The Audio Technica AT2020 and AT2020USB+ condenser microphones are some of the most recommended for beginner streamers, but are they really all that great? If they are that great, are they even practical to use compared to a headset, or even another studio mic in the same price range?
In my How to Stream on Twitch series I’ve said that quality drives success and audio quality is a big driver of that success. You do not want to turn viewers away because of a low-quality microphone.
I’ve owned and used the AT2020 so I feel comfortable giving you an honest rundown of everything about it and explaining the differences you’ll find with its USB counterpart the AT2020USB+.
Frequency Response: 40 to 20,000 Hz.
Impedance: 100 Ohms.
Maximum Input Sound Level: 136 dB SPL, 1 kHz at 1% T.H.D.
Dynamic Range: 113 dB, 1 kHz at Max SPL.
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 71 dB, 1 kHz at 1 Pa.
Phantom Power Requirements: 48V DC, 2 mA typical.
Weight: 12.1 oz (345 g).
Dimensions: 6.38″ (162 mm) long with a 2.05″ (52 mm) max diameter.
Output connector: 3-pin XLR.
Color: Available in black or white.
No buttons or switches.
Now, assuming you aren’t an audio engineer let’s go over the features of the microphone from a more layperson perspective.
First and foremost, this microphone is a condenser microphone as opposed to a dynamic. Condenser mics are the microscope of microphones, bringing out every small detail and rough edge to hear. In practice, this means the microphone is going to be more sensitive, picking up every sound nearby.
This includes sounds you don’t want to be picked up, such as children in the other room or the sharp hiss on your esses when you say “Sally sold seashells by the seashore” and the expelling of air in your plosives when you say… well… “Paul proudly pronounces plosives.”
There are ways to solve these problems, namely a pop filter and turning the gain down lower than you’d expect while keeping the microphone close. Also, since it has a cardioid pattern, it is essentially a single direction microphone.
That being said, condenser microphones pick up incredible detail in a streamer’s voice. That smooth sounding voice of your favorite NPR host when they are alone in the studio? That’s a condenser microphone.
Marvin Gaye singing What’s Going On? and Madonna’s Like a Virgin are also condenser microphones being used. Louder, less nuanced voices would use a dynamic. Think Green Day or a punk band (oh! sick burn Green Day fans).
Also, it only picks up that beautiful level of detail if you are using it correctly. For the AT2020, your voice should be directed at it like you were eating corn on the cob.
In particular, the side of the corn cob with the Audio Technica label. Point the microphone so the logo is pointing right below your lips or toward your neck. Just like it looks in the photo above. Now you join the cool kid club of seeing other streamers talk into an AT2020 like it’s a handheld mic (or backward) and have no idea why they sound awful.
There is one huge drawback.
It requires a phantom power through an XLR3 cable.
WTF is Phantom Power?
I don’t want to bore anyone with details (but it’s so cool!) so I’ll get straight to the point:
The microphone requires a special cable you probably don’t own, but it’s cheap, and is powered by an additional adapter you’ll have to buy that’s also pretty cheap.
I was able to get a cheap XLR3 cable provided with my boom arm that I ordered from Amazon. If you ever thought about getting an external audio mixer, well…
You can buy mixers that XLR input and provide the phantom power through USB. The one I use, and recommend, is the Behringer Xenyx Q502USB which even has an audio compressor!
That sounds like a huge pain in the ass.
Even better news, that’s why the AT2020USB+ exists!
The microphone features the same details and features as the XLR version with a few big differences:
Mix control dial on the front of the mic, allowing you to blend your voice and your game to your liking.
A second dial allows you to control the volume of your voice, which can be monitored through a headphone jack on the mic. If you haven’t heard your own voice through a zero-delay monitor before, you might think this is distracting, but it’s absolutely great and I love it to death. You’d get this feature with the mixer above, mind you, but on-mic is pretty handy!
Works in Windows 10 just by plugging it in. Easy peasy.
Costs a bit more.
Yep. The USB version is going to run you, on average, $50 more. That being said, there are a couple price-related things to keep in mind that can make one cheaper than the other:
The AT2020 you’ll have to buy something to supply phantom power and send the signal to your PC. This can be a mixer, but that’s around $50 as well, depending on sales, which puts them about even.
Studio microphones that use XLR maintain their resale value very well. If you are worried you might hate streaming and everything about it in a few months, sellilng your AT2020 to a local music shop won’t be hard at all.
A used AT2020USB+ sells for just about the same price as a new AT2020.
Long story short, the design of a condenser microphone makes them extremely fragile, so that last point is a little risky.
Unless you really want a USB mixer, buy the AT2020USB+. It’s everything you need right out of the box and performs amazingly well as soon as you plug it in.
Mind you, this is coming from someone who already bought the AT2020, a mixer, XLR cable, etc.
That settled if you have any questions or comments about the AT2020 leave them below! I’d also like to hear from you if you have suggestions for other products you’d like me to review for streaming, even if it isn’t a microphone! And if you haven’t heard of my How to Stream on Twitch series, be sure to check it out.