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

 

RØDE NTKThe 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 NTK
Juni 2001

 

RØDE NTKANOTHER VALVE MICROPHONE, I hear you cry. Which one is this one pretending to be? Well, of course, many of the last few years' crop of tube models are deliberate mimics of old favourites, but that's perhaps not the pigeon hole into which you'd put Rode's offerings. The Classic and Classic II are very much their own microphones, overtly exploiting the perceived character of the valve but not specifically modelled on one type. The fact that they look a bit like a U47 but have the controls of a C12 serves to underline this. And now they are joined by a new, much simpler valve model whose only cosmetic similarities are to other Rode microphones. This is the NTK, physically resembling the NT1000 reviewed last month but having little in common electronically.

Like the NT1000, the NTK is a sleek microphone in more ways than one. The cylindrical tin-can shape of the Classics gives way to a slimmer, more streamlined housing, with a finer mesh grille and an elegantly unadorned body. To make room for the valve electronics, the tapering of the body shape on the 1000 gives way to a more straight up and down cylinder, but the similarities outweigh the differences. Rode is much more modest than some when it comes to emblazoning its name across its products; here it identifies itself only on the trim band around the base. In the place you might expect to see a name, the familiar Rode gold dot marks the front of the microphone.

Mounting the NTK on a stand is done in what has become the standard Rode way, using a mount attached to its base with a screw-down locking ring. The NTK comes with the basic SM-1 mount as standard but can also use the SM-2 suspension mount introduced with the Classic II. On that microphone the mount was clamped in place using the locking ring of the big multi-way connector, but here a much smaller cable is used so a separate ring is required.

The reason for the different cable is simply that the NTK doesn't have the operational complexity of the Classics. They are twin-capsule multi-pattern designs, with nine polar patterns switchable from the power supply; the NTK is cardioid only, with no switched functions at all, so all the necessary connections between microphone and power supply can be handled by a thinner cable with 7-pin XLRs both ends. This is much more manageable than the heavy cable supplied with the Classics.

The power supply too is straightforward, with no purpose apart from powering the microphone. Connections are on the back end of a relatively slim case, and comprise just the input 7-pin, the output XLR and a mains connector. A big on-off switch and the obligatory blue led indicator make up the front-panel complement on a box that can effectively be tucked away in a corner and forgotten about. The cable is quite generous in length, removing the placement restrictions that can sometimes be a problem with valve microphones.

When you put a valve in a microphone you generally end up in one of two camps. One approach is to make the most of the smoothness and transparency that good valve circuitry can produce; the other is to exploit what is commonly perceived as 'valve character' and deliver a particular type of presence. The danger with the first is that it might become just another neutral microphone, while the danger with the second is that it can acquire too much coloration to be a generally useful tool, being held in reserve for certain vocal jobs but even then sometimes being a bit too hard.

But the good ones manage to combine the best of both approaches, and the NTK pretty much achieves this. Here we have a microphone with enough bite and presence to make an attractive option for voices, yet with an overall silky smoothness that allows its use for classical instrumental sessions. I have had the NTK in use on a series of sessions for solo demonstration pieces, an ideal opportunity to try it on trombone, trumpet, clarinet, and others, all producing the kind of clean natural results the job needed. On the other hand, I put it up in a battery of others for a jazz vocal recording workshop, and it won the day on a couple of the voices that tried it, against other more neutral microphones. This is a combination of roles few manage successfully; it's what you expect of an M149, but a microphone at the price of the NTK ought to have traded one off against the other more than it has. Unless it's a misprint, the published frequency response is identical to that of the NT1000, but the difference in character just goes to show the extent to which frequency response only tells part of the story.

What it lacks of course is the flexibility of multiple polar patterns but since in most instances it would be likely to end up within a notch of cardioid anyway, this won't be seen as a disadvantage by many. Its SPL handling capacity means the lack of a pad is not a problem, and no-one's going to miss the high-pass filter. As an 'in' to what the quality end of tube character means, the Rode NTK is an attractive candidate.

     

 

Juni 2001

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RØDE NT1000 and NTK Microphones A Sure Thing Bruce Richardson, Senior EditorMarts 2001

 

Last time I reviewed a microphone, it ended up being a lesson in everything that's wrong with cheap large-diaphragm condensers. The ProRec mailbag exploded a few times, but we survived. Today, I get to tell you what's right. The RØDE NT1000 and NTK break the mold, with world-class specs and a smoothness that stands alongside microphones three times the price. On top of that, they're stunningly good-looking, with an over-the-top sturdiness that would serve as well in hand-to-hand combat as in the studio.

The Long Road to RØDE
These microphones, both based on the same edge-connected 1" capsule originally appearing in the NTV, represent a culmination of a long-term vision, according to RØDE president and founder Peter Freedman.
"We have spent so much developing these mics we are effectively betting the ranch," he says. "But hey, no one got anywhere in life by being cautious."
From his humble beginnings, yanking the cheap parts out of Chinese mics and replacing them with upscale components, Freedman's RØDE has always looked for a way to give the musician more mic for the buck. The NT2 and NT1 are the legendary results of that effort, mics which spawned many imitators. Quietly, Peter has spent the last several years and a goodly chunk of cash building one of the most advanced microphone manufacturing facilities in the world, and the NT1000 and NTK represent the most complete expression yet of his more-for-less design philosophy. They're the new generation of RØDEs, certainly a distillation of previous efforts, but just as much a departure. From the sturdy and elegant cases to the capsule mount, every element is a lesson in functional economy.
"The NT1000 and the NTK share the same transducer, the heart of the mic. It's the exactly the same capsule featured in our NTV, praised for its smoothness and rich bottom end, and is every bit as good as our flagship Classic II. With the same capsule, they have similar signatures, yet they're very different mics. NT1000 is as clean as a wide bandwidth FET design can be, with the lowest noise floor you can get. The NTK gives you the mellow tube tone, but with ultra-low noise."
The proof is in the listening, for sure. They sound fantastic. Startlingly fantastic, perhaps as good as any mic in the world. Certainly as good as any mic I have ever used, and yes that includes the obvious. But there's more. These microphones are ruthlessly whittled down to the very essence of what brings value to a mic. While delivering expensive condenser sound and serious electronics, they simultaneously explore an entirely elegant and logical product design that puts almost all the money where you can hear it and protects that investment for you.
When I tell you what they cost, you'll understand just why I'm pleasantly amazed at all this. The NT1000 lists for a scant $395, the NTK for $595. For this price, don't expect the Barbie lunchbox cases or shockmounts. You get a very serviceable mic stand adapter and a thick-skinned bag with the NT1000, add a hefty brick-sized power supply (with groovy blue LED) and 30 foot multipin cord for the NTK.

Read 'em and Weep
Let's talk about what you hear. Have a look at the amplification specs on these babies...

NT1000
Sensitivity: -36dB re 1V/Pa (16mV @ 94dB SPL) +/-1dB
Equivalent Noise: 6dB SPL (A-weighted per IEC268-15) +/-1dB
Maximum Output: +13dBu (@ 1kHz, 1% THD into 1k( load)
Dynamic Range: > 134dB (A-weighted, per IEC268-15)
Maximum SPL: > 140dB SPL (@ 1kHz, 1% THD into 1k( load)
Signal/Noise Ratio: > 88dB (A-weighted, per IEC268-15)

NTK
Sensitivity: -38dB re 1V/Pa (12mV @ 94dB SPL) +/-1dB
Equivalent Noise:12dB SPL (A-weighted per IEC268-15) +/-2dB
Maximum Output: > +29dBu (@ 1kHz, 5% THD into 1k( load)
Dynamic Range: > 147dB (A-weighted, per IEC268-15)
Maximum SPL: > 158dB SPL (@ 1kHz, 5% THD into 1k( load)
Signal/Noise Ratio: > 82dB (A-weighted, per IEC268-15)

These are world-class specs in every dimension, both in what you hear (lots of wide-ranging signal) and what you don't (noise). Lacking the equipment or inclination to pick nits with the published specs, I decided to do a little comparison listening.
I rang Rip to see what new and exciting mics we had in the house. Turned out we had a Shure KSM-44 and an Alesis AM-62 - a couple of hot little mics for sure. Both have gotten some good buzz, and both outprice these RØDEs by more than just a bit. The Shure lists for $1340 while the Alesis lists for $1499. To be fair, the Shure and Alesis are both multipattern mics, and the RØDEs are one-trick cardioids, so the price differential is somewhat hard to quantify.

But still, they were perfect foils for my purposes. I slapped them into cardioid mode with no pads or rolloff (the RØDEs have no switches whatsoever), hung all four in an array with identical preamps, then proceeded to scream, sing, whisper, bang, toot, and whack.

The RØDEs were total contenders. Matter of fact, they were champions.

The NT1000 was the clear gain-to-noise king, significantly quieter than the already quiet Shure KSM-44. Wow. The NTK was neck and neck with the Shure, within a fraction of a dB. Another wow. Remember, we are comparing a sizzly hot tube mic to a very quiet FET design. The expectation would be for the Shure to be significantly quieter. That makes the NTK is a stunningly quiet tube mic, perhaps more notable an accomplishment than the virtually silent NT1000.

The Alesis AM-62 was far behind the pack, being significantly noisier for less overall gain than any of the other three. Matter of fact, it was just not in the same league in any respect. Its sound was not what I'd call pretty or polished, and it lacked the quality I'd call "expensive smoothness" that the two RØDEs and Shure had in spades. I have a "vintage" Groove Tubes MD-1, and the Alesis "GT" is not even close to the quality of tone, and downright pathetic aesthetically compared to its gorgeous machined-stainless predecessor. Downright shocking, considering the price tag.

I can almost hear Lloyd Bentsen saying, "Sir, I knew Groove Tube. I worked with Groove Tube, and you are no Groove Tube."

But that's another review. Back to the stars of the show. Impressive performance is one thing, but it's the sound of these microphones that has me going. They are, in a word, awesome. The NT1000 has a lovely weighty presence about it, just ever so slightly much brighter than the KSM-44 in the highest mids. Vocals sat dead-still with sparkle and remarkable presence. Some hand drums I recorded came through in the mix with clarity and power. I wouldn't hesitate to throw up a pair of these mics for drum overheads in a room that could deliver the goods. They'd punch your lights out.

I recorded a Melodica solo that bit through a thick mix like gangbusters, without once getting the shrill quality that so many mics give the instrument. Everything I recorded with this microphone came out sounding exactly like I imagined it would in the mix, with no perceivable coloration of tone. Just a nice, big signal that takes compression and effects beautifully.

If you ever wanted a textbook example of what different amplification models can do, plugging in the NTK, with its identical capsule and high-end valve circuitry will get you there. As neutral and clean as the NT1000 sounded, the NTK takes that sound and builds a fire under it. What I noticed immediately was the expansive airiness and slightly excited quality overall. Where the NT1000 made my voice sound exactly true in the monitors, the NTK made it better than true. It gave me the feeling that I could hear the air rushing past my tonsils and the spit on my teeth. Not that it was harsh in any way at all, but just slightly bigger than life and slightly closer-sounding for the same distance to microphone. Imaging-wise, it gives a vocal a bit of spread and fullness without losing a bit of punch.

Some tube designs sound almost compressed. Not this one. The NTK will take serious maniacal screaming abuse and deliver up as much signal as you can use. The tube circuitry in this mic doesn't top out until well past the threshold of pain.

Don't get the idea that we're talking about a hyped sound. Matter of fact, if I had to pick a single word for the NTK, it would be smooth. Actually, smo-o-o-o-o-o-v. I would love to hear Barry White through this microphone. Hell, I sound like Barry White through this microphone. My wacky crummy voice took on this sheen that had air for days, yet for all the high energy there was no modulated sibilance whatsoever. I even stood there hissing like a snake till I got dizzy and needed a beer. It wasn't going to happen.

I got an amazing flugelhorn sound out of the NTK from about thirty inches--full and mellow, with a nice airy sheen and no muddiness at all. If I leaned in a little, and played soft, I got a great intimate whisper of a sound. That's a good sign. Flugel is one of those instruments that you struggle with. As beautiful as they sound, they bring out the worst in microphones. You either get too distant, which thins out in the mix, or too close, which thins out in the mix because you have to back it down to get the presence right. The NTK gets the sound you need to make the mix. That's usually the realm of far pricier mics.

Digging Below the Surface

Sound-wise, the choice to purchase either of these microphones is a no-brainer. They deliver world-class tracks on the cheap. But this is but one element of their charm. Overall, these microphones are standard-setters that the entire industry would do well to study.

Everything about them both belies and explains their price. The cases themselves are substantial works of engineering art, reminiscent in design and construction to the venerable solid-brass Switchcraft phone plugs (the ones that never go bad). A picture here is worth a thousand words.

There is a method to this madness. Crack open your average condenser microphone, and notice that you're looking at some serious hand assembly. That's money spent that has nothing to do with what you hear. Now look at these new RØDEs.

You just don't see too many mics that look anything like this on the inside.

It's the Economy, Stupid

The NT1000 and NTK are designed from the ground-up to mass produce. Henry Ford would love these microphones. They're marvels of design economy. They share a common interior cast unit, to which all the other parts attach. It's substantial, and you'd need a steamroller to damage it. The casting quality itself is first-rate, and the threads are silky smooth and perfectly pitched to task. It only takes a couple of quick turns to unscrew the outer case, also nicely cast with a champagne-colored nickel finish. It has a great glow, and it's about as hard as a brickbat.

The stand-mount retainer is nicely weighted, too, and threads on and off with ease. One of the subtle niceties here is simply the way everything feels--so sturdy and positive. They're very industrial-chic. You never have the feeling that you could possibly damage this microphone. As a point of comparison here, I took apart the Alesis AM-62, and this mic is positively wimpy and spindly inside. I could twist it completely apart in one flick of the wrist, and I mean easily. A little girl could tear it up.

You'd just twist the skin off your hand trying that with either RØDE. And the beautiful point of it all is this: such a great case probably cost Peter Freedman about 1/3 the price, because he was thinking. Parts mount and dismount from this thing like butter. I've had both of these mics totally (and I mean TOTALLY) apart and back together several times, and I never feel like I'm going to break or damage anything.

In all its naked glory, the capsule mount reveals more great design. Four screws hold the pop-screen assembly to the inner casting. Take those off, and the screen unit slides smoothly off with a little "schloop." Once it's off, you see the source of the schloop sound--the entire capsule is suspended on a black rubber diaphragm, which rib-seals the screen unit AND isolates the entire capsule housing from the rest of the case. But that's not all. On the picture, notice that there's a little white foam nub at the top of the diaphragm mount. When you place the screen unit on the case, this nub hits the top, depresses the black rubber just a bit, and you end up with a positively damped isolation system which is absolutely resonance-free.

Indeed, one of the things that shocked me about both mics was how well they rejected low-frequency physical resonances, especially with no built-in rolloff of any kind. Again, a good simple design which works, and saves money that can get rolled into better guts.

These are as simple to assemble as the lowliest of the workhorse dynamics. There are seven measly parts to slap into the NT1000, eight in the NTK. Faster assembly means less labor means more money for the parts that count. Every mic is a complex equation of the ordinary and sublime. For a given amount of money, you want to spend it mostly on the sublime, and the NT1000 and NTK put the sublime first by brilliantly executing every mundane detail of the ordinary.

An idiot could assemble this mic, so logical and simple is its design. I had both mics apart and back together in moments - we're talking ten screws and a setscrew for the jack. All the guts are designed to attach effortlessly to the solid-cast inner case. Back to the GT for comparison, I would be deathly afraid to take that thing apart for fear I'd never get it all lined up and back together without breaking something. The cheesy and flimsy plastic switches would be the first to go...I thought I'd break a couple of them off just getting the cover back on the thing. There is nothing on either RØDE mic you'd ever call cheesy or flimsy. They're tanks.

The circuit boards are robot-assembled surface-mount technology. By the way, the shot of the NT1000's circuit board is misleadingly simple. You only see the "tall" side. Underneath, there's a way-impressive surface-mount array, including the prized FETs, which interestingly enough, were originally developed for the CIA. I guarantee you, you've never seen mic guts that look anything like these.

What's in it for Me?

Bringing it all back to my original thought, these microphones are a great example of what's right and good in our industry. They are the polar opposite of the slew of what I'd call "exploitation mics." Everywhere you look, there are great-looking, mediocre sounding large diaphragm condensers. It's like a disease. Everybody wants to sell you a look, exploiting the profile of classy mics, but substituting dirt-cheap parts because they don't think you're smart enough to notice.

Not so with these. Not even close. Every aspect of the NT1000 and NTK is pure class. Instead of just trying to exploit the classics, RØDE has built a better mousetrap, designing a structure so elegant and so smart that the money saved can be reallocated towards stuffing these great cases with some of the best sounding electronics you've ever heard.

This is what it's all about. This is what we wish every manufacturer would do - be artists and scientists first, and trust that musicians will recognize quality when they see it. Kudos to RØDE for bringing back a little class to a marketplace that's gotten downright depressing.

I don't see how anyone could miss it. This is everything that's right with microphone design, and then some. I cannot say enough good things about these mics, and I'm damn hard to please. They are top-notch, they have a voice all their own, and quality far above the asking price. They break ground. Don't buy a new large diaphragm condenser without listening to the NT1000 and NTK. But be prepared. Once you've heard them, you'll have a hard time letting go of either one. At less than a grand for the pair, maybe you don't have to.

Don't take my word for the sound. Please. Go listen to these mics yourself. Stand on something soft, so your jaw won't get bruised when it hits the floor.

     

 

Marts 2001

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