The AT5040 is a brand new microphone in the Audio-Technica universe, one that is specifically tailored for top-flight vocal recording. Positioned as the flagship in a new 50 Series line, it arrived with a splash at the 2012 AES show in San Francisco and has been making waves ever since; I was very pleased to obtain a production model and put it through its paces at my studio.
The AT5040 is one of the few microphones in recent years that can truly be said to contain new cutting-edge technology and design principles. Perhaps most notably, it does away with the common circular diaphragm in favor of a rectangular one. Now, rectangular diaphragms are nothing new; prominent European manufacturers selling mics with rectangular diaphragms include Pearl Microphone Laboratory, whose mics we've reviewed a number of times in recent years, and Milab, most recently seen in our June 2012 issue, when we reviewed the DC-96B and DC-96C. However, the AT5040 takes this idea a step further by combining four rectangular diaphragms into one large "super-diaphragm". Intrigued yet?
When I was first shown this microphone at AES, I was told that the AT5040 was designed with no limitations in mind and zero restrictions of cost or materials. The only end goal was "purity of sound"... and I can give you a little spoiler about my conclusions by saying that that word - purity - truly does the best job of describing each and every aspect of this mic.
Simplicity and elegance
The mic itself has a 6.5" long body with a diameter of 2.25". Interestingly only 2.5" of its length is dedicated to that part of the body which houses the electronics; the rest of the mic is the large multi-diaphragm capsule assembly. At first glance, the mic looks to me to be closer in appearance to a modern ribbon mic than your typical large diaphragm condenser.
Cosmetically its aluminum and brass body is dressed in dark satin gray with a champagne-colored aluminum windscreen, whose layers of mesh have been fused together to lessen body resonance.
The AT5040 comes as part of a standard kit in a quality molded plastic foam-lined briefcase with one of the most interesting and well-designed shockmounts I have seen in my life (see the sidebar). It is hand-assembled at Audio-Technica's main facility in Japan and is up to A-T's established quality of fit and finish in every way.
Are four diaphragms better than one?
As mentioned the real marvel of this microphone is its four combined and internally shock-mounted/completely isolated diaphragms. See the photo of the mic's innards for a closer look at this fascinating design. The two most obvious questions that arise here are, "Why a rectangular diaphragm?" and "Why use four diaphragms in an array?"
To answer the first question I will refer to my Milab DC-96 review, where the merits of a rectangular diaphragm are discussed in detail as promoted by Milab and Pearl for decades: "It disperses the extreme midrange resonance peaks inherent in circular capsules, and it allows for an exceptionally neutral off-axis response". A circular diaphragm, when excited, vibrates like a drum head, and there are certain modes that resonate very strongly; a rectangular diaphragm damps down these resonances in a simple and effective way.
Live music use of expansion?
Hi ... I always thought expansion in live music meant that you basically tracked the program signals that were below a certain threshold and boosted them so that the signal (say a vocal via a microphone) has a more uniform volume level through the song.
I just read a spec that said "an expander reduces the volume of a signal in low level passages", which is the exact opposite of what I believed.
Is it a misprint?