Audio-Technica Artist SeriesThe next generation of classic live-sound mics. 6/01/2007 8:00 AM Eastern
Audio-Technica Artist Series
Jun 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By John McJunkin
The next generation of classic live-sound mics.
The Audio-Technica (A-T) Artist Series is intended principally for sound reinforcement, but is also useful in the recording process. I spent some time with four of the mics from the series: the ATM250DE, ATM350, ATM450, and ATM650. The ATM250DE is a dual-element (dynamic and condenser) microphone in the spirit of its pricier sibling from the A-T Artist Elite series, the AE2500. The ATM350 is a clip-on cardioid condenser intended for brass, reeds, piano drums, and violin. The ATM450 is a side-address cardioid condenser intended for use in drum overhead, percussion, acoustic guitar, and string applications. The ATM650 is a straightforward dynamic mic that calls to mind the SM57 from Shure. Let's take a detailed look at each of these mics.
The ATM250DE is a sequel to the A-T AE2500, an original clever marriage of dynamic and condenser microphones in a single package, which not only has become a popular mic for kick drum, but also finds use for bass and guitar cabinets as well. The idea is that you get the fullness and punch of the dynamic, and also the transient resolution of the condenser — a warm, full thud coupled with a crisp, clean snap. The ATM250DE is less expensive than its older sibling, but sounds great nonetheless, and nicely provides the useful flexibility of having both topologies represented in a single package. The ATM250DE is a bit shorter than the AE2500 (about 3/4in.), but is otherwise very similar. The mic's housing is A-T's ubiquitous anodized black and feels hefty and solid, as usual. Slider switches on the housing control the condenser element's 80Hz HPF and 10dB pad. An AT8471 isolation clamp is included with this mic, and I must say that I've always been thrilled with A-T's hardware. I've never had an A-T mic slip out of its clamp, and I've never had one wear out either. They're simply solid. This mic requires the use of a specialty cable that separates the five-pin output of the mic into its constituent dynamic and condenser XLR outputs. Losing or mangling this cable could be problematic if a spare were not available, so I'd strongly recommend to specify a spare if you're touring.
I test-drove the ATM250DE in the obvious application of kick drum, and it performed marvelously. The two elements are placed side-by-side in the housing, with their apertures on the same plane, rending time and phase coherence perfectly. If you want to simulate the more traditional distance between two separate mics on a kick drum and you're using a digital console, you can simply delay the condenser signal by 2 milliseconds or 3 milliseconds to approximate the distance between mics. The dynamic provided me with full, round low end, and the condenser provided me with a crisp, tight snap. I am a big fan of re-recording, and I decided to use this mic to re-record an electric bass line. It performed wonderfully for this application as well, and it was nice to have an organic split, enabling me to cross the two signals over and treat the high end with a bit of chorus. This mic would also be an excellent choice for a floor tom, in my estimation, much in the same way as the large dynamic mics that are commonly chosen for kick drums. But in this case, you also get that nice high-resolution snap from the condenser. I reviewed the AE2500 years ago, and was thrilled with it, and I'm pleased to say I'm very happy with the ATM250DE as well.
The ATM350 is a clip-on microphone intended primarily for brass, reeds, piano, acoustic bass, snare, toms, and violin. I recorded a piano with this mic and loved the results. I would have preferred to have a stereo pair, but the clarity and detail presented by the single mic told me all I needed to know about it. The clamp opens to a width of about 1/2in., so it can be clamped onto anything narrower than that. Having heard the detail the mic presented in capturing a piano, I can safely say that it would also be a great choice for horns or string instruments. And for the increasing number of engineers bucking the conventional wisdom that dynamic mics are always used for toms, this mic is an excellent alternative. The ATM350's published frequency response is very flat — and the output confirmed that for my ears — and it's a very natural, honest microphone. There are two tiny foam blocks situated on this mic's narrow gooseneck into which its narrow cable can be inserted. I love a tidy setup, and this scheme facilitated exactly that and made me very happy in this regard.
The ATM450 is another example of A-T's outside-the-box thinking. It is a side-address small-diaphragm condenser mic in a 5in.-long tube that's 0.83in. in diameter. Again, A-T's charcoal and black anodization is used for this mic, with slider switches for the mic's 80Hz HPF and 10dB pad on the side of the tube. An AT8471 isolation clamp is included. The principal intentions for this mic include drum overheads, percussion, acoustic guitar, and strings, among others. I recorded some percussion toys and an acoustic guitar with this mic, and I was very pleased with the result. This mic exhibits the high-end detail you'd expect from a condenser, but does not taper off radically in the low end either. I got plenty of the low mids I hoped for from my acoustic guitar recording. For me, the beauty of this mic (and certainly A-T's rationale for creating it) is the side-address orientation. It vastly simplifies the appropriate placement of the mic in some hard-to-reach spaces, and it also works nicely in a stereo drum kit overhead application.
Finally, I spent some time with the ATM650. This mic bears more than a passing resemblance to the Shure SM57, whether consciously designed that way or not. I recorded a vocal (of the blue-eyed soul variety) with this mic, and was very happy with the result. I had my vocalist hand-hold the mic to assess handling noise, and found it to be minimal. By using an acoustical phase-cancellation path, this mic achieves exceptional directionality (accurately described as hypercardioid by A-T), and also exhibits the low end-enhancing proximity effect you would expect from such a mic. It was able to effortlessly take the loudest shouts and screams my vocalist could deliver with absolutely no distortion whatsoever. I did not test this mic in a snare drum application, but based upon its sound, I would guess that if you normally use an SM57, you'd be happy with the results from the ATM650.
Audio-Technica offers a truly vast array of products, and the Artist Series is a line of microphones available at a lower price than A-T's top-of-the-line offerings. Because its top-shelf offerings are truly incredible, even this lower-priced line exhibits high quality in every regard. In other words, and for lack of a less colloquial way of putting it, even A-T's inexpensive mics sound great. And not only are the mics great, but the hardware and other accoutrements associated with these mics will make you very happy. I am an Audio-Technica user, and I have come to expect good things from the company, and the Artist Series exceeds my expectations.
Product: ATM250DE, ATM350, ATM450, ATM650 from the Artist Series
Pros: Excellent microphones for the price.
Cons: ATM250DE requires a specialized cable.
Applications: Multiple applications for the array of mics reviewed.
Prices: ATM250DE: $549; ATM350: $449; ATM450: $369; ATM650: $169
Frequency response: 40Hz-20kHz, condenser; 40Hz-15kHz, dynamic
Impedance: 50Ω, condenser; 600Ω, dynamic
Frequency response: 40Hz-20kHz
Frequency response: 40Hz-20kHz
Frequency response: 80Hz-17kHz
John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Podcasting in Chandler, Ariz. He has consulted in the development of studios and installations and provides high-quality podcast production services.