Audio-Technica ATM63 & ATM41a Mikes
Taking the Mike: Two top mikes from leading Japanese maker Audio-Technica - the ATM63 & ATM41a - went under the IT microscope this month. Just how good are they, we asked?
Both these Audio-Technicas came well presented in rigid plastic carrying cases (foam-lined), and with swivel stand adaptors, foam 'wind shields' and vinyl slip-cases. Interestingly, they also had printed graph sheets of each mike's individual performance, showing how close to the maker's catalogue spec, the actual samples performed. No mike leads were supplied. Both mikes take conventional 3-pin Cannon/XLR type connectors. Output on both is normally 'balanced,' low impedance (much better for lengthy cable runs) but they can also be used as unbalanced types (an optional extra lead terminating in a jack plug caters for this), and you can get a line-matching transformer, in case you have an amp which demands high impedance mikes.
Equally useful, Audio-Technica claim, for use on instrument and vocal applications, this mike feels like a nicely made unit. It's got a die cast metal body, with a fairly tough metal foil blast shield.
Weighing-in at around 10oz. (around the same as a Shure SM57, say) it balances well in the hands, feeling nicely substantial. On-stage repairs shouldn't be too difficult, as the mike strips down quickly - you simply unscrew the barrel around 1/3rd. of the way down the mike's 6 1/2" length to reveal the capsule within.
A dynamic (moving coil) type, the ATM63 offers a traditional cardioid (heart-shaped) pickup pattern, designed to reduce the possibility of unwanted signals from audiences, backline amplification, P.A. monitors etc. from being 'caught' in its field. Frequency response of this model is quoted as being from 50 to 17,000 Hz. On the spec, sheet, response rises sharply from 50Hz by around 18dB till it flattens out around 150Hz, where it should stay 'flat' (i.e., reproducing each frequency to the same degree) to 1K rising by about 5dB to 4K at which point it rises and falls by degrees till it runs off before 20kHz. The makers claim a sensitivity of -76 dB, and impedance of 250 ohms.
A ball-headed mike (unlike the ATM63), this model superseded the previous ATM41, and now has an extra 'a' added as a suffix. It's suggested mainly for lead vocal applications. Again, it feels sturdy, with the same all-metal die cast body, weighing some 2oz. more than the ATM63. A fairly wide mesh metal pop screen adorns the top of the ball, lined with foam, and this unscrews to reveal the capsule within. Again, the body unscrews to provide access to the capsule connections, so repairs should be easy.
Frequency response of the ATM41a is quoted at 50-16,000Hz and the sensitivity is now rated at -76dB, as opposed to the earlier ATM41's rating of -56dB. Impedance is 250 Ohms and it's a typical cardioid pickup patterned dynamic, in this case with a gently rising response (of around 10dB) from 50-500Hz. It troughs a shade at 1K and then rises in response from 2K to 5K falling back by about 5dB till it tails off at the upper (17kHz) limit.
There's no doubting that this is a very capable vocal mike. Qualities which you'd look for in a vocal mike include resistance to handling noise, shock suppression and resistance to stage-borne bass frequencies etc. The Audio-Technica performs well in all these respects.
The unidirectional response (vital to keep out unwanted sounds from other singers, monitors, backline amps etc.) is excellent, and the sound quality bright and crisp, without the 'boominess' sometimes associated with less well designed vocal mikes. Response - sound, if you prefer - was pretty smooth across the range, with very good intelligibility, so that announcements in between songs and lyrics were both clear and understandable.
Flatter in response than some of the best known American and European vocal mikes, the Audio-Technica delivers a clean, clear vocal reproduction, very faithful to the sound of your voice. It doesn't have the extra 'edge' - due to the well recognised 'presence peak' - of some other mikes, and is a fair degree warmer in tone quality on account of the absence of this.
With a warm sound, smooth response, good resistance to feedback and handling noise, this mike seems to represent a very good buy at the price. Although it may not be cheap by lower-spec Audio Technica standards, an RRP of £96 is good for such a high quality product. In sheer performance terms it's a good-sounding mike for the singer who's looking for a smooth vocal mike. We doubt that it has quite the absolute ruggedness internally of some of the established pro-class competition, but you'd have to be unusually rough to harm it. Well worth checking-out, and £96 RRP is a welcome price for such a capable performer.
Unusual in that it's aimed for both instrument and vocal uses, the Audio-Technica ATM63 is a fairly recent introduction.
This mike exhibited similar constructional standards to the ATM41a, so it should prove to be reliable - particularly important in a mike suited to instrument purposes; especially for drum miking!
To aim a mike at both instrument and vocal applications calls for a strange mixture of abilities. Instruments vary widely in their needs, and vocalists certainly differ one from another quite markedly. To serve both applications isn't easy, and Audio Technica have opted here for a fairly flattish response with a sharp curve from 50 to 100Hz (giving a useful bass roll-off effect to prevent boom), then rising in a very shallow gradient with some ups and downs till it falls right off at around 17kHz.
This flatness results in an essentially neutral sound which some vocalists will love, but others might feel lacks the pronounced 'presence peak' which they associate with some other lead vocal mikes. Given a voice in which you're 100% confident, this might be fine - but how many singers don't relish just that extra 'bite' which a normal lead vocal mike gives them?
Where the ATM63 does score, however, is on instrumental uses, where that flatness delivers a very faithful reproduction of an instrument. Drums, pianos - acoustic instruments generally - this Audio-Technica will deliver a sound that's very faithful to the original, and you'd have to go to a more costly condenser type in the Audio-Technica range to get anything much flatter.
For instrument miking we rated this mike highly (it could be particularly useful for drums and cymbals unless, of course, you wanted a presence 'boost' on instruments too). For vocal work we'd be inclined to recommend it more as a backing singers' unit (why not reserve that flattering 'boost' for your lead singer?!). Another very obvious application would be in a home or medium-sized demo studio, where the ATM63's fundamental evenness of response would suit it for a wide range of applications.
As with the ATM41a, this model is certainly worth the asking price, providing you bear in mind what you want to use it for. After all, this is the very reason why the major mike makers offer so many options - to give you the choice. When you need faithful reproduction from a dynamic mike (suited especially to stage applications) this represents a good choice at a very reasonable price.
Two good mikes here - it's hard to fault either of them at the price. Some sacrifices might have been made in a couple of areas to keep the cost down, but, basically, these are both fine mikes, offered at very reasonable prices. Horses for courses being very much the name of the game with mikes, we'd suggest that the ATM41a would do a good job on lead vocal uses for singers wanting an honest representation of their voices, and that the ATM63 is best used on instruments where you want a faithful sound - notably drums, acoustic guitars, pianos etc. Both would be useful in home and demo studios, where you want a basically 'flat' response which the desk will provide the required Eq. on.
More info on Audio-Technica from John Hornby Skewes & Co. Ltd., (Contact Details).
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