(First published in CX magazine – May 2013)
It’s not so much what it does as what it doesn’t do that I love most about Audio-Technica’s AT5040 fixed-cardioid condenser.
What doesn’t it do? Part your hair with an on-rush of supersonics the moment sibilance is emitted from a singer’s mouth. One of the worst aspects of many side-address large diaphragm condensers is their propensity to exaggerate and distort sibilance. The new Audio-Technica AT5040 is the master of understatement in this regard, better than many vintage classics I’ve used.
It’s one of the primary benefits of the radical four-part rectangular element design built into the 5040 by a company more noted for its conservative, good quality, modestly presented, mid-priced condensers.
Rather than teeing up yet another circular capsule for the audio market to slice into the bushes, for its 50th Anniversary Audio-Technica decided to take a hard right turn down Esoterica Bvd and produce a mic that genuinely lays down the challenge to its rivals.
The 5040 is an extremely well balanced, sensitive yet forgiving mic overall, despite its unconventional design. Milab used a similar concept to great effect years ago, but very few others have since.
Most never stray far from convention, and few have ever built a condenser element larger than one inch for a variety of technical reasons. Circular capsules become too hard to build, control and balance when they get too big. They require too much rigidity to remain sensitive enough in the highs and overall act like giant spinnakers…
The AT5040 is built around an electret condenser design – up until now the poor brother of the ubiquitous DC-biased design. The element’s surface area is enormous – more than double the size of a conventional one-inch diaphragm.
By achieving this with four smaller, finely matched components acting as one, the mic captures more signal with greater sensitivity and less side-effects. Not only has Audio-Technica nailed the design, it has produced a unique, high quality, beautifully constructed microphone that competes remarkably with some of my Neumann classics, including the U47 and U67.
It’s rich, full and viscous sounding in the bottom end without sounding artificially boosted. It’s detailed, sensitive to even the tiniest whispers and supremely quiet.
Conversely, it’s also capable of copping an SPL beating. It’s top end is smooth and clean, and best of all, predictable. This mic is versatile and great sounding… many promise it; few ever achieve it.
The 5040 also requires significantly less preamplification thanks to its unusually high output (yet another benefit of four capsules summing together as one). This adds further to the overall invisibility of the gain structure required to drive it.
BEFORE I KNEW THE PRICE…
In a true baptism of fire, the first vocalist I placed in front of the 5040 was a deathcore lunatic whose voice packed a punch like a Mohammad Ali haymaker. If I’d stood where the 5040 had been that evening I’d have been KO’d for sure. Through the speakers, however, the punishment the mic was taking seemed like water off a (canvas) duck’s back.
At this stage I still had no idea what this mic was retailing for in Australia, and given past experience I was assuming the 5040 was around $700-$1000. I was wrong. Very wrong, and more than a little taken aback when I discovered that it retailed at $3999!
The AT5040 is certainly not cheap, that’s for sure, and there’s some very stiff competition up in that price bracket. Still, this is a superb mic, and well worth checking out.
Distributed in Australia by Technical Audio Group: (+612) 9519 0900 or www.tag.com.au