Review of the new RØDE NT1 Studio Condenser Microphone
I have to admit to a ‘Back to the Future’ moment when I heard that RØDE had released the new NT1. Was it not the NT1-A which was derived from the original NT1? And now we have come full circle and RØDE have reinvented the NT1.
But as we will see, the latest NT1 is no minor update but rather a completely new design save for the reusing of the NT1-A’s mesh grill.
Like so many others on the planet, I previously purchased an NT1-A, marvelling at how a microphone could have such a low self noise. Incredibly, we now have an even quieter microphone in the NT1.
The NT1 has a brand new 1” “HF6” capsule design which RØDE say has been developed with a focus on detailed midrange response, coupled with silky smooth high frequencies, and warm, round, bass reproduction. The capsule is suspended inside the microphone using a lightweight Rycote Lyre shockmount which offers greater isolation than the more traditional methods often employed in condenser microphone design.
RØDE and Rycote entered a partnership about a year ago and this has led to the use of Lyre suspension systems in many of Røde’s current microphones.
The NT1 bundle I reviewed, came with the optional SMR shockmount featuring a novel double-Lyre suspension system. The SMR enhances the existing superior vibration cancellation of Rycote’s Lyre system by using a smaller inner Lyre to act as a tensioning element. A washable metal double skin pop shield is also included with the same bundle.
As I had my NT1-A to hand, I had the opportunity to compare the two models side by side, so let’s get set up and do some recording …
Getting the NT1 ready to record, the first thing to say is that the new SMR shockmount is one of the best I have ever used, both in set-up and use. It’s really lightweight which means no tendency for boom arm droop and it’s also much easier to adjust than most types. The metal pop shield simply slides into a guide on the front of the shockmount. A big improvement on my NT1-A shockmount which is heavy and fiddly to adjust. I found the new double Lyre tensioning design very effective. It dampens the NT1 much more firmly than the old design and I can really see it coming into its own with much heavier microphones from the RØDE stable. There is a really clever cable ‘u-hook’ built into the SMR shockmount which keeps the mic cable tidy on its way to the mic amp.
The NT1’s aluminium body is well finished with a ceramic black coating on top of nickel plating for resistance against corrosion. At 440 grams it’s a little bit heavier than the NT1-A, but with no output transformer, still a relative lightweight.
On paper the NT1 specs look good. A single pattern cardioid condenser microphone with a large 1” capsule and gold-plated membrane. Ultra low noise transformerless circuitry with a JFET impedance converter coupled to a bipolar output buffer providing the low 100 ohms output impedance. Sensitivity is improved compared to the NT1-A and the frequency response is noticeably much smoother than the NT1-A, with just a single mild mid-hi boost starting very gently at around 4kHz, levelling out at 2dB up around 8kHz before it starts to fall off above 10kHz.
Even if you are used to the quietness of the NT1-A, the new NT1 is simply a revelation. I set it up in the middle of my studio, plugged it in to my mic amp, switched on the phantom power, turned up the mic amp gain, and sat silently, listening to the ambient room noise on headphones. I want to emphasise that ambient room noise is all you will hear, even at high mic gains; not even a whisper of self noise from the NT1. This is an uncannily quiet microphone! In practice this means you can throw away any need to close mic quiet sources just because of self noise considerations.
I guess I had expected the NT1 to sound more or less the same as the NT1-A but as we’ll see from my recording notes, there are some significant differences with certain sound sources.
Using only the NT1, I recorded a variety of acoustic guitar with a mixture of strummed and picked styles There is plenty of detail and I found that the low end is much improved compared the NT1-A. If you are looking for a fairly dry acoustic guitar sound to use in the middle of a busy mix, then single mic’ing with the NT1 about 8” away from the guitar works well. There is a complete absence of mid frequency hype. If you want to a bit more colour then I found it best to back off the NT1 by a couple of feet and use it in conjunction with a small diameter condenser.
Electric Bass Guitar
I’ve gotten into the habit of DI’ing bass guitar in my little attic studio so I thought it would be fun to set up the NT1 about a foot in front of my bass speaker and crank up the volume a bit. This was a revelation! Really great sound, plenty of low bass end response but absolutely not hyped. I spent a good 20 minutes remembering how good mic’ing bass guitar can be … with the right microphone. Although the NT1’s maximum input level is a little down from that of its NT1-A sibling, I had no level handling problems, even when the bass speaker was having a good work out.
Having had so much fun with bass guitar, I powered up my Les Paul Standard/Vox VT20+ combo. For comparison, I set up both the NT1 and the NT1-A about four inches from the speaker cloth, both staring at the speaker cone and both wired into identical mic pre’s.
The NT1 was a real star in this application; again a really full sound, fantastic body on power cords and beautifully detailed on lead. Whoever has worked on the frequency tailoring of this microphone has done a really great job. The NT1-A was fine, but by comparison, a little thin at the lower end. I love the NT1 on electric guitar.
I didn’t have the opportunity to get the NT1 across to my local commercial studio, so instead I set up the NT1 on a boom mic stand so it was angled down about a foot above my Djembe. Some time later (and with tired hands!) I noted that the NT1 handled both the level and dynamics of the Djembe with complete assurance and gave a very natural reproduction of this fantastic percussion instrument.
Having tuned up a collection of vocal chords, I turned the NT1’s attention to its most critical test. It’s well known that matching a particular vocalist to the right microphone can be a matter of trial and error. Few microphones ever fit the bill every time. So how did the NT1 fare?
As with all of the other sources I recorded with the NT1, I found the warm low end to be a major plus point for this microphone. It has a very smooth mid to low end transition and it really shows when recording vocals. The mid to high end transition is also extremely smooth leading to a nice hi-mid/hi end sheen. Important to note that the slightly over bright tendency, which has sometimes made the NT-1A difficult to make work well with some female vocalists, is absent on the NT1.
As an experiment, I recorded a repeating chorus with the singer gradually walking backwards away from the microphone (easier than working the fader!) and the combination of fine detail capture and ultralow noise made for a stunning and beautiful fade out effect.
So it a great microphone?
Balancing up performance against value for money, the RØDE NT1 is a winner. It’s modestly priced at a current street of just under £200 (around $270 in the US) for the package I reviewed.
But let’s get radical and throw away the price tag and look at the absolute performance of the NT1. After all, whilst it’s great to think you have purchased a great ‘budget’ mic, don’t you want to know how it stands up against all price categories?
Let’s get critical …
I wouldn’t hesitate to ‘first pick’ the NT1 for electric and bass guitar duties where it gave a warm, detailed and uncluttered sound. For electric guitar in particular, the solid low end and lack of mid frequency hype can bring real advantages when you come to put electric guitar into the mix. With acoustic guitar, I didn’t find the NT1 worked so well for me when close mic’ing; a tad too dry for my liking. I would almost certainly use it as a ‘distance’ mic in conjunction with a small diameter condenser, close mic’d for detail.
Percussion, at least with my djembe, gave great results, where the combination of smooth, slightly extended low end and good mid range detail worked very well. The NT1 captured the natural dynamics of this percussion instrument with great class.
Vocals is a more difficult call. Like most mics, the NT1 will work really well with some singers and less so with others. I found it a just a little lacking in warmth with some vocalists, but to be fair, that kind of sonic signature can cost ten times the asking price for the NT1, so I’m being over critical to compare.
So if you are in the market for an affordable, quality studio condenser microphone then you should pop an NT1 into your cart, you won’t be disappointed.
Many thanks to Source Distribution in the UK for providing the review sample.
Best features : well made, incredibly quiet, fine low end, good detail, fantastic shockmount, easy to set up and adjust.
Weakest points : little bit lacking in warmth for some vocal applications.
Rating : 8/10