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Review: Audio-Technica AT4050ST Stereo Condenser Microphone

Although a matched pair of condenser microphones will usually do, who doesn’t appreciate the convenience (and coincidence) of a stereo condenser to get the job done?

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time very particularly (and precariously) flying my AKG C-422 stereo LDC over the audience from the catwalk, in that perfect sweet spot that captures the orchestra and the hall too, as I’ve learned through experience the importance of that mic position.

Features

The AT4050ST is Audio-Technica’s premium model in this specialized transducer field. It utilizes two 21mm capsules, one forward-facing cardioid and one perpendicular figure-8 in order to output two signals, Mid and Side. Combined, they become a very flexible stereo signal with adjustable width and excellent mono compatibility. Further, the 4050 will do the matrixing for you and output either a 90 degree or 127 degree-wide stereo output.

This externally polarized, DC bias type condenser uses two micron thick, gold-coated diaphragms that are subject to a five-step aging process to ensure consistency, according to A=T’s literature. The transformerless AT4050AT has a -10dB switchable pad and switchable 80Hz high-pass filter. This METAlliance-certified microphone includes a shockmount, dual XLR cable and carrying case. Response is listed as 20 Hz to 18 kHz, with a max. SPL handling of 149 dB (159 dB with pad) and impedance of 50 ohms with 48V phantom power required. 

In Use

Stereo mics are generally easy to use, and the AT4050ST’s reasonable size (7.6-inches x 2.1 inches, length by circumference) and 18 ounce weight supported that fact on its first use. The shock mount is made of metal, sturdy and tightenable, but the mic itself is held in position by a dual rubber suspension band. In all fairness, I’ve never had these crucial bands fail me yet (as it is the same design as found on my AT4033). Still, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around a fragile mic hanging by a double strap. 

Hookup with the supplied cable (5-pin XLR-F to two standard XLR-M) was easy; it’s 15 feet long and reached my mic input panels without extensions required. The cable is slim and small enough so it’s not a hindrance when used “on the go,” especially for ENG or similar apps.

Recording an acoustic Taylor 6-string guitar revealed the AT4050ST sensitive to placement (as to be expected with acoustic guitars in general), but capable in all three modes (M-S, 90- and 127-degree stereo). Neither the pad nor the HPF was required here, with typically hot output levels and no problem with self-noise, even with the ample gain required on a lightly arpeggiated part. I received a sound that was anything but boomy; its very articulated, high-mid forward presentation came with a lean bottom that was slightly strident, even after high-cut EQ.

Further testing on drum overheads confirmed the AT4050ST’s sonic signature. The application’s high SPL was no problem at all (with or without pad); detail was exceptional; and the AT4050ST seemed very quick with transients, although, to my ears, something was missing in the low-mids. Top end wasn’t that harsh (although the mic is quite peaky between 8- and 12kHz), and mids were colorful, but overall body was missing, with notably less between 100 and 250 Hz. Some shelf-boosting EQ revealed usable content down there; with that, the problem was mostly solved.

With the help of avant-noise guitarist Alex Mayhew, we created a stereo guitar rig and generated lots of interesting modulations, echoes, rotaries, etc. With the AT4050ST about 2.5 feet out — in an equilateral triangle with the speaker cabinet drivers — we heard very realistic stereo imaging, nice phantom center stability and ridiculous detail (notably in delicate guitar “bird chirps” and “computer data” noises). With louder passages and power chords, the guitar sound was not complete: too much top end bite, not enough body, too much compression and not enough depth of soundstage, while EQ only moderately helped.

Finally, I tried recording some exteriors/ENG/live music, all on-the-go with a portable Marantz recorder, and the AT4050ST revealed its best performance. I used the M-S outputs (as I prefer the control of my own M-S decoding, typically sides at -3 dB, pans at nine and three o’clock) and got some very realistic soundscapes and imaging; after adding a -3 dB high-shelf cut, I was good to go.

Summary

The AT4050ST is very well built (just like the other mics in A-T’s 40 Series), provides useful features and captures great stereo imaging. Yet I see three limitations of the AT4050ST: if dual figure-8 patterns were possible, the Blumlein technique could be used, opening up many more applications; the preponderance of high-end and minimal bottom-end (and corrective EQ success with only the lows) places the AT4050ST in a particularly niched voicing for many music apps (although it’s better at distances); and improved accessories (a better shockmount, a windscreen, a sturdier case) would be welcome, too, especially at this price point of $1,299 street. That said, the AT4050ST should be a reliable and flexible performer for those seeking the clear benefits of using a stereo microphone in the studio, in the field, and/or on the stage. 

Rob Tavaglione has owned and operated Catalyst Recording in Charlotte NC since 1995. rob(at)catalystrecording.com

Price: $1,625 list

Contact: Audio-Technica |http://www.audio-technica.com

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