Review: Rode M5 Matched Pair Pencil Condensers
Rode’s M5 matched pairs are a no fuss intro to stereo miking: small enough to fit in your back pocket, and handy enough to want to keep them there.
Rode has long held that its robotised manufacturing and surface mounting techniques are allowing better, or at least the equal of, tolerances any white-glove, hand-reared gadgetry can adhere to. And its M5 matched pair of pencil condensers is Rode’s ‘proof-in-the-pudding’. Making a matched pair is supposed to be a tough gig. Each mic that comes off the line is tested, its frequency response plotted and sensitivity measured, and then it goes into a holding pattern waiting to be married with the perfect X to its Y. Or custom modified to comply.
Either way, this mating game is a costly exercise, in that it forces a time gap between getting it built and putting it in a container. It’s typically why matched pairs command a little premium over just buying two of the same model. Rode, on the other hand, is flinging M5s out the door only in matched pairs and at a crazy price.
And it doesn’t appear Rode is simply relying on its tolerances to match them either. Every box of M5s comes with its own gold foil-embossed certificate to declare that specific pair of mics has been hand-selected with sensitivities closer than ±1dB of each other. You get a scrawly ballpoint pen signature authenticating its handpicked-ness. What you don’t get are two individually prepared frequency plots.
Putting them up on a couple of stands, directly over each other. I recorded a few passes while I shuffled around the mics giving them the best of my vocal range and playing acoustic guitar. Flipping the phase with mono monitoring and matching levels allowed me to get decent cancellation. Most of what was left seemed to be room reflections and a little bit of high frequency content. Flipping the phase back and listening to the two mics panned hard left and right, the image stayed very centred, which was a good sign for a decent matched pair. There were slight deviations to the sides when I had a high ringing overtone in the guitar, but overall they seemed very well-matched across the frequency spectrum.
NEED TO KNOW
RØDE StereoBar XY
SMALL STUFF ADDS UP
The M5s are permanently polarised, 1/2-inch condensers. They have a fixed cardioid pattern, with no interchangeable capsules. They’re also tiny at 10cm long, and featherweights in the hand. The lack of size is a big advantage when you’re trying to rig up a stereo configuration in a hurry. Together, they make up half the weight of a single large diaphragm condenser, so, even with a stereo bar on a normal mic stand you’re not going to battle a serious case of the droops. And unlike longer pencil condensers with shockmounts, you’re never going to run into problems trying to rig them up in ORTF configuration, which can be a right hassle sometimes.
The clips are also nifty, with a spring-loaded tensioner you can spin out of the way without it changing the mic’s angle.
While the M5s don’t come with a stereo bar, you can pick one up from Rode which is as good a stereo bar as any. Its ABS plastic construction seems particularly durable, and it has distance markings of 10, 15 and 20cm between the pair, as well as an ORTF marking at 17cm. Referring, of course, to the distance between capsules, not clips. In the middle of the bar are two angle markings, 90° for XY stereo and 110° for ORTF. It also comes with two snap-on spacers, just the right height to get a perfect XY setup. And because they snap on, you can go from XY to ORTF without having to unscrew your mic clips from the bar — perfect.
You can also grab a pivot adaptor from Rode to make the whole setup extra flexible, as well as deluxe fluffies if the included pop filters aren’t cutting it, and shockmounts too.
The perfect supplement to an existing mic collection that’s lacking a little width
A LITTLE BODY
The M5s are a no nonsense intro to stereo miking; a well-matched pair for next to nix. And without omni or figure-of-eight capsule options, its point-and-shoot level complexity with XY, ORTF or a spaced pair.
Compared to their more sophisticated brethren, the NT5s, the M5s have slightly higher noise (though at 19dBA equivalent noise, not high for a pencil condenser), and slightly lower SPL handling. But again, 140dB maximum SPL is nothing to sniff at. Suffice it to say, you’re not going to run into any issues in the studio or out in the field in most scenarios.
The quoted M5 frequency response graph is relatively flat up to 3kHz, with a broad 3dB bump centred around 8kHz. The M5s sounded good on most sources. They picked up the voice quite well and would make for a great field recording setup. Against tough competition, they didn’t have the body of the sE Rupert Neve RN17s we had in the office, but that’s a completely unfair comparison. Against more modest competition of an Oktava MK-012, they still lacked a little of that lower mid range, and felt a little artificial in the high end, but it was much more comparable. It was when switching between the sE mics and the M5s that you truly hear what you’re missing. It’s as if the sE balances out the transients better, allowing you to hear more of the detail, like hanging overtones in a guitar, without it getting masked by the downstrokes.
Depending on how you’re miking your kit, they wouldn’t be my first choice as overheads. Again, a lack of lower mid range body wasn’t helping the snare sit in the balance of the kit, but the high frequency response represented cymbals well, so they would make for a great spaced pair of cymbal mics if you weren’t relying on them for the kit body. They’re definitely not just another pair of bright microphones though, and easily capture a range of sources well. I found that EQ-ing a bit of low-mids back in helped bring the body back to a lot of sources without it getting boxy.
If you don’t have a matched pair of pencil condensers already, do yourself a favour and grab some of these. They’re the perfect supplement to an existing mic collection that’s lacking a little width. And you’ll want to pull them out of the cupboard at every opportunity, especially with the stereo bar, because they’re so simple to wrangle. Even without other capsule options, you can still attempt a wide variety of stereo positions.