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Review: Audio-Technica AT2020USB-X

Audio-Technica spawns another USB-capable rendition of its famous AT2020 and its utility extends beyond video calls.

By

6 September 2022

It’s safe to assume that the USB microphone market swelled through the pandemic. And just because we are now ‘out the other end’ I’m not sure that demand has completely gone away. Think of the many podcasters who kicked off their shows as a Covid isolation project only for it to turn into something much bigger. Thousands of people decided to take their musical aspirations more seriously and started writing songs, learning instruments, and recording themselves. Online gaming has a communication and livestreaming element that necessitates reliable video call peripherals. Not to mention, one of the lingering effects of Covid is the way it’s made remote calls a part of daily life for the ‘hybrid’ workforce.

Which perhaps explains why Audio-Technica would choose now to release its AT2020USB-X microphone. 

The AT2020USB-X is the ‘reimagining’ of the AT2020USB+. It sports the same capsule that’s been proven a winner since the budget AT2020 condenser became popular with home recording enthusiasts years ago. This expands the product’s purview comfortably beyond just speech to include all manner of musical instrument recording – the AT2020 is a fairly versatile studio all-rounder. As the freshest USB version, the AT2020USB-X offers 24-bit/96kHz conversion with a 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response.

As with most class compliant devices I had no issues getting the AT2020USB-X ready for use on my Mac – literally a plug ’n’ play affair with the included USB-C to USB-A cable. An adapter is included if your computer has USB-C ports only. Input level is adjusted digitally (on a Mac this is done through System Preferences > Sound where you can also choose the AT2020USB-X as the primary Input and/or Output device). The same applies in a DAW or livestream software environment.

GET IN FRONT

Controls, dials and switches on the rear of a mic bother me. Audio-Technica has kept things neat and forward-facing with the AT2020USB-X. There are two sunken dials on the front; one adjusts the blend between computer and latency-free mic monitoring, and the other adjusts headphone level. Both are easily spun by your thumb without needing to reposition the mic. The mute ‘button’ is a large touch sensitive pad which toggles the blue/red LED inside the grille to show the mic’s current status. The colours turn the AT2020USB-X into a desktop statement piece but I love it. With the button on the front you can effortlessly and silently mute the mic before twiddling any other settings and potentially disrupting a podcast or live stream. 

I much prefer the new oval-shaped desktop stand to the tripod-style stand of the AT2020USB+. Although it’s plastic, the rubber pad and the weight of the mic itself keep it planted firmly. You can tilt the mic from nearly horizontal to facing slightly downwards. Worth mentioning is the lack of shockmounting or elasticity in the connection from the mic to the base to offer isolation from rumbles and vibrations. When my WD spinning hard drive was running, the vibrations through the desk resulted in a droning low frequency hum in the AT2020USB-X which disappeared the moment I picked it up. Typing on my keyboard produced plenty of audible thumps which a boom arm instantly rectified. Audio-Technica has included a thread adapter if you want to screw the AT2020USB-X onto a regular mic stand.

NEED TO KNOW

Audio-Technica AT2020USB-X
USB Microphone
  • PRICE

    Expect to pay $249

  • CONTACT

    Technical Audio Group:
    (02) 9519 0900 or info@tag.com.au

  • PROS

    Mic suits a variety of sources
    Nice design with accessible controls

  • CONS

    Deskmount prone to transmit vibrations

  • SUMMARY

    If you’re after a USB mic for more universal use than speech alone, the AudioTechnica AT2020USB-X is a versatile, affordable and elegant option. Musician-friendly features like zero latency monitoring and a mix blend knob expand its scope. Setup is effortless and it’s even easier to use. Perfect for podcasters, gamers and singer/songwriters.

MORE THAN A SPEECH MIC

Chances are, if you’re looking at the AT2020USB-X and not the cheapest option from OfficeWorks’ house brand, it’s because you care about sound. So, how does the Audio-Technica mic sound?

Compared to a dynamic counterpart, the cardioid condenser capsule has a definite sizzle in the upper trebles. The upside is you don’t need to do much to arrive at a polished sound on speech or instruments; the downside is the high-end emphasis won’t always pair nicely with your source. But if you’ve ever used an AT2020 before, you’ll know the mic has no issues going between guitars, percussion, sung vocals, acoustic pianos, and practically whatever you put in front of it. The slightly scooped midrange maintains a clean sonic signature even when the tracks stack up. Plosives, rumbles and generally an overdose of low end can be an issue – a built-in HPF would be most welcome – but it’s nothing a filter in post can’t fix. 

One thing worth pointing out is the 120° cardioid polar pattern. That’s fairly wide for a mic of this sort. If your room isn’t acoustically dead, expect to hear lots of it. As always, proximity is your friend if you want to tighten up those reflections. On the flip side, the pickup width combined with the sensitivity of a condenser capsule means it does a great job in scatter gun scenarios – picking up half a table full of presenters in a conference room, capturing a one-mic sketch of a bunch of musos in the same space, or at the back of the room at a live show. 

All that is to say the AT2020USB-X is a perfectly viable option for not only video calls, but music or other content creation purposes. Or, importantly, any remote recording purposes. Did I mention you can use it with your smart devices? Keep one in your bag to capture a spontaneous idea, then use it to record a formal version into your DAW when you get home. Zero latency monitoring and the built-in headphone output makes a quick recording sesh a breeze. It’s nice when a product works without complaints with whatever device is nearest to you at the time.

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