Audio Technica AT4033 Capacitor Microphone
At around £500, this mic may not seem exactly cheap, but its performance rivals that of microphones costing twice as much.
Paul White reviews a sophisticated and distinctive-sounding cardioid vocal microphone which uses back-electret technology.
Audio Technica have a good reputation for building well-engineered microphones, but this is the first model that looks as though it might make an impression on the recording studio market. The problem is that everyone is used to the established brands, making them loath to change, which may be why Audio Technica have designed the cosmetics of this microphone along the lines of classic models, the back anodised finish being the only concession to changing styles.
The AT-4033 is a capacitor, cardioid-pattern mic, a back-electret model designed primarily for vocal recording. The circuitry is transformerless, while the capsule utilises a floating element with a very low-mass diaphragm, vapour deposited with 50 Angstroms of gold and subsequently aged in a five-step process. This ageing is apparently necessary to ensure consistent long-term performance.
The capsule itself is mounted inside a mesh basket with a small foam disk stuck to the inside of the grille, presumably to intercept moisture that might otherwise damage the capsule. Because the capsule is a back-electret type, the phantom power is used only to supply the integral preamp circuitry — the capsule itself is permanently polarised.
Built into the body are two nicely-recessed switches — the usual low frequency roll-off and a 10dB pad. A conventionally wired XLR connector links the mic to the outside world, and the mic is mounted via an elastic suspension cradle. The mount sent for review was beautifully engineered but rather costly and, considering it is not included in the basic price, I might be inclined to look for a cheaper alternative.
The microphone has a good (though not exceptional) noise performance and can handle SPLs up to 140dB when required to do so. A flat frequency response is claimed from 30Hz to 20kHz, but that says very little about the way this mic (or any other) actually sounds.
I compared the 4033 with three other capacitor microphones and a typical dynamic model set up so as to allow me to record the same sound source onto five tape tracks for evaluation. Of all the microphones tested, this was the most sensitive, and the main subjective impression was one of flattering smoothness. It wasn't lacking in high frequency detail in any way, but there was none of that abrasive edge that some mics produce.
Though this is designed as a vocal mic, I decided to try it on a sax session and again found it gave a warm but detailed sound, with less rasp than my other mics produced. I know that at least one of my test mics is pretty honest, so I'm assuming that the ATM 4033 is somewhat coloured, but then most of the classic mics are chosen for that very reason.
Given that this mic has a medium-sized diaphragm, its directional characteristics proved to be well under control. The sound remains consistent over a large angle in both the vertical and horizontal planes, a fact which I partially attribute to the cardioid characteristic being a touch on the wide side.
There is one school of thought which says every good recording should be made with a ruthlessly accurate microphone, but don't feel this philosophy can be applied unreservedly. In some applications, it is undoubtedly true, but when you're trying to coax the best artistic result from a vocal performance, a sympathetic microphone can be a far more persuasive ally than any amount of outboard EQ. It is for this reason that studios build up collections of different mics to help them get the best from any recording situation, and in this regard, the 4033 does have something different to offer when compared to the other inhabitants of a typical mic locker.
I liked the sound of the 4033 (I feel it is correct to say it has a sound), and though wouldn't use it for every application, I'd certainly like to have one at my disposal. The fact that it is a fixed-pattern mic helps keep the cost down a bit, and to be honest, most studio vocals are done with a cardioid setting anyway. The only whinge is the cost of the shock-mount — in all other respects, this is a classy and musical-sounding microphone that is already winning favour in pro studios and is priced within reach of the serious amateur or semi-pro studio owner.
AT-4033 £558.36; shock mount £99.31. Prices include VAT.
Audio Technica, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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