Audio-Technica AT5040 Cardioid Condenser Microphone A-T has prospered in the high performance, mid-priced mic category, but has never attempted to break into the “premium mic” category. The AT5040 is that attempt.
A-T engineers utilized a rectangular diaphragm, but not just one; they used four, wired together and configured like a window pane (two high, two wide). Discrete components, internal shock mounting, assembled by hand in an aluminum and brass body, along with the best shock mount I’ve ever seen, all packaged in a durable Pelican-style case: All together, this is the best microphone package A-T has ever made. It’s under $3,000 street: not the highest echelon of mics, but up there with some highly regarded studio standards.
Kudos to A-T engineers for the remarkably low noise floor of the AT5040, drastically lower than many other revered vocal mics, rated at 5 dB SPL, yielding an 89 dB S/N ratio. The AT5040’s maximum input level is 142 dB SPL at 1 kHz for 1% THD+N. The fit and finish of the AT5040 are superb. At 6.5-inches long and 2.25-inches in diameter, it’s a compact mic, which makes it easy to position, and for vocalists to see around.
While most cardioid mics will strive to keep the polar pattern uniform across the mic’s bandwidth, the AT5040 has an almost unidirectional (think half of a figure 8) pattern from the vocal presence range on up. The pattern is so tight that moving away from the sweet spot (0 to 30 degrees off axis) makes a drastic difference in the presence of the sound. This design choice narrows the range of uses for me, though I did use it to my advantage on a noisy stage while miking a cajon.
The frequency response of the AT5040 is relatively flat for a vocal mic. Of the many engineers to which I loaned the AT5040, I heard consistent comments about how natural it sounded, but it might disappoint engineers (like myself) that look for character in a mic and try to carefully match the sound of a mic to the sound of a voice.
The output level is extremely hot; I was surprised there was no pad and no high pass filter. I was able to use a standalone phantom supply to power the mic and ran the mic output straight into a Gates Sta-Level. It sounded great.
I listened to the AT5040 on lots of sources in addition to voice. I compared it to a Shure SM57 on an electric guitar cabinet, and the AT5040 really shone here through my Great River MP2NV preamp. I compared the AT5040 on male and female voice to the other mics in the A-T 40 Series and a comparably- priced Neumann U87i. In our blind listening test of this lineup, none of the artists or engineers chose the AT5040 as their preferred mic.
Fellow engineer Jimmy Mansfield recorded the AT5040 and compared it on upright bass to several other mics. Many of the engineers on this session preferred the AT5040 over the other mics, even those costing twice as much.
A-T has produced a very interesting mic at a challenging price point. There are some things it does incredibly well. All in all, the AT5040 is a well-built, respectable mic with a proud heritage and lots of unique design features.