Condenser microphones can be expensive, but there is a solid selection of budget condenser microphones that are great for beginners and those without a heap of cash to set up their studio. In this review, I look at one of the most popular budget choices available today, the AT2020 from Audio-Technica.
The Audio-Technica AT2020 ticks many of the right boxes for a budget condenser microphone, but depending on your needs, it might not be the right choice. Read on for a more detailed breakdown.
Audio-Technica has an established reputation as one of the leading audio gear brands in the industry, and its selection of microphones is an excellent addition to its extensive lineup of products. The AT2020 combines its expertise into an affordable package that punches well above its price point.
Budget condenser microphones swing wildly between disappointing and impressive, and the Audio-Technica AT2020 leans heavily toward the impressive end of the spectrum.
For a cheap microphone, it offers a well-balanced sound that captures speech, vocals, and some instruments with accuracy and just enough warmth and air to make it an appealing choice for a variety of applications.
As a Cardioid microphone, it features a forward-facing capture sphere. It does a solid job of minimizing leakage into your recordings from the sides and rear. The signal-to-noise ratio of 74dB also highlights its ability to capture the correct elements for your recordings.
Versatile workhorse microphone that performs exceptionally well for some tasks.
For speaking applications like podcasts and voice-over work, it is a little sensitive and has some issues with plosives. Plosives are letters that tend to introduce unwanted pops in recordings, with letters like p, t, and k usually the culprits. While the sound was clean, this microphone does benefit from a pop filter to help mitigate this issue.
For singers, this microphone holds up well. It does offer a warm edge with enough definition to be able to capture workable recordings. It also leans a little bright in the top end but not to the point of adding unwanted shrillness.
Is it as good as more expensive condenser microphones? No, but is it good enough to record demos that retain authenticity? Yes. For example, Billie Eilish is famously known for using the AT2020 to record her debut song, “Ocean Eyes.”
A pop filter is essential to mitigate plosives with the AT2020.
As for instruments, the AT2020 works well with acoustic guitars and easily picks up intricate plucks and twangs. It also does quite well with electric guitars with low distortion. But I would explore other options for bass guitars.
Finally, regarding drums, the AT2020 is a decent budget choice for some applications. It does an impressive job for an overhead recording of hi-hats or toms, but due to the roll-off at 20Hz, you’d be better off with another microphone for kick drums.
For a microphone in this price bracket, the AT2020 exceeds expectations and is an excellent budget choice. While far from perfect, when utilized for the right job, it stands out as among the best low-cost condenser mics available today.
The Audio-Technica features a 0.63″ (16mm) diaphragm and offers a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz. As previously mentioned, the response does accentuate the lows and highs to some degree but not to the point of making it overly unbalanced, but equally, it is not the most neutral offering available.
Excellent Signal To Noise ratio but a slightly high Self Noise level.
The Self Noise is a little high at 20dB. This level makes it not an ideal choice for quiet recordings that involve whispering or more subtle sounds. You’ll need to look at alternatives if you want to start recording some AMSR material.
The Max SPL of 144dB is impressive and ensures you’ll effortlessly capture loud output. Not a hint of distortion makes it especially handy for loud instruments like electric guitars.
The impedance rating of 100 ohms means you shouldn’t have too much difficulty matching this up with an appropriate interface.
Audio-Technica products always have a flair for clean and modern design, and that is on full display with the AT2020 and extends to its entire microphone lineup.
The all-black appearance ensures it will blend comfortably into professional studio environments, and I also appreciate the subtle logo design.
Attractive modern styling.
The Audio-Technica AT2020 features an XLR connection point, and the package comes with a pivoting threaded stand mount. Easy to integrate into a variety of situations. While USB microphones are an increasingly popular choice, I still recommend you stick with XLR microphones for maximum audio quality.
As with other condenser microphones, you’ll need 48V phantom power to get this little rocket rolling, so ensure your audio interface offers switchable phantom power.
The Audio-Technica AT2020 also exceeded my expectation in this area. For a microphone at this price point, the built quality is excellent.
I was fully anticipating a plastic and flimsy feeling microphone, but instead, the AT2020 bucks this trend and offers robust and durable housing that inspires confidence.
High build quality at an affordable price point.
As with all condenser microphones, you’ll still need to handle the mic carefully, but this unit is far more durable than expected. The choice of metal also gives the microphone some heft which further adds to the appeal.
The custom-engineered low-mass diaphragm is delicate enough to capture intricate detail, making it a capable and dependable side-address studio microphone.
While it is often true that you must sacrifice material quality to bring down the price, the Audio-Technica AT2020 maintains an approachable price without sacrificing too much in the build quality department. An impressive achievement.
The AT2020 from Audio-Technica offers a perfect size for recording applications. At 6.38″ (162mm), it isn’t overly long. The cylindrical shape makes an excellent addition to any studio space. Likewise, the diameter of 2.05″ (52mm) falls in line with other popular condenser microphones on the market.
Excellent feel thanks to the metal frame and grille.
At 0.76 lbs. (345 grams), the AT2020 offers a good level of heft without becoming overly cumbersome. Most stands will have no trouble handling this weight. Note this microphone is not handheld, so you’ll want a stand of some variety. The high sensitivity level of the static condenser will pick up handling noise and ruin your recordings.
One of the most appealing elements of the AT2020 is its excellent value. This is a modestly priced condenser microphone that offers exceptional performance. I would recommend only a handful of other microphones at this price point, and the AT2020 sits among the very best on that list.
Within the package, you’ll also have access to a pivoting stand mount which is excellent, and a pouch for storage. Due to the microphone’s design, you won’t be able to attach this to a standard mic clip, but the threaded adapter means it can connect to a standard mic stand.
The included pouch is excellent for storing your microphone.
No further extras come in the box, so if you are after a shock mount, you’ll need to spend extra to pick up the AT8458a or another compatible shock mount.
Despite some limitations, the AT2020 represents an affordable entry point to the world of high-quality recordings. Even for experienced veterans, this microphone is a viable choice for some applications. But if you demand the very best, you’ll need to up your budget and explore alternatives.
The AT2020 from Audio-Technica has become a staple for project and home studios. Over its time in the market, it has accumulated a staggering amount of reviews. The vast majority rate the AT2020 favorably, and even industry professionals recognize that it has a lot to offer at this price point.
Cardioid Polar Patterns
Cardioid polar patterns are common for condenser microphones and are an ideal choice for specific applications.
A polar pattern represents the three-dimensional space around the microphone. It illustrates where the microphone is most sensitive to sound. Different patterns are ideal for different situations.
Cardioid pattern microphones are great for podcasting and recording vocals.
A cardioid pattern is heart-shaped, with a primary capture area at the front of the microphone, minimal capturing capabilities at the rear, and diminishing capabilities at the sides.
This type of pattern is ideal for direct recording of speech and vocals. But it is also helpful in situations where the sound emanates directly outward, and you can place the microphone in front of that source.
There are variations to the cardioid pattern with SuperCardioid and HyperCardioid. The primary difference with these is a wider capture area at the rear of the microphone. While useful in certain situations, a standard Cardioid pattern is the most common type.
While there is little denying that the AT2020 is among the best budget condenser microphones, other choices are available in this highly competitive price segment.
AKG P120 Review
The AKG P120 is another affordable condenser microphone with a lot going for it. It features clean sound and reliable build quality at a low price point.
- Excellent performance for vocals and speech. Clean and relatively neutral.
- Rock solid build quality and access to a bass roll-off switch.
- Slightly larger and heavier than the AT2020.
PreSonus M7 Review
For those wanting to stretch their budget further, the PreSonus M7 is worth considering. While it has some flaws, it is a viable choice for beginners on a tight budget.
- Decent sound quality especially considering the low price point.
- Ultra affordable choice that will leave you with more money to spend on other gear.
- The included stand mount is nowhere near as durable as the one that comes with the AT2020.
MXL 990 Review
The MXL 990 is among the best budget condenser mics and stands toe to toe with the AT2020. A capable microphone that performs way beyond its price point.
- Pristine recording quality, especially for speech, vocals, and acoustic guitars.
- Excellent accessories, including a case and shock mount.
- With a lower Max SPL, it is not a great choice for recording louder elements.
Should You Buy?
There is a reason why the Audio-Technica AT2020 tops a lot of budget condenser microphone lists. At this price point, it stands head and shoulder above much of the competition, with only a few viable competitors.
It’s a versatile microphone that features excellent sound quality and rugged construction. It might not be the most neutral-sounding microphone out there, and it doesn’t come with much in the way of included extras. But the AT2020 is superb for reliable, warm, and forgiving sound.
An outstanding budget condenser microphone that deserves the high praise it receives.