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RØDE NT-1000

 

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Røde NTK and NT1000 Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mics By Emile MenaschéOktober 2001

 

The availability of affordable, large-diaphragm condenser microphones stopped being news a while ago, but it hasn't stopped being noteworthy. When you consider the fact that classic entry-level condensers from the likes of Neumann, Telefunken, and AKG once cost as much as a small digital mixer does today, you realize just how important a role the low-cost condenser has played in the democratization of the recording biz.

Røde Microphones was among the first companies to make the high-end mic manufacturers sweat. Many low-cost, large-diaphragm condensers looked the part, but sounded as though there was Scotch tape across your tweeters, but those first Rødes sounded credible; if not world class, certainly legit enough for a real recording.

But, if those seminal Rødes might have been characterized as "nice mics for the money," the tube NTK and its FET sibling, the NT1000, do away with the qualifiers. These are impressive microphones; the fact that they happen to be a bargain is just the icing on the cake.

Basic Features
Both mics are austere but elegant in design, and share many of the same basic components. Each has a one-inch capsule with a gold-plated membrane. Each is housed in matte-silver casing that's somewhat reminiscent in look and feel to a Neumann U 87, a much sturdier package than the early Røde models. Each mic screws securely into a basic yolk that offers some flexibility in positioning. The capsules are internally shock-mounted (an external shock mount is an optional extra). I tested them through a Millennia HV-3 preamp, with and without outboard compression, recording a variety of acoustic and electric sources.

Each offers a fixed-cardioid polar pattern and no other switches or controls - no pad, no low-frequency roll-off. While the fixed polar pattern probably won't matter in 90% of recording situations, the absence of the pad and roll-off could be more of an issue in how you use these mics in high SPL situations (the pricier Røde Classic II offers nine switchable polar patterns and high-pass filtering). That said, both mics are tough customers when it comes to handling hot signals - the NT1000 can deal with 140 dB SPL, the NTK with a whopping 158 dB. Even more important, both mics proved themselves versatile, reproducing both high- and low-level signals with integrity and color.

NTK
Tube mic technology has had a nice resurgence in recent years, and not just because of the vintage sentimentalism that seems to be a byproduct of digital technology. Tube mics are quieter, more reliable, and better sounding than ever before - welcome news to anyone who's suffered while vintage tube hiss ruined an otherwise breathtaking sound.

The NTK is the quietest tube mic I've ever heard. In fact, with a reported signal-to-noise ratio above 82 dB, it rivals or outdoes many world-class solid-state mics. That's especially good news because the NTK's combination of robust sound and sensitivity makes it ideal for featured tracks in a sparse arrangement. The NTK captures vocals and acoustic guitar with all the intimacy and immediacy you'd want, bringing out the timbral nuances of the source with clarity and warmth. That last adjective is overused - we've all head marketeers say something sounds "warm" when, in fact, it sounds muddy or dull, but the NTK's warmth is genuine - fat, but with ample high-end detail. The mic has a nice proximity effect, adding depth to the low mids without overwhelming the sound. It yielded exceptionally good results with an electric guitar amp. On playback, I felt like I was standing in front of the amp's cabinet, not a pair of nearfields. The NTK produces a hot signal - the Millennia's input control never needed to go above 2. It's amazing what a strong mic signal can do for the rest of your signal chain.

Setup is easy. Like most tube mics, the NTK comes with an external power supply. You connect the mic to the power supply via the supplied 30-foot seven-pin cable and connect the power supply to your mic preamp via a conventional XLR cable. The power supply house switches to lift ground and to set the voltage for the country you're in, but has no other controls. The power supply itself is quiet enough to position close to the mic, but the 30-foot cable also gives you the option of keeping the line from power supply to preamp as short as possible.

The NT1000
Tubes might garner all the glamour, but the FET NT1000 is no less impressive than the tube-driven NTK. In fact, it has even better noise specs (>88 dB), while boasting a similarly impressive capacity for handling high SPL and dishing out hot signal.

The NT1000 sounds more "open" than the NTK. It offers a fair amount of space in the upper midrange, giving sources such as acoustic guitar and female voice detail and sparkle without making them sound hyped or strident. It also worked very well on a midrangey male vocal from both moderately close and very close mic positions. I did have to throw a pop screen in front of the mic to handle the worst plosives, but that's true of most sensitive mics.

Like the NTK, the NT1000 works well with a variety of dynamic material (in fact, thanks to their high sensitivity, low noise, and wide frequency response, both these units would serve well as room mics). I was especially impressed by how the NT1000 captured a violin (positioned about 24 inches above the instrument) and a tin whistle. Both can sound shrill, but the NT1000 managed to get their detail without any harshness. It also worked well on electric guitar; it favored the upper mids more than the NTK, but lacked some of the tube mic's punch. The NT1000 handled drums quite well, capturing the attack and resonance of a floor tom; unfortunately, this is one area where I wished the mic had a pad - it was hard to avoid overdriving my recorder's inputs, even with the Millennia turned all the way down.

A Pair Of Winners
Working with the NTK and NT1000 is a little like dating great-looking twins. Both mics excel at a variety of tasks while offering exceptional specs. Perhaps their most impressive quality is their ability to handle a wide dynamic range of material. Many condensers can do a great job on intimate vocals and acoustic guitar, while others can handle drums, electric guitar, and the Screamin' Jay Hawkins school of singing, but very few can do both things well; these do. When it comes to bang for the buck, the NTK and NT1000 are in a class by themselves.

Emile Menasché used both Røde mics to record the following over and over: "I will not buy more gear, I will not buy more gear."

SUMMARY: Both the Tube NTK and the FET NT1000 raise the performance bar for affordable large-diaphragm condensers - in fact, they compare favorably to mics costing two and three times more. Thanks to their ability to handle a wide range of material and impressive audio specs, the only time you'll be aware of these mics' relatively low price is when you check your bank balance - after you've bought them.
STRENGTHS: Excellent sound. Wide dynamic range. Ability to handle high SPL. Hot output. Low self-noise.
WEAKNESSES: Fixed polar pattern. No pad or high-pass filtering.

     

 

Oktober 2001

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RØDE NT1000 AND NTK BY TY FORD

Juni 2001

 

Anyone who lurks the newsgroups on the Internet knows that I'm highly opinionated when it comes to audio. And, in the years since I reviewed the RØDE Classic mic, the company's president, Peter Freedman, and I have occasionally exchanged e-mails concerning various audio topics. Microphone self-noise and mic-to-mic consistency were frequent topics during those conversations.

After Neumann debuted its TLM103, I remember telling Peter that, not only did the TLM103 have the lowest self-noise I had ever heard (7 dBA), but it also had about a 6dB higher output (sensitivity) than most other mics at that time. Low self-noise is appreciated by those who record digitally, especially if the sound sources are quiet. A mic with higher sensitivity further reduces the audible self-noise of a mic relative to the signal, because as you crank back on preamp gain, the self-noise also recedes. It's a positive double-whammy.

I mention this because, in one of our earlier conversations about another mic, Peter projected self-noise figures for his next mics to be in the low teens. But, given the performance of the TLM103, I felt 12 dBA might be too high, especially if sensitivity was not at least equivalent. As a result, when the RØDE new NT1000 and NTK mics arrived, one of the first things I checked was self-noise.

During my evaluations, I used both GML and Aphex 1100 preamps at my studio and API preamps at Flite Three Studios here in Baltimore. I compared the two mics with each other and with a Neumann TLM103, U87i and U87ai. The U87i is the earlier model with higher self-noise and lower sensitivity than the U87ai. In every situation, both the NT1000 and NTK had lower self-noise than either U87. The solid-state NT1000 exhibited about the same self-noise as the TLM103, and the tube NTK a bit higher. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

ESSENTIALS
The RØDE NT1000 is a 1-inch, externally polarized, cardioid-only, JFET condenser mic with transformerless output and wedge grille. Its output impedance is 100 ohms. Sensitivity is stated at -36 dB ref. 1V/Pa (16 mV @ 94dB SPL) ±1 dB. Equivalent Input Noise (EIN) is 6 dBA weighted ±1 dB. Maximum output is +13 dBu A-weighted. Maximum SPL is greater than 140 dB (1 kHz/1% THD). The NT1000 requires a phantom supply capable of 35 to 53 VDC at 6 mA. The mic comes in a zipper pouch with a sturdy clip.

The RØDE NTK uses the same externally polarized, cardioid capsule with a twin triode Sovtek 6922 tube (with a real socket, not just leads and pins) and a cylindrical grille. Its output impedance is 200 ohms. Sensitivity is stated at -38 dB ref. 1V/Pa (12 mV @ 94dB SPL) ±1 dB. EIN is 12 dBA weighted ±1 dB. Max output is greater than +29 dBu (1 kHz/5% THD). Maximum SPL is greater than 158dB SPL (1 kHz/5% THD). The NTK is powered by a universal 110/120/220/240 VAC, 50/60Hz external power supply and comes with a 30-foot multiconductor cable that connects the mic to the power supply. A shock-mount is optional.

UNDER THE GRILLE
To get inside each mic, remove a large, heavy-duty cast circular nut at the base and then unscrew the body shell. Both the NT1000 and NTK use the same sturdy, cast metal, satin nickel body. Although the metal mesh grilles are of different dimensions, they both consist of the same coarse outer mesh and finer inner mesh.

From the inside, it was easy to tell that these mics were definitely not part of the “extended family” of mics made in China that are currently flooding the low end of the market under at least half a dozen different names. The body and frame are of a much higher-grade construction, and machining is more precise. Screw threads are tighter, without binding. Six screws hold the PC boards in place, where others might use only four. Circuit, solder and component work is very clean. In the NTK, two small Phillips screws hold down a “keeper” that holds the vacuum tube firmly in place. Changing tubes is almost as easy as changing flashlight batteries. Neither mic has pad or roll-off EQ.

Four small screws hold the grille in place. Once removed, the grille slips off to reveal the capsule. The brass-rimmed, 1-inch, double-diaphragmed capsule is mounted in a plastic housing. The housing attaches to a flexible rubber-like dome that's mounted on the top of the cast frame. A small piece of cylindrical foam — similar in shape to those foam earplugs we've all come to enjoy — sits at the very top of the capsule frame and touches the inner part of the grille, presumably functioning as a resonance damper.

IN THE STUDIO
I first compared the NT1000 with a Neumann TLM103 through two channels of a GML preamp. The TLM103 is about 3 dB more sensitive than the NT1000. When the preamps were adjusted for equal output, the NT1000 had slightly more self-noise; maybe 1 dB more. The TLM103 has more bass proximity effect than the NT1000, but its LF response becomes more similar as the distance between the mic and source exceeds a foot.

The NT1000 has a bit higher or broader peak in the 4 to 6kHz range than the TLM103. While that can add a nice zip to a muted or “natural” source, it can also increase the incidence of sibilance. If a singer or V/O artist is already sibilant, then the NT1000 will certainly not mask or mitigate the sibilant energy.

Moving to the Aphex 1100 preamp, the NT1000 performed similarly, with slightly less brightness across the sibilant range. The TLM103 exhibited more bass, low mids and chest tones at distances of a foot or less. At this point, the NT1000 reminded me a bit of my first experiences with the Soundelux U95 with regards to its frequency response and overall sound.

When I brought the NTK into the mix, I found it about 3 dB more sensitive than the NT1000, with a similar frequency response, but not quite the edge of the NT1000. The NT1000, NTK and TLM103 have similar axial responses; losing HF response at about 45° off-axis and rejecting sound similarly from the rear, but the NTK has a slight HF peak at the very center of the back.

At Flite Three Studios, with engineers Louis Mills and Mark Patey lending their ears, we put the NT1000 and NTK up against a Neumann U87i. Listening through API preamps, we determined that both RØDEs were more sensitive than the U87i, with the NTK slightly more sensitive than the NT1000. Again, the NT1000 had the least self-noise, followed quickly by the NTK. Both RØDEs had a bit brighter edge than the U87i, and in Mills' and Patey's own words, made the U87i sound less clean and less crisp.

Mills and Patey found many reasons to prefer their U87i over many mics I have brought through their doors over the years. The unprintable invectives that followed their appraisal of the RØDEs made it clear that they were not pleased by finding they liked the RØDEs as well as they did. In our key jangle test, the NTK absorbed the transients more gracefully, followed closely by the U87i and, more distantly, the NT1000.

Back at my studio, I compared both RØDEs with Flite Three's U87i through my GML and Aphex 1100 preamps to see what difference the preamps made — not much. The U87i was woolier, the NT1000 clearer and slightly brighter. Over time, I became bothered by the self-noise of the U87i, because it veiled the low-level detail that was audible with the NT1000 and NTK.

I began to wonder what the newer U87ai would sound like and subsequently borrowed one from Bob Bragg at Producers Video. The newer U87ai was about 8dB louder than the U87i, and had noticeably less self-noise when adjusted for equal output. The older U87i had a slightly peakier presence range, but they were very similar otherwise.

Through the GMLs, the NTK was 3 to 4dB less sensitive than the U87ai, but when adjusted for equal level, the U87ai still had slightly more self-noise. It also had that same upper-bass, lower-mid presence of the older version. The NTK retained that 5kHz edge that Mills and Patey liked. The performance through the Aphex 1100 was very similar.

For day-to-day use, both RØDEs should do quite well, as long as you don't put them up for sources that are too bright and edgy already. Even with the reduction in LF proximity effect relative to the TLM103, the LF response of both mics is not puny. In one appraisal a few years back, I remember having to pull 200 Hz down by 4 dB to slim the bottom of a TLM103 down to that of a U87. During my evaluation, someone mentioned that using the same mic on all instruments in a multitrack production often resulted in an unwanted build-up of “signature frequencies” of the mic itself. To that end, given their differences, the RØDEs should do well in any session with U87s.

Both the $599 NT1000 and $999 NTK are examples of excellent efforts from RØDE. Based on specs and clearly audible quality of sound in the studio, these mics cannot be ignored. Besides their mutual Australian heritage, these mics seem to have a lot in common with Russell Crowe's character in Gladiator. He was a clear and easy winner in the small towns, but found the ante a lot higher in Rome. He learned to win the crowd and, in doing so, gained an advantage and power. With these mics, RØDE has beaten the low-cost, Sino-capsule market at their own game. To stay in the “Big Ring,” RØDE needs to hammer the market with mic-to-mic consistency and quality service, as well as price. If they can maintain the product, then it's only a matter of time.

     

 

Juni 2001

 

 

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Rode NT1000

Maj 2001

 

RØDE NT-1000WHEN RODE STARTED OUT it looked as though the company had every intention of sticking with the one idea for as long as possible, enjoying its deserved success. More recently we've seen a sharp upturn in the new products curve from Rode, with specialised models of various kinds and significant upgrades on established models. Now we have two new models alongside each other, cosmetically similar but technically very different. One is a new twist on the valve theme; here we're looking at a much simpler straightforward solid-state condenser model, the NT1000. Bad luck Microsoft, you'll have to think of a new name when the fixes, sorry upgrades, get that far.

Rode has apparently employed an image consultant. Gone are the plain functional boxes that the microphones used to be supplied in; in their place are fancy colour printed boxes announcing the microphones to be Recording Artistes and depicting them mounted in a picture frame against a painted backdrop. I only hope we're not paying too much for them, as they're almost certainly going to find themselves in the bin within minutes of the microphone being unpacked. Inside, in the case of the NT1000, is the microphone, a stand mount and a soft carrying pouch, complete with a little bag of silica gel for drying--always worth keeping with the microphone in my view.

Rode has cleverly decided to settle on a standard system for mounting its microphones on to stands, so that the same mounts can be supplied with every model. Part of what constitutes the difference between the expensive models and the less expensive ones is whether or not you get both types supplied as standard. The NT1000 comes with just the simple one, a ring that attaches to the base of the microphone body by means of a big knurled nut, with a swivel locked with a substantial handle. And there's a thread adaptor--why can't they all give you one? The SM2 suspension mount, supplied as part of the package with the big valve microphones, is an optional extra here, and if it's man enough to support the Classic II it clearly won't have any problems with the NT1000, even at nearly 700g in weight. On the other hand, the capsule already has shock mounting fitted internally so should be reasonably immune to being knocked about without having to buy the SM2. There's no windshield, not even as an optional extra.

The specifications make interesting reading. Although the instructions don't trumpet it, Rode is proud of the noise figure, which is an impressive 6dB SPL. At the other end it can handle over 140dB SPL at 1% THD, giving a dynamic range of 134dB. Its frequency response is clearly intended to have a character rather than to make the NT1000 a neutral all-purpose unit; a smooth low and mid spectrum gives way to all kinds of lumps and bumps at the top end from 2kHz upwards, with a peak at 12kHz no less than 6dB up. It's 4dB up at 5k, so it's clearly meant to have a strong presence, although the drop off back to 0dB at 20kHz should avoid harshness.

Operationally it's the simplest configuration possible: a fixed cardioid polar pattern, and no filters or pads at all. Cosmetically this results in a very sleek appearance, with the make and model quite modestly displayed on a black band around the bottom of a satin nickel body. The front is identified in traditional Rode fashion by a gold dot below the grille, and the grille itself is clearly pretty heavy duty. On some Rodes the grille is a bit coarse, but here it's smooth and close-woven--the spec says it's welded and heat-treated. Overall the impression is of a solidly-built, elegant microphone in the classic tradition.

The sound the NT1000 produces bears out what both its appearance and the specifications would suggest. This is a highly capable and versatile sound, which is smooth enough to be used for a wide range of applications but with the kind of presence emphasis that seems to be Rode's trademark. It's not hard and it's not extreme, but it definitely favours certain instruments, and makes the NT1000 a very appealing vocal microphone. It has that lift around the vocal presence region that pushes a voice forward in the mix without EQ, but it stops short of emphasising sibilance or excessive edge. This same characteristic makes it worth trying on acoustic guitar, where its other attribute, the very low noise, comes into play. This is indeed a quiet microphone, with a noise floor that lies well below 16-bit dither levels even at high gain, unlike the standard model I was using as a comparison.

The flip side of the presence coin is often an apparent loss of depth, and on some sounds this starts to manifest itself here. You wouldn't want to put a pair of NT1000s up on an orchestra, but then it probably wouldn't occur to you anyway. But on most things the impression is of a very complete sound, with nothing lacking anywhere and this distinctive forwardness that can be so useful.

Priced just under the original NT2, this is not a cheap microphone by today's standards, but there's nothing cheap about the way it's put together or the way it sounds. There's real quality here, coupled with a useful sonic contour that is rarely restricting and subtle enough to allow the NT1000 to become a popular all-rounder.

     

 

Maj 2001

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