Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ Review

by Jeff Kaiser, 30 July 2020

There are many situations where a person’s recording/microphone needs are minimal, and a limited budget—along with the desire to limit interaction with new technology—have a greater influence on mic purchase than grand ideas of “what is the best sounding mic for_____.” All of us in this business get many requests along the lines of, “What is the best mic to do ____?” and “What interface should I get?” and even, “Should I get a USB mic?” There is no single, simple answer to these questions. Whatever you purchase is always going to be a negotiation between your budget, purpose of recording, equipment features, audio quality, and more. And remember: whatever you get, there will always be an audio engineer nearby that will say, “you should have purchased this one!” and another engineer over their shoulder to give totally different advice. (Usually such advice involves a rare $6,000 vintage microphone, $2,000 interface, and $3,500 preamp.)

But what about music instructors that do not principally work in audio technology? I most always suggest an interface so you can have multiple mics to address multiple needs. However, in this time of pandemic and the sudden rush to online teaching, I find myself consulting with professors, instructors, et cetera who have been thrown in to online meetings, lectures, seminars, ensemble meetings, individual lessons, jam sessions, recording their own tracks at a distance from the studio, creating course videos, and more. I can see the stress rising in them with one more thing to learn as I discuss all the elements at play with interfaces and multiple microphones. They have enough concerns in these other emerging arenas, they just want a piece of technology to make them sound better, but will also be easy to use.

At this point, after making sure they realize the limitations, I now frequently recommend a USB mic. And I have found one that I really like: the Audio Technica AT2020USB+. Having tried many other popular brands of USB microphones, the sound of this is substantially better, and while offering a limited feature set—compared to buying an interface and multiple mics—what the AT2020USB+ offers is quite excellent and fully recommended.

I tried it on voice, trumpet, and acoustic guitar, and the quality was quite nice, even surprising in this price range! Full frequency response, decently low self-noise, the ability to mix your direct mic signal in with playback, all very good.

It is important to remember the trade off in features. This mic has a great feature set for limited purposes, but it is lacking in higher sampling rates, bit depth, and being tethered to a USB cable also limits the distance you can get from your computer (you might pick up drive and fan noise if you are too close).

However, for the quality of sound (very nice), simplicity of interface (tested on a Mac, it is class compliant and requires no extra drivers/software), and a very reasonable price (list $149 at the time of writing), this is the choice that I recommend first for people in the market for a USB microphone.

What the AT2020USB+ offers:
Element: Fixed-charge back plate, permanently polarized condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000 Hz
Power Requirements: USB Power (5V DC)
Sampling rate: 44.1/48 kHz s
Bit Depth: 16 bit
Volume Control: Separate Mix control and Headphone volume control
Weight: 386 g (13.6 oz)
Dimensions: 162.0 mm (6.38″) long, 52.0 mm (2.05″) maximum body diameter
Output Connector: USB-type
Headphone Output Power: 130 mW (at 1 kHz, 10% T.H.D., 32 ohm load)
Headphone Jack: 3.5 mm (1/8″) TRS (stereo)
Accessories Included: Pivoting stand mount for 5/8″-27 threaded stands; 5/8″-27 to 3/8″-16 threaded adapter; soft protective pouch; tripod desk stand; 10′ (3.1 m) USB cable

On MacOS, you set the input level for the mic in System Preferences, no extra software to install. Set headphone output level on the mic itself. The Mic-Com is interesting, you can dial in the mix of playback and direct mic level. A very nice feature.

I loaned the AT2020USB+ to a jazz professor who is using it for multiple purposes. They use it with Zoom for lessons (it’s nice to mix the direct signal in to your own headphones), but one of the really neat things they are doing: prepping their own big band charts for the students. This professor uses Finale, saves the chart (their own, they are a composer) as a MIDI file, then drops this into Reaper and uses Kontact sampler to create practice files for students at home doing coursework online. They also then record the trumpet tracks, piano tracks, and more. All with a single mic and Reaper. This professor loves not only the quality, but the simplicity of using Apple System Prefs to adjust everything, no custom software to learn.

In addition to the AT2020USB+ I also tested out the Audio Technica ATR2500X-USB ($119 at the time of writing) and the ATR2005-USB ($79 at the time of writing).

Whereas I can highly recommend the AT2020USB+ for those that fit within its strengths, these other two mics fall more into the “ok” area, with the ATR2500X-USB definitely sounding better the ATR2005USB, but not as good as the AT2020USB+. and the AT2020USB+ is only $30 more. The ATR2500X-USB offers great sampling rates and bit depths, but also a slightly lower frequency response. I would only recommend this microphone if for some reason you needed the sampling rates/bit depths and were interested specifically in USB-C. For the price difference, the AT2020USB+ is a much better choice if those other specifications are not needed, and if you are USB-C, you can buy an adaptor.

I loaned the ATR2500X-USB to a piano professor who is using it for Zoom, making course videos, lessons, and more. And they, again, love the ease of set up and use.

ATR2500x-USB
Element Condenser
Polar Pattern Cardioid
Frequency Response 30 – 15,000 Hz
Power Requirements USB Power (5V DC)
Bit Depth Up to 24 bit
Sample Rate 44.1 kHz/48 kHz/96 kHz/192 kHz
Volume Control Headphone volume controlled by up/down buttons
Weight 366 g (12.9 oz)
Dimensions 155.0 mm (6.10″) long,
50.0 mm (1.97″) maximum body diameter
Output Connector USB-C
Headphone Output Power 10 mW @ 16 ohms
Headphone Jack 3.5 mm TRS (stereo)
Accessories Included Pivoting stand mount for 5/8″-27 threaded stands, tripod desk stand, 2 m (6.6′) USB-C to USB-C cable (USB On-The-Go Compliant), 2 m (6.6′) USB-C to USB-A cable

The ATR2005USB has an even lower frequency response than the ATR2500X-USB, with the same limited sample rate/bit depth of the AT2020USB+. Interesting additional feature, there is a standard XLR connector as well as USB. This mic has the advantage of a very low entry price that may make it desirable to somebody with a limited budget.

I loaned this microphone to a musicology professor who has been using it to make videos for the upcoming school year. They love the simplicity of set up and use, and were quick to point out that it sounds substantially better than their built-in mic and were enjoying it greatly.

ATR2005USB
Element Dynamic
Polar Pattern Cardioid
Frequency Response 50-15,000 Hz
Power Requirements USB Power (5V DC)
Bit Depth 16 bit
Sample Rate 44.1 kHz/48 kHz
Controls On/off Switch;
Headphone Volume Control
Weight 266 g (9.4 oz)
Dimensions 183.6 mm (7.23″) long,
51.0 mm (2.01″) maximum body diameter
Output Connector USB-type/XLR-type
Headphone Output Power 10 mW at 16 ohms
Headphone Jack 3.5 mm TRS (stereo)
Accessories Included Stand clamp for 5/8″-27 threaded stands; tripod desk stand; 6.6′ (2 m) mini USB cable, 9.8′ (3 m) XLRF-type to XLRM-type cable
Audio-Technica Case Style SW1

In summary: I fully recommend the AT2020USB+, even with the caveat on its limitations, it is the best sounding option I have found in this area. The ATR2500X-USB, if you get it as a gift, enjoy it! However, if purchasing, I would recommend finding the extra cash to go up to the AT2020USB+. And the ATR2005USB, while limited in its feature set, specs, and sound quality, still has a lot to offer for the price.

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    [Update, August 23, 2020. The AT2020USB+ are hard to find right now due to a run on stock. The slightly more expensive version—Audio-Technica AT2020USB+V Limited Edition—which includes a shock mount, are available. I have seen them at Sweetwater, Amazon, and elsewhere.]

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