Here at Compass
Point Studios, I have had many great microphones available to
me over the years, including Neumann U47, U48, M49, U87, U47fet,
U89, KM 84 & 86, Lucas CS-1 and CS-4, AKG C12, 414, Telefunken
ELA M 251, Sennheisers, Beyers, Sony, Shures, EVs, Soundeluxes,
Gefells, and more. In other words, some of the best, most
respected, and yes, most expensive, microphones in the industry...
I have certainly enjoyed the luxury of having such great mics around, and have relished each of their appropriate uses. At times, for various reasons, whether someone brought in a "new" mic, or I traveled to another studio which had a different collection, I found myself using an unfamiliar microphone. And once or twice I was "forced" into using a newly designed or manufactured lower cost mic. I was always disappointed when I compared such microphones to my trusted old friends the Neumanns, et al. Highs were often artificial or "fizzy," frequency response ragged, and quality sound character lacking. (I will mention no brand names negatively here, however.) Because of this, I had developed a preconceived bias against all "non expensive" microphones, whether I had tried them or not. I "already knew" what these mics would give me, or rather, what they would not, so there was no point in using them. I had become a microphone snob. And really, I did not think this was a bad thing to be, and in most cases, I still don't think so!
So when I traveled recently to Australia to track a new production (which I would bring back to Compass Point for overdubs, vocals, and mixing, of course!) I was initially disappointed to find that the mic closet at the well appointed Sydney studio had only a few of my old friends in it, and none of those were the high end tube (valve) ones! But there were LOTS of RØDE microphones. My choices obviously were to:
A) hire in some trusted mics if I could find them, or
B) try out what the studio had.
I "already knew" that RØDE mics were new and less than costly, were "probably made in China," and therefore were of lesser sound quality. But they looked pretty nice, so given the circumstances, I couldn't lose much by trying them out. I put two Classic II's on drum overheads, two NT5's on (drum) room, a K2 on bass amp, an NT1000 on rhythm guitar, and another K2 on (lead guitar) room. [There were a few mics other than RØDE employed, including SM 57 on snare and close lead guitar, D12 on bass drum, and 421/441's on toms.] Immediately I was pleasantly surprised at what came through the monitor speakers. The highs were not "fizzy." The frequency response was relatively smooth. These weren't the "cheap" mics I had expected. They sounded enough like my old and trusted friends to get this session on the road. What was going on? As I continued with overdubs, I employed several of the RØDE models in different situations, and they never disappointed. The Classic II and K2 tube (valve) models even seemed to have lower noise than I was used to with my older tube faves. The NT5's seemed every bit the equal of the new KM 184 (although not comparing them to my old beloved KM-84's) as the room mics, (a very large room!) and the NT1000 was a quality, versatile performing fet condenser that was at home in many situations. I had previously supposed they were Chinese, but I found out otherwise, and since I was in Australia, where the RØDE mics actually are manufactured, I made a few enquiries about the company. I found that they are a family owned operation, run by Peter Freedman, a man dedicated to making high quality equipment for a reasonable price. And he has certainly succeeded in doing so. I actually made a trip out to the factory, and was very surprised to see that RØDE have a fantastic, $25 Million plus, ultra modern manufacturing facility; and they provide after sale service second to none. (When I encountered one microphone that had a minor problem, I made a phone call, and RØDE delivered a brand new replacement from the factory to the studio in under an hour!)
So I have to admit that I was indeed a microphone snob. I was prejudiced against any mic that I wasn't familiar with, especially one which had a relatively low cost of ownership. And I will also admit that I was wrong. Whilst I still believe it's true that many currently made low cost microphones are inferior in quality to some better known models, it is not necessarily true in the case of RØDE, at least with their newer models which I used. (I did not use any of their "older" low end models, so I can't comment on those.) So Compass Point Studios now have their own set of RØDE mics in the closet! Of course I won't replace all of the old favourites with these RØDEs, but I now have another quality, viable option to try on any given singer or instrument. And I can say we would consider a RØDE as much as a NEW Neumann, if buying a new mic today! (Neumann isn't really even the same company anymore, nor or they using the same factories, people or components, in some cases, anyway.)
My main point here is to tell other recordists who may also think lightly of RØDE microphones, yet not having heard them, to at least give them a try. If you get one of the newer designed models, I think you may like what you hear. As I understand it, a few years ago they did indeed use some Chinese parts, and may not have been quite up to "our" standards. But with these newer models, all component parts are manufactured in-house, in Australia (of course they don't make their own resistors, capacitors, etc...they use the same high quality ones everbody else does. And they also don't make the tube [valve] in those models; all tubes today are made in the Eastern block...RØDE do however carefully test every tube they buy, rejecting about half of them until they find only the best ones [just like Groove Tubes do]. And in some of the higher end models, they use JAN/NOS tubes [military spec new old stock] tubes. ) These in-house components include circuit boards, metal housings, and most importantly, the gold sputtered diaphragms!
NOTES ON THE RØDE S1:
How many times has this happened to you:
You're recording an initial band track, and you have the vocalist sing a guide track for the musicians. Unless the singer is in a separate booth or room, you choose a "live" vocal mic such as an SM-57 or 58, in order to reject the ambient sound in the live room or control room (you'd love to have chosen your normal vocal condenser, but that mic allowed so much ambient music into the vocal that it was killing the headphone mix). Then (of course!) the singer hit a few lines that will never be repeated again with that "certain feeling," so you're stuck with trying to match the sound of the 57-plus-leakage to the overdubbed condenser "real" vocal sound in the mix.
Now here is a decent solution. RØDE's new S1 microphone is carefully designed as a live condenser mic with true studio quality. This microphone has a wonderfully constructed windscreen/pop filter, a narrow hyper-cardiod pattern, and phantom powered condenser quality, all in a solid, vocalist-pleasing hand-held instrument. It's brighter than an SM-57, but does have a good cindenser quality to the sound.
NOTES ON THE RØDE NT2000:
I recently (early '06) got a couple of the 2000's, and I have found them very useful to have as "extra do-anything" mics. They are a very large "87" styled mic, with a built in continuously variable pattern selector, bass rolloff selector, and pad. They worked fine recently on Drum overheads in X/Y, on percussion, on electric guitars, (not super-distorto) and on backing vocals.
NOTES ON THE RØDE NT-4:
The NT-4 is an very nice microphone...or two! This is two of their small diaphragm condenser capsules permanently fixed into perfect stereo X/Y configuration. You can't mess up...well, most couldn't anyway. You still have to decide where the mic goes, and how far away to place it from the source so as to encompass the desired stereo spectrum.
Mono compatability is always right. I've found them excellent on piano, and also on a set of congas, or a marimba type instrument.
NOTES ON THE
I have always said that a great "desert island" mic, one that you'd keep if you could only keep ONE MIC for every purpose, might be a Neumann U87 (at least an older one). It will usually work on any instrument or voice...maybe not being the absolute best choice in any given case, but it will always do a credible job. I have used them in so many cases, that I was interested in comparing the RØDE NT1000, which seems to me to be based upon the U87, directly to an 87. I was recently able to do so, and was surprised by the results. There is a similar basic sound spectrum, but the NT1000 is a bit brighter. Some may not immediately like this fact, but in some cases one might consider this a good thing. I almost always end up brightening the sound of the 87, in many cases somewhere between 8-12 kHz. The NT1000 seems to have a boost of about 1 db at 6k, and a wider boost of about 1.5 db centered at 12k. This makes the use of eq in the mix a far less likely incident than with an 87, and especially is beneficial in the analogue world, and on distant subjects. The mids and lows seem about the same balance, and the quality of the 1000 is decently close. Given the price differential, even when compared to a good used 87, the 1000 seems an excellent value. Of course, the 87 has a bass rolloff, 3 pattern selection, and a pad built in (which the NT1000 does not).
I still like
my 87's (all 12 of them), and I will always use them, but I now
have some NT1000's also, and will use them in some cases, especially
when I "run out" of 87's.. And if you can't afford
a Neumann U87, you should check out the RØDE NT1000.
You'll find it useful, and affordable.
Peter Freedman. And thanks for keeping the prices reasonable!
Terry Manning, Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas
Edited 2006 and 2010