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Review: RØDE M3

A bullet proof, (almost) idiot proof, fashion proof (black) condenser mic that’s road ready.

By

27 August 2007

If you find yourself in a public place unscrewing the long barrel off the back of a new Rode M3 to replace the 9V battery you might run the risk of getting arrested. You see, the new all-black design of this sleek new mic looks every bit like a gun-silencer, something you might see in a James Bond movie. If you’re a Foley recorder in the film industry and you had two of these, you could use one to create the sound of the silencer screwing onto the barrel, and the other to record it. When I first got this mic I had endless fun simply screwing and unscrewing the metal sleeve… I must get out more.

BACK IN BLACK

The Rode M3 is a fixed cardioid electret condenser mic with a large hollow compartment in its nether regions designed to carry the aforementioned 9V battery. The M3 thus ‘carries its own phantom power supply’ as it were, so you needn’t rely on an external source like a console or a location recorder to power it. It’s a good-looking mic and heavy too; sturdy in the hand and built like every other Rode microphone – like a tank. The M3 actually looks very similar to an AKG C1000 and shares basic design principles with this other well-known electret condenser. The M3 comes in a moulded black plastic case and other accessories include a black foam pop-shield and a black dedicated mic clip with a vice-like grip – the all-black rock ’n’ roll look is back it would seem! I like it.

FEATURES & CONTROLS

There are two main functions on the M3 that are worthy of discussion. Firstly, there’s a switch on the mic just below the ubiquitous gold dot, which performs multiple functions. First and foremost this is the mic’s on/off switch and this needs to be in the ‘middle’ position for the mic to work. When this is switched to its third and uppermost position (closest to the head of the capsule) a high-pass filter is engaged, which cuts in at around 80Hz. This is good for counteracting singers who ‘eat the mic’ and generate too much low-end proximity effect. It’s also a handy tool for negating the plosives caused by wind in an outdoor setting or where environmental rumble is impinging on the subject you’re trying to record. The switch is recessed and fairly stiff so it’s not easily knocked by accident, but I would be mildly concerned if it were in the hands of a singer who liked fiddling with a mic on stage. In this situation the high-pass filter could be unwittingly engaged during a performance and go largely unnoticed. The bottom end warmth that the M3 otherwise provides would be rolled out, and to that end I’m surprised this switch has no markings on it to indicate the ‘on’, ‘off’ or ‘high-pass’ positions.

There’s a second switch that’s well and truly idiot proof, however, and that’s the pad switch. This is located inside the mic just above the battery compartment, so you’ll need to unscrew the ‘silencer’ to access it. It offers 10 or 20dB reduction in mic sensitivity for those times when the input source is so loud that it distorts the front end of your signal chain.

SONICS

Sonically the Rode M3 offers a good balance of low-end voluptuousness and midrange clarity. It’s slightly clearer in the midrange, in fact, than the Rode S1 or a Shure SM58, and louder too – a vivid mic on voice that skilfully walks the tightrope between ‘open and clear’ and ‘harsh and bright’. It’s really good on speech recording in particular and because the barrel of the mic is long (and good-looking too) it would also make a handy all-rounder as an on-camera interview mic, I’d wager. To that end, handling noise of the M3 is reasonably good too, generating a slightly ‘ringier’ and more midrange-sounding handling disturbance than the S1, mainly due to the hollowness of the body. But you really need to be attempting a ‘Chinese burn’ on the mic before it’s really a problem.

The price of the M3 also makes it a pretty compelling option as an all-rounder. I’m not normally keen on talking about price in reviews, but in this case the overall value for money does seem to make it a pretty competitive option, and with a 10-year guarantee thrown into the bargain, it’s hard to fault. The M3 can happily be used in a vocal booth one minute and on location where there’s no phantom power the next. It’s not a specialised mic by any means – that is, of course, until you discover that, for your purposes, it’s perfect for X – but as a stock condenser I’d reckon a pair of these in the studio as overheads or room mics would be a good option (although I never had a pair to judge this properly). I say overheads in particular, not only because the one I had seemed to provide a really good overall sound above a drumkit, but the mic clip was so reassuringly strong, there was never any prospect whatsoever of the mic slipping out and hitting the deck. This might seem trivial, but I’ve often felt a sense of foreboding as I’ve walked away from a stereo pair that felt like they were going to fall the moment I turned my back!

The only difficulty I really had with the M3 was the tightness of the XLR connector at the base of the mic – the M3 had a bit of trouble with an Amphenol connector but no problems with a Neutrik. I’m not sure whether the tolerances of some modern mic connectors and XLRs are starting to cut things a little too fine, but it’s something to look out for.

The M3 is hard to fault overall. It’s versatile, projects an open midrange tone that’s good for speech intelligibility, and comes shipped as a total package that’s competitively priced. The elongated body of the mic itself looks good too and with the pop-shield in place could easily perform on-camera duties where ‘looks’ are important. Just be careful to ensure that the high-pass filter isn’t engaged accidentally and the mic should perform well for many years to come. And if something untoward does happen with it in the next 10 years, the Rode guarantee should see it right.

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