TapeOp Issue #66/July, 2008 | by Andy Hong
Most large-diaphragm condenser mics are too big to use in tight situations. The AE3000, on the other hand, is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
I originally bought this mic because I wanted an affordable (i.e., breakable without breaking the bank) side-address large-diaphragm mic for snare drum, but I’ve found many other uses too. Like many of Audio-Technica’s affordable condenser mics, the AE3000 employs a permanently-polarized element. In other words, it’s an electret condenser mic. Years ago, electrets had a reputation of being noisy, limited in bandwidth, and incapable of handling high SPLs. Audio-Technica’s electret condensers, unlike cheaper mics that use fixed-charge material in the diaphragm, feature a precision-milled, fixed-charge backplate; therefore, the diaphragm can be made of low-mass material. The result is that Audio-Technica’s electret condensers can rival other manufacturer’s capacitor condensers in sound quality and consistency. (And truth be told, I rely on just as many electret condensers from my mic cabinet as I do capacitor condensers.)
On snare, the AE3000 has a good deal of punch and crack, and the sizzle is not overdone as with many condensers. I usually start with the AE3000’s diaphragm about 1'' out from the rim, just peeking over the top, aimed at the center of the head. If I want more lower-mid punch, I will move the mic so that the diaphragm is further above the rim, angled so it’s still pointing at the top head’s center. If I want more body resonance, I’ll move it down so half of the diaphragm (or more) is below the rim — effectively mic’ing the shell of the snare drum. Because of its small size and flattened grill, it’s easy to position to get the best sound out of the snare while minimizing hi-hat bleed — same for toms and snare bleed. Furthermore, the mic over-accentuates neither the low mids nor the “click” of the attack, even when placed very close to the heads; toms sound unadulterated with lots of roundness and depth, but there’s still enough attack to cut through a dense mix.
The frequency response of the AE3000 exhibits a slight presence peak of 2–3dB from 6–8kHz, without the hyped highs of many of today’s affordable condensers, and its midrange is very smooth. At distances below 3'', the proximity effect ramps up quickly, and the result can be an unflattering tubbiness on vocals. At 5–6'', vocals sound very natural, and at 8–12'' you start picking up the room (a good way to add depth to layered backing vocals). At greater distances, the sound thins out considerably. Some may find this an advantage when employing the AE3000 as an overhead to primarily capture cymbals, while others may feel that the mic doesn’t do justice to the whole kit. On acoustic guitar, I find that the AE3000 can get pretty close (12'' or less) without sounding too boomy, and as with most large-diaphragm cardioid condensers, pulling it out 12–16'' from the guitar starts to bring out the room’s natural reverb. On electric guitar, the shape of the mic and the design of its rubber clamp-on clip allow very close placement, so if you want to hear extra girth by placing the mic right on the grill of an amp, that won’t be a problem. I favor pulling the AE3000 a couple inches out from the grill; the sweetspot for me is where I hear the nicest balance of upper and lower midrange. In any case, the AE3000 rarely seems to sound muddy to me, although as with vocals, it can get tubby if placed too close to an amp’s speaker. By the way, I’ve yet to run into a guitar or bass amp that’s too loud for this mic.
At a street price of $250, the AE3000 is a great choice if you’re looking for your first large-diaphragm condenser mic. Its neutral sound is unhyped, but it still does a fantastic job of capturing the punch and depth of a wide range of instruments without sounding muddy or sibilant. And even if you have drawers full of mics like I do — many costing ten or more times the price of the AE3000 — it’s still a great mic to own, especially when you want to employ a large-diaphragm condenser in a tight situation. ($379 MSRP; Audio-Technica)
Learn more about the A-T AE3000 large-diaphragm condenser microphone.