Review: Audio-Technica AT2020USB-X

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Review: Audio-Technica AT2020USB-X

Words by Rob Gee

Technical Audio Group | RRP: $269

There are products that stand the test of time in the audio recording industry because they cater to the old guard, but then there are those that continue to grow and develop to offer new possibilities to an ever-growing market with ever-growing needs.

Of course, it is unlike a Japanese company to ignore technological advancements, and with that, we see Audio-Technica continuing to improve their offerings in the studio microphone world, offering up-to-date features and a price point that appeals to those starting out in recording, all the while, tipping the hat to classic design.

Read more gear reviews here.

With that, let me introduce you to the brand-new studio condenser microphone from Audio-Technica, the AT2020USB-X. This is the latest advancement in the 2020 range and one that is sure to allow a lot to users with ease, while still sounding great.

I can still remember when Audio-Technica launched the original AT2020 studio condenser microphone. At that time, it was a total game changer in the market and opened up a higher quality of home recording to a broader range of uses. Not only was it housed in a classic-looking casing, but it also offered a price not really seen for such a quality of audio capture, such is their strength.

So, it goes without saying that when a USB version of that same microphone was brought onto the market, it would again make waves with an even more accessible market. Suddenly the need to spend money on preamps and converters in order to use your AT2020 wasn’t an issue with direct connectivity to your computer. So, now with the release of the AT2020USB-X we see improvements to audio quality and refined features that define this as the one microphone to own if you just want a quality plug and play experience.

So, let’s have a look at this new offering. Fans of Audio-Technica microphones will be able to pick this as an AT2020 variant from about 50 paces. It has that look that we have all come to know over the years, housed in the black tubular shaped casing with black grill, but there are a few differences that are easily noticeable on closer inspection. The base section where the cabling is connected does have a slightly changed design to it, which is no big deal really, but in the centre of the casing, below the grill and switches, there is a big round button that has never been seen on any AT2020 model before. So, it makes sense that we start talking about that right away.

This mystery button is in fact a mute switch, and something that is a welcome addition to a USB microphone when you’re not running into a channel strip or console where such a feature could usually be found. This makes the AT2020USB-X not only a great recording microphone, but an excellent option for streaming, internet video, and podcasts as it enables you to mute audio at the microphone with the touch of a finger when needed. The capacitive button only required a touch, and not a depression, so it allows you to engage the mute without moving the microphone or creating any mechanical noise within the housing from a physical switch. That is a really neat feature and one that quickly and quietly engages and disengages the mute exactly when you need it, like a manual noise gate. The blue LED on the microphone is bright so you can see when it’s active at all times.

Monitoring is easy with the AT2020USB-X as a built-in headphone jack is included to allow you to directly monitor from the microphone itself and hear what you’re capturing, as well as listen to playback from your software at the same time. Naturally, there’s a mix control to allow you to blend the two signal sources for your liking, which is great for those who want to hear more of themselves!

And you’ll want to hear yourself too. This large diaphragm condenser microphone has a great, natural air to its sound. There is plenty of low frequency captured too, so even if you’re just using it as a desk microphone for recording YouTube videos or podcasts, there are instant results. You’ll hear an improvement over your computer and smartphone microphones with some much-needed, and balanced, bottom end introduced to your voice. With sample rates up to 96kHz, it’s a very detailed sound that gets through the AD/DA converters and into your recording software. And this is all built into the microphone housing, powered by 5V USB connectivity. It shouldn’t be this easy to get a vocal recording this good, but that’s how this microphone has evolved over the years.

While this microphone can be used with Audio-Technica’s optional shock mount for studio recording applications, a desk mount is provided with the unit, given that a lot of users will be likely to record at a bench or table. It’s a swish design too, that fits in with the look of the microphone and makes for an overall appealing centrepiece to any home studio or streaming setup.

I was lucky enough to have an advance model made available before the release date and have been able to see just how it fits in a typical workspace. So, I’ve been having fun with the AT2020USB-X for about a week before you guys even get to hear about it. But that’s alright, it’s available as of now, so you can all rush out to your favourite music or audio specialist store and pick one up now. Then, let the recording or streaming fun begin.

Head to Audio-Technica for more information. For local enquiries, reach out to Technical Audio Group.