New Toys

Audio-Technica AT4081 Ribbon Microphone

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Audio-Technica AT4081 Audio-Technica's rethinking of the design, application and the traditional role of ribbon microphones is fully realized with their new AT4080 and AT4081 microphones. These ruggedized mics are hand-built using a proprietary design and are useable anywhere condenser or dynamics are normally used--including live sound.

Traditionally because of their delicate transducers, ribbon mics produce a smooth, warm and natural sound but fragility has always been their downfall--even moving a ribbon mic (whilst on a mic stand) across a room can damage the ribbon. Fragility and not poor sound quality of the classic studio ribbon microphones a yesteryear was the main reason they originally fell out of favor with recording engineers--not many were around that still worked!

The pencil-style AT4081 and the more expensive, suspension-cradled AT4080 have figure-of-eight polar patterns and are both side-address models. That have the smooth, warm and natural sound of classic ribbon mics but add a new level of sonic detail and clarity especially noticeable on the reproduction of percussive transients. Both mics have active electronics that requires phantom powering and both have dual-ribbon elements for higher output level. A-T's patent-pending MicroLinear™ ribbon imprint technology is used in their manufacturing process of the pure aluminum ribbons.

I received an AT4081 for review and it immediately went up against condenser mics I found in the mic locker.

I found the 4081 to be true to the source I was recording provided I accurately positioned it. Since a well-designed ribbon mic like the AT4081 is so sensitive to every sonic nuance available to it, I did have to make a couple more trips out to the studio to tweak its position than I might do when placing other microphones. But the rewards are worth it!

On vocals I found it to be great for singers would tend to work mics close in where the proximity effect DOES NOT help them. Since the 4081 has (like most ribbon mics) a Fig. 8 pattern, there is no problem with proximity plus the mic's frequency response starts to roll-off in the low bass--that helps too.

I used a Pete's Place Blast Filter (an industrial-grade wind screen) and told the singer to try and project his voice at the filter's center where I had aimed the 4081. It worked out great! I got a natural and warm sound with a 'condenser-like' top end.

For the most part, I would never use a ribbon mic on acoustic guitar because they are usually lack-luster and unusable in that application--but the AT4081 changed all that! The AT4081 turns out to be warmer than my usual small diaphragm condenser choice but I also get the articulation I like from small diaphragm condenser mics. I went with positioning the 4081 somewhere over the 12th fret and varied the distance out from as close as my guitarist could handle (3-inches) to about a foot away.

The AT4081 sells for $895 MSRP and comes with foam windscreen, handy mic clip and a clever, see-through protective element sheath.

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