The culmination of two decades is unfortunately a USB condenser microphone that feels dated and falls behind the competition at the same price point.
the good bits
Solid, metal build
Small form factor
the not so good bits
Vocals sound distant and shallow
Onboard processing is limited and not effective
Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP Microphone
It’s not a logo you often expect to see in a home streaming setup, but Audio-Technica have decades of experience in the audio game. Their gear is a staple when it comes to professional setups and the latest refresh in the 20 line hopes to bring that legacy home.
The uninspiringly named AT2020USB-XP is the youngest member of a rather large family. Audio-Technica released the original AT2020 back in 2004 and now nearly two decades on the fourth refresh in the series arrives on the scene with a few new tricks. It may bring heritage, but it also brings a price point that pits it against a heap of competition, so at £149/$169 can this USB-C condenser microphone become one of the best microphones for streamers?
It may be targeting a place in your streaming setup but the Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP is all business in its design. A solid black metal tube broken up by just a handful of indicator LEDs on the front, the only gamer vibe here comes from the bright RGB glow flowing out from behind the grille. This classic look isn’t a surprise though, little has changed across the four versions and the AT2020USB-XP looks an awful lot like the original AT2020 from 2004. Simple and old school are fine for the most part but to me the AT2020USB-XP feels dated in the looks department, other brands like Steelseries are finding a fresher approach to microphone design that feels more at home in 2023 and in particular a 2023 gaming/streaming setup.
At just 142mm long and 52mm wide the Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP is notably compact, even with the included stand the footprint is small enough to not be a nuisance. While I’ll never complain about an included stand when they’re becoming a rarer beast, the all plastic build of the AT2020USB-XP’s does feel a little cheap – particularly alongside the metal microphone itself. You’re limited for positions when using the stand with about 90 degrees of tilt forward and back, there’s no scope to spin or sideways mount but this does bring stability and regardless of how it was positioned it never toppled over.
Around the back you’ll find a thoughtful channel carved through the base which will neatly house the included USB-A to USB-C cable – however the included cable is noticeably thin, as is the cut-out, meaning most other cables I had on hand wouldn’t fit through it and had to be trailed over the top.
My expectation though is that most streamers avoid the stand anyway and the AT2020USB-XP does include an adapter in the box to bolt it on to near enough any microphone arm. I had no issue attaching it to my Elgato Wave Arm or the RODE PSA-1, however with no shock mount the AT2020USB-XP was super sensitive to bumps and knocks on my desk which were pumped straight out through the audio.
The front of the mic welcomes a touch sensitive mute button which is sensitive enough to avoid missed touches without needing to be too accurate. Triggering the button also changes the RGB glow from blue to red, so there’s no chance of accidentally spending half your stream on mute. Like with previous models you’ll find two thumb wheels on the front and just like in the past these feel horridly cheap. Spending this amount on a microphone I wouldn’t expect to see what feels like budget, off the shelf parts but that’s the best way to describe these wheels. Thankfully they aren’t something you’ll likely spend too much time fiddling with but they don’t look great.
Thanks to it’s single cable connection, setup for the Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP is super simple. It’s also nice to see Audio-Technica move to USB-C after some strange connection choices with previous models. There’s no app for the AT2020USB-XP, so unlike the Steelseries Alias or RODE XCM-50 you’ll need to rely on plugins in third-party software like OBS to personalise your sound with EQ tweaks or introduce external processing.
Out of the box the Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP is fine and little more. It’s not a bad sounding microphone but I found it pretty underwhelming overall. Yes it was clear enough and my voice came through without any kind of distortion, but it also came through with a noticeable lack of depth. The sound is thin with little in the way of a genuine studio vibe, for home workers it will be a decent step up from a built in laptop or webcam microphone but for creators with an existing dedicated mic you likely won’t be blown away.
There are pros and cons to the AT2020USB-XP being a condenser microphone and it’s a consideration depending on your setup. While the condenser capsule does offer more flexibility in terms of address direction and pickup area there is an overwhelming feeling of roominess to the sound. In ‘normal’ acoustically untreated rooms this means slight reverb and a sense of distance that I found really took the edge of my production.
Without anything on the software side from Audio-Technica to combat this you’re limited to the two onboard processing tools to help however in testing I didn’t feel either offered a noticeable positive improvement. Enabling automatic gain control should assist in regulating your overall output levels however it did very little to defend against peaking and the AT2020USB-XP seemed particularly susceptible to this, particularly at close range. Audio-Technica does include and external pop filter which is a nice touch and I found it did offer some protection from plosives but there is only so much a thin metal pop filter grille can do in the grand scheme.
While there are three levels of noise reduction to cycle through using one of the two buttons on the bottom, I wouldn’t use anything more than the lowest setting and would advise you find other ways to filter your unwanted sounds. Each level of intensity did start to dampen the clacker of my keyboard but even on the highest setting it was far from gone entirely. There’s some friendly fire here too as with each step up in noise reduction there was a clear step down in the quality of my vocals. Given how impressive the AI noise reduction is from the likes of Nvidia and Steelseries, if you go with the Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP I’d go with raw audio and rely on those tools to help instead.
As far as USB condenser options go, the Audio-Technica AT2020USB-XP is not a fundamentally bad microphone. The problem is for £149/$169 it’s just not an impressively good one either. It’s a shame because for a brand that carries such a rich history of top-shelf audio the drawbacks with the AT2020USB-XP leave it lagging behind the competition.
In a head to head battle with other offerings in the same price bracket there are simply better options that deliver more. While the AT2020USB-XP will be a decent step up from your laptop’s built-in microphone, creators looking for a high-quality, professional finish will likely be disappointed.