In 2012 Audio-Technica released the AT5040 [Tape Op #95] microphone, which was a special mic in several ways. The hand-built mic uses four 2-micron rectangular capsules, positioned next to each other in a 2x2 array to effectively create a capsule with the surface area twice that of a typical large diaphragm condenser. This design combines the best of large and small diaphragm properties and provides excellent high frequency detail, quick transient response, and extremely low self-noise. The AT5040 uses a transformerless output stage and delivers an extremely high output level for a studio microphone. Regardless of the instrument I’m recording, I almost always have to use a -20 dB pad on my AT5040. The AT5040 is a world-class microphone in every way, including its super cool AT8480 shock mount, which looks like a mechanical, magnetic hand that provides excellent security and vibration isolation. The AT5040 is a fixed cardioid microphone with a focused sweet spot and excellent off-axis rejection of sound. I love the AT5040 on horns, especially saxophone, and find it excellent on many singers and voiceover artists. The AT5040 has an extremely high output, and sometimes the proximity effect can be a bit overwhelming, requiring repositioning of the mic or performer a few extra inches from the mic.
Recently Audio-Technica has released the AT5047, a sister to the AT5040. Both share the same cylindrical, front address body and cardioid pattern, but the AT5047 has an all-silver finish, while the AT5040 sports a two-tone silver and dark grey body. The AT5047 employs the same four capsule, electret condenser array from the AT5040, but this time the microphone uses a transformer-balanced output that performs some artistic and technical functions. On the artistic side, the transformer will saturate a bit and soften transients while thickening some of the lo mid harmonics. On the technical side, the 150 ohm transformer balanced output allows the AT5047 to maintain a consistent character, no matter what mic preamp it is plugged into. Small circuit changes from the AT5040 provide the AT5047 with the highest dynamic range (142 dB) of any microphone from Audio-Technica, with an SPL capability of an ear-shattering 148 dB. The noise level of the AT5047 is incredibly low at 6 dB SPL and is slightly less sensitive than the AT5040 with 3 or 4 dB lower level output on most sources.
In the studio I recently recorded a three-piece horn section, featuring trumpet, trombone, and sax. Here I set up one AT5040, one AT5047, and one Sony C100. I tried each mic on each instrument, through a John Hardy M1 mic preamp. The John Hardy uses a Jensen input transformer, and I would consider it a clean and solid sounding preamp – much like an API without the coloration and saturation. I also found that a pad was needed on both the AT5040 and the AT5047. While I could probably have gotten away without one on the C100, I did use its built-in -10 dB pad. For the AT5040, I almost always use an inline pad (Shure A15AS) because it provides switchable amounts of padding, and I find that on some consoles the preamp pad affects the tone of the mic pre more than the inline pad does. For this session I used the same model pad on both the AT5040 and the AT5047, set to -20 dB. Initially, I found that the AT5040 and AT5047s sounded remarkably alike, except that the off-axis sound on the AT5047 was darker in tone than the AT5040. One of the things I like about the AT5040 is that the off-axis coloration never bothers me. That is, I never feel like the room sound plays much of a part in the sound I hear in the mic. The AT5047 has a bit more apparent room sound, which some will find more natural sounding, and while others may find a bit distracting. The room bleed into either of the Audio-Technica mics was several dB quieter than the bleed into the C100, mostly due to the AT’s very narrow cardioid pickup.
The tone of the AT mics remained consistent on all three horns, and, overall, I found that the AT5040 sounded natural and open, with a lot of body in the lows, natural clarity in the mids and highs, and no harshness in the highs. Switching to the AT5047, I felt that I could hear a slight bit of transformer saturation, or compression. Mainly the mid and high frequencies seemed a bit more present when compared to the AT5040. For a traditional or acoustic approach, the AT5040 is natural and realistic sounding while for a pop or smooth jazz type approach, the AT5047 would provide a bit more presence and bite. Additionally, the low end on the AT5047 is slightly tighter and more focused than on the AT5040 while the AT5047 low end feels warmer, almost like a ribbon with obvious sub frequencies.
I can’t say that I have an overall preference between the AT5047 and the AT5040. My feeling is that the AT5040 sounds slightly more accurate but sometimes produces too much proximity effect and may not play well with every preamp. The AT5047 feels a bit more polished, and I can hear the transformer saturation and slight high end lift. For close-mic’d voice-over recordings, the AT5047 may have a slight advantage over the AT5040, but every other application would be a tossup in my opinion. I also find that the AT5040 picks up occasional sub frequencies that must be high-pass filtered, while the AT5047 seems to have solved that with superior internal shock mounting.
Since the AT5047 (and AT5040) have such a focused cardioid pickup pattern, I would hesitate to use the mics on musicians who tend to move around, but usually a word of instruction to a performer can solve that problem. I love the AT5040 and AT5047 on electric guitar amps, brass instruments, voiceover, and some singers. I have also used the AT5040 as a mono drum room mic with stunning results and would expect the AT5047 to sound just as good. I wouldn’t say the AT5047 would be my single desert island mic, but I love my AT5040 and use it constantly, along with many other classic studio mics.
I have long been a user of the AT40 Series mics, including the AT4050 [#33], AT4033, and AT4047 [#20]. Now with the 50 Series, Audio-Technica has brought their microphone design to the next level. These new mics are quickly becoming studio classics and easily hold their place in the most well-stocked of mic lockers. Visit Audio-Technica’s web site for more information about the AT5047 and their other fine microphones. ($3499 MSRP; audio-technica.com)