Audio / Hands-on Review

6 Reasons the Audio-Technica AT2020USBi is Still Great Bang for Your Buck

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USB microphones have come a long way since their inception, with strides being made all the time in ADC tech, sound, and build quality; these days, some companies even team up with well-regarded brands like Apogee in nestling analog-to-digital converters within their microphones. And yet, some mics have exhibited solid build and dependable sonics for quite a while now. Take the Audio-Technica AT2020USBi Condenser Microphone: this mic stands up to current competitors—and even a few hardwired microphones. Let's examine why.

Convenience

I was recently lent an AT2020USBi for this review and, I must say, as soon as I plugged it into a free USB port, the mic showed right up in my DAW, replete with a message asking me if I’d like to select the AT2020USBi as my recording device. This is a welcome bit of straightforwardness, since anyone who's troubleshot a digital-audio device can corroborate; indeed, if you've been through the fresh hell that is sifting through drivers and pleading with hardware to play nice, you know the exquisite feeling of true class compliance.

The AT2020USBi provides this feeling in spades. Once it pops up—and once you’ve selected the mic in your DAW—recording through its cardioid capsule is as simple as setting it up on a stand, pointing it at an instrument, and controlling the level with a simple, front-facing rotary dial.

The mic can even take hard-rock wailing at proper gain settings, handling the transients and sustained high notes equally well. This condenser microphone handles your best Chris Cornell impersonation, all while operating at resolutions and sample rates of up to 96 kHz and 24 bits. I’m pleased to report that in the world of iOS recording, the mic is similarly easy to use.

It Sounds Like an Audio-Technica Microphone

There’s a reason engineers as disparate as Frank Filipetti and Alan Parsons have mentioned Audio-Technica products glowingly and without prompting: Audio-Technica mics produce solid, versatile results.

I was blessed to claim the Audio-Technica AT4050 as the first capsule I ever laid out my own cash for (that wasn't a Radio Shack junker or a Shure SM57/58); based on research, I skipped over cheaper offerings and went for a budget-friendly mic proven to handle vocals, drum overheads, and acoustic guitars with equal aplomb. The AT4050 is still in heavy rotation at my studio over a decade later, especially when a female R ’n’ B singer needs to lay down a sparkly vocal; it consistently brings the goods.

But you are not here for a hands-on review of the AT4050. This is a review of the AT2020USBi. To that end, let me offer this parable: When I unboxed the mic, I expected to hear something I wouldn't necessarily care for, something unflattering in a specific frequency range, or just devoid of warmth altogether.

No, the AT2020USBi did not sound like the AT4050; I do not mean to promise the moon here. Yet my ears were immediately pleased by its overall tonal aspect: This mic played the game in the same ballpark of that dependable player, offering a presence without overt and undue harshness, as well as a sweetness in the lower mids, to boot. Yes, it was a tad sibilant, but that’s why mic technique and de-essers exist. My overall sonic takeaway was one of satisfaction—truly, it was impressive that this mic gave off the flavor of the flagship.

It's Built Like an Audio-Technica Microphone

Upon taking the mic out of the box, I was impressed by the strong heft of the design; I was reminded of my AT4050 yet again—a microphone that's been through a lot, including much mishandling by students. I have not put the AT2020USBi through the same paces (for I must give the microphone back), but if the weight and construction are any indicator, the mic should prove a rugged and dependable unit. Indeed, that's what other reviews have said throughout the years.

It Receives Processing Extraordinarily Well

True, you don't get the benefit of your boutique preamps and colorful compressors when tracking with a USB microphone. But the emulation game has hit new heights in recent years, with companies such UAD, Steven Slate, Softube, Waves, and others perfecting modeling of classic hardware pieces.

This would mean nothing, however, if the mic weren't predisposed to handle processing well. The ability to take processing is an integral, yet not always assumed, trait in a microphone.

Audio-Technica AT2020USBi Condenser USB Microphone

I ran a sung vocal through a Slate 73 preamp emulation, followed by a de-esser, a digital equalizer for cuts, then a UAD summit audio TLA-2A compressor (for color/dynamics taming), and finally, some air from a Maag EQ. How did it sound? In two words, very believable. I wouldn't implement the result in a pop track, but for indie rock, garage rock, underground hip hop and, of course, podcasting, the mic does the job, accepting processing like a champ. I also recorded an acoustic guitar, routing it through the UAD’s Studer, API 550, and LA2A emulations. The result was similar: passible in the proper context, and not out of place.

It Comes Stocked for Mobile and Project Studio Alike

The mic comes with a host of accoutrements, including a desktop stand, a mic clip, and most importantly, two different cables. Both connect to the AT2020USBi’s micro-HDMI output. At the other end, alternatively, you’ll find a USB termination point or a lightning connector. The latter makes the microphone suitable for use with iOS devices, right out of the box. Some USB microphones require a camera-adapter kit to make the jump over to tablets and smartphones, but the AT2020USBi obviates that step.

It’s Wallet Friendly

For the price, the AT2020USBi is an appropriate entry point for those freshly dipping their toes into the worlds of podcasting or instrument recording. This is especially true if you don’t have the dosh just yet for an interface or a collection of preamps/outboard gear. Indeed, there's a reason this microphone is often included in “Best Podcasting Mics” articles and other such listicles—and you can bet it isn't merely the sonic qualities of the capsule.

Conclusion

So, there you have it: six reasons you should keep rocking the AT2020USBi. Do you have any experience with this microphone? If so, please let us know in the Comments section, below.

5 Comments

Gee, it's even easier to find the price than I thought! One only has to click that Icon link of the item just above the comments that says "Items discussed in this article"! There's not even a copy and paste required to go directly to the page where the item is available for purchase!

Again, thanks so much, Nicholas, for taking the time to share your experiences and opinions/impressions of this USB microphone. Audio-Technica does make some nice products, and I own 3 of their microphones. I'm anxious to see how this USB mic works with my other half when she takes a voice-over class in the near future. The plug and play simplicity, as well as the ease of use of the actual microphone will make it much easier for my un-tech-savvy other half to use it independently when motivation to practice her talent strikes! I'd probably go with a higher-end mic for more serious, professional voice-overs, but we'll see how it performs. . . .

Nicholas, THANK YOU for taking the time to share your experiences with this microphone. I read a lot of reviews and I appreciate your in-depth analysis of what makes this a worthy mic to have in my equipment cabinet(s). I have one, and almost sold it, but am glad that I kept it and will now experiement more with it. I normally use a Presonus USB mixer to interface my microphones to my computer DAW program or while editing video, but I am now taking a second look at this mic for my laptop and iPad Pro because of its portability. 

Hey, Folks -- Why all of the griping about the price of this microphone? Why not just look it up? Any serious buyer knows that the prices of equipment change from one day to the next depending on sales, sellers, etc. I can search for this mic and find 8 different prices from major retailers. B&H just might offer it up as one of their "Deal of the Day" items, which would make any price mentioned here obsolete. 

Infact, I almost never see prices listed in most reviews for these very reasons. I get frustrated having to copy and paste the item name just to get the actual item up in my browser to see what it's currently selling for. It's just so much work (NOT)!

How about thanking the reviewer for taking the time to share his experiences with this microphone -- it's a much bigger job than simply having to search the name of it. I seriously doubt he was paid for the review, either, or it would be noted because that's standard practice. I wrote for a living back in the early-mid 90s, and I've reviewed many items and books, and I didn't get paid to do so. When I see comments such as these, it makes me weary of reading the comment section because there is nothing of substance other than complaints about such a trivial issue. I'd rather hear other people's opinions about equipment that falls within the same topic/category -- such as any similar mics that a reader has used and has had either good or bad results.

It includes a link to price in the first paragraph. In photography and video business - functionality is key to the need of the producer irregardless of price.  If the product meets a need, get it - buy it or rent it.  Otherwise get creative to affordability.

Why avoid telling the reader the list/retail price?  This leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I had a ginger-peachy taste till I got to the end of the article, and said "WTF"

I'm not gonna look-when price isn't mentioned, that's because it's usually too high, NOT wallet friendly, and will turn off the customer's greed glands!

Excuse me for asking, but if it gives, "More bang for the buck" and "It's wallet friendly", why not take the opportunity to say how much it costs in such a lone review. HUH?

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