Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 | by matthew mcglynn
The Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB and AT2005USB are inexpensive dynamic microphones with dual outputs, both analog (XLR) and digital (USB). Both mics impressed me in our recent shootout of dynamic USB mics.
Several readers asked for a direct comparison of these two mics, which differ in price despite sharing specs, capsules, and features.
So, we’ve tested these mics head-to-head, recording both simultaneously. Also we’ve compared the analog and digital outputs to see how well the onboard amplifier and ADC compares to outboard gear.
Session 1: ATR2100 USB, Analog vs Digital
I couldn’t find a way to aggregate my Digi 002 Rack along with the ATR2100’s USB output. But I was able to aggregate my Mackie Onyx Blackjack (a USB mic pre) with the ATR2100. See the setup at right.
In Pro Tools, I set the “Playback Engine” to this aggregate I/O virtual device. The Blackjack’s 2 inputs showed up as the first two inputs, while the ATR2100 showed up in #3.
I put the Blackjack’s analog gain control at about 5:00, just shy of maxed out. Then I used the Sound pref pane to set the USB input’s gain level so that both channels were peaking in the same place in Pro Tools. I got them within 0.5dB of one another.
Note that the USB output is a 16-bit device, whereas the Blackjack is a 24-bit device. You can expect to hear a difference in the noise floor of these two channels.
Sound Samples: ATR2100, Analog vs Digital
The sound quality of these two tracks is very similar. There is more noise in the USB track, as expected. My RTA shows about 5dB more noise above 5kHz, in the USB track. Both tracks are picking up some room noise (my computer fan, mostly), but the USB track has additional hiss above 1kHz.
In short, the sound quality of the USB output is decent, and in my opinion the mic in USB mode would work well for podcasting or video voiceover (for screencasts and so on). The actual tone and response of the mic in USB mode is very impressive for the price.
With an analog preamp (and external ADC/audio interface), this mic sounds even better; the high-frequency hiss of the mic’s onboard 16-bit USB ADC goes away. (The room noise is somewhat distracting, but is representative of recording with a desktop computer in a room with a hard floor. I prefer recording to a laptop whose fan is suppressed, but my laptop was unavailable for this session.)
Surprising anomaly – polarity inversion of digital output
Weirdly, the digital output has inverted polarity as compared to the analog output. The mic’s analog output appears to have the same polarity as my other mics, suggesting that the digital output is “out of phase.”
(I inverted one of the tracks prior to exporting the audio samples linked above.)
Session 2: AT2100-USB vs AT2005USB
For this test, I plugged in both Audio-Technica dynamic USB mics via their included USB cables, and created an aggregate audio device that included both. I recorded to a 24-bit Pro Tools session (although the output of both mics was 16 bit).
Both microphones are sensitive to plosives at my working distance of ~4 inches. I tend not to criticize microphones for plosive performance, for two reasons:
- P-pops and other plosives can be prevented via mic position, speaking technique, and the use of external blast filters.
- P-pops and other plosives can be removed from an audio track fairly seamlessly by applying a steep low-frequency rolloff, e.g. 12–18dB/octave below 90–150Hz (depending on the frequency range of the voice).
… nonetheless, I mention these mics’ plosive performance here because if you are considering buying one of these you might consider buying a pop filter too. (See the Conclusion section for compatible foam windscreens from Audio-Technica.)
For this particular comparison session, I opted to mount an external pop filter (a dual layer mesh unit from Sabra Som), rather than reposition the mics or clean up plosives after tracking.
My working distance was about 4 inches, and I tracked both mics simultaneously, which means you’re hearing exactly the same “performance” in every pair of tracks below.
(By the way, anyone recording voice — their own or someone else’s — should go read Randy Coppinger’s 10 Voice Recording Essentials right now.)
Sound Samples: AT2100-USB vs AT2005USB
The differences between these two mics are subtle. You could punch in one for the other and nobody would notice.
I occasionally hear a slightly fuller low-frequency response from the ATR2100-USB. But perhaps I’d swayed a half-inch closer to that mic while speaking, causing a boost in proximity effect? I’ll say it again: I think the differences are so subtle as to be negligible. If you are trying to decide between these two microphones, shop based on features and price, not for sonic distinctions.
If you’re wondering why the noise level is so high in the first part of the two proximity test tracks, it is because the signal level (that is, the volume of my voice) is much lower when the I stand farther away from the mic. The three distances in each of those tracks are presented at equal RMS gain, which means the distant tracks had to be turned up much louder… resulting in amplification of the noise floor, too.
So long as we’re here, I recorded a few more head-to-head comparisons so you can hear the ATR2100-USB against a couple other microphones you should be considering.
ATR2100-USB vs Shure SM57
These two mics sound pretty similar on my voice. The ATR2100-USB is fuller in the low mids. Both mics need external pop filters (which is no fault of the SM57; to be fair, I should have used an SM58). As mentioned previously, I think the built-in windscreen of the ATR2100-USB is inadequate.
ATR2100-USB vs Studio Projects LSM
This is a really interesting contrast. The LSM is much more restrained on the high end, but sounds a bit eshy. I wouldn’t have expected the dynamic mic to sound brighter than the condenser, but here it does. And I think the ATR2100-USB is giving a more accurate representation of my voice.
That’s not to say the LSM doesn’t sound good. It is warmer than the dynamic mic, and while arguably not as accurate on top, is likely to be easier to listen to over long periods.
Be aware the LSM is a condenser mic. In general, its high-sensitivity capsule is more likely to pick up mouth sounds and ambient noises from your room than would most dynamic mics. If you’re recording in a noisy space, you’ll be better served by a dynamic mic. But the LSM remains a personal favorite; it won a blind test of inexpensive condensers for podcasting last year, and works well on many acoustic and electric sources.
These two tracks were recorded through a two-layer external pop filter, because both of these mics are sensitive to plosives.
ATR2100-USB vs Rode Podcaster
This is another very revealing comparison: listen to the difference in low-frequency response! The Podcaster sounds high-passed. But now I understand why: it sounds more like a radio voice, pre-EQ’d.
This comparison is a bit unfair to the Podcaster, because I stood 4–5 inches from the mic. I know from previous tests that the Podcaster sounds more balanced at closer working distances.
Which of these you prefer is entirely subjective. The Podcaster sounds more polished, or arguably thin and scooped. The ATR2100-USB sounds fuller and warmer, or arguably a bit wooly. For low-pitched voices, the ATR2100-USB might want a bit more distance, whereas the Podcaster wants less.
Note too that the Podcaster’s street price is $229, or about 4.5 times more than the ATR2100-USB.
I stand by my earlier finding, that the ATR2100-USB and AT2005USB are great-sounding mics for the price. If you’re shopping for an inexpensive podcasting solution, both of these mics should be on your shortlist. Thanks to their dual-output design, both mics will retain their utility when you expand your podcasting rig to include an external preamp/interface.
Both these mics need better blast filtering. They don’t come with foam windscreens, but they should. The following Audio-Technica windscreens are compatible:
- For both AT2005USB and ATR2100-USB: the AT8112 windscreen is compatible
- For the ATR2100-USB: the AT8114 is also compatible
Kudos to Audio-Technica for introducing useful audio tools at these remarkable price points!
Credits and Disclosures
The Rode Podcaster and both Audio-Technica microphones were loaned to me by their respective manufacturers for the purposes of this review. The LSM, SM57, Onyx Blackjack, and other gear mentioned herein are personal property. We received no compensation from Mackie, Shure, Studio Projects, Rode, or Audio-Technica for this review.