Hands-on review: Audio Technica AT4080

(Jason Castellente | Posted 2011-05-08)

Hands-on review: Audio Technica AT4080

There are a multitude of microphones on the market today and even more applications. Choosing a mic for whatever purpose you may have dreamed up is not rocket science, but it can be difficult to get the sound you have in your head. I enjoy blogging about events and ideas, among other things on the blog portion of my website: http://www.jasoncastellente.com.

I have always been more of a Shure fan but also select mics from various other companies. But by far the company that I had the least experience with was Audio Technica. Lately I have had a lot more exposure to Audio Technica and I have been pleasantly surprised. Some time ago I was able to borrow some microphones from Worship MD CEO, Doug Gould, who does some promotional marketing for Audio Technica among other leading audio industry companies. One of the mics I was able to get my hands on was the Audio Technica AT4080 Active Ribbon mic.

First some background on different kinds of mics. There are two “families” of mics: condenser and dynamic. Dynamic mics work through a process called dynamic induction which means that when sound enters the front of the microphone, it moves through a magnetic field across a conductor. This produces voltage which is sent to your mixing console and converted back into sound.

Condenser mics work differently then dynamic mics. They usually have two plates inside with a constant electrical current in them which produces a magnetic field. When one of the plates is moved by sound, the magnetic field changes which also changes the amount of voltage in the plates. This is what eventually produces sound.

When I looked at the specs for the AT4080, I was instantly interested by the fact that it said “active ribbon.” In my experience, a ribbon mic is in the “dynamic” family of mics, not condenser. Also, it is usually dangerous to send phantom power to a ribbon mic. But this ribbon mic required phantom power. There are only a few companies producing “active ribbon mics” right now. Normal dynamic ribbon mics simply cannot handle higher sound pressure levels but now companies such as Audio Technica have found new ways to increase the resilience and durability of ribbon mics while still keeping the pure, warm sound of a traditional ribbon mic.

Holding the mic in my hands, the construction is rock solid. The mic felt very durable and the construction is aesthetically pleasing. When I plugged it in a tried it, I was actually able to use it live and amplified. I was able to lightly reinforce a classical vocal in a dry room as well as live tracking in Protools HD. My initial impression was that the mic was very warm and smooth and had a clean, clear and crisp ribbon mic tone. Even though it has a figure 8 polar pick up pattern, was able to get a serious amount of gain and volume for our live reinforcement out of the AT4080.

As I mentioned earlier, the AT4080 has a figure 8 pick up pattern that responds to 20Hz to 18khz and can take up to 128dB. Stop…128dB from a ribbon mic? Yes, actually it can take it. That really broadens the applications that this mic can handle. So, my next experimental application was to use it on a guitar amplifier in the studio.

I used the standard Shure SM57 to close proximity mic the speaker of my buddy’s Vox while using the Audio Technica AT4080 as an ambient mic to give it “life”. It created a great tone while still keeping the guitar warm and smooth. I was able to pick up the nuances of his playing and articulation of individual notes while still maintaining the full “image” of what he was playing.

The bottom line
This is a serious contender for the future of live sound as well as studio recording because it still allows you to get that classic ribbon sound while allowing the user to practically forget about the issue with lower output and the delicate nature of ribbon mics in the past. I must admit, this mic is going to be added to the ever growing list of mics that I will be looking to purchase for my own personal mic collection and closet.

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