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Behind the scenes at Audio-Technica’s AT5047 studio mic launch

A select group of distributors, studio owners and industry press were invited to an official Audio-Technica showcase last month, demonstrating the manufacturer’s new AT5047 microphone.

Microphone manufacturer Audio-Technica gathered 50-plus industry professionals at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio complex in south west England on September 22 for the arrival of the AT5047 studio condenser microphone. A full demonstration of the microphone’s origins and capabilities conspired with live musical entertainment, and lunch, to complete a productive rendezvous for all concerned.

Launched at this year’s Prolight+Sound, the AT5047 is heralded as a transformer-coupled cardioid, its USP concerning how the delicate configuration of four separate diaphragms – combined in the 50 Series to double the surface area usually possible – has been made more stable at the output stage.

A sequence of presentations in the famous Big Room – the partially sub-aqua and duck-garnished control room at Real World – commenced with an address by Audio-Technica’s marketing manager for professional audio Tim Page, who commented on the “natural, dynamic nature” of the new 5047. This was followed by a welcome video message from Audio-Technica president Kazuo Matsushita, and a detailed history of A-T’s microphones and its unsung engineers by Noriko Matsui, product planning manager in Japan, who flew over especially for the event.

Next there was background on the development of the 5047 itself, as revealed by Alex Lepges, Audio-Technica Europe’s product manager for professional audio; a revealing video playback of artist endorsements for A-T studio products, presented by Edward Forth, Audio-Technica Europe’s global artist relations manager and brand projects manager for EMEA; and a closing address by Robert Morgan-Males, marketing director at Audio-Technica Europe.

Either side of the presentations, guitarist Chris Woods and kora player Kweku Mainoo engaged visitors with performances that were captured in the Wood Room by Real World engineer Oli Jacobs, and played back in the control room with technical comments about the operation of the A-T microphones used.

Alex Lepges later told PSNEurope where the 5047 fits in to the company’s studio microphone canon. “It’s the latest in the 50 Series,” he explained, “which started a few years ago with the AT5040. The first studio mics comprised the 40 Series, which were very affordable and in line with the company’s original vision to bring high-quality recording to as many people as possible.

“So with the 50 series, confident in our abilities, we wanted to deliver something really special. The brief was unrestrictive, and the engineers came back with something radical: not one large diaphragm but four rectangular ones in a 2×2 array. The concept was to maximise the surface without sacrificing the transient high frequencies – something typically compromised in a large diaphragm.”

This is true: four smaller diaphragms display a much quicker transient response, and if you sum them together it creates the big surface but with lower self-noise – some 5dB SPL quieter, according to Lepges. “That was the breakthrough with the AT5040,” he continued, “but the challenge then was to create a matched quartet of diaphragms. The rectangular shape has an inherent benefit over round ones, because a diameter has one resonance frequency – like a string on a guitar – while a rectangle has several, provided you tension the corners correctly. If every millimetre is tensioned accurately in the manufacturing process, in the end you can have differing horizontal tensions across the diaphragm – each of which has a different resonance frequency, like a harp.”

This is key, because multiple resonance frequencies in very close proximity cancel each other out, so the microphone stops ‘ringing’ as soon as the signal stops – crowded resonances fall off much faster.

If you translate this into musical terms: rapidly arriving signals clearly overlap, so as the first wave rings, it masks the arrival of the next, and so on – and without this phase information it’s harder to localise the signal.

The 5040 solved this by multiplying resonant frequencies – so that none of them can protrude over another – thereby revealing more of the leading edge of the next phase as it comes in. “It’s physics, not marketing!” added Lepges, triumphantly.

To achieve a balanced output, however, the 5040 risks four elements, two of which are in-phase and two of which are out of phase, without a transformer and with nothing in the way of the purity of the signal – not even switching, low-cut or pad.

“Consequently, as a microphone the 5040 is a bit of diva! It will do a superb job for you, if you know how to handle it. You need a proper console, and the proper input: the impedance is significantly lower than you expect, and it has a super-high output. The input signal is potentially a real handful!” admitted Lepges.

This is deemed unsuitable for computer-plus-preamp recording norms – so, enter the AT5047. It has the same diaphragm arrangement, albeit with slightly adjusted summing, but now with added transformer for the output.

“It brings up the impedance and makes everything more controllable on all frequencies,” Lepges explained, “and the dynamic range becomes huge. It’s more universal, more versatile. The transformer is handmade and very painstakingly matched to find the sweet spot for this microphone. Everything that happens is sorted out inside the mic, ready for delivery to the outside world.”

The sonic presence of the transformer imbues the 5047 with a unique tone, arguably less pure than the 5040 but still providing the benefits in the time domain generated by the diaphragm configuration. “It’s a different concept,” concluded Lepges, “and, although a rectangular diaphragm is not entirely unique, this combination most certainly is.”

The AT5047 microphone is available now.