I am increasingly being asked to recommend recording microphones to work with iPad recording apps, so it was timely that the brand new Røde NT-USB Studio Microphone dropped through our letterbox (not literally!) for review.
More and more songwriters are using the iPhone and iPad to record. Whilst you can record song ideas using the built in mic, they are of fairly lo-fi quality.
The smart solution for a ‘pickup and use’ mobile solution is to use a microphone with a built in USB interface and that’s exactly what the NT-USB offers.
The Røde NT-USB comes with an effective pop-filter, a high-quality stand mount with industry standard 3/8” thread, and a nice miniature tripod stand that allows the NT-USB to sit at a comfortable height on a tabletop. It’s a fairly heavy microphone, weighing in at 520g, but the design of the desk top tripod is up to the job and the semi-rigid plastic feet do a good job of isolating the microphone from any passing vibrations.
Completing the package is a decent length (6m) USB cable (which plugs into the base of the microphone) and a soft carry case.
The tech sheet specifies a cardioid pattern capsule with maximum handling level of 110db, a 96dB dynamic range (presumably limited by the 16 bit A-D converter used, and frequency response which is fairly flat except for quite a pronounced presence peak at around 5.5kHz.
A 3.5mm headphone jack is included which allows for zero latency monitoring of the recording source which we’ll go through in more detail in a moment.
The NT-USB does not require any special drivers so it is a case of plug-and-play. Whilst I tested the mic with my usual PC based Sonar DAW set-up, it’s important to note that the mic is fully compliant with Apple devices. For connection to the iPhone or iPad you’ll need to buy what Apple call the Camera Connection Kit which provides the Apple to USB interface. There are a variety of manufacturers offering these at quite low cost so you don’t have to buy from Apple. Best to read the reviews on Ebay.
For me there are a few essential features which a microphone of this type needs to provide.
The first is a way to derive a monitor mix which can combine both the source being recorded with playback of any previously recorded tracks. For this to work, the monitoring of the source needs to be at source and not looped through the DAW otherwise you get that really annoying echo effect which makes it impossible to perform. The NT-USB takes care of all of this very well. Zero latency monitoring of the source is provided and what’s more you have a really useful rotary control so you can balance the level of the source against the level of the already recorded material. The headphone amp has plenty of power which is a credit to a device being totally powered from the USB lead.
Both rotary controls have high quality metal knobs and are very smooth and reassuring to adjust.
The next essentials on my list are low noise and adequate dynamic range. Whilst the NT-USB uses a 16 bit A-D converter, you have the huge advantage of Røde’s expertise in designing low noise microphones. Whilst the NT-USB is not in the same ultra low noise class as the NT1, it provides a perfectly acceptable noise performance through the combination of its half inch capsule and low noise electronics. In use, this means you can achieve high quality recordings with no practical concerns about self generated noise from the microphone. There is no control provided on the microphone for mic gain so instead you adjust in the digital domain via the Windows control panel (System Preferences in MAC OS) or, if you are using an iPhone or iPad, within the recording app itself. During my testing I set the input level at around 70% of full scale and this provided a sensible balance between recorded sound level and margin against digital clipping.
Whilst recording a range of source material including voice, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar and some percussion, I found the NT-USB a delight to use. The microphone is very easy to place at a convenient operating angle and allows you to concentrate on the performance without having to fret too much about recording levels. The frequency presence peak has some similarities to the Shure SM57/58 family and in practice the microphone does a good job of capturing vocal performances, which is going to be important for the singer songwriters who are likely to find a USB mic and iPad package attractive. The bottom end is gently rolled off below 100 Hz and I didn’t find it necessary to use a Low Cut filter when recording. When used with the supplied pop shield, which I recommend, the proximity effect is modest and clear sparking vocal performances are more limited by the artist than by the microphone.
The supplied microphone stand mount and tripod have plenty of adjustment so its easy to adjust the capture angle for a typical recording of vocal and acoustic guitar.
Pricing was still being firmed up as we went to press but I understand the NT-USB will sit very competitively against its competitors in the USB microphone marketplace.
Would I buy an NT-USB to record with an iPAD? Yes I would. It’s well constructed, easy to set up, interfaces to your recording device without any drama, and sounds just fine.
With a two year extended warranty and a company that knows how to offers a quality product at an attractive price point. What’s not to like!
Best features : well made, easy to set up and adjust, captures vocals very well.
Weakest points : no control of mic gain in the analogue domain.
Rating : 8/10
Acoustic Principle: Pressure Gradient
Active Electronics: JFET impedance converter with
bipolar output buffer, A/D converter
16bit 48kHz, headphone amplifier
Directional Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Range: 20Hz ~ 20kHz
Dynamic Range: 96dB
Maximum SPL: 110 dB SPL
Power Requirement: USB 5v DC
Output Connection: USB
Net Weight: 520g