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Audio-Technica Artist Series

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John Horvath:
During a slump in business late last year, I contacted Mark Herman to offer my help with some Road Testing.  He asked what type of items I would be interested in testing.  Without hesitation I of course said popular, expensive items that I could rent and make a bunch of money with!  Mark didn't seem very amused, but he did offer me an Audio-Technica Artist Series package.  At first I was reluctant to accept because as everyone knows, microphone selection is highly debatable.  Some people choose mics based on personal preference.  Some choose because the industry says it fits the application.  I like Pepsi, you like Coke, now what?

After pondering that I could attempt to focus on durability, build quality, value, and maybe some comparative testing, I agreed to give it a shot.  A couple weeks later, a box arrived from Audio-Technica.  Well, all that was months ago.  Luckily for me the slump in business didn't last long.  Business quickly returned to normal, and by normal I mean completely consuming me.  I probably should have returned the mics asap, but I was genuinely excited about the task and had every intention of giving it my best effort when I gathered enough data and when the time permitted.  After months of waiting, Mark, Sara, and Audio-Technica are probably not very happy with me at this point.  I am publicly sorry to everyone for the delay, but freetime is freetime and business is business, so I cannot apologize for putting my paying customers first.  I guess the good news is, better late than never!


Before the mics arrived, I took a look at my schedule and selected three gigs where I knew the drummer & kit were pro caliber, and because I knew I would be mixing FOH.  Drumkit #1 was a beautiful maple, six piece Pearl kit, played by a local drummer who's well known for his smooth technique and tuning abilities.  Kit #2 was a vintage Ludwig kit, used in three piece Beatles tribute band from New York.  Known for their vintage, tonal accuracy with a modern twist.  Third was the very soft-hitting female drummer from my regular high energy, seven piece latin band.  I know her drumkit better than any other, not only because I've mixed it hundreds of times, but also because she lets me handle head selection and tuning.  From my past experiences, all three would provide a variety of tonal quality and player technique, perfect for use as test subjects.

One thing is I wanted was a way to visually show how these mics compared to other industry standard microphones.  I've never done mic comparison with Smaartlive, so I sent out some emails but never received a response.  Not putting much thought into it, I decided to do the only thing that came to mind; Place each mic 16" from an excellent speaker, plot the response, take a screen shot.  Not the best method, but certainly not the worst.  Though the plots are pretty squiggly, they do exactly what I was hoping, which is visually plot the differences between mics for easy reference comparison.  Please note that after capturing the industry standard mic curve(in blue), I did NOT readjust the measured mic(pink or green) preamp level.  I felt this would show exactly how hot each mic was and the relative levels between them.

The Review

After opening the box, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Audio-Technica(A-T) sent out TEN microphones!

All of which were instrument mics.  Enough for a six piece kit, with top & bottom snare, and overheads.  Before they arrived, I was a little worried that A-T would only send one mic of each model.  Nope, evidently someone at A-T has miked up a drumkit before.  Based on the number of each mic model I received, the instruments in fine print are what I'm speculating A-T intended me to test this particular mic package on.  I am in NO way implying that they are only uses for these mics!  They're simply suggestions among dozens of other possible uses.  Here's what's included:

1 ATM250DE Dual-element instrument mic - Kick drum
1 ATM250 Hypercardioid dynamic instrument mic - Kick drum or floor tom
2 ATM650 Hypercardioid dynamic instrument mic - Top & bottom snare
3 ATM450 Cardioid condenser instrument mic - Hi-hat & overheads
3 ATM350 Cardioid condenser clip-on mic - Toms



My first impression of this mic was Cool, two in one!  Now I can get the best of both worlds, in phase, without having to position two mics - Obviously the main idea behind the design.  Build quality is top-shelf.  Thick, nicely machined metal work, gold XLR pins, and a wire mesh grill that has to made from the thickest guage grill wire of any mic on earth.  Some of the excitement was shot down by the fact that the mic takes a proprietary cable.  Great, another cable to babysit and ultimately loose/damage, rendering the mic unusable for the night.  I would have preferred two XLRs on the back of the mic, but whatever, not a huge deal if A-T offers replacement cables for a reasonable price.  The cable is well made, with black XLRs and flexible wire that seems durable enough for road use.  I didn't measure the cable length but it's gotta be 10' to 15'.  Also included is a padded bag, and I must say, A-T supplies the best microphone bags in the business.  The supplied clip is also excellent.  It's plastic is strong, but slightly rubbery which offers a good amount of isolation from rumble.  If you loose/break it, the mic will fit nicely into just about any other small diameter mic clip.  Two more features included are the 80hz HPF, and the -10db pad, both of which work on the condenser side only.  You will need a small tool to adjust them, they're completely recessed!

Using this mic proved out to be a enlightening experience.  Just when you think you have a wicked kick drum sound using only the dynamic, bring up the condenser.  Adding these two together makes you immediately think you've been working as the caveman soundman.  It's actually quite entertaining to go back & forth just to verify how things sounded before adding the condenser.  I get the feeling that once people realize how much you can benefit from this much versatility and accuracy, other companies will be releasing their own versions.  The dynamic side is definitely not just a 'kick drum mic', but more of a cross between a low frequency mic and a kick drum mic.  It's got a good amount of click, and a good amount of boom, with not too much of either.  Since when did a true, wood kick drum sound have NO content between 150 & 1k?  Whatever, that's another endless discussion so I won't get started on that.  I will say that the 250DE does a stand up job at keeping the mid to low region intact.  Oh, and unless your kick drum is filled with water, I wouldn't suggest using the condenser by itself, it's super bright by itself.  The condenser is also extremely unforgiving.  You will hear every crack, creek, squeak, and fart the drum makes!  I believe both elements working together achieve exactly what A-T intended, in phase harmonious perfection.  With the MSRP being less than the price of an excellent kick drum mic and an excellent condenser combined, this mic is an incredible value.


I'm gonna skip over doing a detailed review of the ATM250 for one simple reason, it's exactly the same as the dynamic section in the DE version.  In fact, my Smaartlive screen shots were so close, I actually got them mixed up.  Build quality and durability is equally the same as with the DE.  Included items are the same as the DE, clip, pouch, but minus the cord.  If you're not looking to add the condenser benefits or versatility, the 250 is definitely on a short list of mics worth checking out.  For me, I'm thinking 250DE for A rig, 250 for B rig.



'The Stow Hammer' as I'm now calling it.  The 650 is built similar to 'The Buchanan Hammer'.  With the olive drab foam in my picture of the 650, it looks like something you'd see in an Army surplus store.  Amazing is the perfect word to describe it's build quality.  I even took the liberty to try and smoosh in the heavy grill on the end of the head.  Nope, it's too strong.  The grill material on the sides is thinner and bendable, but simply unscrewing the grill and pressing it flat again is an easy fix.  One measure of A-T's attention to detail is the rubber butt guard, for lack of a better name.  You know how your mics get all scuffed up near the XLR from constant sliding in & out of the mic clip?  That's not going to happen with this mic.  I'm speculating again, but I'm alsp thinking the butt guard helps too minimize the thump you can hear through the system when someone smacks the mic clip while returning their mic to the stand.  The clip that A-T provides is mega durable, and offers excellent isolation.  Don't loose or break it though.  If you do, you'll be getting out a big wireless clip to finish out the show.  The 650 will NOT fit into a standard sized mic clip.  Surely a drawback for those of us that like to use A25D's on almost every stand.

Audio quality of this mic goes right along with it's build quality.  No matter which snare I put this mic on, excellent results were easily achievable, some with no EQ whatsoever.  Even when used on a guitar combo, the results were ok, but a little grainy sounding for my taste.  What I did like again was the low-mid clarity.  IMO, it wasn't woofy & tubby like the industry standard, but rather more clear while still being thick.  The Smaartlive plot shows what I didn't hear at first, a lower frequency presence peak, which was probably the reason I loved it on snare, but only liked it on guitar.  Who knows.  Whatever spot you choose to use it on, you'll definitely notice it's accurate and natural.  Being hypercardioid, I heard better results with the mic as close as possible to the snare.  Luckily you don't have to worry about the head flying off when your drummer whacks it - He might actually hurt his wrist if he hits this mic.  With the MSRP being only $169, the 650 becomes even harder to pass up.



I was excited about this mic from the first time I saw it.  A side address small condenser, exactly what I've been wanting.  Not much to say about build quality other than it's as good as the rest, which is stellar.  The nice padded bag is of course included, as well as the same clip supplied with the 250DE and the 250.  Similar to the 250DE, the 450 also includes an 80hz HPF and -10db pad, both of which will need a tool to be adjusted.  This actually was the first mic I was dying to test because no matter how good it sounded, I'd be buying one for hi-hat use.  Luckily, this was another mic who's build quality equals it's sound quality..

Within the first couple hits of the hi-hat, I had to mute the channel and listen to the hats without the PA.  I unmuted the channel and much to my surprise, it was like listening to a giant replica of the hi-hats, with zero EQ.  Very detailed and true.  You could actually hear wood against metal, instead of just something hitting metal.  At that point, I immediately started calculating how much my cost on the 450 would be - This mic was as good as mine.  Throughout each gig, I did notice that this mic is definitely cardioid.  Snare bleed is just as noticeable as any other cardioid on hi-hat, but it's definitely not any worse.

For me, using them as overheads wasn't as exciting as on hi-hat.  Working on medium sized stages a lot, cymbals will still carry enough through the vocal mics downstage, especially when there's five across the front.  Using a 450 definitely made using overheads easier, but I'm still not a big fan.  At one point, I swept my console HPF down in an attempt to mix more of the full kit through the overheads.  Again, I wasn't very happy with the results, but the lower ceiling, high stage volume, and general dislike for pointless overhead usage played a big part in the results.  On another show, one engineer totally loved the 450 on hat, but still opted to use his mics on overheads.  Sissy.  Even with some tainted results, I would have no problem putting this mic up against a number of other industry standard small condensers, many of which cost twice the price.  I am definitely ordering at least one for hi-hat.



A-T is on a roll with this series.  The 350 is my favorite of this series.  Build quality is not as combat capable as other mics, but definitely not any less durable than it's industry standard counterpart.  The cable is fairly long, probably 12' to 15'.  It's also made from a very flexible yet super tough cable.  The goose-neck is very stiff so the mic will not sag.  The mouth of the clip opens to about 1/2", so it'll fit around a wide variety of drum hardware, horn bells, and other stuff.  The spring tension of the clip is plenty strong enough to support the mic and a little bit of cable, but not strong enough to leave 3+ foot of wire hanging down, the mic could fall.  Relieve most of the cable weight and you're good to go.  Even with constant vibration from a drummer, or a horn player with some moves, the clip stayed put all night.

With all three drumkits, I was very happy with what I was hearing from the toms.  Flat and transient.  Another virtue is their sensitivity to movement.  With many tom mics, it takes large movements to achieve a noticeable change in response, or sometimes even a small movement causes a drastic change.  You can move the 350 in very little increments and actually hear the difference.  If your tom is too boomy, and your isolation is good, move the mic out an inch or so.  If your toms are too open sounding and thin, move the each mic in an inch or so.  Yes, that's just basic drum miking, but the movements are much more consistent using the 350.  The MSRP is definitely up there, but not when you consider it's more versatile and better sounding compared to it's equally priced counterpart.

Done!  Finally.  If Mark & Sara let me do another Road Test, hopefully it won't be one that requires five reviews in one!  Holy cow!  Gathering data, finding the time, taking pics, editing pics, uploading pics, figuring out what to say, typing all this up.  I had NO idea doing this would be more work than actually working!  Whatever though, it's been a blast and I got to review some seriously awesome microphones.  I'd love to do a Road Test review on A-T's Artist Series vocal mics.  After getting the results I got with the drum mic package, I'm quite sure the vocal mics will be just as excellent.  Tom Brandis is next in line for reviewing this A-T mic package.  I look forward to comparing results!

Nice review John.  Thanks for taking the time during the busy season.

John Horvath wrote on Tue, 15 May 2007 08:44
I would have preferred two XLRs on the back of the mic, but whatever, not a huge deal if AT offers replacement cables for a reasonable price.  

I had A/T quote me $50 + shipping for a back up cable for my A/E 2500 (kind of the big brother to the 250d/e), so I would say, no they do not offer an affordable replacement.  I've had other proaudio companies(Ultimate Ears) provide me replacement cables for FREE, no questions asked to replace a broken proprietary cable.  Yes, I know the xlr5 to 2x xlr3 isn't exactly proprietary, but it's also not something anyone else will have lying around either.  I agree with John that this mic would be a lot more useful if it had two standard xlr's on the body of the mic.  I also wish A/T was a little more helpful when the cable inevitably goes to the place in the sky where all of the threaded 1/4" to 1/8" adapters go.

thomas d.

Bennett Prescott:
Excellent review, John, talk about in depth!

I've heard lots of good things about the ATM250DE dual element kick mic, and after your additional glowing appraisal I'll have to give it a try myself for bigger shows where I have a chance to play a bit. I've been very pleased with my Audix stuff, but it wouldn't be like me to not look around for other solutions.

I wasn't aware of the rest of the lineup, so I appreciate you bringing it to my attention. I can think of a number of applications for the ATM350, as well... perhaps I'll give it a look see when I can.

Excellent Smaart graphs, too. What were you using as a noise source? Can you please say what the "industry standard" mic is that you used for comparison?

Aaron McQueen:
Can you please say what the "industry standard" mic is that you used for comparison?

If you click on one of the pictures and then click "Home", you get to a main gallery page.  The first Smaart plot is of the reference microphone by itself, and the page is name ECM8000.  So I'm guessing it is an ECM8000.

John Horvath:
Hey Thomas & Bennett, Thank You both.  I won't lie, it wasn't an easy review, especially when considering it's been stretched out over months.  I was getting real tired of looking at the Word document on my desktop.  Even after all the work, it really was a good experience.  One benefit from all this is the way I examine gear now with a little more respect.  I definitely learned a different approach to studying gear, which I hope will only help in making smarter gear purchase decisions.  For anyone thinking about doing a Road Test, do it!  You will learn a lot.

Bennett, I can only assume you're speaking of the Audix D6.  I have one as well and I love it on certain drums.  I didn't test it, but I would suspect the D6 would have had a higher low-end haystack than the 250DE dynamic trace(pink).  I bet the Beta52 would have been even higher on both sides.. /\_/\

I agree, the ATM350 is so very cool because it could be used for SO many different things.  One thing I'm mad I didn't test was under cymbal miking.  As I said, I've never been a big fan of overheads for a number of reasons.  Sight line issues with video behind the drummer is one of the main reasons.  Under cymbal miking alleviates that, but opens up phase and isolation issues, especially with a certain mic used on the toms, but then a different mic for under the cymbals.  I'm guessing, but I have a feeling that using the 350 for both toms AND under the cymbals would definitely improve phase, isolation, EQ, and stability issues.

The noise source was pink noise.  Was there something else I should have used?

I wasn't sure if it was against Road Test rules to be talking about one brand while reviewing another.  I was hoping if anyone really wanted to know, they could figure it out or guess.  But whatever..

250DE & D112
650 & SM57
450 & SM81
350 & SM98

Aaron, the ECM8000 was only used to capture the response of the Nexo PS8, which is in Orange on every screen shot.


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