June 2010 Issue
Road Tests

Audio-Technica AT4080 and AT4081 Ribbon Mics

Our test pieces for this go-round are a robust pair indeed. We're taking the new A-T 4080 and 4081 ribbon microphones for a spin. In the past, I've found it difficult to remain constructive while reviewing mics. They're one of those things that is most certainly left up to a matter of personal preference.
We can have 10 different engineers listen to these and end up with 10 different opinions of how they sound. But the other nine guys can kick rocks, because for this review, my opinion is the only one that matters!


The (4080) Gear


Let's start off with the 4080. This thing's a tank. When A-T says that they've solved the problem of ribbon mics being fragile, they didn't lie. The 4080 weighs in at a whopping 16.7 oz. Oddly enough, that's about how much my five-month old son weighs! Oh wait, my kid is pounds, not ounces. Never mind.


Anyway, two thumbs up on the construction - I believe the 4080 would survive Sarah Connor's judgment day. The custom shock mount is equally beefy, and a nice complement. The figure 8 pattern makes it usable in several applications. Also, the ability to handle 150dB of input makes it no slouch.


The (4080) Gigs


I tested the 4080 on a few different things. The first was an acoustic guitar in a live environment. And I have to say I was disappointed.  The tone of the mic is very warm, just as AT describes. For the live setting, I found it be a little too warm. I had to high pass the mic at close to 400Hz just to get around the low end that the mic produces.


Next, we took the mic into a studio environment and used the same guitar and recorded a short track. This time, my frown turned upside down. From the recording perspective, it may well be one of the top mics I've ever heard. The warmth and presence that came through in the track were stunning. All the low end that I fought live was right at home on the recording.


We also did some vocal scratch tracks with it and they were equally great. Warm, tons of body, and just the right brilliance. I have to say the 4080 finds its home in the studio. At $1,295, it's not any more or less expensive than a host of other condensers, but none of the other ones hold a light to the 4080. So if thou art looking for a big studio mic, look no further, but if thou art looking for a big ribbon mic for your stage, you may want to keep searching.


On a side note, I did want to test the 150dB input capability, so I stuck the 4080 in a kick drum, and, as with the previous live experience, I had trouble with the low end, but it did hold up to the high SPL.


The (4081) Gear


I did just tell you to continue your search if you need a sweet ribbon mic for your stage. But don't search too far. Just grab an AT4081 and get busy.


Our next test piece is the 4081, and, like its big brother, it boasts a tough shell. It weighs in at 5.4 oz., which it pretty thick for a mic roughly the size of your standard pencil condenser. Like the big guy - and as with almost all ribbon mics, really - the 4081 has a figure 8 pattern.


The (4081) Gigs


Our test piece with the 4081 was an electric guitar. The player that night has a real sweet jazzy kind of tone, and the mic absolutely slayed it. Even though the jazz tone has a lot of low end, I found that the 4081 handled it well - real smooth, real warm. Everything that you would expect from a high-end ribbon. If you compare the frequency response charts for both mics, the 4081 is much smoother in the low end than the 4080 and it showed.


The Drop Test


Part of the test process for any mic review in FOH is the dreaded drop test. Shoulder height, capsule down, dropped to a concrete floor. And we weren't gonna forego this part of the review just cuz they're ribbons. If they are going on a stage they are-at some point, and no matter how much care is taken-going to get dropped.


So, the results? The 4080 did not survive. Probably has something to do with the total mass of the body. The 4081 was a different story. I did the drop. I plugged it in. It still worked with no apparent ill effects. So, I thought, what the hell, and I threw it into the air hard enough that it bounced off the shop ceiling, which is at least 15 feet from the floor, and let it hit the ground again. Surely, this would kill it, right? Actually, it still worked. Amazing.


In conclusion, if you need an amazing large ribbon mic for your studio, look no further than the AT4080. You can use it live if you want, but my opinion is that it's more geared to the studio. If you're after a ribbon mic that will make your guitars scream onstage, get yourself an AT4081. Both mics performed very well in certain environments. And both feel as though they were designed  to double as self defense weapons. Either way, A-T has hit a homerun with both of these pieces, and that's a fact. 


Audio-Technica 4080 and 4081 Ribbon Mics


What They Are: Hefty ribbon mics, weighing in, respectively, at 16.7 and 5.4 ounces.

Who They're For: Engineers needing hefty ribbon mics for recording studios and live performance settings.

Pros: In our reviewer's opinion, both mics performed well in different environments.

Cons: In that same reviewer's opinion, only the 4081 was ideal for live performance settings. The 4080 seemed to be more at home in the studio.

How Much: 4080: $1,295 (U.S. MSRP). 4081: $895 (U.S. MSRP).





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