Hands-On Review:Audio-Technica AT3031, AT3032 and AT3035 microphones
by Dominic Hilton
Digital recording systems offer numerous advantages over their analog predecessors: nondestructive editing, pristine sound quality, virtual tracks and powerful plug-ins. But when it comes to audio characteristics, digital recorders are much more exacting than analog tape, mercilessly capturing your signal, warts and all. Plus, any background and microphone handling noise is faithfully reproduced on digital recordings and usually proves impossible to eliminate.
Audio-Technica realized that, because of digital recordings’ high fidelity, as the quality of average project studio equipment continues to rise then so must the quality of microphones—even those at subprofessional price points. The company’s solution was to launch the new 30 Series line of microphones, whose products boast the highest specifications of any mic in this price range and compare very favorably with the company’s own flagship studio models.
Where most manufacturers concentrate on improving only the electronic aspect of their designs, Audio-Technica has introduced new highly designed condenser elements, as well as optimized electronics, into its 30 Series. The result is a group of microphones that have minimal amounts of acoustic and electronic self-noise, making them ideally suited to the ruthlessly sensitive digital recorder. In addition, each of the 30 Series mics—the AT3031, the AT3032 and the AT3035—features an 80Hz/16dB/octave low-cut switch and 10dB pad. The former provides a low-end roll-off that reduces vocal “pop” and low-frequency ambient noise from the likes of air-conditioning and traffic; the latter allows users to take advantage of the microphones’ high 158dB SPL capacity. Furthermore, the mics can operate with 11 to 52 volts DC phantom power, a wide range that eliminates performance problems arising from unstable power sources.
The AT3031 is a cardioid condenser microphone designed for situations where the sound source requires isolation. The slim, satin-finish metal body of the AT3031 exudes quality, from the XLR connector to the neatly machined end cap with top- and side-address vents; the element is a fixed-charge, back-plate, permanently polarized condenser that has a flat, extended frequency response of 30 to 20,000Hz. And the mic’s low self-noise—just 12dB SPL—is well suited to today’s most sophisticated digital recording equipment. The AT3031 ships with the AT8405 stand clamp, AT8159 foam windscreen and a protective soft carry pouch.
The AT3032 is the 30 Series’ omnidirectional model, which is useful for recording ambient and background sounds and grouped vocalists. Aside from the lack of side-address vents, the AT3032 is physically identical to its cardioid sister and boasts the same wide dynamic range. It also ships with a stand clamp, foam windscreen and protective pouch.
The crowning glory of the 30 Series is the AT3035 cardioid condenser microphone. This substantial studio model has an attractive satin-finish metal body with large top- and side-address metal mesh screens, and comes with a custom shock mount. The element’s large diaphragm enables highly detailed pickup with minimized noise, and provides a wide, flat frequency response from 20 to 20,000Hz. Its self-noise is just 12dB SPL, even lower than that of its sisters.
I tested the trio of microphones in a digital home studio environment, with the typical associated evils of exterior traffic noise, air conditioning and imperfect power supply. The AT3031 performed beautifully when close-miking an acoustic guitar, producing a pleasant natural-sounding reproduction and plenty of detail. Despite the mic’s sensitivity, I noticed no self-noise whatsoever. Utilizing the 10dB pad, I also tested the AT3031 on a cranked guitar combo, achieving some great results that captured the sweet spot with brilliant clarity and depth. I also added the AT3032 omni to this setup to capture some of the amp’s ambient tone further back in the room, and produced a huge stereo guitar tone from the two signals. These two mics proved to be an extremely versatile, dynamic duo that mixes well together for any number of applications, and background noise was kept to an absolute minimum in all cases. Finally, I set up the AT3035 with both the acoustic guitar and amp scenarios, and the sound was undeniably impressive. From the softest fingerpicking to the crunchiest power chord, the AT3035 captured the dynamics and texture with a clean, transparent reproduction and imperceptible noise.
The Bottom Line
Being the vital link between your analog tone and your digital recorder, studio microphones are an investment worthy of some serious thought. Audio-Technica should make this decision a little easier with these affordable, digital-friendly models. Home recordists with a variety of instruments to capture should consider the AT3031 and AT3032 to cover all their bases, or the AT3035 for one mic that performs a lot of tasks extremely well.