Is that a ribbon mic? Is that a square capsule? Those are just a couple of the things I heard clients ask when seeing the new Audio-Technica AT5045. In a world of copies and recreations of classic pieces of gear, it is nice to experience pleasant surprises in design and function. With the recent introduction of its 50 Series, Audio-Technica turned a few heads. It is a well- received line that has found many high-profile users singing its praises. The newest member of the line is the AT5045, a side-address, large-diaphragm condenser mic that, like its older sibling AT5040 [Tape Op #95], sports a rectangular capsule. Unlike the multi-element capsule in the much larger AT5040, which is made up of an array of four smaller diaphragms, the AT5045's capsule employs a single diaphragm, the company's largest, but due to its long-and-thin rectangular form factor, the capsule still manages to fit into a compact, pencil-type mic body.
I received a matched-pair AT5045P set for review (Serial #0000!), and one of the first things I did was look at the included frequency-response measurements. My experience in the past has been that you get the standard sheet of the specifications that's typeset and printed for all mics of that model. In this case, that was not so. Each mic was measured individually and had its own individual sheet. The mics in this stereo pair were close to identical, but ever so slightly different in certain frequency areas, as expected for anything electromechanical. So small are these differences that I doubt your dog could hear the difference — I certainly couldn't. But it reminded me that these are handmade mics crafted with incredible care. Notably, the graphs of each mic's frequency response show a slight rise from 1 kHz on up, with a dip in the 5-7 kHz range where sibilance can be harshest.
When I first opened up the box, I was surprised by the mic's diminutive size. I expected something like an AKG C 12 when I saw the AT5045 in pictures. In reality, it is only 7'' long and about as big around as the tail end of an SM57. The gun-metal and grey-blue finish is quite attractive, and every detail of the trim is meticulous, with smooth edges, perfect fits, and seamless connectors. In hand, the mic feels great, with a substantial but not overwhelming heft. Moreover, the included shockmount uses an ingenious locking-clasp design. With the shockmount threaded onto a stand or boom, the mic can be pushed right into the clasp from the front and then be locked securely into place with the turn of a small lever. It took me a moment to figure out how this worked, but I quickly fell in love with the concept and design. The pair of mics came in a single foam-lined molded plastic case with cutouts for the mics, windscreens, and shockmounts.
I will say as a precursor to the specifics of use, that listening to the AT5045 on all sources, especially acoustic instruments, was like being in the room. Putting the mic where I was hearing the best tone got me very close to what I was hearing in the room.
I immediately wanted to get these mics up on drums. On a session with drummer David Revelli for Seattle local Tom Eddy, I used the AT5045 pair with Daking mic preamps in a Glyn Johns configuration, as an option along with a traditional overheads setup. Dave's kit always sounds great, and the mics captured all of the lovely thunderous tone when he was going for the toms, and solid detail when he was playing with brushes. My Daking preamps are very clear with an extended top end, and I find them great for dynamic, ribbon, and other mics that tend to need a bit of top and clarity added. The AT5045 mics need no such help. They are super clear on their own, and though they sounded great in this pairing, because of their inherent truth, especially in the top end, I found I liked them with darker, more "leathery" mic preamps for a rich tone with great clarity and midrange. Because it was convenient, I had Dave do all his percussion overdubs — shakers, tambourines, agogô bells, a bag full of empty bullet casings and chains — into the AT5045 mics. The sounds were great, with plenty of detail and smoothness across the frequency spectrum, save for a slight presence boost that was appropriate for all of these instruments. Everything sat well in the track, even sans compression and EQ.
On acoustic guitars, both a Gibson Dove and a Taylor 510, the AT5045 through a Burl Audio B1D preamp yielded excellent results. The sound was impressively full-bodied and detailed with a lovely smooth top-end that cut through without any harshness. Of course, both are beautiful sounding guitars and the preamp sounds great, but that is exactly the point. I heard back a very nice representation of what was there to be captured that was leveraging the character of the signal chain.
It was very easy to make placement and tonal choices when using the AT5045. There was rarely a situation where I was recording an instrument and then making adjustments after the fact to make it fit. In several situations, I could hear every detail so clearly that it was almost alarming.
I would be remiss if I had not tried the AT5045 out on a vocal. One thing to remember here is that a microphone this articulate is going to capture what you put it in front of in all its nakedness. Sometimes the truth hurts! On a nasally singer, the vocal is going to sound — yep, you guessed it — nasally! On a great singer with good technique and tone, this mic shines — very open, with a nice clear top and full body. Sometimes however, you do want a mic that will flatter, or compensate for deficiencies in, what is being recorded. On a duller source, the AT5045 is a good choice to bring out some additional detail or add a touch of clarity.
I felt like I had run this mic through its paces, and it performed well across the spectrum of uses. Most of this review was already written when a friend asked me to put some bowed upright bass on a recreation of Miles Davis's "In a Silent Way." It was a really great test for the mic because there was plenty of low frequency information to be captured, and the bowing presented an opportunity to hear some string buzz and articulation. Based on everything else I used this mic on, I heard exactly what I expected. Loads of detail and full-spectrum frequency response. I had to move the mic a few times to find the sweet spot between detail and blend for the track, but once I did, the track sat nicely and required virtually no further tweaking.
My studio partner Martin Feveyear [Tape Op #28] also took the AT5045 pair for a test drive, and not surprisingly his first comment was, "These mics are very articulate." They were used on a variety of sources, and as is the case with any mic, they were stylistically appropriate for some things and not for others. He did mention he thought the AT5045 would shine on snare for the right genres and found it solid for use on Dobro and vocals as well. Martin also recorded Barrett Martin's (of the Walking Papers) bass marimba using the AT5045 pair with Vintech 473 preamps and was very impressed. "I really like these mics!" He noted the extended and clear low end, smoothness of the top, and was very complimentary of the midrange. Often when reviewing products, you are in a bit of a vacuum, so it was nice to have a solid setof ears verify my findings.
If you have the luxury of owning some different flavors of mic preamps, it is always important to try pairing mics with different preamps. If something is not working on a particular source, swap the preamp, swap the mic, try a different amp, get a new singer! With the AT5045, I was able to get an appropriate and desired sound for just about every source by moving the mic, trying a new preamp, applying a bit of compression, etc. There is no single "magic bullet" piece of gear, so finding combinations of gear that work in a variety of situations and for a variety of styles of music is important, especially if you are just beginning to build your arsenal.
The AT5045 mic is true to the source. With its ultra-thin rectangular diaphragm offering terrific transient response and minimal resonance, the mic sounds very open, while its high SPL handling and compact form factor make it suitable for drums, guitar amps, and even sources on which you would want to use a large-diaphragm condenser but can't find room to squeeze in a larger mic. Audio-Technica is pushing the boundaries of sound and design, and with the 50 Series, the company has created an affordable high-end line of mics that will be valued in any studio for a variety of applications. The AT5045 is absolutely worth a listen.