This Audio Technica AT2020 Review is going to take a look at a microphone with a big reputation amongst entry-level microphones. It is known as a bit of a ‘workhorse’, but that is a compliment in recognition of how well it performs. It has many good features, and at the price point, it seems like a steal. In the right environment, this is going to be an exceptional microphone.
Audio Technica is a Japanese company based in Tokyo that was established in 1962. They were originally manufacturing phono cartridges but soon began to expand operations. However, it wasn’t until 1974 that they really began to be recognized with the introduction of their headphone range.
It was in the 1990s that their large-diaphragm condenser microphones were first seen. Those two items, the headphones, and the microphones might be considered their flagship products. But they also produce quality turntables.
Oh, and did we mention that the cartridges they still manufacture are some of the best in the world. You will find other major manufacturers, including them on their turntables — a company with a big reputation.
Overview of The Audio Technica AT2020
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is one of those rare microphones that give you good sound quality but at a very affordable price. We mentioned in our introduction that this microphone is considered a workhorse. The reason for that is that it has so many strings to its bow.
Firstly it works very well as a vocal microphone. It is able to really reproduce all the subtle changes in voice applications. Because of its attention to acoustic detail, it is also perfect for recording acoustic guitars and other acoustic instruments.
But it not only handles the gentler stuff requiring some recording finesse, but it also has a bad boy side. Put it in front of a cabinet to let it get to grips with a heavily overdriven guitar. It takes it all, no problem.
But there is one more variable – it works great in the studio as well. It is the ideal starter microphone for a new or developing studio. And later, when you might upgrade your ‘lead’ mic? The AT 2021 will still give valuable service working with and recording other instruments.
As a starter studio mic, its uses are wide-ranging, and as a live vocal or instrument mic, it does the job. All this and for a price point that you will need to look at twice to believe. More on this later.
So, let’s have a closer look at or Audio-Technica AT2020…
If you are going to design and build a microphone with various uses, it is best to make it tough. It might be in a nice comfortable studio with minimal risk. But if it is on the road, it must be built for it. No problems of that nature with this mic. The Audio-Technica 2021 is built like a tank.
It is quite a compact size at 9.6 inches long by 2.6 inches and weighs just one and a half pounds. It has an all-metal build, so it is a rugged mic and has a metal grille.
Not only a tough-looking microphone but also with a nice professional look. It has a pivoting, threaded stand mount, that can be detached if it is not needed. It does, though, provide a secure and stable placement of the mic in your position of choice.
A well-built microphone, no doubt about that.
The Audio-Technica 2021 is a cardioid polar pattern condenser microphone. There is a lot of opinion about whether a condenser or a dynamic microphone is better. Dynamic microphones tend to be better for stage work, whereas the condenser is often better in the studio.
Generally speaking, the dynamic mic works better in recording loud sounds, whereas the condenser mic is better at the higher frequencies and more gentle sounds. Condenser microphones need external power, which used to be a problem. But since Neumann invented phantom power not anymore.
The cardioid has some benefits, especially for recording. It is the most common polar pattern and is most sensitive to the sound source that is right in front of it while rejecting any sound from behind. The sensitivity is heard but greatly reduced coming from the sides.
It is, therefore, an ideal vocal microphone and superb in the studio. The Audio-Technica 2021 has a low-mass’ side-address diaphragm. This will ensure that it rejects any off-axis sound. A good microphone will need a good frequency response. The AT 2021 delivers between 20Hz and 20kHz. This ensures that signals are collected from a very wide range.
Another critical aspect is the SPL or Sound Pressure Level. The pressure within a sound wave will determine how loud it is. The louder the sound, the more the pressure. A high SPLrating is, therefore, necessary. It should perhaps be remembered that the ear does not hear volume; it hears pressure.
As an example, a speaker will issue a level of sound. When you move away, the level of the sound, the pressure, reduces. When you get closer, it increases. This is the difference between volume and sound pressure. You haven’t adjusted the volume, but the pressure has increased or decreased.
Microphones need a good SPL level to work efficiently. Having a higher SPL means the mic is less likely to distort when the pressure increases. A very necessary attribute when recording louder sources such as screaming vocals, drums, or distorted guitars. The SPL of the 2021 is 144dB. That, along with the wide dynamic range, means it can record louder signals with a minimum level of distortion.
This all adds to other benefits that the mic offers. It has a low level of self noise which is excellent for digital recording. And the low-mass design of the diaphragm improves the transient response. This is vital for quality recordings is it allows sudden changes in levels to be faithfully reproduced.
A good example might be a cymbal — a sudden rush of sound. The microphone’s ability to catch these sounds is known as transient response. And the faster it is, the better, as is the case with the Audio-Technica 2021. Another reason why it will produce quality in the studio or on stage.
If you take all these design features into account, you end up with a microphone that should cost far more. It performs at a much higher level than the price point suggests.
Where Is It Best Used?
With this microphone, we are tempted to say wherever you like. Perhaps it should be considered just plain versatile rather than a workhorse. We are painting a picture of a microphone that is perfect, so let’s find something that it might not be good at.
It will be good in the studio, and on stage in static positions using its stand mount. And is a great mic for studio vocals but maybe not so great for a lead singer who hand-holds it, but that is rare in studio recordings anyway. It hasn’t been designed to be hand-held and really only works on a stand.
The head of the Audio-Technica 2021 is a heavy-duty wire mesh. This protects it as much as anything else in case it is ever dropped. It allows the sound to be collected, but the mesh is not really a substitute for a pop filter. Yes, it will reduce those unwanted sounds a little, but a pop filter will still be required. Not really deal-breakers, though are they?
In our opinion, this is best used in a studio for recording vocals, possibly bass drums, distorted electric guitars, toms or cymbals, or even as room mics. But don’t exclude acoustic guitar or even strings. The design and performance of this mic mean it will excel at them all.
So a studio is definitely its best environment. However, we would not be surprised to see our little workhorse on a stage miking something up, but we doubt very much that we will see a singer holding it.
We have already discussed this, but it might be worth re-emphasizing. This is a quality microphone and one that is going to produce great results.
We briefly mentioned in the overview, the price point. For a microphone of this quality, the price is quite remarkable. You would expect to pay a lot more for a microphone with so many qualities. Add on to that the various applications it can comfortably operate in, and you have a remarkable product that represents great value for money.
You don’t expect to find extras, as such, with a microphone. As we have already said, it does come with a stand mount that pivots into any position required. This gives you the flexibility to use it in a variety of environments.
It also comes with a pouch for storage and carrying it around. This might not seem much in the way of protection. However, we have already discussed this is built like a tank. It will survive most things.
So Many Microphone Options…
With so many microphone options for specific recording tasks available, it can be difficult to narrow down the very best. So, if you need some guidance, please take a look at our in-depth reviews of the Best Microphones for Recording Electric Guitar, the Best Vocal Mics, the Best Dynamic Microphones, the Best IOS Microphones, and the Best Microphones for Youtube on the market.
Audio Technica AT2020 Pros & Cons
- Clear defined sound.
- Extremely versatile and can be used for just about anything.
- Excellent Transient Response.
- Low Mass Diaphragm.
- Only features a cardioid polar pattern.
- Better for studio use than live, but that was intended.
- Needs a pop-filter, but what studio microphone doesn’t?
We don’t need to spend too much time discussing the positive points of the Audio-Technica 2021, because we have already highlighted so many. Also, we have already discussed that at this price point, it represents great value. It may well be that for the money this is the best mic on the market.
If you consider its attributes, cardioid condenser microphone are really designed for the studio. It excels with vocals and also with other instruments as wide-ranging from drums to acoustic guitars.
Yes, it can work on stage, but it is in the studio that it will excel. As the first microphone for a new or developing studio, it is hard to think of a better microphone.
The Audio-Technica 2021 is quite simply one of the best microphones you can buy at its level and price.