Person Who Could Benefit From A Condenser Microphone
Compared to regular microphones you might use for gaming or Skype, condenser microphones are expensive, even those at the low end of the market. As we’ve seen, the reason for this has to do with their high construction quality, the delicate membrane that picks up sound, and the recording features that they offer.
Condenser microphones are for people who want to do semi-professional recording: podcasters, YouTubers, and business professionals conducting webinars. They are not suitable for amateurs or people who want to use Skype to talk to their family overseas once per month.
Avoid Studio Mics With A High Noise Floor
Quality studio and condenser mic manufacturers will usually state that their devices have a low noise floor.
But what is the noise floor? And why is it so controversial?
The noise floor is the level of noise that the microphone generates by itself. While you might imagine that microphones would be silent, electricity coursing through them can lead to the production of noise, even if nothing else in the environment is making a sound.
Noise floors, however, are tricky to measure. Feedback can originate from many sources besides the mic, including the electrical grounding in your studio.
What’s more, many manufacturers do not report the noise floor, preferring instead to focus on other features of the microphone, such as the signal-to-noise ratio or the frequency response. These realities complicate the matter considerably.
Don’t Buy A Mic With A Power Pack If You Want To Be Mobile
Suppose you’re a podcaster who likes travelling around, interviewing people outdoors. The chances are that you’re not going to have access to mains power. Most of the time, you’ll rely on a USB connection to your laptop computer.
A lot of high-end, studio-specific mics, however, come with hefty power packs – things that you have to plug into a mains socket if you want the device to work.
For this reason, you can often get better value going for a cheaper, portable microphone. Hooking up a mic to a power supply every time that you want to use it can be a pain in the neck.