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Rode K2

December 1, 2003

Condenser mics have definitely had a renaissance in the past few years. Not only have we seen brilliant new designs, but we’ve also been graced with the resurrection of the best vintage models. The offerings have covered the entire price range, from the very highest to the lowest. Australian manufacturer Rode has been among the leaders in the charge for microphone value . . . amazing mics for the price, combining true value with true quality.

Now Rode has pushed the envelope even further with the release of the K2 microphone. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. . . .

Rode is no stranger to tube microphones. I first encountered the company’s work when the Classic tube mic was released a number of years ago. Along with my studio partner, I made countless recordings of guitars, vocals, and other sources with that mic, which combined great presence, fat low end, and excellent high end with great dynamic response.

Through the years, Rode has released a number of other tube models. Now the company has created the K2,

which features sound reminiscent of classic vintage mics while being updated with improved capsule and diaphragm technology, extremely low noise, and increased stability and consistency.

The mic comes packaged in a large-ish hardshell case, which also holds the supplied accessories, including the 9-pin cable that connects the mic to the power supply, the external power supply, and the SM2 shockmount. Speaking of which, the SM2 is one of the better shockmounts I’ve encountered. The K2 screws into it with a heavy threaded collar, eliminating danger of the mic falling loose. The SM2 itself is a solid affair, and features a nice long-handled clamping screw for setting tilt — no more stripping the skin from your thumb and fingers while trying to tighten a tiny set screw. I have only one complaint about the shockmount, which is that when you hang the mic upside down, as when doing vocals, the SM2 doesn’t allow quite enough tilt for good placement. (You can work around this by removing the screw and flipping the stand adapter part over.)

The K2 microphone is physically substantial, with good size and weight — it feels solid. There are no switches or controls on the mic itself. The K2 has a continuously variable polar pattern — omni through cardioid to figure 8 — but this is controlled from the power supply. There are no pads or filters on the mic. With a maximum SPL spec of 162 dB, there’s little need for a pad. But it would be nice to have a highpass filter in certain situations.

Fortunately, the K2’s proximity effect is moderate, so thumping isn’t a serious problem.

Sonically, the K2 sounds like a combination of vintage mics. It has smooth, extended top end, fat, round midrange, and solid, thick low end. The enclosed frequency response chart verifies what your ears will tell you: There is a peak in the upper midrange, centered around 5 kHz. A broad second peak appears centered at 10 kHz, extending to the mic’s 3-dB down point at 20 kHz. This peak opens up the top end; not to use a cliché, but it adds “air” to the mic’s tonality.

As expected, the sound of the mic varies with polar pattern. In omni mode, the response is flatter, without the upper midrange peak, but with more downward extension to the upper peak. Cardioid and figure 8 modes follow the frequency response curve detailed above. Being able to continuously vary the polar patterns is a great feature. Of course, you can dial in an exact omni, cardioid, or figure 8 pattern if you like. But the “in-between” patterns are equally usable. For example, omni mics are often used for capturing room ambience along with the original source. But sometimes the ambience can be too strong. In this example, dialing the pattern up toward cardioid allows a better balance of ambience to source.

For this review, Rode supplied me with a pair of consecutively numbered K2 microphones. I began using one mic for recording vocals. I was immediately impressed with the top end of the mic. It was smooth, without hype, similar to a tube U67. The midrange was fat and round, but with excellent clarity. Thin voices and falsettos were given fullness without sounding harsh, tubby, or EQ’d. Likewise, the bottom end was fat, without sounding muddy or amorphous. Dynamic response was good; the mic felt natural to sing into.

Next I used a single K2 to mic a modified Marshall 1x12 combo amplifier set for crunchy rhythm parts. The mic was placed about 12" in front of the amp, and 12" from the floor. No matter what volume, the mic remained unstrained. The top end was smooth, without fizziness. The midrange captured all of the punch of the amp, while the bottom end thumped in a way that belied the tone’s combo amp origins. Very nice. This continued as I tried other amps and other guitars. The sound of the amp was captured accurately, but slightly “enhanced” with fuller midrange and fatter low end.

Moving to acoustic guitar, I began with one mic, placed in the “standard” position, off the 14th fret, where the neck and body meet. Whether miking delicate fingerpicked passages, frenetic rolling patterns, strumming, or single-string lead lines, the K2 sounded great, with fullness and excellent clarity.

Reasoning that if one K2 sounded good, adding a second would sound better, I began experimenting with stereo miking using the pair on nylon-string classical guitar. Using the cardioid pattern, I centered the mics on the guitar, placing them 18" apart, 14" from the body. This resulted in a stable, well-centered image that didn’t sound “stereo” yet had excellent depth and dimension. I also experimented with dialing in a slightly more omni polar pattern, which brought some room ambience into play. Again, very nice. The sound was detailed with natural bottom end and good presence. I was as pleased with the sound of these tracks as any I’ve done of classical guitar.

I had similar results on percussion, bass, and trombone. The sound was always detailed and natural sounding, with excellent presence. Dynamics were always tracked accurately.

As you can tell, I like this microphone very much. Need further endorsement? I did most of this review before I found out what the price of the K2 would be. I had been told to expect the K2 to be of excellent quality (but you’re always told that about a product you’re going to be reviewing), but would be value-priced. After using and testing the mic, I guessed this meant somewhere around the $2,000 price point. Imagine my surprise when I heard that the K2 would list at $995 and have a street price of around $699! Amazing value indeed.

The danger is that you’ll read this review, note the price, and assume that the mic can’t be that good. Do me a favor: Put the price aside and give this mic a listen. I think you’ll be extremely impressed. I sure was....    

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