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AUDIO-TECHNICA AT3060

February 1, 2004
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Audio-Technica has the distinction of being the first company to make a phantom-powered tube microphone for the personal-studio market. The fixed-cardioid AT3060 has the heft and quality feel of a premium instrument, but it isn't bulky like a vintage tube mic. This miniaturization is partly made possible by the small Raytheon tube at the heart of its ingenious design.

The AT3060's housing is all metal (nickel-plated brass) with a sturdy open-weave metal grille occupying roughly half of the microphone's 6¾-inch length (see Fig. 1). The enclosed diaphragm, which is over an inch in diameter, is the largest used in an Audio-Technica product to date. Because it's phantom powered, the AT3060 connects to any standard XLR mic cable, and no external power supply or multipin connector cable is needed.

The absence of a separate power supply helps keep the cost down, as does the fact that the AT3060 doesn't come with a hardshell carrying case. However, it does come with a padded zipper bag to hold and protect the mic. Also included is a tough black plastic swiveling shockmount that looks like it's designed to stand up to years of professional use.

The mic fit snugly into the shockmount, so I had no reluctance about hanging it upside-down, which is standard for tube transducers. However, because this microphone body doesn't seem to heat up at all, even after hours of use, following the convention of inverting it to keep heat away from the diaphragm is not necessary.

TO THE TEST

Because the manufacturer advertises the AT3060 as possessing a “warm classic tube sound,” I began my tests by putting up the 3060 against one of my favorite tube mics, the Lawson L47 MP.

Although some might view testing the $599 AT3060 against the $2,000 L47 MP as comparing apples to oranges, I have often been surprised by the strong performance of a less expensive “underdog” when comparing mics of different price ranges. Using the Lawson, a mic that I'm quite familiar with, also gave me a good reference point for evaluating the AT3060.

I started my comparison by carefully matching output levels with a 1 kHz tone and by doing loudspeaker tests. For this test, the mics were placed side by side, roughly two feet in front of a powered monitor. I then played a selection of mixes through the monitor and compared the sound of the mics. No surprises here: the AT3060 was simply not able to measure up to the considerably more expensive Lawson's big tone (which is based on an emulation of the famed Neumann U47).

However, when I compared the mics on acoustic guitar, the AT3060 outperformed the Lawson. Whereas the Lawson sounded full but tubby, the AT3060 accentuated the pick attack and sparkle and imbued the guitar's sound with a “ready-to-mix” attitude.

When I tried out the two mics on an electric guitar amp the results were more in line with their price points. Compared to the Lawson, the AT3060 sounded distant and filtered, as if it had been on a different amp with a smaller speaker. On single-note lines the difference was less apparent than on chords, but the AT3060 still diminished the fundamental tone and punch on low notes.

DRILLING DEEPER

In order to contrast the AT3060 with a mic more comparable in price and timbre, I pulled a Blue Baby Bottle out of my studio's mic closet. Like the AT3060 — whose published specs highlight a 10 dB rolloff at 20 kHz (see Fig. 2) — the solid-state Baby Bottle has a softened high-end response that can be suitably mellow in some applications, though a bit dull in others.

On acoustic guitar, as with the previous Lawson comparison, the AT3060 was a clear winner. Its timbre complemented the metallic components of rhythm strumming without being strident, while the Baby Bottle sounded too warm and mushy. Likewise, on a tambourine track (with the performer ranging from 4 to 15 feet away) the AT3060 delivered a well-defined sound with plenty of room character at all distances. By contrast, the Baby Bottle sounded closer and drier on the tambourine, delivering a smoother, more listenable timbre at close proximity but sounding diffused as the performer backed away from the mic cluster.

In the loudspeaker test, the Baby Bottle had more of an authoritative thump in the lows, a stronger midrange, and less incisive highs than the AT3060. Tweaking the Audio-Technica mic with EQ (a 4 dB cut at 5 kHz and a 2 dB boost at 200 Hz) brought its sound close to that of the Baby Bottle for midrange instruments in the mix. But I was puzzled to find that, even against the solid-state mic, there was a flatness and lack of depth to the AT3060's sound, irrespective of frequency.

I also tried the AT3060 out for recording bass guitar. For this task I usually rely on an AKG 414-BULS with the -10 dB pad engaged. On a bass amp playing at average studio volume (well below club or rock concert levels), the output of the AT3060 was extremely distorted before it hit the mic preamp. In this case the lack of a pad switch on the mic was a distinct disadvantage, and there was not much else to do but make a change to my standby AKG mic.

As an ambient drum-room mic on a rock project, the AT3060 performed adequately and had no problems handling the drum levels from ten feet away. But because the mic tended to emphasize harshness in the cymbals and didn't do much to enhance the bigness of toms or kick, it didn't figure prominently in the mix.

I had much more success using the AT3060 on clarinet and soprano saxophone. The AT3060 gave a nice woody tone to the clarinet although its 6 kHz presence boost often over-emphasized breath and other air sounds. On soprano sax — an instrument that usually needs some extra presence — the AT3060 delivered an aggressive, penetrating midrange that really worked. It was not quite the mellow sound I associate with my favorite tube mics, but I liked the high-end definition, and noted no harshness in the sax's upper range.

On a male singer — acoustic guitarist with a baritone voice, the AT3060 turned in another good performance. As a close-mic for vocals it was defined and never sibilant. To overcome some thinness in the vocal sound I did have to get the mic closer than usual, but in so doing encountered no problems with popping or proximity effect. In fact, during mixing I had to add a bit more bass to get enough low-end foundation on the voice.

SAFETY VALVE

After extensive testing, I feel that the AT3060 has positive attributes, and clearly offers an innovative design and excellent build quality. But to my ears, the characteristics of tube sound — depth, harmonic richness, powerful bass, and silky highs — are not what this mic is about. I just didn't hear the “warm and classic” tube sound promised by the manufacturer. What I did hear was a present and defined timbre that was thin at times, but flattering to sources such as vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion, and high woodwinds.

Myles Boisen is the head engineer, janitor, and group therapist at Guerrilla Recording and The Headless Buddha Mastering Lab in Oakland, California.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Audio-Technica

AT3060
tube microphone
$599

AUDIO QUALITY 3.0
VALUE 3.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Affordable phantom-powered tube mic. Works well for acoustic guitars, percussion, high woodwinds, and vocals. Needs no external power supply. Excellent build quality. Sturdy shock mount.

CONS: Lacks warmth for a tube mic. Thin-sounding on some sources. No pad switch. No hard-shell carrying case.

Manufacturer

Audio-Technica
tel. (330) 686-2600
e-mail pro@atus.com
Web www.audio-technica.com

AT3060 Specifications

Element condenser
Polar Pattern cardioid
Frequency Response 50 Hz-16 kHz
Signal-to-Noise Ratio 77 dB, 1 kHz @ 1 Pa
Dynamic Range (typical) 117 dB, 1 kHz @ max. SPL
Phantom-Power Requirements 48V, 3 mA typical
Impedance 400ž
Maximum Input Sound Level 134 dB SPL, 1 kHz @ 1% THD
Dimensions 6.71" (L) × 2.05" maximum body diameter
Weight 1.19 lb.

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