you feel the NT prefix has become synonymous with prolific mic production, it’d be with good reason. Rode continue their recent
prolific approach to new mic designs by releasing another stereo microphone package. It was only in last issue that the NT4 made
its grand debut – and a hard act to follow it is too. But Rode has indeed followed up that release with the NT5, which
presents a different slant on the idea of stereo recording. Unlike the NT4’s fixed XY capsules, the NT5 package comprises
a matched pair of microphones.
A Perfect Match. If you intend on performing a stereo recording with two microphones then it’s
rather important those two microphones are matched. (If you don’t have two mics that share the exact same characteristics
then you’re leaving yourself wide open to anomalies in the recording.) The NT5s are designed to
be just that – a matched, or identical, pair of microphones. This is their strong point and the aim of the Rode exercise.
All too often, buying matched microphones costs an arm and a leg... not in this case! The NT5 stereo mic package is unbelievably affordable.
Essentially, you get two matched cardioid condensers for less than the price of one of one mid-priced condenser. (The package
also ships with two mic clips
and windsocks that comfortably fit in a hard plastic case with inner foam lining.)
Stereo Cardioid Choices. So in the world of stereo miking what are the pros and
cons of using a integral stereo mic over a matched pair.
Well, conveniently, we can take a look at the Rode range
for a case in point. In the last issue, the NT4’s fixed XY
capsules at 90° was seen as a popular and solid stereo
miking technique – ready to go, ‘point and shoot’ convenience.
Now, the NT5 gives the user the power to alter
angles and distance between microphone
capsules. As a rule of thumb,
while it’s generally permissible to adjust angles between 80 and 130
degrees, doing so will have a considerable
bearing on the outcome of the
pick-up coverage. In short, decreasing
the angle between microphones increases recording coverage as well as centre image pickup. While the XY pair is indeed the most
popular stereo miking technique, the AB stereo recording method is also widely used. It seems to be the
preferred method for capturing overhead drum sounds. Each capsule is placed a foot or so apart, which has
the effect of covering large spaces with considerable fullness in semireverberant environments. However, stereo information
relies on time differences between the spaced mics and this lends rise to the possibility of phasing problems. Although this
phase difference is inaudible for low frequencies, it can become prominent for frequencies above 2kHz. Generally speaking,
the useful acceptance angle varies between 60° and 180° depending on the angle and space between the microphones. By decreasing
the angle between mics or the physical spacing, the coverage angle may be increased.
Stereo Cardioid Mic Techniques.
With a matched pair of mics at your disposal, you can tread in the footsteps of many an engineer over the decades, experimenting with a variety of
stereo techniques. Some of these techniques date back to the ‘50s
and hail from various countries. For example, the NOS method, was developed by the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation and takes two cardioid
mics spaced 30cm apart at an angle of 90°. The German DIN method also uses a 90° angle but with a mic spacing of only 20cm.
On the other hand, the OLSON method, which also uses 20cm spacing, employs an angle of 13°. The Italian Broadcasting Corporations
RAI method uses a spacing of 21cm at an angle of 100°. Finally, the ORTF method developed by the French Broadcasting Organisation places
two cardioid mics at an angle of 110°and 17cm apart. This system is the most popular as it provides a consistent sound for localisation
Slim ‘n’ Silver.
The NT5 is a compact mic – almost what you’d expect a hi-hat or overhead drum mic to look like. In fact, its size reminds me
of the now discontinued Neumann KM84. The diaphragm size is 0.5-inch, just like the NT4 capsules. On the side of the diaphragm are
sound ports needed for an operational cardioid pick-up pattern. At only 100 grams, the NT5 is certainly light yet feels solid and durable.
all-silver appearance, they do indeed look impressive. Apart from the customary Rode gold dot and a screw holding the body, a thin black
band at the base provides manufacturer details and a serial number. There are no other features to be had such as roll-offs or pad
options. Matching NT5s have consecutive serial numbers and this is the key to being assured of their bona fide status.
Specs. Considering the release of the NT5 is hot on the heels of the NT4, it’s not surprising
that both mics share similar specifications. Just like the NT4, the NT5 diaphragm is an externally polarised condenser transducer. Similarly,
its active electronics employ a JFET impedance converter with a bipolar output buffer. Like the NT4, frequency response is an attractive
20Hz to 20kHz – so the 0.5-inch diaphragm does not compromise on low frequency reproduction. To round off the other specs,
the NT5 has a maximum output figure of +13.9dBu, dynamic range is greater than 128dB, a healthy pounding of up to 143dB SPL can be managed
and a 12mV sensitivity rating is quoted – all very respectable figures.
I was very impressed with the sound of the NT4, and I must say the NT5 does it for me as well – both mics share many similarities
in design and specs and share an open and clean sound. Miking up an acoustic guitar is always a good litmus test for mics such as
these. Which is exactly what I did, using two approaches, both at a distance of approximately 50 cm. One was an XY pair (90 degrees)
and the other an ORTF setup. While the coincident miking technique proved to be stable in stereo, the ORTF approach provided a enhanced
image width. Much like AB, the increased stereophony seems more pleasing to the ear. I imagine that for the same reasons, AB miking
on drum overheads is considered preferable to an XY approach! Furthermore, the NT5 gives a sense of realism to the art of
reproducing an acoustic guitar. Colouration is kept to a minimum and I found the NT5 mics to be faithful to the original guitar sound.
Acting as drum overheads, the NT5 mics did not detract from the cymbal sound in any way. Upper frequency response was quite smooth
and I would personally rate them as good as a pair of AKG 451s. In short, I found the NT5s more
pleasing than a pair of Calrecs – plus there is the comforting thought that the NT5s are matched.
Out of interest, I tried one NT5 as a single cardioid microphone on vocals but I would not make it my first choice unless I was recording
a chorus of vocalists in stereo. While I
didn’t mind the sound, the NT5’s smaller capsule lacked the ambience of a large diaphragm condenser. However, I would
keep the NT5 on standby for an alternative vocal mic sound.
After all, ‘dimension’ within a recording can be achieved by using a variety of mics at various perspectives. Interestingly,
combining a single NT5 with a Shure SM58 on electric guitar in a 90 degree XY configuration provided excellent results– the sound
of a rugged up front dynamic along with the presence of a forgiving cardioid condenser worked very well. So while the NT5 is packaged as a stereo
mic kit, and NT5 in isolation can be more than handy.
Just the Two of Us. It’s hard to find fault with these matched NT5 microphones. These mics’ wide frequency
response and high SPL handling capability will make them a popular choice for a number of stereo (and mono) sound sources. But apart
from the NT5’s flexibility and sound, the price is probably its single most important feature. If you thought that experimenting
with various stereo microphone techniques was only the preserve of the rich, then think again – if you’re new to the
stereo miking game then now’s your chance to get your feet wet. The price also makes these mics an obvious addition to any
studio’s arsenal – the low cost really takes the umm’ing and
ahh’ing out of the equation. Again, Rode has spotted a niche and filled the void with
quality and affordability. I can’t wait to see what’s next!