You can find them getting blasted by a Marshall stack in front of 20,000 screaming fans. You may also see them picking up the nuance of a jazz drummer’s cymbal work in a premier recording facility. And, they are frequently the only mic available in bedroom studios around the world. What are they? They are the venerable 40 Series mics from Audio-Technica. Starting with the classic 4033, this line has grown with the addition of the multipattern 4050, the FET style 4047 and the tube 4060. Together, they have redefined the concept of the value oriented, large diaphragm microphone – prompting a wave of imitators over the last few years. Now, A-T has introduced yet another member to the 40 Series club, the 4040.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, broadcast, live sound
Key Features: Large diaphragm cardioid; true condenser design; 10 dB pad.
Contact: Audio Technica at 330-686-2600, Web Site.
+ Great sounding
+ Comes with dust cover, case and suspension mount
– Difficult to insert mic in suspension mount
The Score: A great-sounding mic at a remarkable price.
The AT4040 ($495) is a large-diaphragm, side-address, cardioid condenser. It is a true condenser in that it is externally polarized. This means that it requires phantom power to polarize the capsule, not just the electronics. The mic features an aged, vapor-deposited gold diaphragm that is two microns thick. The 4040 has a transformerless circuit design that is claimed to eliminate low-frequency distortion while providing improved high-speed transient response. The 4040 has a frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz, a dynamic range of 133 dB (1kHz at max. SPL), a signal to noise ratio of 82 dB (1 kHz at 1 Pa), self-noise of 12 dB SPL, and a max input level of 145 dB SPL (1 kHz at 1% THD). On paper, the mic has a very flat response with significant bumps centered in the neighborhood of 7 kHz and 11 kHz. The 4040, which weighs 12.7 oz., has a switchable low-cut filter (80 Hz, 12 dB per octave) and a 10 dB pad. It also comes with A-T’s standard 8449 suspension shock mount, a sturdy carrying case and a dust cover – all for $495.
I was very curious to see what this new 40 Series mic sounds like – especially since I own several pairs of other 40 series transducers like the 4050, the 4047 and the 4051 pencil condenser. I should mention that I really enjoy all my 40 series mics and have learned, as you should with any mic, to appreciate the individual characteristics of each while recognizing what applications each one is best suited to.
Recently, A-T discontinued the original 40 Series mic, the 4033, after making a limited batch of Special Edition models to commemorate that mic’s 10-year anniversary (4033SE). While I originally suspected that the 4040 was intended to replace the 4033 in the line, I have been told otherwise by several sources at Audio-Technica. They all reiterated that the 4040, with its true condenser design, improved dynamic range and signal to noise ratio, is a whole new model for the line and it bears little sonic resemblance to the 4033.
Upon opening the box, I was somewhat disappointed to find that the included 8449 shockmount is one of those rubber band mounts. While this shockmount works very well at isolating the mic, I have always struggled with getting the mics in and out of the tensioned rubber bands that support it. In fact, it was so frustrating that I trashed the original carry cases (which can only accommodate the mic without the suspension mount), went down to my local sporting goods store and purchased some universal handgun cases. Once modified, these cases can hold the mics while they are in the shockmounts. If you rarely travel with your mics, you may not need to do this but I use mine in remote settings regularly and I would suggest you follow suit if you periodically leave the confines of your studio or home. I was very pleased to see the addition of the handsome A-T dust cover. It will replace my plastic zip lock Baggies!
As for the mic itself, it is very impressive. I used it on acoustic guitar, electric guitar and voice with wonderful results in all applications. I used the 4040 to record some slide guitar work on a wonderful old 1960s era, all-mahogany, Harmony flat top. The guitar is a real midrange cannon with lots of mids and highs when used with a brass slide. The 4040 did a great job of capturing all the detail in the guitar’s sound. Since the mic is a fixed cardioid, it is subject to proximity effect and there was some muddiness initially. Therefore, I opted to engage the low-frequency rolloff. This cleared up the mud but left me with a full, rich guitar tone that oozed with detail and texture.
The 4040 was just as capable on male vocals. It yielded a sound with full body and lots of high-end detail. With its high-end bump, I probably would not use this mic on a singer with sibilance issues. If that is not an issue, this is a great mic with a very present sound and good peripheral rejection. It was particularly pleasing on spoken word material yielding a sound that was very clean and articulate. I did have some plosive problems so I would suggest using a pop screen and perhaps the low-cut filter too.
On electric guitar, the 4040 was very accomplished too. It delivered honest images of a Strat through a Fender tube amp. I found it very pleasing on clean tones. It captured all the low/mid punch and the sparkling high-end that is characteristic of this guitar/amp combination. On overdriven sounds I felt like there was a bit too much high-end, producing a harshness that was not as pleasing. Even at blaring volumes, the mic did not flinch. I wonder if you would ever have an occasion to use the 10 dB pad?
During this evaluation, I made sure to also use the 4047 and 4050 in each setting for comparison purposes. The 4040, like the 4047 is a very quiet mic with regards to self-noise and it seemed to have a bit more gain than both the 4050 and the 4047. Sonically, it is indeed unique when compared to the others. I think it falls somewhere in between the brilliance of the 4050 and the warmth of the FET style 4047.
Things have come along way in the last ten years. It is stunning that a mic that sounds this good and produces so little noise is priced under $500 with a shockmount, case and a dust cover. Whether you are a big bucks engineer wanting to broaden your mic palette, a radio station tech, or a basement amateur in need of an all-in-one mic, the A-T 4040 is a wonderful mic and a fantastic avalue. It is a welcome addition to the 40 Series line.
dbx 376 preamp; MOTU 2408 interface; generic PC; Sonic Foundry Sound Forge 4.5 Spirit 328 console (monitor only); Mackie HR824 monitors.