Traditionally, tube microphones have been tethered to external power supplies with proprietary cables. These bulky but necessary appendages made the use of tube mics a less-convenient affair than using their transistorized brethren. Add to that the weighty price tag that often accompanies these transducers and you have a real debate as to whether or not the sonic benefits outweigh the difficulties associated with their use.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, live sound
Key Features: Cardioid pattern; condenser element; 1.5-inch capsule assembly; Mylar diaphragm
Contact: Audio-Technica at 330-686-2600, Web Site.
With the introduction of the AT3060, Audio-Technica has taken the sting out of tube mic ownership and use. At just $599 (including shockmount) this mic is remarkably affordable and, with its ability to run on phantom power, it has no cumbersome external power supply and related hard-to-find cables.
The 3060 is a side-address cardioid condenser that is 6.71 inches long with a diameter of 2.05 inches. The satin silver chassis weighs 19.1 ounces and features a large doubled windscreen that allows ample access to the capsule. Removing the windscreen reveals a gold vapor-deposited Mylar diaphragm that is two microns thick and one inch in diameter. The capsule assembly, at 1.5 inches, is the largest A-T has ever used. Just below the capsule is a large plastic dome shielding it from a transformer. Below that is a Raytheon 6418 tube (about the size of a pen cap) that is horizontally situated through two brass plates that are shockmounted. Even with its onboard electronics, the 3060 has a respectable noise level of 17 dB SPL (A-weighted). The 3060’s frequency response plot reveals a gentle rise beginning around 1,500 Hz and peaking at 6 kHz. From about 10 kHz on up, there is a steady drop-off yielding an overall response of 50 Hz – 16 kHz.
In my studio, I used the 3060 on acoustic guitar, electric guitar and voice. I used the mic on an acoustic guitar track for an upcoming release by the band Three Quarter Squeegee. Guitarist Mike Keiffer played my 1968 Gibson J45. The Gibson has a very warm rich sound that lacks significant high end. For this reason I was hesitant to use the 3060. Tube mics, like tube guitar amps, are popular because they color the sound in a way that is pleasing to the ear. In my experience, they have traditionally generated a “warming” effect (a gentle reduction in brittle highs) on whatever was being recorded. Therefore, combining a warm mic with a warm source (like the J45) can result in an overly warm (muddy or boomy) track. However, that was not the case with the 3060. Using only mic placement and no EQ, I was able to get an acoustic track that was rich and detailed with enough clarity to be heard amongst the din of drums, bass and electric guitars. On all sources, I found the 3060 to have a surprisingly present sound despite its tube nature and HF drop-off. In a spoken word comparison it had a delicious sonic character – even when compared to mics that cost four times as much.
Later, I used the 3060 at a live sound gig where I had the opportunity to mix the legendary blues band Canned Heat. I put the 3060 on Stanley Behrens harmonica amp. After letting the 3060 “warm up” for the recommended ten minutes before sound check, I placed it in front of his Fender amp. I’m sure that if microphones could talk they would surely protest being placed in front of a harmonica amp – it’s a harsh environment full of shrill frequencies, distortion and feedback howls. The 3060 took it all in stride as it delivered a true representation of the stage sound coming from Behrens’ amp. With a max SPL rating of 134 dB, the 3060 handled the harmonica without noticeable distortion.
While it may not have the sonic coloration of classic tube microphones, the AT3060 has a rich, detailed sound that proved beneficial to almost everything I put it in front of. Without an external power supply, it is as easy to use as transistorized mics- all you need is phantom power and a few minutes for warm up. At $599, it represents an exceptional bargain. It will broaden your mic palette, and it may become one of your favorites.