RØDE NT1 CONDENSER MICROPHONE — AudioTechnology
The NT1, the beginning of it all for Rode, is back… in black. And Rode is really flexing its manufacturing muscles.
Review: Mark Davie
The NT1 is Peter Freedman’s good luck charm. Peter is Rode Microphones’ owner and it was the mic that started it all: the one that put him on a path out of debt, a path that saved his father’s business, and on which he built his own empire. It’s almost like he feels he owes it to the little mic to keep perfecting the idea of what the NT1 can be. As Rode grows, so does it.
The original NT1 wasn’t much to speak of. A Chinese import, before Chinese imported microphones were ubiquitous. He imported 20 as a hail mary pass at solvency. Cracked them open, realised they were crap, fixed them up and went about trying to sell them. The ‘U87-copy’ market was ripe for the picking, and the promise of the NT1 led to to his next mic, the NT2, which gave him a foothold in the American market, and things really started taking off for Rode microphones.
Shortly after, Rode radically reversed its business plan. While everyone else was importing more and more Chinese capacitor microphones, Freedman became dedicated to the idea of wholly designing and manufacturing all Rode microphones in Australia. The company’s Silverwater plant quickly grew into a full-service manufacturing facility. And Rode continues to build on its manufacturing expertise. In 2012, Rode launched the Rodeworks design facility. A slice of Sydney’s CBD turned into a designer hub for product and design innovation. It’s been working overtime, delivering svelte new packaging, and some ground-up new and redesigned products. The NT1 is one of the first beneficiaries of this intensified focus on design.
BACK IN BLACK
The most noticeable departure for Rode is the move to black. Rode has released live and broadcast products in black, but up until the NT1, M3 and M5 pencil mics, all Rode’s studio mics had followed the classic European mic tradition of plated-metal housings or, at least, metallic tones. It was a function of the Neumann/AKG/Telefunken tribute. Once again, the NT1 leads the way. It’s a proper one-inch condenser Rode has voiced to sound like a classic mic, without looking like one.
The black finish is not just a gimmick, it’s the final ceramic coating on top of a machined 6061 aluminium body that’s first plated in nickel so it won’t corrode. The military-grade black coating is super durable, so you won’t be scratching it off in a hurry or greasing it up with fingerprints. Also, Rode has stopped using stickers for branding, which is a good thing.
A NEW LEVEL OF SHOCK
One of Freedman’s strengths has always been his ability to get a deal done, and strike up golden relationships. Rode’s partnership with Rycote is one of those. Initially, the relationship was devised as a perfect partnership around Rode’s dominance in the camera-top microphone market, and Rycote’s longtime mastery of the top of the boompole. But the relationship has since spilled over into Rode’s other lines, resulting in the new SMR shockmount, which is packaged with the NT1, but also compatible with most of Rode’s side address condensers. It uses Rycote’s Lyre system, twice. The larger Lyre takes care of the hard work, while a smaller, inner version acts as a tensioning system to keep the Lyre in the neutral position where it’s most effective. The NT1 also has a small internal suspension system. All three elements provide pretty effective isolation, enough to eliminate all stand-borne vibrations, and heavily dampen the effect of tapping on the stand. But best of all, there’s no rubber or elastic bands in sight, and the Lyre system won’t sag or lose shape over time.
Also included in the suspension mount is a removable pop filter. A double-thick fine mesh number that is as good as any pop filter on the market. It slides snugly into the shockmount’s protruding lower lip. At first, the lip might seem problematic for placement, but it’s not too much bigger than a standard shockmount, and eliminates the annoyance of trying to get a rogue goosenecked pop filter to stay in place. The fixed positioning means no matter how many times you have to alter the mic position, the pop filter will always be in the right place. If you really need to get the mic closer to a source, or just can’t fit the shockmount through a particular drum crevice, you can grab the optional Rode RM2 ring clip.
Lastly, and probably the most brilliant of all, is the tension system. Instead of the same old friction plate design we see in almost every mic clip, suspension mount and mic stand on the market, the SMR shockmount uses a cylinder tension system. When you tighten the mount, it squeezes the cylinder all the way around, making for a much more effective tightening system that easily holds up the mic, and requires much less force. There are a few things about the SMR shockmount that should become industry standards, and that’s definitely one of them.
The NT1 is a single diaphragm, fixed cardioid condenser. It would be tempting to say it’s a progression on the current NT1-A, but the only aspect the two have in common is the grille. What you get instead is a whole lot of design for a $300 mic. While 20 years ago, surface-mounting used to be frowned upon as technicaly inferior, these days it’s allowing manufacturers like Rode to push the boundaries of what’s capable in a mass-produced microphone. In fact, the quality of the technology has enabled Rode to design a mic with even lower self-noise than ever before — far from inferior. The first NT1 had 25dBA of self-noise, which was “kinda like hearing a shower in the background compared to what we’re doing now,” said Freedman. Rode has got that figure down to 4dBA with the NT1, which is as good as that spec gets at the moment. You will essentially never be hearing noise from this mic, especially in home studios, where a lot of these mics will end up.
The entire capsule has been designed from scratch. Rode has dubbed it the HF6. The HF1 capsule is the one found in the NT2000 and K2, which was Rode’s first tilt at really trying to nail the vintage capsule sonic signatures. So the NT1 follows that development train of thought, and is the better for it.
The sensitivity of the NT1 is a little bit higher than the NT1-A, nothing untoward, but you might find you’re putting the pad on a little earlier. It’s well-equipped to be able to take a hit up to 132dB SPL. When you add all this up, the NT1 is a sensitive, low-noise mic, that will pick up detail for days before you’ll hear noise, but isn’t your first-choice kick mic. It’s perfectly suited to vocals, capturing every nuance, with the assurance a decently-high maximum SPL and that double grille windscreen will keep any peaks in range.
It has a much smoother frequency response than the NT1-A, with a little less resonance up top. But definitely not a dead mic.
With its reduced top end, on acoustic guitar you hear more of the woody mid tones, whereas the NT1-A picks up a bit more boom and pick action — just generally more scooped. Though more pronounced in the mid range, the NT1 managed to stay out of that boxy territory, and captured a nice even, dare I say it, natural sound. It was actually one of the better large diaphragm condensers I had around for reproducing what I know the guitar to sound like. I may not have selected it all the time. The NT1-A was more flattering on picked parts, where the scooped sound really brings out the low resonance you often need to carry the root notes, but with more high-end to pinpoint the picking and make it seem more open. Which was the opposite of what I wanted when recording chordal rhythms. The two flavours aren’t a bad pairing to have around.
The NT1 handled vocal duties marvellously. It was much easier on the sibilance, which can often be a problem with the current crop of brightly-voiced condensers. It could do with a bass rolloff switch. While I’m at it, a pad switch would be nice too. There again, if I had to choose, I’d rather have the shockmount, sound and build-quality for this price.
The NT1 is a great mic, and not just for the money. It’s voiced with less emphasis all-round, which makes it a great all-purpose mic. It’s part of what made the U87 a classic in the first place — it just works, a lot of the time. But this is no slavish emulation, Rode has managed to capture that essence of a real workhorse with the NT1. When you wrap the fact you get a completely professional-level shockmount and pop filter thrown in, which is nothing to be sniffed at, the value just keeps getting better.