When considering a microphone for use in the theatre, musical or otherwise, size does indeed matter, as does sound quality. Audio-Technica’s new AT899 subminiature condenser microphone certainly delivers in both departments, and with characteristics that compare with larger A-T microphones it will leave the budget conscious sound designer quite satisfied.
Product PointsApplications: Theater, broadcast
Key Features: Sub-miniature size; omnidirectional pattern; many clips and mic holders
Contact: Audio-Technica at 330-686-2600, Web Site.
The AT899 ($299) element housing is .63 inches long and .20 inches in diameter with a non-reflective black finish. The long 9.8-foot cable is 0.08 inches in diameter. Its three-pin TA3F output connector mates with a three-pin TB3M connector on the provided AT8537 power module, which terminates to a three-pin XLR connector.
The mic element is a fixed charge condenser with an omnidirectional polar pattern that boasts a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz. The power module has a flat/low-rolloff at 80 Hz, 12 dB/octave. Phantom power can be provided by an external 11V to 52V DC phantom power supply, or a 1.5V AA battery placed in the power module should provide about 1,200 hours of continuous use.
The max input sound level is 138 dB SPL (1 kHz at 1% THD) with phantom, 116 dB SPL with battery. The mic’s dynamic range under battery power is 86 dB (1 kHz at 1% THD) and when powered with phantom expands to 108 dB (1 kHz at 1% THD).
Provided accessories are abundant. Included with the mic are: AT8537 power module, AT8439 cable clip; clothing clip base, viper clip base, magnet clip base and plate with lanyard, three single mic holders, two double mic holders, two element covers, two windscreens, battery and a protective carrying case. Options include beige finish for the mic and accessories.
There is also a version for wireless systems with proper terminations.
I wanted to test frequency response and dynamic range for vocal reinforcement (singing as well as speaking) and for recording. I designed a production of Dames at Sea in a well-known theatre in Maryland, and one of the performers agreed to help me test out the microphone by singing a few songs with an accompanist onstage after a matinee performance. She stood onstage and performed four songs – two with the lav on her head and two with the lav clipped to her shirt.
The first thing you notice about the AT899 when you open up the leather-like case is its compact size. When deciding on a mic to use in a theatrical situation, size is a consideration. This microphone is small enough to mount on the forehead just below the hairline so it’s exposed without reading too badly from the audience. The actor told me that it was comfortable to wear, and she pretty much forgot it was there. That’s important because an actor that is thinking about her mic is not thinking about what she should be thinking about when performing.
This lav performed surprisingly well for a capsule of its size. I have to say that in general I find that the smaller the mic, the crispier it sounds – but the 899 was undistorted and uncolored from the quiet to the very loud. It needed a minimum of EQing to the room, and its coverage area allowed for little proximity effect. She told me that the mic was so light that she forgot it was strapped to her head.
She sounded very present in the recording as well, with a natural attenuation of the background noises made by those stage hands.
The next test was on a man that had never spoken in public before. He was the new house manager and was tasked with getting in front of the audience for the pre-show announcements. We clipped the mic to his lapel and he nervously made his way onstage. Again, the mic performed just as well as the “expensive” mics we used in the show, with smooth transitions as he jerked his head to and fro while speaking. He was nervous and spoke softly, so thankfully there was plenty of headroom, and loads of gain before feedback.
The AT899 is a good value. It reproduces vocals dependably, can be hidden on a performer comfortably and virtually invisibly. I would have absolutely no problem recommending this lav to small to mid-sized theatres as a very fine alternative to the most expensive models.