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RDE NT1-A

December 1, 2003

I have to admit that I've become a fan of Røde microphones over the past few years. Why? Because the engineers at Røde consistently deliver professional-sounding products at extremely affordable prices. I've previously reviewed the NTV and NTK microphones, and I've used several other models on various recording sessions. Røde mics have always performed admirably.

When a pair of NT1-As arrived for review, I was genuinely excited. I had already heard about the new design and manufacturing techniques Røde used with this model, and I was anxious to hear them in action.

OUTSIDE AND IN

The nickel-satin-finished casing of the NT1-A gives it a look reminiscent of a Neumann U 87. Although it's solid to the touch, the NT1-A weighs surprisingly little. Like other Røde mics, it has a gold dot at the top of the casing near the capsule that indicates the side that should face the sound source. Like most condensers, it requires external phantom power.

There are no pads or highpass filters built in to the NT1-A. By eliminating these features and settling on a single pattern, Røde has been able to focus on building a great-sounding large-diaphragm condenser mic that remains affordable. Every NT1-A also ships with a zip pouch and a well-constructed shockmount.

When I received the NT1-As, I started using them immediately for recording vocals and guitars and I haven't looked back since. I have yet to find an application where these microphones don't sound good.

MATCHED SET

I produce The Coppolas, who are female twins with powerful voices. In the past I've tried several different large-diaphragm condensers on them, and while I've gotten excellent sounds, I've always had to be careful because the sheer volume of their voices would occasionally overload the mics' electronics.

I tried the NT1-As on the twins, and not only did the mics sound excellent, but I had no overload problems whatsoever. As a result, the NT1-A is my new mic of choice for the twins' vocals. I've used the NT1-As on other loud sources like percussion and electric guitar, too, and never had problems with overload.

I've been using the NT1-A on another female singer I produce, and the mic fits her voice like a glove. We both preferred the NT1-A to a U 87 for her voice because it didn't emphasize the midrange as much. But the NT1-A doesn't just sound great on females; I used it for a coming-attractions-style voice-over with a male voice. By getting the talent really close to the grill and angling the mic away to minimize plosives, I was got that “voice-of-God” sound with no problem.

INSTRUMENT TALES

You can never have enough good-quality large-condenser mics in the studio. Over the past few months, I've used the NT1-As for percussion, acoustic guitar, and guitar amps. To capture the bottom end of an ashiko (a type of long, wooden African hand drum), I placed the NT1-A about six inches from the ground and facing up, with a small-diaphragm AKG condenser aimed at the top head. The NT1-A provided plenty of bottom-end frequencies that were later carved with EQ to fit into the finished track.

The NT1-A sounded gorgeous on acoustic guitar. I placed the microphone about a foot back from the body — pointed roughly at the sound hole — and combined that with a small-diaphragm condenser pointed toward the 15th fret (roughly where the neck meets the body). The NT1-A has a pretty wide sweet spot and is a bit forgiving with placement, which proved handy when I had to duplicate the setup a few days after a recording session and punch in a guitar chord that had been changed. I realized later that I had placed the NT1-A about four inches closer to the neck than when I had originally set up, but the punched guitar matched the original performance flawlessly.

While cutting electric guitars, I used the NT1-A on the Vox and Marshall combo amps that I use in my recording rig. I usually track guitars through a pair of Shure SM57s permanently mounted to the rig, but I used the NT1-As when I was looking for bright and punchy clean sounds. Not only did they sound great, but their light weight and solid shockmounts made tweaking their positioning a breeze.

ART OF NO NOISE

Røde has completely redesigned the original NT1's electronics for the NT1-A. The company says its modern mechanized production techniques reduce manufacturing costs even as the company's engineers continue to refine their designs. Talk about refinements: the NT1-A's self-noise spec is 5 dBA, which is one of the lowest for any microphone. That's incredible for a mic that costs a fraction of what most quality studio condensers do.

The extremely low self-noise makes the NT1-A a great candidate for sessions that utilize a lot of large-condenser mics, such as dynamic orchestral recording dates. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to use the NT1-A in that type of setting, but I sense that it would perform extremely well. Even in pop recording sessions, I really appreciate how quietly the NT1-A performs despite large amounts of gain being added at the preamp.

VERSATILE AND SOLID

During the months that I used the NT1-As, they sounded great in every application appropriate for large-diaphragm condensers. They can handle extremely loud SPLs without the need for a pad, and their self-noise spec is a huge bonus. The frequency response is very smooth all the way from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, with only a very small presence bump around 12 kHz.

Here's a dirty little not-so-secret of most music: virtually every recorded track gets some kind of equalization, even if it's just highpass or lowpass filtering. (Okay, maybe there are still a few classical recordings that rely solely on mics, placement, and preamps to document a performance; but in my world it takes more than a little EQ to make some things blend in and others pop out in a final mix.) The NT1-A not only catches all the frequencies of the source, but the sound it produces can withstand equalization better than many mics that are much more costly. And, of course, it's extremely quiet. In my book, that makes the NT1-A one versatile microphone, and I wouldn't be surprised to see commercial studios purchasing a lot of these fine-sounding, affordable workhorses.


Producer-composer Rob Shrock recently worked on new releases for Aretha Franklin, Ronnie Isley, and American Idol II. Shrock has recorded and performed with a host of world-class artists.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Røde Microphones
NT1-A
large-diaphragm condenser mic
$349

AUDIO QUALITY 4.5
VALUE 5.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Extremely quiet. Balanced frequency response from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Sounds great on a wide variety of voices and instruments. Can handle very high SPL sources. Includes shockmount. Affordable.

CONS: No built-in pad or filters. Cardioid pattern only.

Manufacturer

Røde Microphones
tel. (877) 328-7456
e-mail usasupport@rodemic.com
Web www.rodemic.com

NT1-A Specifications

Capsule 1" condenser, gold-plated
Polar Pattern cardioid (fixed)
Frequency Response 20 Hz-20 kHz (±2.5 dB)
Output Impedance 100ž
Self-Noise 5 dBA
Maximum SPL 137dB (@ 1% THD)
Dynamic Range >132 dB
Signal-to-Noise Ratio >88 dB
External Casing satin nickel finish
Accessories SM1 shockmount; zip pouch
Dimensions 8.2" (L) × 1.9" (diameter)
Weight 0.72 lb.

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