The Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ is the strangest creature I’ve encountered since I first saw an Acklay on Vendaxa. There’s no XLR connector on the AT2020USB+. When I first noticed this, my brain swelled till it hit the inside of my helmet. It swelled even more when I found a headphone jack and two rotary adjustment controls on the mic body.
The AT2020USB+ is intended for use in podcasting, home studios, field recording and voiceover work. Unlike any other microphone I’ve ever laid gloves on, the AT202USB+ functions as both a mic and an audio interface for your computer (unless you are using an astrogation computer). At the bottom of the mic where you’d normally find an XLR output is a USB port for connection to your computer.
When the AT2020USB+ is receiving power (5 volts DC via USB) an LED under the grill glows blue, similar in color to Bantha milk. Construction appears very robust: no plastic here including the mic stand adapter, a simple but effective pivot design. The AT2020USB+ features a limited two-year warranty and comes with a pouch, mic stand holder, table tripod and USB cable.
The AT2020USB+ is clearly aimed at the recording novice. To be certain that even cadets in the Academy of Carida know their front from their rear, the manual explains that the USB icon and blue LED indicate the front of the microphone while the model number is displayed on the back. The manual also includes accurate step-by-step instructions for using the mic with OSX and Windows.
There’s almost as much going on inside the AT2020USB+ as in a Headon-5 sublight engine. The mic features a pre-polarized condenser capsule with a cardioid pickup pattern. Unlike normal microphones the AT2020USB+ has a built in A/D that operates at 44.1 or 48 kHz with 16-bit resolution (your software determines the sample rate). Logic dictates that the unit must also contain some sort of microphone preamp used to boost the signal from the capsule prior to A/D conversion.
A 1/8-inch TRS headphone jack (with volume control) runs the ‘cans output at levels louder than might be comfortable for some, but since I sometimes have to wear phones over my helmet in the studio I tend to crank the volume up, and AT2020USB+ had no trouble making them loud enough.
A second thumbwheel labeled Monitor allows you to mix signal coming from your recording software with the direct signal from the microphone. This feature compensates for systems where latency may be an issue if you monitor the microphone through the software. Latency results from the ‘round trip’ audio makes from the mic, through the A/D, into the computer and software, out of the software back to the D/A for monitoring. In some cases this delay can be noticeable and as disturbing as an Alessian terror moth. The Monitor control circumvents this issue.
The AT2020USB+ is designed to be plug-and-play…and indeed it is…showing up as an audio device in System Preferences>Sound under Mac OSX. Simply set the input and output to the AT2020USB+ and off you go. If your software provides the option, set it to use the microphone as its audio I/O. Since there is no level control on the microphone, input volume is set using the Sound control panel (see screen shot). Easy.
Voice recordings made with the AT2020USB+ were clean and clear with excellent articulation and good balance from low to high frequencies. The mic has a warm, pleasing proximity effect when you get close (within a few inches) but at some expense of popping P’s and wind noise. A voiceover artist who tends to eat the mic like a sarlacc was able to cause some unpleasant popping and wind noise on the mic so we suggest using a windscreen. A low-cut switch to correct this would be on the wish list. A 100 Hz low-cut filter with a steep (18 dB/octave) slope was effective in filtering some of the popping (as well as mechanically transmitted noise).
Acoustic guitar recordings with the AT2020USB+ were beautiful, easily challenging more expensive studio mics.
We did not have much luck recording a loud drum kit: even when we set the input level to minimum we heard a bit of distortion — though it was difficult to ascertain the source of that distortion (i.e. was it coming from the microphone, or the interface of the microphone to the computer?).
Off-axis response — the microphone’s tonal character when a sound moves off to the side — was consistent with sound from the front, not something we can say of all mics, some of which tend to unpleasantly color the sound when off-axis.
The AT2020USB+ appears to be based on Audio-Technica’s popular AT2020 — a “traditional” mic with an analog XLR output. How Audio-Technica manages to add an A/D, D/A, headphone jack/amp, and onboard mic pre without making it sell for $500 is a small miracle.
It’s a breeze to use, and when mounted on the included table stand it’s unobtrusive enough to remain on a podcaster’s desk at all times. The AT2020USB+ is an excellent tool for home recording and capturing sounds on location for post-production or field recording.
Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000 Hz
Pickup Pattern: Cardioid
Power Requirements: USB Power (5V DC)
Sample Rate: 44.1 or 48 kHz
System Requirements: Macintosh: MAC OS X or Windows XP/Vista/Windows 7; USB 1.0 or 2.0
– Darth Fader