Audio-Technica AT5040 Microphone

Jun 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Barry Rudolph

New Four-Diaphragm Condenser Design


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The AT5040 is a cardioid-only, side-address condenser vocal microphone that uses an all-new proprietary design and technology. With a hybrid design that combines the desired qualities of large-diaphragm condensers with the many inherent advantages of small-diaphragm condensers, the AT5040 is first in a new line of 50 Series studio microphones.

All Diaphragms Great and Small

Large-diaphragm capsules are noted for their natural sound, low self-noise, high sensitivity and increased presence. However, the effective square area of the diaphragms requires them to be thicker and therefore more rigid and less reactive to higher frequencies. Because of their size, they also tend to have temperature-stability issues, and their sensitivity can be affected if the backplate-to-diaphragm distance has to be increased.

Small-diaphragm condenser microphones are noted for their wider frequency range, better dynamic range and higher SPL capability. By comparison, the lower-mass small diaphragm means they can be made thinner and are better able to track fast transients. But typically they are less sensitive and have higher self-noise than large-diaphragm microphones.

The AT5040 takes the best that both have to offer by incorporating four small, carefully matched, rectangular diaphragm capsules arranged in a two-over-two array in a frame that measures 60.5x35.5 mm. These permanently polarized (electret) capsules each measure 21.2x12 mm with a sizable vibration area. Functioning as one large diaphragm but without sharing a common backplate, this four-part element has a surface area twice that of a 1-inch circular diaphragm condenser capsule.

The four capsules each use diaphragms made of polyphenylene sulfide, or PPS, a polymer resistant to the effects of premature aging and most chemicals. The diaphragms are made from 2-micron thick material that’s aged, stabilized and embossed with A-T’s patented double-wave honeycombs—octagonal shapes that increase the diaphragms’ effective surface area while also strengthening its tensile strength.

Wires connected to the backplates of each capsule are routed to a proprietary summing matrix that uses all-discrete FET (field-effect transistor) amplifiers to combine them to a single output.

Typical 48-volt phantom power drain is 3.8 mA to power the amplifiers (for reference, a Neumann U 87 Ai draws about 0.8 mA). A-T went with electret capsules to avoid using even more phantom power current required for the four DC-to-DC converters necessary for externally biased capsules. There are no roll-off filters, attenuator switches or user-serviceable parts in this handmade microphone.

Body/Grille Assembly

To decouple from the external microphone body, the quad capsule assembly is suspended at two points from the top of a stainless steel frame using two rubber shock-mounts. The bottom of this frame is machined into a plinth that acts as a stable base resting on rubber shock absorbers to isolate it from the top of the amplifier circuit frame below. At the bottom of the amp circuit frame is a rubber gasket allowed to compress when the entire assembly is inserted into the microphone’s body, which includes a large stainless steel double-layer mesh windscreen.

The windscreen uses two different mesh sizes welded together and is bifurcated by a vertical reinforcement frame connected to the windscreen itself that mechanically stiffens the whole mic assembly.

The AT5040 comes with the AT8480 locking shock-mount assembly. The capsule “clicks” sideways into the assembly’s floating gripping mechanism that clamps the microphone’s aluminum/brass body gently yet very securely and without marring the finish. Once the lock switch is thrown, the AT5040 can be angled freely, inverted from a boom stand, or positioned in any way with confidence that the 20.5-ounce mic will not drop out of the mount.

On the Job

The first time I used the AT5040, I was immediately struck by its nuanced and delicate presence coupled with its super-accurate detail. Like a powerful microscope, it captures everything—warts and all—especially true for loud guitar cabinets. You might not like what this microphone tells you about your amp and your speakers—stuff you’ve never heard before using your SM57! Also interesting is that, for a cardioid polar pattern, the proximity effect is less compared to other vocal condenser cardioid microphones I’ve used.

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