Review: Audio Technica AT2020USB+ microphone

Today I’m bragging a bit about my latest purchase: the AT2020USB+ USB microphone from Audio Technica, which I want to use mainly for video conferencing, for a better sound quality, and for voiceover on some videos I’m preparing for a new Youtube channel.

In addition, I use this microphone to dictate articles on my blog because I want to dictate text instead of typing. However, I am facing a challenge in this process. I prefer to write my posts in Romanian (or dictate them in this case), translate them into English, and make the final grammar corrections. Unfortunately, none of the available programs work perfectly for Romanian, and I have to settle for a compromise solution every time. I hope that by choosing a quality microphone, I will bring a positive impact, and the improved sound quality will be reflected in a more accurate transcription.

That said, let’s examine the microphone more closely. The AT2020USB+ is a USB interface microphone designed to be connected directly to a PC. On the left side at the back, we have a 3.5mm headphone jack. At the front are two potentiometers: one for controlling the mix between the PC sound and the sound recorded by the microphone, and the second for adjusting the volume in the headphones.

Also, on the front, just behind the grille, we have a blue LED that indicates the presence of power voltage and acts as a visual indicator for the best place to speak into the mic. This LED is a problem, as it can’t be turned off or dimmed. I find it annoying when the room is darker. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about it. In addition, this LED stays on even after I turn off the computer, which is highly annoying because I have to remove the microphone from the computer’s USB port every time I finish working with it.

As for the design, I have another complaint about the included microphone stand. It comes with a cheap tripod, just three thin sticks. As a result, I’m forced to hold the mic tilted way back, at about a 45° angle, so that the center of gravity is inside the tripod. Otherwise, it falls to the front, with a risk of damaging it. Most likely, soon, I will purchase a better stand. However, this is an additional expense, and I wish I didn’t have to do this.

As for the software, it’s sublime, but it’s sorely lacking. The AT2020USB+ microphone depends on the Windows operating system for settings. Of course, it might not be a problem if you have another operating system, but in my case, I rely on Windows. All volume, mix, and other settings are available exclusively through Windows settings. And as we all know, Windows settings are not very well organized, and it’s not always easy to find what you need.

Moreover, connecting the microphone to my PC automatically sets my audio output to the microphone’s headphone jack instead of my speakers. Each time, I have to go into the settings and reconfigure the audio system as I wish. The setup process is more complicated than I would have liked.

The main programs I plan to use with this mic are OBS — Open Broadcaster Studio and Audacity. Therefore, I will focus exclusively on these two applications without addressing other usage scenarios in the following discussion.

Sound quality is the aspect that interests most of my readers because, in the end, what matters is the sound recorded by the microphone. From this point of view, things look great; the sound is neutral, and my voice is heard clearly while using this microphone.

The AT2020USB+ is a cardioid polar characteristic microphone. It best picks up sounds from the front and side and, less effectively, those from behind the microphone. In practice, it was also sensitive to sounds from the rear, capturing computer fan noise. Better options on the market may be available regarding noise level. However, the AT2020USB+ still delivers a more than satisfactory performance.

In terms of sensitivity, this is the second aspect that interests us. Being a condenser microphone, it is very sensitive and allows me to speak from a considerable distance. This is an advantage for me, as I prefer to keep the microphone about 40–45 cm away when working, close to the monitor. This feature allows me to move back and forth without affecting the sound quality too much. From this point of view, it’s a good mic, and I’m pleased with its performance.

Regarding sound quality, I don’t have a sound-treated room. Its shape and configuration do not allow for proper acoustic treatment.

However, I have greatly improved sound quality through software. Using NVIDIA Broadcast, I can process the sound in real time and remove much background noise, improving voice quality. I also apply a bit of voice compression in OBS or Audacity. This way, I solve most of the problems. The result is comparable to that achieved with much more expensive equipment in the studio.

For podcasting, there is also a solution called Adobe Podcast. This web application works like this: you upload the audio file to their website, where it will be processed, and at the end, you will have access to the processed file in WAV format. The only drawback is that the processing is not real-time, unlike the above mentioned solutions, but the constraint of having an Nvidia video card disappears. As such, Adobe Podcast can be a useful option for those who want to enhance their podcast recordings before publishing them and who do not have access to high-performance hardware.

This microphone can achieve excellent results using the above software and hardware combinations. It would be difficult for those not experienced in the field to tell the difference between a recording made in a professional studio and one made at home with the solutions I have presented. Thus, the AT2020USB+ and the proposed methods can be an excellent solution for those who want to achieve quality recordings even in home conditions.

Finally, considering all the aspects discussed, I have two pieces of advice for those looking to purchase this microphone. The first advice is to buy a new stand from the outset rather than relying on the one supplied by Audio-Technica. Adding a pop filter is also a good idea, and a shock mount would be desirable.

The second tip is to use NVIDIA Broadcast if you have an NVIDIA video card. It makes a huge difference in sound quality. More importantly, NVIDIA Broadcast can be used as a sound source for various videoconferencing applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and others. You can insert the NVIDIA Broadcast between the microphone and the videoconferencing application transparently, improving the audio quality of your conversations.

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