In a time when everything is changing, there are still some things that can be relied upon — such as a solid microphone.
One thing that will always be true is that people have a strong drive to create, connect, and share with others.
A clear demonstration of this has been the significant rise in new podcasts as well as home recording studios in the past year.
Would-be on-air personalities and home-based producers are taking advantage of what could be considered a golden renaissance for creative endeavors.
With time on their hands and a little extra cash in the bank, many artists are beginning to invest in their own craft.
If this sounds like you, read on!
Whether you’re a seasoned innovator of recorded music or streaming dialogue, or just getting started, you’re going to need the right tools.
Just as a painter needs a quality paintbrush and a photographer needs a good camera, you’re going to need a good studio microphone.
Let’s have a look at the popular Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR Microphone as a significant contender for your first choice.
The AT2020 Microphone
In 1962, Tokyo engineer Hideo Matsushita established Audio-Technica in Shinjuku-Ku, Japan. The company’s launch products were the AT-1 and AT-3MM stereo phono cartridges. Those were the little boxes on the arm of a record player that house the needle and send the analog signal back to the speakers.
This nifty little unit quickly gained popularity in the industry and Audio-Technica became the top distributor of stereo phono cartridges to audio equipment manufacturers throughout Tokyo.
Fast forward to 1978. Now a titan of industry, Audio-Technica establishes Audio Technica LTD in Leeds, England, and introduces the AT-800 series of microphones. Their first foray into microphone production was an instant success.
Since then, Audio-Technica has enjoyed decades of success, winning numerous awards for excellence in engineering and being named the official microphone of choice for Olympic events in Greece, Australia, and America. Not a bad resume.
Although the Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR microphone has been around since 2004, it is still one of the top-rated cardioid condenser mics in the industry. It boasts a solid 4.7 out of 5-star rating on Amazon when held up to comparably priced competing alternatives like the MXL 990 and the Blue Yeti Nano; all coming in at around $99.
When you unbox the AT2020 XLR, the first thing you’ll notice is the sleek, solid design. When you hold it in your hand, you can feel the 1.32 lbs (60 g) of the solid quality that has kept this baby at the top of the “Best of” list for 17 years.
The cage design around the barrel-shaped body is designed for side address. This makes for a much easier posture than attempting to send your voice through the top of a mic if you’re sitting down.
At the base, you’ll find a threaded collar and ring for fitting on your boom stand. If you prefer using a shock mount basket to cradle your cardioid mic, the AT 2020 XLR features a built-in shock mount adapter for a nice snug fit.
You’ll also be pleased to find a nice quality padded carrying case in which to store your awesome microphone should you consider taking your studio on the road.
Getting Wired In
It is important to note the AT 2020 XLR requires a 48 volt DC phantom power. And, because the mic uses an XLR cable, a separate audio interface is required to connect your voice to the USB input on your computer. The good news is that you can remedy both issues with one unit. The not so good news is that you won’t find it in the box. You’ll have to purchase it separately.
Audio-Technica recommends the PreSonus Audiobox USB 96 2×2 interface. This is a decent two channel unit that’s compatible with most PC and Mac recording software. The PreSonus will run you about another $100.
You’ll also have to purchase two XLR cables separately. You can find these for anywhere between $9 and $30, depending on length and quality.
Alternately, in 2013 Audio-Technica introduced the USB version of the AT2020 which wires directly into your computer. We will contrast and compare this with the XLR model a little later.
If you’re overwhelmed by the endless choices and variations of compatible components needed for your studio. Bundling could be the way to go.
Audio-Technica offers decent price breaks when you choose an AT2020 bundle option. For podcasters, there’s the streaming/podcasting Package for around $150 on Amazon. The package includes the AT2020 Condenser Mic, ATH-M20x Headphones, Boom Arm, Mic Clip, Euro-thread Adapter, and Carrying Pouch.
Another package that’s more in line with music recording offers the AT2020 Condenser XLR Mic, an Audio-Technica XLRF-XLRM Value 25ft Microphone Cable, H&A Pop Filter with Gooseneck (Clip On), H&A Elite Pro 25′ XLR M to XLR F Microphone Cable with Rean Connectors along with the PreSonus AudioBox 96 USB 2.0 Audio Recording System. This package goes for around $200 on Adorama.com.
How Does It Sound?
When it comes to sound quality, most reviewers agree that the AT2020 goes above and beyond what may be expected from its $99 price point.
The AT202 XLR is made for high SPL (sound pressure level) handling and wide dynamic range providing versatility and quality of sound that is thus far unmatched by competitors.
When compared in a studio setting with the Rode cardioid condenser studio mic, which costs around $250, consumers actually preferred the AT2020 not only for its superior sound but for its durability. Accidents happen. Mics get dropped. When the pricier models break, the AT2020 withstands the impact and keeps on going.
To USB or Not to USB
As mentioned earlier, Audio-Technica released the USB version of the AT2020 Cardioid Condenser mic in 2013 to mixed reviews. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons related to choosing either the XLR or USB version.
The obvious advantage that the AT2020 USB may have over the XLR version is that it wires directly into your PC or Mac, digitizing the signal without a middleman component. This attractive Plug and Play feature can simplify the process, giving you more time to focus on your craft.
The USB version also has a 1/8-inch (3.5 mm) headphone jack built right in, freeing up the jack on your computer.
Considering cost, the AT2020 USB mic costs about $50 more than the XLR version. But since you’re not paying for an audio interface, this may be a less expensive option.
However, there are several advantages to the XLR version that bear serious consideration, especially if you’re using your mic for recording music.
When you’re using the aforementioned PreSonus Audiobox or something similar, you have the option of recording two or more separate tracks at once. This is a super important feature if you want to record a voice and instrument at the same time.
Although the set up for the AT2020 XLR is a bit more complex than the simplified function of the USB model, you may find that you have more control over the equalization of sound going into your recording software.
Another significant advantage to the XLR version is that you can use it in live situations by plugging into a mixer. It can also be used with looper and harmonizer pedals.
After considering the pros and cons of both versions of the Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio microphones, one could conclude that the ultimate choice between the two would lie in the intended use.
The USB version, with its streamlined design would seem like the sensible choice for podcasters, while the XLR model would better serve those who intend to record and produce music.
The Right Mic for You
Whether you’re livestreaming your dream podcast or carefully crafting your next musical masterpiece, look no further than the Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser microphone to make your voice shine.