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Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP review: A superb-sounding USB condenser mic for podcasting and voiceovers

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : 149
inc VAT

While it’s not the most versatile setup, the Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP all-in-one microphone captures excellent voice recordings

Pros

  • Fantastic spoken-word reproduction
  • Mute button with stylish visual feedback
  • Impressive integrated noise reduction

Cons

  • No on-body gain control
  • Not fast or flexible enough for musicians
  • Supplied stand is of limited use

The Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP is a neat little condenser microphone. It works over USB, so no separate audio interface is required, and Audio-Technica advertises it as suitable for streamers, podcasters, remote workers and musicians.

In reality, it’s overkill for video meetings, and most musicians will be better off with a dedicated interface – but for spoken-word content creation, it works very well. The main sticking point is the price. The RRP is on the high side, and to get the best results you’ll need to add on the cost of a shock mount and a proper stand.

When you can get a satisfactory podcasting microphone for £50, the AT2020USB-XP only makes sense if you’re willing to pay a premium for exceptional audio quality.

Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP review: What do you get for the money?

The microphone itself is a compact but weighty cylinder measuring 142mm x 52mm. It looks almost exactly like Audio-Technica’s older AT2020USB-X model, although it has a few extra buttons hidden on the bottom, which we’ll come to later.

In the box, you also get a small snap-on pop-shield, a little plastic stand, a USB cable and two adapters. One is a USB-A to USB-C converter, so you can plug the microphone directly into almost any computer or tablet; the other is a screw-thread adapter, enabling you to attach the microphone to any third-party stand or boom with a standard 3/8in or 5/8in mounting.

Like the AT2020USB-X, the microphone illuminates with a blue glow when it’s live; touch your finger against the big round capacitive mute button on the front and the light turns red, giving a clear visual indication that the mic is silenced.

Above that button sit two dials, which come into play when you plug a pair of headphones into the 3.5mm jack socket at the back of the microphone. The right one controls headphone volume, while the left dial adjusts the balance between live monitoring of your voice and audio coming from your computer – assuming you’ve set the AT2020USB-XP as an output device.

What sets the AT2020USB-XP apart from its predecessor are the additional controls hidden on the bottom of the mic next to the USB-C socket. One of these toggles the automatic gain control feature, which applies subtle volume adjustments to help even out the sound. The other cycles through three levels of intelligent noise reduction; four LEDs near the base of the mic show the state of these features.

One thing that’s notably missing is an input gain control. You can make the recording louder or quieter by adjusting the system settings on the host side, but there are no dials or buttons for this on the microphone itself. There’s also no native EQ control to cut or boost low or high frequencies.

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Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP review: What does it sound like?

 The AT202oUSB-XP sounds like what it is – a high-quality condenser microphone. It has a clean, airy sound, capturing beautifully detailed vocal recordings that are more than good enough for professional podcast production. You could also use it for live streaming and online meetings, but the difference between this and a cheaper microphone is unlikely to be noticeable over a VoIP connection.

For the best results, you need to be the right distance away from the microphone. I got the most natural sound when my mouth was around six inches from the capsule; moving closer in caused my voice to become a little too boomy, while moving further back caused the mic to pick up distracting room reflections.

The auto gain control and noise reduction features have a surprisingly light touch. Turning on the former at first seemed to have no effect at all; after a little experimentation I realised that it was gently boosting quiet phrases, but the effect is very much on the subtle side. Still, that’s better than having to worry about excessive volume-pumping effects.

More impressive was the noise reduction, which did a remarkable job of quietening the passing traffic outside my window while keeping my voice warm and clear. I had no problems with gating at all; at the maximum reduction level I detected a frequency-filtering effect that made me sound a little robotic, but that may be a price worth paying for the almost complete suppression of street noise. Since there are three different levels of reduction, you can try out different options and find the best balance for your environment.

Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP review: What could it do better?

The AT2020USB-XP works brilliantly for recorded speech, but I’d hesitate to recommend it for musicians. Having to use the OS settings to adjust the input gain to suit your voice is fiddly, and while you can dial in direct input monitoring, you can’t listen to yourself singing live through software effects on the host device – there’s too much latency. The mic also has no line inputs for recording instruments or sound sources.

Even if you stick to podcasting, you may struggle to get good results out of the box. The bundled stand is very sensitive to vibrations, so the microphone picks up lots of clunks and rumbles if you try to type while it’s sitting on your desk. The stand is also very short, meaning the microphone tends to point at your chest rather than your mouth. Audio-Technica will happily sell you a suitable shock mount and adjustable boom arm to remedy these problems, but together these add £84 to the total price.

My final niggle with the AT2020USB-XP concerns the 3.5mm headphone socket. Given the size of the microphone barrel, it’s understandable that Audio-Technica couldn’t fit in a 6.35mm connector. Less explicable is the rear-facing placement, which requires you to inelegantly trail your cable around from the back to the front of the microphone. At the very least it would have been nice to get an L-shaped adaptor in the box, to angle the socket downwards rather than away from you.

Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP review: Should you buy it?

There’s no disputing that the AT2020USB-XP delivers great audio quality, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for everyone.

For live streaming and videoconferencing it’s probably not the smartest purchase, simply because your audience won’t hear much difference between this and a much cheaper mic (our roundup of the best USB microphones includes many options to suit smaller budgets). Musicians, meanwhile, may find the hardware limiting: a dedicated audio interface would allow for real-time monitoring with effects, as well as multiple input sources.

Where the AT2020USB-XP shines is spoken-word recordings, such as podcasts and voiceovers. If it came with a shock mount and an adjustable stand, it would be an easy recommendation for these purposes. Without those accessories, though, you may struggle to achieve the professional-quality recordings that you’d hope for at this price. If your budget will stretch to cover the necessary add-ons then you won’t have any complaints about the results, but if value is a consideration the AT2020USB-XP is tricky to justify.

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