One of the many issues concerning podcasters, both new and seasoned, is choosing the right equipment for our needs. This becomes somewhat of an obsessive process for audio engineers such as myself who always hesitate to supply a quick answer to that burning question:
Which microphone should I buy?
Just typing those words makes me shudder. And the reason is because of the only honest answer I can provide. It depends.
That said, I’m going to embark on a series of reviews to point podcasters in a clear direction to suit their particular needs. These will be reviews on a combination of software, services, and equipment that I both use and clients ask me about purchasing. The first review I was asked to do a few weeks back is the new-to-market, Rode NT-USB microphone. And heck, any excuse to break out the credit card and expense some gear is a good one!
Rode NT-USB Condenser Microphone
Geek Stuff (source: Rode Microphones)
The NT-USB is a highly versatile side-address microphone that is ideal for recording singing and musical performances in addition to spoken applications such as podcasting and voice-over.
It is fully compatible with all mainstream recording applications on both Windows and Mac OS based computers, as well as the Apple iPad using RØDE Rec, GarageBand, or any other recording app that accepts an external microphone. Use on the Apple iPad requires a suitable USB connection adaptor, such as the Apple Camera Connection Kit.
The body of the NT-USB features a zero-latency stereo headphone monitoring (3.5mm) jack, which allows you to monitor the microphone input in realtime, along with dials to adjust the monitoring level and mix between the computer/iPad audio and the microphone input.
A premium pop-filter is included, which fits onto the base of the mic, positioning the filter the ideal distance from the capsule to minimise plosives (hard ‘B’, ‘T’ or ‘P’ sounds that produce a harsh sound) during singing or speech. Also provided is a high-quality stand mount with industry standard 3/8” thread, desktop tripod stand that allows the NT-USB to sit at a comfortable height on a tabletop, and a pouch for storage of the microphone when not in use.
The Look - Unboxing this microphone can be summed up in one word: sexy. This is a simply gorgeous looking microphone. The matching pop-filter beautifully matches the capsule. It looks super professional and feels rock solid. Your neighbors will be impressed.
Ease of Use - As with any USB mic on the market coupled with a modern operating system, setup is as easy as plugging in and selecting the Rode USB as an input/output device for your given audio software. For the most basic setup, one can easily open Windows Sound Recorder or Apple’s Quicktime and go. Those with a more advanced DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) such as Adobe Audition, Logic, ProTools, etc, will be able to select the Rode as your sound device.
Since the pop-filter is perfectly matched and positioned, it’s only a matter of good mic placement and technique. Speaking at a normal intensity about 3-4 inches front of the pop-filter will produce a clean, clear level.
The side of the microphone hosts two control knobs. One is for overall headphone volume. The other controls the mix of output from your computer with the sound of your voice. These are conveniently located to balance the right sound, both in sound-check and on the fly.
iOS Compatibility - A simple Apple Camera Connection Kit is all you need to connect this to your iPad or iPhone. From there, you can record straight to Garageband or any other audio recording app you choose. This makes you location independent in your recording sessions to capture segments from anywhere. Bare in mind, you are using a condenser microphone and subject to sound quality highly dependent on your recording environment. More on that in a moment. But the portability options plugging into iOS alone make this an attractive option.
The Stand - This microphone comes with a great, matching stand. The mount system for the mic is universal and will work with your favorite boom or mic stand, but having a portable table-top solution is very handy.
The Cable - Yep, the cable. Anyone who’s purchased a computer peripheral that comes with a USB cable will attest, the cable is often just a bit too short. Whether you’re trying to place that printer where you want it, or finding that your webcam needs a USB extension cable (just minutes before your webinar), this mic will not leave you wanting. The included cable is plenty long to meet almost any recording setup.
The Price - This mic came in just under $200. For a high quality condenser mic with an included pop-filter, case and stand, this is a heck of a deal. For those just starting in podcasting, the sticker price shouldn’t dissuade even the most cost-conscious starters.
I’ve included a few recording samples below. To be fair, my normal rig is a high-end vocal mic, run through a DBX 286s preamp/processor, and through a Focusrite preamp. What’s the point of all that geek talk? It’s to say that I’m really, really picky when it comes to capturing my voice. I have to say, this mic really held up to my discerning ears.
The low frequencies were tight and responsive. The mid range was warm and uncolored, and the high end frequencies were crisp and detailed. These are all good things when recording voice for podcasts. The resulting recordings were easy to manipulate in post-production, or simply leave in raw form. I will not hesitate to use this microphone for my own podcast productions.
It’s A Condenser - The clear downside to this mic is inherent in its type. Basically, the majority of microphones fall into two categories: condenser and dynamic. In short, a condenser microphone takes all of the sound it ‘hears’ and condenses it down to an output signal. The upside is that it ‘hears’ all of the details in the room. The downside is that it ‘hears’ all of the details in the room. If you have a room with a lot of echo and reflections, it records that. If you have a loud computer, blowing heat duct, or a dog whose nails are due for a clipping, it records that - really well. All of it around the same volume of your voice. Everything from you typing to setting down a coffee cup is picked up by the mic. Unless you have a quiet, controlled environment, this is a real minus. I’ll show you in post processing how to clean this up, but if you have a ‘noisy’ recording space, this (or any condenser mic for that matter) may not be for you. A dynamic microphone is an increasingly popular choice among radio broadcasters and podcasters alike for reasons littered with jargon like side rejection, polar patters, ad nauseum.
Like Me, The Stand Is Short - Using the included stand meant hunching over to get my mouth to the optimal position on the microphone. A couple books stacked up can be the quick fix, but if you plan on using this as your goto mic, I’d advise you consider a microphone boom stand. This will not only enable you to better position the mic, it will free up your much-needed deskspace for your keyboard and chai tea. A mic boom will also help in minimizing thumps and thuds that can happen making contact with your desk. I also show you how to get rid of that in post processing should you get carried away recording!
If you are in a semi-controlled recording environment, this is a great starter mic. I, like many podcasters, am on the road quite a bit. This will be sitting alongside my Macbook Pro for many hotel room sessions to come. For a $200 investment, I know that many hours will be logged on this mic. Based on its rugged construction, and Rode’s reputation in the industry for quality gear, I am sure that we’ll be adding this to the Podfly Equipment recommendations ahead of many other microphones in the same price point.