- by George Petersen
in Road Tests
Miniature mics are gaining in popularity, particularly in instrument miking applications, where despite their size, they are often capable of delivering big sound. The latest offering in this category is Audio-Technica’s ATM350a Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphone, which is offered in complete turnkey packages (also sold separately) providing discreet, rock-solid mounting solutions for a host of instruments, including woodwinds, strings, brass, percussion, drums and piano.
The next-generation version of the company’s popular (and now discontinued) ATM350, the new ATM350a handles a maximum sound pressure level of 159 dB — 10 dB more than the former iteration. This is a major plus in close-in, high-SPL situations.
Weighing in at half an ounce (14.5 grams) and with a body that’s 1.5 inches long, the ATM350a won’t bog you down. The mic has an attached 13 foot cable terminating in a locking HRS connector that mates with an AT8543 in-line power module, which contains the onboard electronics; an inset switch for engaging the built-in 80 Hz, 12 dB/octave LF filter; and a standard XLR-M output jack.
The mic capsule is an 11 to 52 VDC phantom powered, condenser with a cardioid pattern. Specs include a sensitivity of –49 dB (re 1V at 1 Pa) and a frequency response that’s remarkably flat from 40 Hz to 20k Hz (-4 dB).
The Systems Approach
Available packages combine the mic with UniMount components for versatile mounting options. Options include a drum mount, magnetic piano mount, upgraded universal clip-on mount, woodwind mount and two flexible 5- and 9-inch goosenecks that can be attached to any of the mounts (except the AT8468 violin mount). All ATM350a packages also include the violin mount, which is a simple but effective hook and loop attachment that keeps the mic capsule centered facing the bridge.
The ATM350a systems include the following configurations. All prices are MAP/street. A $199 wireless ATM350UcW system includes a AT8468 violin mount, sax/trumpet-style universal clip-on mount, a 5-inch gooseneck and ATM350a mic fitted with a shorter (55-inch) cable for use with A-T’s UniPak bodypack transmitters. Intended for wireless use, no in-line power module is included with this. The $299 ATM350U universal mount kit (and $309 ATM350UL with 9” gooseneck) is the same as the above, but has the in-line power module and the standard ATM350a mic with the longer 13-foot cable for hardwired applications. The $349 ATM350PL piano miking system has the ATM350a mic, AT8543 power module, AT8491P magnetic piano mount, AT8490L 9-inch gooseneck and AT8468 violin mount. Also at $349 is the ATM350D drum mounting system with ATM350a mic and power module, AT8491D drum mount, AT8490 5-inch gooseneck and violin mount. For woodwinds, the $349 ATM350W includes the ATM350a mic and power module, AT8491W woodwind mount, AT8490 5-inch gooseneck and violin mount.
Alternatively, individual UniMounts are offered without mics but fit either the ATM350a or previous ATM350 version. Among these are the AT8491D drum mount with 5-inch gooseneck ($119); AT8492PL magnetic piano mount with 9-inch gooseneck ($119); AT8492U universal clip plus 5-inch gooseneck ($69) — or AT8492UL ($79) with long gooseneck; and the $119 AT8492 woodwind mount with 5-inch gooseneck.
I checked out a hard-wired ATM350a with an assortment of mounts and goosenecks. I began with the ATM350U universal mount kit. It has strong jaws (picture a clothespin on steroids) that are lined with a thick rubber layer to prevent scratches or instrument damage, and a drop-in slot for a 5- or 9-inch gooseneck with a locking thumbscrew to keep the gooseneck in place. A second thumbscrew locks the clamp in place so there’s no chance of slippage. As another safety feature, the end of the gooseneck terminates in a hexagonal post that — once in the slot — simply will not rotate. The goosenecks have rubber nubs to keep the mic cable in place, while the other end terminates in two rings that keep the windscreen in place.
It takes a bit of effort to squeeze the mic capsule into the foam windscreen, and users must avoid tearing or losing the windscreen, because the mic cannot mount to the gooseneck unless it’s in a windscreen. I spent weeks of testing the mic in and out of different mounts and had no issues with this, but things like windscreens have been known to become lost/trashed on the road, so having a spare might be a good idea. The plus side of the mic-in-windscreen is that this approach cradles the mic in foam, adding a dollop of shock protection.
I had great results with the system on sax, providing a full, natural sound, plenty of dynamic headroom in the SPL department and the universal mount held securely and kept its position perfectly. If you mic larger horns — baritones, tubas, etc. — the 9-inch gooseneck may be a better choice. I also tried the universal mount on the edge of a violin chin rest, yielding a smoother, more mellow tone than the included violin mount, which attaches across the strings just below the bridge and had a forward sound with a bit more edge.
Pardon the pun, but the AT8492 woodwind mount on clarinet blew me away. It circles the body just above the bell flare and its rubber bumpers on the underside reduce shock transmission and contact with the shaft. This system is much less intrusive on the instrument than other mounts I’ve used and the 5-inch gooseneck put the capsule exactly in the sweet spot. Nice!
The piano system sits on the iron frame and stays put via a magnetic mount (with felt underside) that keeps the 9-inch gooseneck in place. This allows fast, easy, non-obtrusive placements with the lid up or down. Lid-down results are much better with two mics, simply for wider coverage, but either way, I liked the sound of the ATM350a for piano miking. This spotlighted the mic’s wide and mostly linear response; I didn’t have to deal with LF or presence peaks and the gooseneck system was great for being able to quickly reposition the mics to lock in the best placement.
The drum mount takes an approach like no other, where the lower part of the mount circles the tuning rod below the rim and the upper part sits over the head of the tuning rod via an extension of the square key. This allows drum tuning even when the mount is covering the rod and gets the 5-inch gooseneck in close. No sweat with typical drums, but the mount wouldn’t fit over wood snare/tom hoops or work with slotted 60’s/70’s Premier/Trixon/Sonor — or moderne rods with hex heads. However, as long as your drums are in a normal 99% bracket, you’ll get excellent results with the ATM350a — great attack, full sustain, lots of stick definition and no worries about SPLs.
The Wrap Up
With the ATM350a family, Audio-Technica has updated a popular mainstay in its lineup with better specs and improved mounts for a variety of instrumental applications. Now if only they’d issue a rev. 2.0 of the drum mount for slotted tuning rods…
At a Glance
New Mic, New Mounts
The ATM350a combines a smooth condenser capsule with versatile mounts for a variety of instrument miking applications.
ATM350A Instrument Microphones
- Mounts offered for nearly any instrument
- Versatile, fast placement
- Wide, linear response
- High SPL handling
- Mic cannot mount on gooseneck without windscreen
- Mic Principle: Condenser
- Polar Response: Cardioid
- Frequency Response: 40 Hz to 20k Hz (-4 dB)
- Sensitivity: –49 dB (re 1V at 1 Pa)
- Weight: 0.5 ounce
- Dimensions: 1.5-inch with attached 13-foot cable
- Termination: Mic, TA3; Power Module, standard XLR
- Street Price: $199 to $349 (including mic)
- Manufacturer: Audio-Technica
More Info: www.audio-technica.com