Røde''s M3 is a versatile small-diaphragm condenser that works well in studio or live-performance applications.
Røde's M3 ($299) is a small-diaphragm, cardioid condenser mic designed to do it all. It's a handheld vocal mic that's sleek enough to use on a live-television interview and tough enough to use when fronting a death-metal band. It's also sweet enough to capture the nuances of an acoustic guitar when resting on a stand. Sometimes, of course, mics designed to do it all wind up doing it barely at all, sacrificing a fine-tuned specialty for mediocre versatility. The M3, it turns out, is no such slacker.
The M3 looks good and feels rugged and professional but not too hefty. Its end-address design features a permanently polarized, internally shockmounted condenser capsule with low-noise circuitry and high immunity to RF interference. Also included is a clip, windscreen, and stand mount, all in a nice hard-shell case with a recessed area to store your own cable.
At first glance, the sliding on/off switch seems similar to those found on many dynamic mics. But the M3's switch has three positions: at the rearmost point (toward the XLR connector and away from the capsule), the switch mutes the mic by disconnecting the power source, as you might expect. Moving the switch to the middle position engages the internal 9V battery or phantom power if the mic is connected to a 48V input. Sliding the switch to its third position engages the mic's low-cut filter (12 dB per octave starting at 80 Hz) while maintaining power.
A 9V battery can be inserted in the upper half of the mic housing after unscrewing the bottom half. Also within the upper housing is a 3-position DIP switch that selects a -20 or -10 dB pad or no pad. This is one area in which Røde made a compromise, probably to cut costs and allow a lower selling price. Although most people don't need to engage a pad several times in a session — and certainly not during a live performance — I think it would be nicer if the pad were controlled with a recessed slide switch on the other side of the mic's exterior.
STAND AND DELIVER
The M3 quickly proved itself to be worth every penny of its low cost, even if I did have to unscrew the housing a few times. The mic exhibited the crisp, clean sound of a condenser as soon as I plugged it into my Mackie Onyx 1220. The Onyx mic pres seemed to be a perfect match for the M3, and the sound only got warmer when I tried the mic with a dbx 386 tube pre I often use for certain vocalists.
I was surprised at how good the mic sounded with both male and female vocalists during a country session I engineered. When the music was cranking and the male singer went into his Big and Rich imitation, the mic held up extremely well. I perceived a slight change in color when he wailed directly into the capsule, so the band waited while I engaged the pad at -10 dB. With the singer backed off a bit, the sound was great, and he could perform as he does onstage. He could even hold the mic when he felt like it without compromising the audio the way movement often does with a dynamic mic.
Røde sent two M3s to test, so I set up both to record my own 30-year-old Dove guitar, which has a mellow, aged richness. The M3s captured the instrument beautifully in a split configuration, one mic slightly above the 12th fret and the other 2 feet back from the sound hole. After a bit of positioning to control phasing, the M3s sounded better than several pencil mics I've used on the same guitar.
VERSATILITY AND QUALITY
The M3's internal pad switch is a small compromise to allow Røde to make a low-cost condenser mic that sounds this good. It combines delicate pickup characteristics with a rugged build and sleek design. At street prices, it's the perfect mic for the budget-conscious recording musician who's ready to add a condenser (or two) that can also be used on gigs.
Value (1 through 5): 4