All tradespersons have a tendency to rely on a group of trusted tools that help them in their work. It should come as no surprise that we in the audio trade also tend to retain a “go-to” stable of such tools. Microphones, being on the front end of the signal chain, are often the tools we bond most closely with. In my work as an audio engineer, I have come to rely on a trusted stable of mics – some of them stalwarts from Audio-Technica’s long tenured Artist Series. I’m sure I am not the only one who has had great results using the sturdy ATM25 on a thundering floor tom, the ATM23HE on a cracking snare or the low profile ATM35 on a saxophone or trombone.
As I looked over the literature for the new Artist Series mics from A-T, I was saddened to see my old friends had vanished. It seems like some of these mics, such as the ATM35 and ATM25, have been superseded by newer models. Despite my disappointment, I still felt compelled to evaluate these new transducers as I have a longstanding respect for the R & D leanings of the folks at A-T.
Live sound, studio
ATM250 – $329; ATM250DE – $549; ATM350 – $449; ATM410 – $169; ATM450 – $369; ATM610 – $249; ATM650 – $169; ATM710 – $299
The new Artist Series features three vocal mics and five instrument mics. With few exceptions, these mics represent a departure from the former Artist models and are more of a variation on the company’s flagship Artist Elite line.
The vocal stable consists of the ATM410 (cardioid dynamic, $169), the ATM610 (hypercardioid dynamic, $249) and the ATM710 (cardioid condenser, $299). These mics utilize some traditional features like multistage grilles and gold-plated XLR pins. The 710 has an internal 80 Hz high-pass filter and a 10 dB pad; the 610 has a special dual-wall floating chassis that further reduces handling noise. The 410 and 610 both have a modest presence peak around 4 kHz while the 710’s response is largely flat. All three vocal mics and the ATM650 instrument mic have a rubberized sleeve at the end of the chassis. While I was unable to determine its purpose, I did find that by removing the sleeve (a challenging process), you could then use the mic with the AT8471 locking isolation clamp – a rarity for a handheld vocal mic.
The instrument mics in this new series are a varied bunch. There are two dedicated low frequency models, a clip-on condenser, a multipurpose workhorse and a side-address pencil condenser. Covering the low end is the ATM250 (replacing my old pal the ATM25). The 250 comes in a single-element version (hypercardioid dynamic, $329) and a dual element version as the ATM250DE (cardioid condenser + hypercardioid dynamic, $549). Designed to handle high SPLs, the 250 has a much larger fuselage than the old 25 and A-T has jettisoned the built-in stand clamp for their new shockmount rubber clamp (it goes around the small neck of the mic with a tensioning screw). The dynamic element in the 250DE is the same as the one used in the standard 250 and it is positioned for a proper phase relationship with the condenser element. Of course, the DE comes with a proprietary Y-cable to route the mic’s output into two channels. The 250’s plot has a bass boost around 80 Hz and a presence peak around 3.5 kHz. The condenser element in the 250DE has a relatively flat response with a very gentle presence rise around 4 kHz.
The mic with the strongest ties to its predecessor is the ATM350 clip-on condenser ($449). It bears a strong resemblance to the old ATM35. While the two mics may look similar, the new 350 now has the capability to interchange elements (cardioid, hypercardioid and omni) and it comes with a handy violin mount too. The new 350 has a shorter cable (13.1 feet) that still terminates in a TA3F connector. The old 35’s “cigarette pack” power module has been dropped for a sleeker inline version that can be plugged directly into a snake box or console.
The ATM650 ($169) is an end-address hypercardioid dynamic that has a neodymium magnet. It features the previously mentioned dual-wall chassis and it has a generous presence peak centered around 5 kHz.
The standout in this new group is the ATM450 ($369). It is a side-address pencil condenser that features an 80 Hz high-pass filter (18 dB/octave) and a 10 dB pad. Without the HPF, the mic has a very flat response. Like the 250 and 250DE, it comes with a rubberized isolation clamp/clip.
For more than a month, I have used these mics in all manner of situations. From quiet lecterns to roaring stages, I have subjected them to a wide range of uses. As a group, I am impressed by the new Artist Series. Like so many other A-T products, they exude durability and competence.
The vocal mics cover the bases well. They impart a feel of ruggedness and feel solid in your hand. The 410 is a nice, inexpensive cardioid with a classic sound. The 610 is the standout to me; with minimal handling noise and an aggressive sound, it seems ripe for pro use on noisy stages. I did find that it has a bit more bass and a tad less clarity than one of my Artist Elite AE6100 dynamic hypercardioid mics, but is, nevertheless, a fine sounding transducer. The ATM710, like other condenser handhelds, has a detailed sound that is probably better suited to quiet performance arenas where the nuance can be perceived and gain-before-feedback is not an issue. It should also be noted that this mic has a super hot output so the –10 dB pad is a welcome feature.
The way I see it, the old Artist Series was lacking a bonafide kick drum mic. With the debut of the ATM250, I think those days are over. The 250 yields a great natural kick sound that doesn’t have the over pronounced low end of some other popular kick-dedicated models. Consequently, it has a nice attack that means you won’t have to boost 2 kHz – 3 kHz on the channel. With the HPF off, a bit of 80 Hz boost, and a moderate reduction in the 400 Hz range, I was able to get a very satisfactory sound. On a related note, I feel that the old ATM25 had two mechanical flaws. One, there was little or no shockmounting or internal isolation so they tended to pick up a lot of stage rumble. Two, the integrated stand clamps had threads that tended to strip when not threaded carefully. It seems that, with the introduction of the ATM250 and its isolation clamp, both of those issues have been resolved.
The ATM250DE takes the kick drum process a step further. With dual elements, it delivers wonderful images that can, with proper EQ, work on just about any bass drum. Thunder and click are both available. Like the company’s dual-element AE2500, this mic is ripe for high-end concert applications and touring. Just remember to bring a spare cable!
My biggest gripe with the old ATM35 was the clumsy power module that was required to convert the cable from a TA3F connector to XLR. Those boxes would pile up around a drum set or a horn section (with loads of the excess slender cable too) and the battery compartment doors always went missing. The 350’s new inline module and shorter cable is a definite improvement — mitigating both of those issues. On the performance front, the mic has that same smooth, detailed sonic character that made the ATM35 so attractive. Well done!
With the introduction of the ATM650, the Artist Series now has a true workhorse. This mic can handle high SPLs and it sounded great on snare, congas and brass. It has that mid-focused sound of the industry standard but it has less handling noise and, being a hypercardioid, much better peripheral rejection – great for getting separation between congas or trumpets.
I think my favorite mic from this series is the ATM450. It has a flat frequency response and it dished up detailed representation wherever I put it. Hi-hat, percussion overhead, clarinet, and acoustic guitar all sounded delicious and, being a side address, placement options were plentiful. In fact, I had a number of people ask me if I wanted them to aim the mic for me. They all wore the same puzzled expression when I said, “No, it’s already positioned properly, thank you”.
The new Artist Series mics from A-T are, for the most part, a wonderful group of transducers. I applaud Audio-Technica for the changes they made to the 350 and 250 models to address some issues with their predecessors. Both mics are wonderful and I’m sure the 350 will be popular for some time. The ATM650 is a great multipurpose instrument mic but I sorely miss the old ATM23HE for its low profile and great snare sound. The ATM450 is a blast to use and yields great sonic results – a recipe for success. Given the design, construction and competency of these new mics, they are very worthy of consideration when compiling or boosting a mic inventory.
Midas Venice 160 and 320, APB Dynasonics, Allen & Heath consoles; JBL SRX loudspeakers; Rane EQs, TC Electronic, BSS, Rane and PreSonus outboard gear.