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RØDE NT2000 - EMusician

RØDE NT2000

Electronic Musician''s review of the Røde NT2000, a large-diaphragm condenser mic with a continuously variable pad, pattern, and highpass filter.
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I have had the opportunity review a number of Røde mics over the last few years, and I've been impressed enough to purchase several of them for use on my own recording projects. So when I read that Røde had spent $1 million to design the mic capsule for its new NT2000, my interest was piqued and I wanted to hear it for myself.

My chance came when EM asked me to review the NT2000. I received a pair of the mics and proceeded to test them under real-world conditions. But before going into details about how they performed, let's look at some of the NT2000's features.

THE LOOK

The NT2000 has a unique appearance, highlighted by silver control knobs on a black background on the front of the microphone's chassis (see Fig. 1). The three knobs control the polar pattern, pad, and highpass filter. Although similar controls have been featured on mic bodies before, I've never seen any as visible as those on the NT2000.

But the knob design of the NT2000 is not simply for aesthetics; these controls are continuously variable. The input can be trimmed anywhere from 0 to -10 dB, and the highpass filter can be set to engage anywhere between 20 Hz and 150 Hz. Best of all, the polar pattern can be varied continuously between omni, cardioid, and figure-8, allowing you to dial in, for instance, a setting somewhere in between pure omni and cardioid. I'll talk more about this powerful feature later. The knobs themselves have a notch cut out of them so that you can see a graded set of dots along the throw of the pot for easier replication of specific settings (see Fig. 2).

WORK IT

I first tried out the NT2000s while recording acoustic guitar for several artist demos I was planning to shop in Nashville. Record executives in Nashville know what a good acoustic guitar sounds like, so I knew that the tracks recorded with the NT2000 had to sound great or I wouldn't be able to use them.

I started by setting the mics up in a middle-side (M-S) configuration, which I like for stereo acoustic guitar. (For those unfamiliar with this technique, I'll explain briefly. M-S uses one mic in a cardioid pattern pointed directly at the sound source and a second mic in a figure-8 pattern with one of the null sides pointed at the source so the mic picks up the room. On playback, the figure-8 channel is duplicated to a third channel on which the phase is reversed; the two figure-8 channels are then panned left and right and mixed in behind the cardioid signal.) I also set up a ribbon microphone so that I would have another sonic choice while recording.

The sound of the two mic setups was quite different. Although the ribbon mic sounded good and quite detailed, it needed a lot more preamp gain and ultimately had to be moved closer to the guitar. In addition, I had to add a healthy amount of top end, something ribbon mics frequently require. The M-S setup with the NT2000s sounded much more “finished” right from the start. However, there was some obvious low-end rumble that needed to be filtered out, so I decided to try the rolloff on the NT2000.

That was when I noticed that it is impossible to know exactly where you're setting the NT2000's highpass filter, because only the extreme settings of 20 Hz and 150 Hz are labeled around the knob. There are 11 dots that help you find your way somewhat, but it's still a guess. I dialed the pot to the fourth dot from the 20 Hz side, hoping that it would be rolling off somewhere around 80 Hz. I can't be sure precisely how close I ended up getting, but the guitar sounded much better. I did the same for the second microphone and started recording tracks.

I recorded three songs in this configuration and was pleased with the results. I ended up using the NT2000 M-S configuration for the two up-tempo songs and for variety, I used the ribbon-mic track on the ballad. Not that the NT2000 tracks didn't sound great — they did. I simply wanted a different sound for the ballad, and the ribbon mic had a significantly different character that worked well for the slow song.

VOCALIZE IT

When it came time for cutting vocals, I set up the NT2000 alongside Røde's NT1-A, which I had previously used with great success when miking the female vocalist who was on this project. I also had one of Røde's K2 microphones on loan; the K2 uses the same HF-1 capsule as the NT2000, but in a tube-microphone design. To provide an additional point of comparison, I also set up a Neumann U 87.

The singer had become attached to the sound of the NT1-A, which has a nice lift in the 5 kHz range and a tame, neutral midrange that immediately sounds good in headphones. The NT2000's midrange is much more aggressive from about 400 Hz to 1 kHz; the U 87's midrange is similar. The NT2000 had more air in the 10 to 12 kHz range than the U 87, which on this particular singer sounded somewhat honky and not quite natural.

We quickly eliminated the U 87 and brought the Røde K2 into the session. The K2 sounded quite similar to the NT2000, and it took a lot of listening back and forth between the two to discern the differences. The sonic signatures of each eventually emerged in the way that you would probably imagine: the K2 exhibited that slight sizzle on the top end and the larger-than-life character with which tube microphones often imbue a source. Granted, the differences were subtle, but they were noticeable nonetheless. Compared to the NT1-A, both the NT2000 and the K2 sounded like they would later need a slight boost at 5 kHz and a slight dip in the 600 to 700 Hz range — exactly what I usually do when working with vintage mics such as the Neumann U 67 or M 49 on vocals.

In fact, both the NT2000 and the K2 reminded me of mature, vintage microphones. The bottom end was much fuller on both the NT2000 and the K2 than the NT1-A, and overall, the sound was bigger and meatier. I do love the NT1-A; however, it is clear that the HF-1 capsule in the NT2000 and K2 sounds very much like an older, classic-mic capsule.

The NT2000 is also whisper quiet, with an extremely low self-noise rating of 7 dB. The only microphone I know that's any quieter is the NT1-A, which has a 5 dB self-noise spec.

TESTING ONE, TWO

Because we were only at the point of cutting rough vocal tracks while the artist got comfortable with the songs, I could conveniently try out the variable pattern of the NT2000. We tried a few passes at each of the three settings (cardioid, omni, and figure-8) and at different distances, with the singer “slating” the specific pattern and distance for each take.

With the NT2000 set to omni and the singer extremely close and singing through a pop filter, the sound was absolutely gorgeous. Omni mode doesn't exhibit the proximity effect in the way that a cardioid pattern does, and the frequency response is typically flatter and more natural sounding. On playback through the big speakers, it sounded exactly like the singer was standing right there in the room. We both loved it.

We did get a few microphone overloads when she sang loudly while standing right up on the mic. Dialing the NT2000's pad to a — 3 dB setting and boosting the preamp to make up the gain solved the problem, though.

PICK A PATTERN, ANY PATTERN

In the personal-studio environment, where the acoustics are often less than perfect, I've often wished for a polar pattern that gave me the purity of omni and the better isolation of cardioid. With its continuously variable pattern, the NT2000 makes such in-between settings as easy as turning a knob.

On the day we were recording test vocals, we found a sound we really liked by starting with the omni setting and slowly adjusting the pattern toward cardioid. We stopped when we'd removed just enough room sound to clean up the vocal sound while still retaining a lot of the naturalness of the omni setting. The setting we landed on in that particular environment was almost to the halfway point between the third and fourth dots from the omni side. The room sound was a little tamed down, and the singer was still able to get close up on the microphone without a ton of boomy proximity effect. Sweet.

Later, I tried some settings in between the cardioid and figure-8 with my own voice. These settings were a little less dramatic, but it was nice to add some sense of space to a primarily cardioid sound by introducing some of the microphone's backside. One problem with the knobs is that they're a little tight overall, and they aren't very easy to adjust when the NT2000 is seated in the shockmount, especially if you have big fingers.

During my rattle-the-car-keys test to check the high-frequency response, there was a noticeable drop in highs at the two side points of the NT2000 in omni mode. Although omni mode picks up sound in all directions, the sides don't sound exactly the same as the front and back of the mic (typical of all mics in omni mode). This could potentially present problems if you were, say, recording a group of background singers positioned around a single NT2000. But as long as you positioned the singers so that nobody was singing directly into the side of the mic, you'd be fine. And the off-axis rejection of the cardioid and figure-8 patterns is very good.

THE RØDE TAKEN

Apart from the two minor quibbles I mentioned previously — the shortage of indicators for the rolloff frequencies and the slight difficulty of adjusting the knobs when the microphone is in the shockmount — I have nothing but very positive things to say about the NT2000. I like the microphone so much that I intend to buy the two review models I was sent and continue to enjoy their vintage tones, flexibility, and quiet operation.

And here's the kicker: the NT2000 retails for $899, and it will probably have a street price that's significantly less. Considering that the NT2000 sounds like a composite of some of the best vintage microphones, only quieter and more flexible, it's quite a good value. (If you want the tube version, an extra $100 gets you the K2, but without a pad or highpass filter.) It's a wonderful world we're living in when great new microphones have become so affordable.

Producer-composerRob Shrockhas worked with a host of world-class artists, including Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, LeAnn Rimes, Aretha Franklin, and Ronald Isley.

NT2000 Specifications

Capsule1-inch gold-sputtered, custom designPolar Patternsomni, cardioid, figure-8; continuously variableFrequency Response20 Hz-20 kHzOutput Impedance200žSensitivity-36 dB, ±2 dBEquivalent Noise7 dBAMaximum Output+15 dBu (at 1% THD)Dynamic Range136 dBMaximum SPL147 dB (at 1% THD); 157 dB with pad at max.Signal-to-Noise Ratio84 dBPower48V phantom powerPad0 to -10 dB, continuously variableHighpass Filter20-150 Hz, continuously variableActive ElectronicsJ-FET transformerlessDimensions9.15" (L) × 2.36" (diameter)Weight1.83 lb.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Røde

NT2000
condenser microphone
$899

AUDIO QUALITY4.5VALUE4.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Tone quality reminiscent of classic mics. Superquiet operation. Polar patterns continuously variable between omni, cardioid, and figure-8. Good off-axis rejection. Polar pattern, pad, and highpass-filter controls are on the mic chassis. Includes quality shockmount and carrying case. Affordable.

CONS: Knobs are a bit difficult to manipulate. Insufficient indicators for the highpass filter control.

Manufacturer

Røde Microphones
tel. (310) 328-7456
Web www.rodemic.com