(click thumbnail)Traditionally, tube microphones have been tethered to external power supplies with proprietary cables. These bulky but necessary appendages made a tube mic a less-convenient affair than its transistorized brethren.
Add to that the weighty price tag that often accompanies these transducers, and you have a real debate as to whether the sonic benefits outweigh the difficulties associated with their use.
With the introduction of the AT3060, Audio-Technica has taken the sting out of tube mic ownership and use. At $599 retail, including shockmount, this microphone is remarkably affordable. With its ability to run on phantom power, it has no cumbersome external power supply and related hard-to-find cables. The mic won the Radio World "Cool Stuff" Award this spring.
Product CapsuleThumbs Up
Affordable price point
No cumbersome external power supply
17 dB SPL (A-weighted) noise level
May be too fragile for on-air studio use
Contact Audio-Technica in Ohio at (330) 686-2600 or visit www.audio-technica.com.
You would not likely put a tube mic in the on-air studio due to the level of abuse it might receive. Also, the fragility of the tube means potential failure under heavy use. But if you seek a dedicated voiceover mic under controlled conditions or wish to air a live music performance on the morning show, the AT3060 merits consideration.
The 3060 is a side-address cardioid condenser that is 6.71 inches long with a diameter of 2.05 inches. The satin silver chassis weighs 19.1 ounces and features a large doubled windscreen that allows ample access to the capsule.
Removing the windscreen reveals a gold vapor-deposited Mylar diaphragm that is two microns thick and 1 inch in diameter. The capsule assembly, at 1.5 inches, is the largest A-T has used.
Just below the capsule is a large plastic dome shielding it from a transformer. Below that is a Raytheon 6418 tube (about the size of a pen cap), horizontally situated through two shockmounted brass plates.
Even with its onboard electronics, the 3060 has a respectable noise level of 17 dB SPL (A-weighted). The frequency response plot of the 3060 reveals a gentle rise beginning around 1,500 Hz and peaking at 6 kHz. From about 10 kHz on up, there is a steady drop-off yielding an overall response of 50 Hz to 16 kHz.
In the studio
In my studio I used the 3060 on acoustic guitar, electric guitar and voice. I used the microphone on an acoustic guitar track for an upcoming release by the band Three Quarter Squeegee. Guitarist Mike Keiffer played my 1968 Gibson J45. The Gibson has a warm, rich sound that lacks significant high end. For this reason I was hesitant to use the 3060.
Tube mics, like tube guitar amps, are popular because they color the sound in a way that is pleasing to the ear. In my experience, they have traditionally generated a "warming" effect -- a gentle reduction in brittle highs -- on whatever was being recorded.
Therefore, combining a warm mic with a warm source like the J45 can result in an overly warm (muddy or boomy) track. That, however, was not the case with the 3060. Using only mic placement and no EQ, I was able to get an acoustic track that was rich and detailed with enough clarity to be heard amongst the din of drums, bass and electric guitars.
On the voice
On all sources, I found the 3060 to have a surprisingly present sound despite its tube nature and HF drop-off. In a spoken-word comparison it had a delicious sonic character, even when compared to mics that cost four times as much. The degree of clarity attained by the AT3060 also means less corrective EQ if the mic is plugged into a dedicated processor.
Later, I used the 3060 at a live sound gig where I had the opportunity to mix the legendary blues band Canned Heat. I put the 3060 on Stanley Behrens harmonica amp. After letting the 3060 warm up for the recommended 10 minutes before sound check, I placed it in front of his Fender amp. I am sure that if microphones could talk they would surely protest being placed in front of a harmonica amp - it's a harsh environment full of shrill frequencies, distortion and feedback howls.
The 3060 took it all in stride as it delivered a true representation of the stage sound coming from Behrens' amp. With a max SPL rating of 134 dB, the 3060 handled the harmonica without noticeable distortion.
Much has been said here regarding the AT3060 in live music applications, more so than voice. In a broadcast situation, this mic would shine when that touring band stops by the station to play a few acoustic tunes live on the air in advance of their concert. Condenser mics lack the inertia and perceived "heaviness" of dynamic units and predictably, the AT3060 provides plenty of clarity and transparency.
Again, the mic is a champ for voice work. The lift between 1.5 and 6 kHz gives shimmer to the soft-spoken female voice. Keep this one in the good production room for that all -- important station imaging and for high -- quality commercial work.
While it may not have the sonic coloration of classic tube microphones, the AT3060 has a rich, detailed sound that proved beneficial to almost everything I put it in front of. Without an external power supply, it is as easy to use as transistorized mics. All you need is phantom power and a few minutes for warmup. At $599, it represents an exceptional bargain. It will broaden your mic palette and it may become one of your favorites.