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Audio Technica AT4050

Studio Capacitor Microphone By Paul White
Published February 1996

Audio Technica AT4050

How does Audio Technica's AT4050 multi‑pattern studio mic compare with their hugely popular AT4033 cardioid mic?

If you have read any of my previous microphone reviews, you will have noticed that I have certain firm favourites to which I keep referring, and Audio Technica's cardioid AT4033 is very near the top of the list, with its silky, detailed and somehow expensive sound. The more recent AT4050 is similarly styled, but is a true multi‑pattern mic, and while it is more expensive (as you might expect), it is still significantly less costly than many of its rivals.

Structure

As with all multi‑pattern, large‑diaphragm mics, the AT4050 employs a dual‑diaphragm capsule with the diaphragms placed back‑to‑back. Unlike the AT4033, the AT4050 capsule is a true capacitor design, rather than a fixed‑charge, back‑electret. By varying the way in which the outputs from these two diaphragms are combined, all possible microphone patterns are possible, although Audio Technica have limited the choice to omni, cardioid and figure‑of‑eight. It would also have been possible to include wide cardioid and hypercardioid by using a more complex switching system, but in the studio, the patterns provided will cover most eventualities.

The only outward difference between the AT4050 and AT4033 is that the AT4050 is slightly longer in the body. The standard of finish is superb, and the casework is very tough. The resilient capsule suspension also helps in this respect.

As with the AT4033, the capsule employs a contoured, gold‑coated diaphragm which is artificially aged to help ensure long‑term stability in performance. The transformerless preamplifier has a selected low‑noise FET at the front end, and an output impedance of only 100 Ω, which reduces the effect of long cable runs to a minimum. A low‑cut 12dB/octave filter operating at 80Hz may be switched in, and there's also a switchable 10dB pad for use with high‑level sound sources in excess of 150dB. As this is a capacitor microphone, 48V phantom powering is essential. The overall frequency response is nominally flat from 20Hz to 20kHz with no significant presence peaks, but as always, the proof of the mic is in the testing...

...the AT4050 is an excellent microphone capable of withstanding punishing sound levels, making it suitable for just about any application...

Performance

I was fortunate enough to have an AT4033 for comparison with the AT4050, so I did a variety of tests using the spoken word and acoustic instruments. One of the things that most users really seem to like about the AT4033 is its very transparent top end, which manages to combine sparkle with smoothness. I was interested to see whether the AT4050 had the same characteristic, or whether it was a completely different mic with a sound of its own. After doing numerous comparisons, I've come to the conclusion that there are both family similarities and noticeable differences.

The tonal differences between the two mics are, strangely enough, most obvious when the AT4050 is set to cardioid mode. Here it produces a very warm, silky sound, but with less top‑end shimmer than the AT4033. Switching to omni or figure‑of‑eight seemed to produce a slightly more transparent sound that matched that of the AT4033 more closely. At typical vocal miking distances of 6‑9 inches, there must be some proximity effect in cardioid mode, so when you switch to omni or figure‑of‑eight mode, the lack of proximity bass‑lift is inevitably going to make the overall sound appear brighter. Realistically, a tonal difference is to be expected, because although the diaphragms are similar in construction, the two mics must have very different capsule designs, not only because the AT4050 has two diaphragms, but also because it is a conventional capacitor capsule — it is apparently very difficult to make a back‑electret, multi‑pattern capsule.

Conclusion

Comparisons aside, the AT4050 is an excellent microphone capable of withstanding punishing sound levels, making it suitable for just about any application, from recording quiet acoustic instruments to very loud percussion. It is also a fine vocal mic, the very low noise floor making it suitable for distance as well as close miking. If you only want to record vocals and you're unlikely ever to switch from the cardioid setting, then the AT4033 is less expensive and arguably a little more flattering, but if you need a multi‑pattern all‑rounder that can produce first‑rate results in all situations, the AT4050 is a good choice. Although it isn't exactly cheap, it's still very good value.

Pros

  • Excellent technical performance.
  • First‑rate build quality.
  • Very versatile.

Cons

  • Not quite as flattering to vocals as the AT4033.

Summary

A truly professional large‑diaphragm, multi‑pattern, multi‑purpose microphone at a significantly lower cost than many of its competitors.

Information

AT4050 £601.25; AT4033 £404.27. Prices include VAT.

Published February 1996