Stephen Bennett pits the new broadcast mic against some of the ‘usual suspects’ in his chosen application to see how it performs.
Most microphones are designed as general-purpose devices, although many have found a particular niche as they have been discovered to excel at certain tasks, such as the humble Shure SM57 over a snare or the not-so-humble Neumann U47 FET outside a bass drum. Other microphones are designed for use in specific applications – although with engineers being what they are, this sometimes ends up not being the one the manufacturers’ expect! In a radio or voice-over studio, you’re obviously likely to encounter microphones designed specifically to capture the human voice. These usually feature fittings along their mid-length for easy attachment to floating boom stands, a construction rugged enough to survive being abused by members of a DJ’s ‘posse’, resistance to plosives and a frequency response suitable for recording and broadcasting voices. The new Audio-Technica BP40 joins this – relatively short – list of specialist microphones.
Designed in conjunction with French design agency Arro, the BP40 appears extremely well put together. At 632g it’s just weighty enough to feel like it will survive the travails of studio life without being so porky that it will be continuously drooping on a boom.
The BP40 comes in a cardboard box, but Audio-Technica supplies a soft pouch for storage. As this type of microphone will spend the majority of its life on the end of a boom in the studio, I don’t see the lack of a case as a problem. The BP40 is a dynamic transducer with a 37mm diaphragm that features a patented floating-edge construction with no “flange” where the membrane is glued. Audio-Technica says this reduces strain on the membrane, which can lead to distortion and I have no doubt that it is an effective construction – the microphone taking a whisper to a scream in its stride.
The microphone’s hypercardioid polar pattern is the most practical for screening out other voices in a busy studio environment and the 100Hz high-pass filter should help control booming voices and reduce the effect of passing traffic. A multistage windscreen is designed to provide protection against plosives while a humbucking coil is fitted to help against radio frequency interference. Frequency response is a useful 50-16,000Hz, so you’re unlikely to have sibilance issues, while sensitivity is rated at –48dB (3.9 mV) re 1V at 1 Pa. Audio-Technica helpfully provides polar and frequency response graphs in its documentation and the microphone generated a healthy output level in typical recording situations.
As luck would have it, The University of East Anglia is building a new radio studio and I have been involved in specifying the technical equipment to be installed. I was therefore able to compare the new BP40 against two of the usual suspects used for this application. The first thing that became obvious is that the BP40 has excellently low noise levels – the university campus is a nightmare for RF interference and the microphone performed impeccably in this respect. The BP40 worked perfectly as the main presenter’s mic and handled both male and female voices with ease, while off-axis suppression was particularly effective when multiple microphones were in use. Mounted in a vocal booth alongside my usual AKG 414 to provide a voice-over for a short animated film, the BP40 was noticeably – and predictably – less ‘open’ in the upper frequencies than the condenser. However, the client preferred the recording from the Audio-Technica microphone, claiming it sounded “more like Radio 4”, which, I think, is something of an accolade!
Finally, I pressed the BP40 into the eager hands of a student who wanted to record some interviews for a podcast. Plugged directly into a Tascam DR100, the mic produced audibly superior results to the internal microphones of the portable recorder – although the BP40’s shape, size and weight aren’t really ideal for this type of use. Some of the BP40’s competitors have also gained a decent reputation as vocal microphones for singers, so I was keen to try the A-T in this application. On male vocals, the results were promising, with the Audio-Technica coming across as a kind of ‘super SM58’ – a more ‘airy’ sound than Shure’s venerable microphone, but with something of the heft and weight that suits some singers’ voices.
In the radio studio and voiceover applications it’s designed for, the BP40 is an excellent performer, however, like all good transducers, engineers will find other uses for this microphone and I can see it taking tom-tom and snare duties in its stride. You can never have too much microphone choice and I’ll definitely be adding the BP40 to my list of recommendations in the future.
- Large-diameter diaphragm with floating-edge construction
- Humbucking coil
- Switchable 100Hz high-pass filter
- Multistage windscreen for ‘superior’ internal pop filtering
- Optimised capsule placement for ‘commanding’ vocal presence
Stephen Bennett has been involved in music production for over 30 years. Based in Norwich he splits his time between writing books and articles on music technology, recording and touring, and lecturing at the University of East Anglia.