I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted a good ribbon microphone. Being the previous owner of garbage bin worthy ribbon mic’s that will remain nameless due to the road of unhappiness? One thing that is always certain is an uphill battle is a pre amp to provide adequate gain staging to get those meters jumping! We all learned by reading that phantom power 48volt power supply traveling through the XLR cable can fry a ribbon mic. So as a rule of thumb, always check when connecting such a beast of delicate nature.
We received the Audio-Technica AT4081 ribbon microphone for review. The AT4081 comes in a boxed case, wind screen and a very small mic clip. The AT4081 looked a lot smaller in my hand than I imagined. But hey! Size doesn’t matter right? The slim design and finish was amazing and it even had the weight of larger microphones. The face and back present a tasteful perforated screen and a solid null on each side. The side null should be a huge advantage for tracking something like a high hat will using the null to limit the bleed of the snare drum. After all a ribbon microphone is great to soften audio transients.
What made this interesting is that we had already tracked a male vocal with a legendary Neumann U87 through a Vintech x73i mic pre. It was very convenient to have the same vocalist in the studio to help with the A and B comparison of the AT4081 to a U87.
We placed the AT4081 on a stand with a pop screen that was placed at the typical location for the vocalist. As we adjusted the gain control on the mic pre I was somewhat disappointed with having to push the gain so much to generate any workable meters. I quickly started investigating why it was projecting such low levels. Finally! read the words that are against the grain “This Microphone requires Phantom Power”. What? Is this so? So quickly I stumbled for the Phantom Power switch and BOOM!!! We almost blew up the room with the amount of gain. I’m sure the neighbours thought I was conducting an experiment like Doc on “Back to the Future”! Well, I guess I kind of was.
Dialing in the desired gain amount was easier with Phantom Power engaged. Now ready for the new vocal take we when hit record. Tracking the parts of the first verse and chorus for our comparison purpose turned out great. So it was time for playback, WOW! This mic sounded Great! It was fat, warm, smooth and handled transients like a reel to reel tape machine. Right out of the gate with no EQ and compression it was all there. It was so pleasing to hear a microphone that adds to a vocal rather than take away.
Now the comparison between the AT4081 ($599.00) and the Neumann U87 ($2999.00). We knew this was going to be a toughie going up against the U87 being the most recorded microphones in the business. Well, let me tell you the AT4081 proved it could provide a solid capture and a worthwhile vocal keeper track. Being impressed with the microphone we carried on to finish the song entirely.
Every studio should have different microphones and mic pre’s for different situations. What one microphone can do well on an instrument, another cannot. Choosing the right microphone is most of the battle in this art. To explain, imagine a Rhodes NTK Tube microphone and it represents the color blue and the song is considered as the painting canvas.
After all it is Art we are doing right? So try and paint a picture using different colors rather than a solid color that you just keep layering. Don’t let your songs end up sounding stale and lifeless, that’s will be no different than a solid colored painting. Yes, it would be Boring!!!
Conclusion? The AT4081 will get a lot of use in my studio, no different than the U87 has. The only possible thing that could make owning a AT4081 better? Owning two! I have another AT4081 added to my wish list for a future purchase. I can only imagine using them as overheads. But I won’t be selling my Neumann U87 anytime soon.