Audio-Technica

I’ve often recommended the ATR2020-USB as an alternative to the highly regarded Blue Yeti. As basic as it is in terms of functionality (just one polar pattern) and hardware controls (there are none), for some users and circumstances a simple solution with rock-solid build quality trumps all.

More recently Audio-Technica has released the ATR2500-USB. It still has the quality feel and great sound of the 2020, however Audio-Technica has added features so it better competes with top offerings from Blue and Samson.

The finish, though sporting a luscious silver sheen in promo shots is actually matte (see comparisons HERE). Adding to the unassuming appearance, the cylindrical exterior is the similar to a slew of other Audio-Technica mics, both XLR and USB. Audio-Technica knows what works and sticks to what does rather than attempting to wow you like Blue.

Most notably there is now a headphone jack at the front so now you can do real-time monitoring rather than relying on your native soundcard output with less than ideal latency. The buttons with arrows pointing up and down respectively control the volume of the headphones. These additions are the biggest selling point of the 2500 over the 2020.

Arguably Audio-Technica has only gone halfway with the hands-on controls (compared to the Yeti benchmark). While it’s handy to have headphone level buttons at your fingertips you’ll still need to adjust the mic gain level via software. From a design philosophy perspective this awkwardly sits at the middle ground; although the headphone functionally is welcome it would be more intuitive to either focus on real knobs and buttons or leave it all up to well-presented software.

Like it’s older brother the 2020, the ATR2500-USB features just the meat and potatoes cardioid polar pattern, making it ideal for podcasting, voiceovers, and home studio work. While it’s nice to have the option to do omnidirectional recordings for room ambiance or to capture the several people on-the-fly, Audio-Technica knows most people won’t need it at all, and others rarely.

Included in the box is a USB cable, manual, and mounting hardware so you can have it freestanding on your desk. The stand you get is a cheap plastic affair, which is to be expected in this price bracket. Likely you’ll want to upgrade to a solid desk stand right out of the gate since they can be picked up for less than $15.

Sound quality is crisp, and well defined for the price as we’ve come to expect from Audio-Technica’s offerings. Zero-latency monitoring gives musicians in particular a huge advantage; singing or playing detailed parts is obviously much easier when delay, no matter how subtle, is eliminated.

Overall the ATR2500-USB is one of the best USB mics currently available, knocking its predecessor the 2020 out of the running. The lack of a gain control and non-switchable polar patterns keeps it from topping the Yeti.

To date Blue’s Yeti hasn’t had much competition in terms of popularity.  The Snowball has done well too while other USB mic manufacturers have struggled to keep up with Blue’s success.

Audio-Technica, a heavy hitter in the realm of pro studio gear, hasn’t rested on its laurels. The AT2020 is a fine USB mic and one of the bigger threats to the dominance of the Yeti.

Both are great mics but in different ways, which comes down to differing design principles.

The Yeti has physical knobs and buttons both on the front and back, making it ideal for tweakers not big on software controls.

The AT2020 in contrast looks nearly identical to Audio-Technica XLR mics. Hardware controls are absent so gain levels must be adjusted via software.

Most notable strengths of the Yeti are features and value. It handles four polar patterns: cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional, and stereo. Many top-end studio mics can’t do all that. No matter the situation, from interviews to instrument recording, to capturing the ambiance of the room, the Yeti is flexible enough to fit the task.

Strengths of the AT2020 are build quality and simplicity (geared towards controlling everything from the computer). While the AT2020 only does a cardioid pattern, this is all most people need anyhow. The build is closer to studio mics rather than USB mics, which tend to have cheap plastic parts. If you’re taking it on the road or recording a variety of characters voices or instruments, the importance of this advantage is boosted. Lastly studio engineers working on location will prefer having all controls at their fingertips and out of the way of the client just as when working with XLR mics.

Moving to sound quality, beyond tech specs there isn’t a world of difference. The AT2020 may have a slight edge overall, but the slight variations in frequency peaks and dips come down to personal preference. On paper the Yeti goes up to 20kHz while the AT2020 maxes out at 16kHz. In practice most adults can’t hear frequencies in that range rendering the difference irrelevant.

Looking at the most noteworthy advantages of each it’s easy to see why the Yeti is chosen more often. It’s more in line with the needs of the self-recording musician or DIY podcaster while the AT2020 is closer to what a pro studio owner would want in a USB mic.

If you’re still on the fence there are full individual reviews of the Blue Yeti and Audio-Technica AT2020 that go into the features and sound quality in greater detail.

Walk into any top-end recording studio ask to look inside their microphone cabinet. Without many exceptions you’ll stumble upon an Audio-Technica AT4050 condenser mic. It has become an industry standard due to its virtues as a versatile, “workhorse” microphone.

As great as the AT4050 is, the price tag of around $600 puts it out of reach for most hobbyists. Although Audio-Technica is known for professional products they have come up with the AT2020 to meet the needs of podcasters and DIY recording musicians. In stark contrast to the 4050, the 2020 sells for $115 (street price). On top of that, you don’t need a fancy preamp, and audio interface to make USB mics sound good.

At this price you come to expect a plasticky feel or cheap, roughly finished aluminum. Upon pulling it out of the box the most striking property of this mic is the outstanding build quality. I’m one of the old fashion types that associates weight with well-made gear; the 2020 has just the right amount of weight to make me feel confident in its durability.

The AT2020 design is very utilitarian and similar to its big brothers like the AT4050. It is a simple cylinder shape with a grill so big that it spans half the length of the microphone. The USB cable plugs into the bottom just like traditional XLR mics. It draws its power from the USB port on your computer. To notify you that it’s powered up, the grill lights up blue thanks to an internal LED light.

AT has taken a very different approach than Blue Microphones has. The Blue Yeti and Snowball has a switch that allows you to change up the input pattern of the mic. The 2020 focuses on the most used pattern: cardioid. Although you’ll use the cardioid pattern the vast majority of the time as a podcaster or musician, omnidirectional recording is missed because it is fun to experiment with.

On the plus side, the knobs and switches feel a little flimsy on the Blue USB mics. Clearly this is because USB microphones are sold for so little, making cost-cutting an inevitable reality. Audio-Technica’s decision to make the unit rock-solid, and leave out controls that can just as easily be controlled from your laptop was a smart one.

Bit depth and sample rate meet the standard for current-gen USB mics: 16 bit/44.1 kHz. Frequencies between 20Hz and 16kHz are captured. This was a disappointment initially because Blue’s Yeti has a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz. Granted, we are looking at a range of sound that most adults cannot hear after the age of 30. If voice or vocal recording is your goal, don’t sweat it. Only cymbals have frequencies of any magnitude that go past 16kHz.

Sound quality is very good as is expected from an Audio-Technica product. Tests with acoustic guitar and vocals yielded impressive results. The capsule is sensitive, perhaps too much so for the casual user. You’ll pick up a decent bit of background noise if you have a desktop computer running nearby. Either run a cable into a different room or invest in a shock-mount to avoid picking up noise.

Review Verdict

Audio-Technica’s AT2020 doesn’t have any gimmicks to speak of. It does a good job of capturing voices or instruments coming from in front of the mic. After all, that is all most people will ever need. On-location interviewers and experimental musicians will yearn for the variety of input patterns found in competing mics.

This is an awesomely built device making it the most road-worthy USB microphone tested thus far. Overall the 2020 is simple, strong and effective at recording 16-bit audio.