Audio-Technica ATM250DE – The Tape Op Review

TapeOp Issue #66/July, 2008 | by

A dynamic mic and a condenser mic packaged together into a single body? Kinda gimicky, no? I’ve seen the trick that inspired the design of this mic many times — tape together a condenser and a dynamic and point them at the snare, kick drum, guitar amp, etc., with the goal of capturing a sound based on the best characteristics of both mic types. Well, there’s a little more to Audio-Technica’s dual-element design than a simple gimmick. First, the elements are perfectly aligned so that their respective signals are in phase. If you employ the taped-mics trick, you not only have to account for the physical alignment of the diaphragms, but also electronic phase alignment and polarity. With the ATM250DE, all that work is done for you, and you won’t experience any phasiness when you combine the signals from the two elements. Even the signal levels are matched as closely as possible (despite the mics differing by design in frequency response and pickup pattern), so setting the gain on two preamps for this mic is easy.

Second, Audio-Technica purposefully chose the different pickup patterns for the two elements — hypercardioid for dynamic and cardioid for condenser. The mic is marketed for kick drum use, and in Audio-Technica’s words, “the hypercardioid dynamic element focuses tightly on the aggressive attack of the beater, while the condenser captures the round tonalities of the shell.” Sure enough, when I positioned the ATM250DE inside my DW Collector’s Series 22'' kick drum (with Aquarian Super Kick II heads) for the first time, pointing to the beater strikepoint, I got exactly that. Although the dynamic element exhibited a bit more “click” than a borrowed SM57 and a Sennheiser e604 (so I wouldn’t have used the dynamic by itself in this situation) the condenser was quite huge sounding, with lots of low-end body and a “bloom” of resonance that was very nice. Mixed together, the signals from both elements sounded great.

Over several drum mic’ing sessions, I tried the ATM250DE with other kick drums and in various positions. I almost always got a killer rock kick sound when I placed the mic inside the drum closer to the beater head. When the mic was just inside the hole, the hypercardioid dynamic no longer had the benefit of proximity effect, and the low end disappeared, resulting in a weak, papery sound, while the cardioid condenser was too boingy. Just outside the front head by about four inches, pointing through the hole at the beater head, the dynamic picked up enough of the front head to sound deep again, with a bit more thud and definitely less click, while the condenser picked up the resonance of the front head nicely. The mix of the two resulted in a very natural sound.

On a holeless front head, I got the best sounds with the mic about 2-3'' from the center of the front head. Any further than about 5'' out from the front head, there was too much loss in low end, and both elements individually or together yielded an unfocused sound.

Where else did I try the ATM250DE? On floor tom of course. The dynamic brought out the punchy low mids of the attack while the condenser seemed to add an abundance of extreme lows both in the attack and the resonance, without overdoing the low-mid resonance like an Oktava MC012 or getting whispy/whistly (in the region around 3-6kHz) like a Sennheiser MD421-II.

I also tried the mic on snare drum, and boy, was I impressed. The dynamic element alone sounds way bigger than an SM57 does, with more impact and a nicer rendering of the crack. Coupled with the sizzle from the condenser, the two elements mixed together made for a “no brainer” snare sound every time I placed the ATM250DE about 1'' above and outside of the rim, pointing at the center of the top head, and angled about 10° from flat. Also, when positioned 3'' out from and at the same height as the rim, pointing at the body of the drum, the mic with both elements mixed together sounded very natural.

While mic’ing various drums with the ATM250DE, I could easily vary the sound by changing the relative levels of the two elements, but because the two elements have different pickup patterns and react differently to proximity, I found that changing the mic’ing distance affects the sound much more than moving a single-element mic. This behavior makes the ATM250DE a tool with more dimensions of character than a typical mic.

This was very true for mic’ing guitar amps, and depending on how close to and at what part of an amp speaker I pointed the mic, the ATM250DE offered a huge palette of impressive sounds. Same goes for vocals — lots of variation based on mic’ing distance — which means a vocalist with good mic skills can really work the ATM250DE, but the mic might be problematic for a novice singer. In general, at distances of 3-6'', I liked how the low mids were strong in the dynamic element and the upper mids seemed slightly accentuated in the condenser, while neither element had any tendency toward sibilance. These same traits also brought out a strong reedy sound (with plenty of “blast” too) from a tenor saxophone.

All in all, the ATM250DE is a great sounding, easy-to-use kick-drum mic, just as Audio-Technica intended. But its dual-element design also makes it an interesting tool for capturing (and highlighting) the different nuances of other instruments too. It’s about the size of a large-diaphragm condenser, but with its compact, rubber, clamp-on mic clip, it will easily fit into a 3'' kick drum hole. It isn’t too unwieldy for typical tom mic usage, but it is a bit big for getting underneath a hi-hat to mic a snare. It ships with a molded, two-channel, balanced cable that plugs into the 4-pin XLR4 jack on the mic and terminates to two, color-coded, labeled XLR-M connectors for plugging into two preamp channels. (I had no problem using the higher-quality cable assembly that came with my Royer SF12 stereo ribbon mic.) Given how flexible this mic is, I think the ATM250DE is a steal at its street price of $300.

If you’re afraid you’ll run out of preamp channels with this mic, check out Chris Garge’s review of the Audio-Technica AT8681 UniMix mic combiner in Tape Op #65.

($549 MSRP; Audio-Technica)

Read more about the Audio Technica ATM250DE dual-element microphone.

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