Audio-Technica AT5040 Review

Thursday, June 6th, 2013 | by

Audio-Technica consistently, and perhaps too quietly, produces high-quality microphones, headphones, mixers and other accessories. In my experience, A-T products often outperform their competitor’s products at the same price-point, but Audio-Technica, for some reason, doesn’t have the caché of other top brands. I have some A-T 40 Series microphones that have been in my locker for over 20 years — certainly since before I really knew what I was buying. Over time, my taste and understanding of microphones has grown, and the Audio-Technica microphones have held their value and prominence in my daily use. That alone says a lot about what kind of products A-T makes. Over the years, A-T has expanded their microphone line both upward and downward, to include ribbon mics, tube mics and limited edition models, as well as low-priced USB microphones aimed at podcasters.

Most recently, Audio-Technica debuted the Audio-Technica AT5040AT5040 large-diaphragm condenser microphone. This mic employs some new technologies and features that will, no doubt, find their way into many upcoming microphones.

AT5040At first glance, the AT8480 shockmount stands out as unique and hi-tech-looking. The shockmount resembles a robotic claw with metal fingers that encircle a bit more than 180 degrees of the microphone. The mount actually consists of a metal frame and an internal magnetically-operated mechanism which closes securely around the microphone’s body, locking it in place. In use, the mount operates easily, and deftly holds the microphone in place. It goes without saying that the mount provides a substantial amount of vibration isolation to the mic.

Next, you will notice the color and finish of the microphone. Typically, A-T mics come in either an elegant and camera-friendly black or matte silver finish. The AT5040’s lower third sports a dark-grey cylindrical brass body which is topped by a matte-silver cylindrical aluminum windscreen. The mic looks sleek and powerful. Weighing it at just over 20 ounces, the AT5040 feels substantial and begs for a heavy-duty microphone stand.

The next thing you may notice through the mesh windscreen is an array of rectangular diaphragms in place of the typical single circular diaphragm. This design employs some clever engineering to combine the properties of a large surface area, low mass, and low noise floor. The four rectangular diaphragms provide about 50% more surface area than a standard 1-inch circular diaphragm.

The internal amplifier’s circuitry has been kept to a minimum for a pure signal path with the least possible coloration. Further, the mic provides no switches for pattern selection, bass rolloff or pad, which would require more circuitry could increase noise. Another point worth noting is the use of electret condenser elements instead of an externally polarized capsule. Without getting into too much detail, electret elements require no power, which provides the designer more control over power-related noise issues and allows the mic to utilize all of the phantom power to energize the internal amplifiers instead of supplying power to the capsule. All of this provides very high headroom and very low self-noise over a wide frequency response. The mic’s output level is also on the beefy side, so be prepared to pad your mic preamp on loud sources.

Vocal Sessions

Over a few weeks, I had the pleasure to use the AT5040 on quite a few sessions and many different sources. Audio-Technica touts the AT5040 as its premier vocal mic, so vocals were my first test. On female pop vocals, I put up the AT5040 side-by-side with one of my favorite LDC tube condensers. The first thing I noticed was how smooth the AT5040 is. There is really no hype in any frequency band — even the top feels open and extended but not bright or harsh. This type of frequency response allows easier EQ’ing of instruments, especially if you want to open up the top end of a vocal. Adding highs to this vocal didn’t bring out any harshness or sibilance that other mics with high-mid presence peaks may exhibit. Strapping a compressor across the AT5040’s output sounded great, too, since the smoothness of the sound didn’t produce any “honky” buildup as a side effect of the compression.

Two attributes of the AT5040 justify a few words of advice. First, the microphone shows a large proximity boost. The low frequencies on vocals build up extremely quickly if the singer leans into the mic, so I tended to start with my pop filter about five to eight inches further away from the mic than I normally would.

Second, the cardioid polar pattern seems to have a very directional bias towards high frequencies, so moving only a few degrees off-axis may change the sound in very noticeable ways. Conversely, the low and mid frequencies seem to have a broader pattern, so the ambiance of the room is represented in a warm and cozy way. These points certainly don’t detract from the microphone in any way, and can be used to your advantage as you become accustomed to them. For me, the AT5040 may be one of the most neutral vocal mics I have used and would strongly recommend it, especially if uncolored, dynamic and natural sounds are your target.

Acoustic Guitar

On acoustic guitar, I had the opportunity to record three different players and three different steel-string guitars on the same day, same song, same equipment (don’t ask!). In each case, I positioned the AT5040 about six inches from the guitar, about where the neck and body meet and pointed towards the sound-hole. A second LDC condenser was placed about a foot in front of the guitar pointed right at the sound hole. In every case the AT5040 presented a terrific sound–a blend of fullness and high-end detail that could be shaped with EQ to accentuate the body or picking. Both strumming and fingerpicking were evenly reproduced and I found the sound to be very natural, but present enough to fit well in a pop/rock production. As with vocals, small adjustments in the mic’s positioning highlighted different aspects of the guitar’s tone.

Audio Sample – AT5040 on Acoustic Guitar

Alvarez acoustic guitar, played with very soft fingerpicking. Chandler Little Devil mic pre, no compression, No EQ. Mic placed about 6 inches out from where body and neck meet with mic pointed towards soundhole.

AT5400 on Acoustic Guitar

Electric Guitar Cab

Electric guitar duty came up during a reamping session with a few different amps and speaker setups. Normally, I would use a couple dynamics on the amp and a LDC or ribbon for the room, but in this case I wanted a cozier, more direct sound. Therefore, one mic would be the ticket. I put up my trusty SM57, as well as the AT5040, both positioned about midway between the cone and edge of the speaker, pointed towards the cone, about an inch off the grill. This was not a blazing guitar setup, so I knew the AT5040’s output wouldn’t fry the mic pre (this time I was using the clean circuit of the Slate FOX). Being alone in the studio, I put on a pair of headphones and moved the mics around while the track played. Again, the AT5040 showed me how sensitive it can be to small changes of angle. I was able to find a nice balance of body and edginess by aiming the mic at different points on the speaker, but this time the proximity effect provided the added body that would normally require a second mic.

Audio Sample – AT5040 on Electric Guitar

Swart Atomic amp, Slate Fox preamp (Vintage mode), no compression, No EQ. Mic placed about 4 inches from 1×12 combo, near edge of speaker, pointed towards center.

AT5400 on Guitar Cab

Tenor Sax

On jazz tenor sax, the AT5040 sat side-by-side with my favorite ribbon mic, again into the Fox preamp’s vintage circuit followed by an LA2a. The AT5040 provided a very realistic representation of the sax and room — no hype, just a nice meaty tone with lots of air and space around it. In this example, the ribbon sounded a bit less dimensional, but had the vintage coloration that fit this particular song. Based on these uses, I’m sure that AT5040s would make a fantastic pair for a horn section, string section, drum overheads and piano.

Audio Sample – AT5040 on Tenor Sax

Slate Fox (Vintage mode) with custom LA2a, No EQ. Mic positioned about player’s head height and 1 foot in front of bell, pointed towards the player’s right hand on body of sax.

AT5400 on Tenor Sax

Percussion & Drums

On congas for the same jazz session, my usual choice of mics would be either a single FET condenser as a sort of overhead for the congas, or two dynamics used as close mics on the heads of each conga. I put the AT5040 about two feet above the pair of congas, and got a very satisfying punchy and focused sound, with enough presence and slap along with a nice amount of room tone.

I would imagine putting a AT5040 a foot or two in front of a kick drum would make a fantastic addition to the typical single inside kick drum mic.

Audio Sample – AT5040 on Drum Room

Neve 8068 Console through 1176 with compressor bypassed, No EQ. The mic is probably 10 feet from the kit, dead center, about six feet off the ground, pointed at kit.

AT5400 on Drum Room


I have been saying for a while now that clean is the new color — and the AT5040 certainly provides all the clean qualities that come along with the term audiophile, including a modern life-like reproduction of the source, without limitations of noise-floor, dynamic range or frequency response. The AT5040 successfully provides the best of large-diaphragm and small diaphragm capsules, along with super-clean electronics and modern styling. The AT5040 would be a worthy consideration if you only have one mic in your studio and would certainly be a beneficial addition to any well-stocked mic locker.

The microphone ships with the AT8480 shockmount in a sturdy molded plastic briefcase. All this comes at a healthy, but not-unreasonable street price of $2,999.00.

matthew mcglynn

Update – we’ve just published a second review of the AT5040 featuring five top voice actors. Hear them speak (and shout!) into a U87, Gefell UMT70S, Lawson L47, and the AT5040 in our AT5040 Voiceover Mic Review, starring Corey Burton, Tara Platt, Yuri Lowenthal, Stephanie Sheh, and Julie Nathanson.

Posted in Microphones, Reviews | 13 Comments »

13 Responses to “Audio-Technica AT5040 Review”

  1. james

    June 7th, 2013 at 8:46 am

    That acoustic guitar sounds FAT…. In a good way. There’s a really weird open detailed sound to all the clips as well.

    Fantastic review!

  2. matthew mcglynn

    June 7th, 2013 at 9:05 am

    @james, I agree, but I wouldn’t call it “weird.” Adam got some great tones here.

  3. adam

    June 7th, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Thanks for the comments –

    These clips are good examples of really good players in good environments with very simple signal paths. These recordings were from songs that I engineered and produced, so I spent time creating the environment and setup to capture the sound I wanted for each particular recording – you can’t get away from the basics. Player, instrument, room, microphone, signal path. Preferably in that order…. no secret sauce.

  4. Andrew

    June 8th, 2013 at 2:22 am

    A good review and great sounding samples.
    However, I have to take issue with some of the technical stuff, specifically…

    “Without getting into too much detail, electret elements require no power, which provides the designer more control over power-related noise issues and allows the mic to utilize all of the phantom power to energize the internal amplifiers instead of supplying power to the capsule. All of this provides very high headroom and very low self-noise over a wide frequency response.”

    Conventional capacitor microphones use phantom power to polarize the element and to power the on-board amplifier, whereas electret elements need no polarizing voltage and use the phantom power only for the on-board amplifier. However, polarizing the capacitor in a conventional mic doesn’t take any “power” at all because no current flows once it has charged up. Anyway, this is irrelevant to a mic’s noise performance, headroom or bandwidth.

  5. DD Rivers

    June 8th, 2013 at 5:03 am

    This was a great review. Thanks for putting the time into it.

  6. adam

    June 8th, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Andrew –

    You are correct in your power comment – good catch. This may be a long response, but for others out there who are asking what your comment refers or why that matters, let’s give a bit of background.

    Condenser microphones (also known as capacitor microphones) have a membrane (diaphragm) stretched over a backplate (typically very rigid brass) with a very small airspace in between (thousands-of-an-inch). This arrangement creates a capacitor where one plate of the capacitor (the flexible diaphragm) moves in relationship to the stiff metal backplate. This movement is caused by to sound waves in the air. This capacitor, known to you as the capsule, requires a constant DC voltage across it. The change in distance between the plates varies the voltage across the capacitor. These voltage changes get amplified by the microphone’s circuits and becomes the audio signal that the microphone produces.

    The DC voltage applied to the capacitor comes from phantom power (or sometimes battery power) which is converted by a simple circuit in the microphone to provide the necessary voltage for the capsule. A typical polarizing voltage for a condenser microphone may be in the 30 volt to 80 volt range. In the case of the A-T 5040 the capsule(s) electret elements to make the capacitor, which do not require any external DC voltage (notably the Shure SM81 also uses an electret element – please read the excellent Scott Dorsey article from Recording, which can be found here ). Using an electret requires one less circuit inside the microphone, which may have benefits to other sensitive microphone circuits in terms of circuit layout, noise issues and electrical routing issue.

    A long explanation, but since Andrew pointed out the misuse of the term “Power”, I thought it might be worthwhile to get into the general theory.

    As an aside, readers should know that any worthy publication, like RecordingHacks and other well-respected magazines are managed publishers who care (like Matt McGlynn here, Larry Crane at TapeOp and Kevin Becka at MIX). Each magazine makes sure that authorized product reviews are presented to manufacturers for fact-checking before they are published. Manufacturers are not asked (or encouraged) to change subjective comments, but are asked to check for technical mistakes or misrepresentations of their technologies. This fact-check assures the readers that the information presented provides you with correct information. Beware of technical information you may read on other blog sites, without knowledge about the poster or verification of the information.

  7. danny

    August 30th, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Wow, I’m sorry, but the very concept of a $3k AT mic is absurd to me. I hope the 50 people who buy them will feel otherwise.

  8. adam

    August 30th, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Do you say that because it’s an Audio Technica, or because it’s a 3k mic? AT has been making great microphones for more than 45 years and has their own state-of-the-art manufacturing, just like Neumann or Schoeps. I personally have four AT mics that have been in use since the early 90’s, among dozens of other mics, many of which cost thousands of dollars.

    A 3k mic doesn’t seem so absurd, either, when you consider that so many guitars, basses, trumpets, flutes, violins, etc… can cost that much, or even 100 times more than that.

    Also remember that the venerable U47s and 251s are now entering their 6th decade of use. Many mics in professional studios are of that vintage and still sound fantastic. A great mic will always be a great mic.

    My opinion is that when you cross the border of a 1 thousand dollar microphone, you get what you pay for and above 2 or 3k, you are getting something esoteric, be it technology, styling or sonic character. When you earn a living or live for creating sound, microphones are tools that have an appropriate price-tag.

    Would you ever consider buying a sledge hammer for 600 bucks? Home Depot has one!

    We all choose what tools to spend our money on and I, personally, feel good about the choices I make and the companies and products I support. In my eyes, the AT5040 is a mic that could easily become a legendary mic, along with a very small handful of new models (Including the sE/Ruper Neve RN17).

  9. bern21

    August 31st, 2013 at 10:04 am

    So, you see a big difference worth $3,000? I don’t like the mic’s sound; sort of ‘tubby’. The 4050 eats this for thousands less. I like my L47MP and 414BULS better.

  10. adam

    August 31st, 2013 at 10:54 am

    If the mic is not for you, it’s not for you. I find no reason to spend over 3k on a U87 or even 1k on a TLM 103. I have no use for those mics most of the time, although on some artists in some situations they are terrific. Almost every studio in world has one of those two mics – are they wrong?

    I have a 4050 that I love for certain things, a 4033 that I love for certain things and a 4047 that kills both of them on certain things. I also have a 414B-ULS (with Jim Williams mod), which is almost never used anymore. Every mic has a unique flavor.

    I was able to capture really great tones on many different sources with the 5040. I wouldn’t pick it as my primary vocal mic, so if you only have one or two mics in your collection, this would not be the most obvious choice, but neither would so many other expensive microphones.

    Use your ears, judgement and wallet to make your choices and you’ll be happy with your choices.

  11. Chris

    November 6th, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    does anyone have a download for that acoustic guitar sample. i love it!

  12. Adam

    November 7th, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    That acoustic is from a song that I wrote/produced for a new artist named Shannon Prior and the song is called “I’m Sorry”. You can see a low-fi version of it on youtube here

    That guitar is from the ending chorus/ counter-hook….

  13. Jimmy

    July 5th, 2016 at 5:23 am

    I just made that big 1K to 3K jump. (My Rode, which I only have $600 total in, including a John Bonnel guts upgrade/NOS Telefunken 6299, because I bought my K2 in 2005).

    I’ve been dying for one of these for over a year and a half. I finally bit the bullet and bought a 5040 that was a demo mic in mint condition, getting it for 2K – so I’ve got $2600 in both. These are (other than a Shure KSM9 for live work), the only mics I own at the moment (home studio). I’m not the most savvy engineer in the world, but every time I heard this mic through several different pre configurations…, it totally blew me away. I’m not a pro, but for bern21 to term this mic as… “tubby”…, just blew me away – It must’ve been his “Realistic” pre:)

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