Røde spent more than $1 million developing the HF-1 capsule, and that investment is likely to benefit not only the company, but also a whole new group of recordists who are looking to find value and quality. A case in point is the company's HF-1 — equipped NT2-A, which is a streamlined version of the NT2000. The latter is a mic that is popular with project studios and commercial facilities around the world because of its great sound, quiet operation, and affordability.
The HF-1 is designed to capture the essence of the best vintage microphones. With the overflow of mics coming out of China, it is worth noting that all Røde microphones are designed and manufactured in Australia. I reviewed the original NT2000 for EM (see the June 2004 issue), so I was curious to see if the magic could be retained in such a relatively inexpensive mic.
If It Ain't Broke
The NT2-A offers selectable pattern, rolloff, and sensitivity settings (see Fig. 1). Having selectable patterns (cardioid, omni, and figure-8) is particularly notable for a mic in this price range. The patterns, unlike the NT2000, aren't continuously variable, but nor are they on most mics. The NT2-A I reviewed sounded just like an NT2000 when settings were matched, and Røde confirms that the mics spec out identically.
The NT2-A comes with a pouch bag and a simple microphone clip. It's a bit heavy, so the shockmount cage that ships with the NT2000 and Røde's K2 tube mic would be much better for the NT2-A than the clip. Including the cage, however, would have added substantially to the price.
Feeling confident that the NT2-A had not been compromised to hit a budget price point, I put it through the paces at my studio. First up was a background-vocal session featuring three world-class singers. Two of them work with me in Burt Bacharach's touring band and have also worked with George Duke, Elvis Costello, and Patrice Rushen. All three are seasoned veterans with great voices who know if things don't sound right.
I put up a single NT2-A set to omni in the middle of the room. I like to use omni in this kind of session because it not only provides a more natural frequency response, but it also allows the singers to stand more comfortably in a circle around the microphone and balance themselves. Of course, that also means more room sound will be picked up, so in this situation I used some strategically positioned absorptive material and a rug to tame things down a bit.
Right from the start, the NT2-A sounded excellent. Through a Neve preamp, the mic sounded like a quieter version of a Neumann U67 — a mic I've always liked for background vocal groups. The NT2-A has a little lift between 8 kHz and 12 kHz in omni mode that gives the sound a nice kiss of air and openness without being harsh, strident, or unnatural.
I was recording only two passes of the trio, so the amount of ambience picked up in my room (which is on the live side), with the mic set to omni, was just right to push the group a little back in the mix without the need for artificial ambience (see Web Clip 1).
A few days later, I was recording a string quartet that was to be close-miked for a pop recording. Since I had received a pair of NT2-As for review and I already own a pair of NT2000s, I used both pairs of mics considering their similarity in sound.
I used the NT2-A pair on the violins (the most critical application) and the NT2000s on the viola and cello. All microphones were set to cardioid pattern to minimize bleed and to provide more individual balance control after the session (each instrument was printed to its own track). For added natural ambience and glue, I stuck a single Neumann KM 86 in Omni mode up high above the group.
I set the NT2-A's highpass filter to roll off at 80 Hz to clean up the low end a bit on input. I intended to start there and later audition the 40 Hz and Off settings before committing. Once the session got going, though, I completely forgot about it. After a little moving around of the microphones to find the sweet spots, the quartet sounded great. The two violins sounded naturally rich and clear, without any harshness or nastiness. Had they sounded too thin, I probably would have been reminded to check the other rolloff settings, but it was unnecessary. The mics sounded great (see Web Clip 2).
I ended up rolling back the NT2000s' cardioid positions about a third of the way toward Omni in order to lessen the proximity effect resulting from close-miking the instruments to get an intimate sound. A taste of EQ would have done the same, but I like being able to play in between the patterns on the NT2000, which is impossible on the NT2-A (and on most other microphones, for that matter).
As of this writing, the final mixes on these two songs are in-complete. But, so far, I haven't had to add any EQ — I've just slipped a couple of tracks in time to clean up their phase coherency. Nor did I use the Neumann room-mic track, because a bit of room ambience added through the Space Designer plug-in in Apple's Logic Pro sounded every bit as good.
Next up were solo vocals. A male and a female singer with whom I work regularly had previously cut a number of tracks with the NT2000 in my studio, each of which I like a lot. A handful of test recordings with the NT2-A — all using the same preamps and compressor settings — yielded identical results with each singer when compared with previously recorded tracks using the NT2000 (see Web Clip 3). The NT2000 has been my preferred mic for the male singer for the past year, while I have been liking a K2 (which also used the HF-1 capsule) best for the female. In other words, I accept the NT2-A for what the manufacturer claims: a slightly paired-down version of the NT2000.
I also tried the NT2-A out on a guitar amp. I placed a Shure SM57 up close on the speaker of a small Vox amp, and placed the NT2-A in figure-8 position at ear level about five feet back. With a little compression and EQ, I combined the two microphones into a killer amp sound. In addition to sounding flattering and natural for vocals and strings, the NT2-A can take a lot of drastic EQ without the sound falling apart on sources such as electric guitar.
Another Quality Mic
Røde has produced another winner. For those looking for a reasonably priced mic of high quality, the NT2-A provides great sound and the versatility of three patterns, a selectable highpass filter, and a pad. My only complaint is its microphone clip, which seems puny compared with the one that comes with the NT2000 and the K2.
The HF-1 capsule sounds great in the NT2-A, as it does in the NT2000 and the K2. Unlike some of the budget models coming out of China, Røde microphones are well built and perform consistently, and the NT2-A is no exception. Within its price range, the NT2-A is my “desert-island” mic of choice.
Composer/producer Rob Shrock has worked with Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, LeAnn Rimes, Elvis Costello, Ronald Isley, Aretha Franklin, and a host of world-class artists.
multipattern condenser microphone
OVERALL RATING [1 THROUGH 5]: 4.5
PROS: Great sounding. Sonically reminiscent of vintage microphones. Quiet operation. Provides multiple patterns, rolloff, and pad. Affordable.
CONS: Mounting clip is small for a relatively heavy microphone.
NT2-A SPECIFICATIONS HF-1 Capsule1-inch dual diaphragm, gold sputteredPolar Patternsmultipattern; figure-8, cardioid, omniFrequency Response20 Hz — 20 kHzOutput Impedance200ΩSignal/Noise Ratio87 dBEquivalent Noise7 dBA SPLMaximum SPL147 dB; 157 dB pad at maxSensitivity-36 dB (1 kHz into 1 kΩ)Dynamic Range140 dBPower48VOutput Connection3-pin XLR3-Position Variable HighpassFilter flat, 40 Hz, 80 Hz3-Position Variable Pad0 dB, -5 dB, -10 dBDimensions2.2" (W) × 8.3" (L)Weight1.9 lbs.