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Audio-Technica AT2020USB+: Bringing the Studio Home

By Christopher Coke on September 13, 2017 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Audio-Technica AT2020USB+: Bringing the Studio Home

August and September are microphone months this year at MMORPG. Last month, we examined the Blue Yeti and our reader’s quickly pointed out the most compelling options, but one kept coming up above the others, the Audio-Technica AT2020. We listened and reached out to our friends at Audio Technica; they wanted to help. Today we’re taking a closer look at the AT2020USB+, the PC powered version of one of the best selling side-address microphones on the market, out of the box ready to take your streaming to the next level.

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Let’s start with the specs:

  • Element: Fixed-charge back plate, permanently polarized condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20-20,000 Hz
  • Power Requirements: USB Power (5V DC)
  • Bit Depth: 16 bit
  • Sample Rate: 44.1/48kHz
  • Volume Control: Mix control; headphone volume control
  • Weight: 386g
  • Headphone Jack: 3.5 mm (1/8") TRS (stereo)
  • Included Accessories: Pivoting stand mount for 5/8"-27 threaded stands; 5/8"-27 to 3/8"-16 threaded adapter; soft protective pouch; tripod desk stand; 10' (3.1 m) USB cable

Audio-Technica has been a stalwart in the professional recording industry for more than 50 years. If you’ve even modestly paid attention to the high end audio space, you certainly know the name. With streaming become more popular with every passing year, and the demand for premium home recording equipment increasing alongside it, it’s exciting to see A-T transition their popular, budget-friendly AT2020 to a USB interface, opening it up to a whole new audience of enthusiasts.

The AT2020USB+ is a condenser microphone, which is the preferred style for both vocal and studio recordings. Speaking in a general sense, their frequency range and transient response are improved over the dynamic microphones often found on a stage. If you’re reading this, however, it’s likely because you’re considering the AT2020USB+ for content creation, be it streaming on Twitch, recording voiceover for YouTube, or bumping the quality of your podcast. In other words, speech.

The AT2020USB+ works wonderfully for recording the spoken word. It sounds fantastic, which I’ll elaborate on shortly, but when considering high-end purchases for your PC setup, it’s worthwhile to think beyond what you’re doing today and to look toward what you might want to do in the future. To that end, the AT2020USB+ is a smart investment that, while marrying you to the USB interface, provides you with a responsiveness that makes it a perfect fit for home instrumental recordings as well. Should you want to break the USB chain, Audio Technica offers an XLR variant of the AT2020 for only $99. Bear in mind, that version will require an audio interface to connect with your PC, which can often run more than $100.

Audio-Technica’s streaming darling just screams quality. It features a dense all metal construction that feels extremely durable. There is very little that could break, should it drop from a desk or loose hand, and I feel confident that it would survive most falls still completely functional. The adjustment wheels for microphone mix and headphone volume recessed into the frame, leaving them protected and unexposed. The condenser capsules are also quite secure, shielded behind a rigid metal cage.

It’s also worth noting that the AT2020 is reasonably sized. You won’t have any trouble finding a shock mount or adjustable boom arm to fit it, a problem which plagues large-frame competitors like the Blue Yeti or Razer Seiren, and which necessitates an expensive proprietary purchase to avoid unwanted noise transfer when using your computer. Given the larger size of these competitor mics, it’s downright refreshing to have a reasonably sized alternative.

Getting started with the USB+ is quite simple. The microphone is plug and play, meaning that you can jump right into streaming with only minor adjustments in your software. If you want to adjust the sample rate or gain, you’ll need to dig into its settings in the control panel. And you might want to, as the microphone has  a respectable output and may seem a bit sensitive at same distance recordings with competitor mics. It also defaults to 16-bit, 44.1kHz sampling, standard for USB recording, but can be bumped to 48kHz if you choose.

Below you can hear the AT2020USB+ in action, compared against the Blue Yeti, Razer Seiren, and a CAD U37 standing in as our low-cost option.

For podcasting and other vocal work, the AT2020USB+ is very balanced and effective recording tool. Often, these mics will err on the the low end, clipping higher frequencies and opting for a deeper bass resonance. Here, the higher frequencies are just slightly brighter but make for a more natural capture. The included headphone jack also allows for latency-free monitoring, which is borderline essential at even the semi-pro level. The USB connection provides the benefit of transferring your PC’s audio back through its headphone jack, making it that much more of an all-in-one solution.

The AT2020 is a more specialized mic, a fact made known through its single cardioid polar pattern. For the $150 price, this is a noteworthy limitation, but one I feel most potential buyers will never feel. While it’s nice to have the versatility afforded by multi- or omni-directional recording arrangements, a spoken word creative will very rarely use more than a standard front address anyhow. If you plan on interviews across a table, have a keen interest in stereo duets, or ever may, this is a limitation worth considering. For everyone else, the AT2020USB+ does what it’s designed for and does it well.

In fact, the only real criticism worth levying against the USB+ package has nothing to do with the mic itself. Instead, it’s that the stand feels much less considered. It’s lightweight, but has a tendency to tip over if it’s not positioned correctly. It also sits too low for my taste, requiring me to lean down to really speak into the microphone.

Audio-Technica’s AT2020USB+ is a great little mic. It’s well built, offers a natural sound, and features an excellent studio heritage. It’s single cardioid pattern does limit things a bit, but the vast majority of users will find this of no consequence whatsoever. For what it offers, the AT2020USB+ is a solid choice for anyone this side of a full audio interface and allows gamers like you or I to bring a little piece of the studio home.

Pros

  • Excellent recording quality
  • Nice onboard controls, including monitoring
  • Great build quality
  • Longstanding recording heritage
  • Included carrying case

Cons

  • Single polar pattern
  • Unimpressive included stand

The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.