Every so often, microphone manufacturers seem to get restless. Instead of releasing a new model here, a new model there, they bring out a whole new group of mics. I am sure the reasons for such dramatic debuts are varied - improved technology or production techniques, lagging sales or even a new market. Like recent additions such as Shure's Beta series and Sennheiser's Evolutions, Audio-Technica has just unveiled its Artist Elite series of microphones that offer some exciting new transducers.
Product Points
Applications: Live sound

Key Features: Condensers and dynamics; vocal and instrument mics; high SPL

Price: AE2500 - $699 AE3000 - $379; AE3300 - $439; AE4100 - $289; AE5100 - $379; AE5400 - $579; AE6100 - $289

Contact: Audio-Technica at 330-686-2600, Web Site.

Plus

+ Great sounding

+ Affordable

+ Innovative kick drum mic (AE2500)

Minus

- AE2500 uses special Y-cable

The Score: A great-sounding mic line at reasonable prices.

Features

The Artist Elite series consists of seven microphones: four handheld vocal mics (two dynamic and two condensers), one pencil condenser, a side-address cardioid condenser and a unique dual-element cardioid kick drum mic. According to Mike Edwards, product manager at Audio-Technica, the series is designed to appeal to live sound professionals and other discerning users.

All of the vocal mics come finished in an attractive metallic gray finish. The flagship of the line is the AE5400 ($579), an externally polarized, cardioid condenser with a large diaphragm element based on the AT4050 studio microphone, an 80 Hz high-pass filter, a 10 dB pad, a frequency response of 20 Hz - 20 kHz and a maximum input level of 147 dB SPL (1kHz @ 1% THD, without pad). The other vocal condenser is the AE3300 ($439), a mic that features a capsule based on A-T's classic AT4033 studio microphone. It is a fixed-charge, cardioid condenser with the same pad and HPF as the 5400, a frequency response of 30 Hz - 18 kHz and a comparable input level capacity to the 5400. While both of these mics have a slight presence rise in the 2 kHz - 4 kHz range, the 5400 has a sizeable bump around 9.5 kHz.

The dynamic duo has similar distinctions. The AE6100 ($289) is a hypercardioid while the AE4100 ($289) is a standard cardioid. They have frequency responses of 60 Hz - 15 kHz (AE6100) and 90 Hz - 18 kHz (AE4100). On paper, the 6100 has a real peak in the 5 kHz range while the 4100 has a more gentle slope that crescendos around 5 kHz as well. All four of the handheld mics impart a very solid feel and claim to have superior antishock abilities as well as A-T's new shock absorbing stand clip.

The instrument mics are all quite different from each other. The AE5100 ($379) is a large-diaphragm, end-address cardioid pencil condenser. The 5100's permanently polarized condenser element yields a frequency response of 20 Hz - 20 kHz and a maximum SPL of 148 dB (1kHz @ 1% THD). Like the other condensers, the 5100 has a high-pass filter (80 Hz, 12 dB/octave) and a 10 dB pad.

The AE3000 ($379) is a side-address cardioid condenser that features a permanently polarized element with a fixed-charge back plate. The 3000's casing is very open and free of potential obstructions - an effort to create a more accurate transducer. That design seems to have paid off as the 3000's frequency response plot is very flat throughout its 20 Hz - 20 kHz range. The mic also features a high-pass filter and a pad. The AE3000 can withstand a 148 dB SPL onslaught (158 dB with the pad engaged). That, combined with its open, side-address design, makes it a prime candidate for guitar amp duty.

The AE2500 ($699) is the real standout here. It is a dual-element (dynamic and condenser) cardioid that is designed primarily for bass drum duty. As is often the case with two mics in close proximity to a sound source, phase cancellation is a potential problem here. However, A-T claims that the two elements are positioned in a perfect phase relationship, mitigating cancellation problems. The mic itself is cylindrical and it measures 2.17 inches in diameter and 6.5 inches in length. It comes with a stand mount and a custom, five-pin Y-cable that allows the two mics to be processed separately. Just like many of the other mics in the series, the 2500 has a 10 dB pad and an 80 Hz high-pass filter - affecting only the condenser element. The mic has a listed frequency response of 20 Hz - 17 kHz (condenser) and 30 Hz - 10 kHz (dynamic) with a maximum input level of 148 dB SPL (158 dB with the pad engaged).

In Use

I own quite a few Audio-Technica mics and I have become very attached to a number of them. In live sound applications, I frequently use the ATM25 on floor toms and the ATM35 on sax and small toms. I almost always use the ATM23HE on snare drum (it is one of my favorites for that application). However, I have not really found mics in the A-T line that I have been comfortable using on kick drum or vocals in a rock/pop setting... until now.

At one time or another, I have used all of A-T's hypercardioid dynamic vocal mics and I have never really been satisfied with the results on a loud soundstage. While some of them sounded pleasing, they just did not have the ability to cut through the din of a loud band without some serious EQ. At the same time, I feel that the ATM25 (A-T's suggested kick drum mic) is a very good tom mic and a great guitar mic (trade secret: use it when you need to fatten up a brittle sounding guitar amp) - it just does not have the qualities that I look for in a kick drum mic. Therefore, I was excited to hear what the Artist Elite mics sounded like.

I had the chance to use these mics at a number of live shows. At the first show, I provided an outdoor system for an eclectic group of singing ladies from the UK called the Mediaeval Baebes. The Baebes have a dulcimer player and I used the AE5100 as an overhead. It delivered excellent clarity and detail capturing the attack of the hammers and the twang of the vibrating strings. While the Baebes specified Shure Beta 87s in their tech rider, I did have a few opportunities to plug in the AE5400 and 3300 as a quick comparison. If anything, I thought that the 5400 offered a bit more high-end detail than the 87s without sounding overly harsh, even with the monitors EQed for the Shure mics. The 3300 had a very pleasing sound too. I think both of these mics would be appropriate for situations where maximum fidelity was essential and stage volumes were low. It should be noted that engaging the low-cut on these mics is essential to reduce excessive boominess.

Later, at another show, I used other Artist Elite mics with a local variety band. The group has a superb drummer named Chuck Ferrell. Chuck is a dynamic player; great for testing drum mics. I used the 5100 as an overhead and got fantastic results again. The cymbals shimmered, the snare crashed and the whole kit was very honestly portrayed. The AE2500 was a jaw dropper on the bass drum. Processing the two elements separately (EQ, gating and compression) yielded an awesome sound. It has been awhile since I got this excited about a microphone. I took the liberty of burning some kick drum hits to a CD and brought them back to my studio. The dynamic element sounded a lot like my AKG D112, big bottom with a hint of attack. The condenser had a nice crisp attack and some drum resonance too. Blending the two together created a wonderful kick drum sound. Chuck had a big dose in his IEMs and he played with a smile on his face all night. Since this mic uses a proprietary cable, I would suggest buying a backup if you are using it on tour.

The group also has a fantastic guitarist by the name of Keith Grimes. Keith has a smooth, melodic style; to hear it, listen to any Eva Cassidy CD. The AE3000 very accurately captured the sound of Keith's Matchless tube amp. It honestly portrayed the spongy warmth of his clean sounds and the grit of the amp's overdrive.

At another gig, I put the dynamic mics to work. I found the 4100 to have a very pleasing classic sound with just a hint more low/mid body and less handling noise than a standard SM58. The 6100 emerged as my favorite in the handheld group. It has a very aggressive sound, perfect for difficult live situations. Being a hypercardioid, it has a lot of peripheral rejection - focusing the mic on the source, enabling louder monitors and a cleaner mix out front.

Summary

With the addition of the Artist Elite series, Audio-Technica has certainly filled some voids in its offerings. They now have an excellent kick drum mic and a true aggressive vocal mic for noisy stages. While all the mics are impressive, some are sure to find their way onto major concert stages. With very reasonable prices, great sound and proven A-T reliability, I am sure they will show up a lot of other places too.

Review Setup

Midas Venice 320, Mackie 24-4, Spirit Digital 328 consoles; PreSonus ACP88 comp/limiter/gate; HHB CDR Burn It Plus; Mackie HR824 monitors; Audio-Technica ATH910 and M40 headphones; Community loudspeakers