Review: Preshan John
There’s something powerful about having a mic set up on your desk. As if it lends everything you say a little extra authority. I’ve had Audio-Technica’s AT2020USBi sitting on mine the last few weeks, and people have been taking me much more seriously around the AT office. Truthfully, I haven’t taken the time to ask, I’ve just had far too many important things to tell them.
The mic is a familiar one, it’s an iOS-compatible version of the USB version of the AT2020, itself
a popular mic choice for many home studio enthusiasts. The cardioid condenser supports 24-bit/96k sampling and comes with a folding table-top tripod stand, USB cable, and — to suit its new iOS capabilities — a Lightning cable.
As you’d hope, getting sound from the USB class compliant AT2020USBi into your computer is as easy as plugging it in. A blue LED lights up behind the grille when the mic is powered up. It’s just as straightforward using it with an iOS device too — no setup needed.
The controls are very minimal. A single rotary dial on the front adjusts the mic gain level. Unfortunately, there’s no headphone output in sight, which means you can’t directly monitor the microphone’s output. When you don’t have any control over the buffer size, say recording directly to Quicktime, the default latency is pretty slow. It might not be a big deal for podcasting, but kills the mood when you’re trying to monitor yourself recording to a click, or singing vocals to a track.
To work around the default buffer, I used Audio MIDI Setup on my Mac to configure an Aggregate Device, using the AT2020USBi for sound input and the computer’s built-in output for monitoring. Latency wasn’t much of an issue at 32 or 64 samples buffer size, which demonstrates that the mic’s internal latency isn’t altogether lousy (Audio- Technica told us the internal latency was around 1ms, assuming this fastest spec occurs at 96k). At higher buffer settings the delay will throw you off if you’re monitoring what you’re recording. Your best option is to always use a dedicated recording program that gives you control over buffer sizes, even on iOS.
If you don’t need iOS device compatibility, the 24-bit/48k AT2020USB+ offers both a headphone output and Mix control for zero latency monitoring.
The AT2020USBi delivered good, clean results. Its subdued midrange gives it a scooped ‘smiley face EQ’ sound. I found myself unusually adding a generous amount of 1kHz to most tracks to compensate for the absence of mids. The low end is very present, with substantial proximity effect. Recording multiple layers of acoustic guitar exposed a slightly unpleasant build up of muddiness, but nothing some EQ couldn’t fix.
The AT2020USBi works a treat on spoken word. Nice and full in the lows, present in the highs. Bear in mind the pickup pattern is pretty wide so you’ll want to stay close to the mic to avoid excessive roominess. Plosives are another thing to watch out for, but a high-pass filter at 100Hz almost completely got rid of them for me, even without a pop filter.
The AT2020USBi is a stripped back USB mic that’s easy to set up on both your computer or iOS device. It’s not fancy, but for its price you’re at no loss carrying it around with your laptop or iPad for when inspiration strikes unexpectedly. For the rest of the time, park it on your desktop corner to give your home or work interior an authoritative edge.
You can check out a quick acoustic guitar recording using the AT2020USBi here.