Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Audio-Technica AT8024 - Good Things In Little Packages

Audio-Technica AT8024 on a JVC HM 650
The landscape is littered with little “shoe mics”; those mics designed to slip into the hot or cold shoe of a DSLR or other digital camera. 

Each time I see one, I look for improvements in sound, suspension mount and ease of use. Today I’m looking at the Audio-Technica AT8024, which comes complete with separate foam and very effective furry wind covers and lists for only $249.

The stereo signal from the AT8024 is derived from a set of electret condenser Mid/Side capsules; a front-facing mono capsule and a side-facing figure of eight capsule behind it. That bulge at the base of the interference tube is where the two side-facing capsules sit. 

AT8024 Body and Switches
One of the switches on the AT8024 has three positions; Off, Stereo and Mono. In Mono, the mic employs the Mid capsule only. In stereo, the mic uses both Mid and Side capsules and has a internal matrix that provides a fairly narrow stereo pattern to the 1/8” TRS plug.

These features allow the AT8024 to be used with cameras with either a 1/8” mono or stereo input jack. This is a real problem solver because some DSLR cameras have a mono input and some have a stereo input. Pugging a standard mono mic into a stereo input often results in the audio going only to one channel in the camera. No problem, just switch to Stereo. Switching to Mono puts the center capsule audio on both the tip and ring and results in Mono.

AT8024 Pop-out Battery Sled

The mic is powered by one AA cell that lasts for 80 hours. The pop-out sled is very well designed and easy to use. The green LED indicates that the mic has been switched on. When the LED turns red, it’s time to change the battery. 

In every audio forum I participate in, including the Creative Cow Audio forum I lead, are warnings about camera-mounted microphones. As a professional location sound practitioner, I know that the best spoken word audio recordings happens with the microphone within 18” of the person talking, with the right boom mic, a boom operator and a mixer to feed the camera or record separately. Once you get more than two feet away from the talent, most of the quality of the even the best mics begin to fade. I was, therefore, impressed by how well the AT8024 fared.

Built-in, on-camera mics have two additional problems. First, they conduct even the most casual handling noise and that noise becomes part of the recording. My JVC HM 650 camera, which uses SD cards, has a very distracting fan motor noise that is conducted through the body to the built-in mic. In addition, if the camera operator talks or makes noise, the mic will pick up those noises. Second, I don’t know many camera manufacturers who use really good capsules for an on-camera mic.

To reduce handling noise, you need a separate mic with a suspension mount that isolates the mic from the camera body. The AT8024 has that and it’s sturdy and simple. As my video demonstrates, while there is some hand noise transfer, it’s extremely small compared to the built-in camera mic. 

There’s a switchable, 12 dB/octave, 80 Hz low frequency roll off to reduce low frequency noise. There are also a 10 and 20 dB pad. These pads are very useful for run and gun shooting in wildly varying volume levels. Yes, you do have to figure out the best gain staging for camera and mic levels, but being able to knock 20 dB off at the mic should let you get in front of some pretty loud machinery or a rock band without clipping.

I recorded a set by “The Old Part of Town” at Edith May’s Paradise, a house concert venue in Jessup, Maryland. I was about 20 feet from the stage, used the 10 dB pad and had no problems capturing sound from the amps, acoustic instruments and PA. The AT8024 has a very pleasant sound with music. If you find it a bit too organic, running the audio through a limiter in post and just catching the peaks can put a nice polish on the track. I didn’t do that for this particular clip.

My good friend Brian Glock helped me test the AT8024 during the Towson, Maryland July 4th Parade. He had the AT8024 set at -20 dB and the camera audio input set to Auto for this clip. He was doing lots of run and gun that day and didn't have time to manually adjust the camera audio. Drum and bugle corps by their very nature are VERY LOUD and the horns are frequently "blatty." The Auto feature on Brian's camera cranked the volume up and I think I can hear some of its processing, but when I pulled the waveform up, I only saw one flat top.

We also tested the AT8024 at Atwater’s, a local soup and sandwich shop. At a distance of 18 inches, you can hear that the ambient noise is distracting against a normal speaking voice, so, as always, there are limitations. 

Meanwhile, down in my acoustically treated studio, the AT8024 surprised me by how well it sounded at distances of three feet or more.

I could talk all day about how good or bad the custom made AT8024, wind protection accessories are. In a word, they are invaluable. Here’s some outside footage that confirms how well the foam and especially the fuzzy work.

Capsule frequency response is smooth and the the mono and stereo patterns behave nicely.


Down to the small hook at the base of the mic that allows the cable to be snugged close to the body to keep it from flapping around, the AT8024 is an example of thoughtful design. If you do need a camera-mounted mic, look hard at this one for the above reasons. And at $249 for mic, foam and fuzzy, what’s not to like?

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