NT1AbigRODE NT1-A

Another pioneer of inexpensive large diaphragm condensers is Australia-based Rode. Their NT1-A is a solid-state JFET cardioid condenser microphone with a 1-inch gold-plated capsule. Its nickel-satin finish is reminiscent of those German microphones, but it weighs substantially less than do any of those. There are no low frequency roll-off or pad switches, and the gold dot at the top of the casing indicates the side that should face the sound source. The microphone includes a well-built shock mount and a zippered carrying pouch, and lists for $349 with a street price of under $200.

At first glance the NT1-A is almost indistinguishable from the company’s earlier (and quite popular) NT1 microphone. But Rode says it has redesigned the electronics of the NT1-A to take advantage of its surface mount manufacturing techniques. It’s been my experience with inexpensive microphones that the electronics can make all the difference, particularly since the capsules have only slight differences. In this case the electronics seem to have made a difference indeed. The company claims that the NT1-A has a mere 5dB of self-noise. The low self-noise floor of the NT1-A is probably its greatest asset, making it good for close, low-volume promo work.

Sonically the NT1-A has a bump just below 200 Hz, giving it a bit of gravitas that worked well for most of the men I recorded. There are some peaks in the upper midrange, and a rise starting at about 5 kHz that peaks around 12 kHz. As a result, the NT1-A is open on the high-end, but occasionally harsh in the middle. Again, female VO artists tend to fare worst with this type of frequency response, and recording women with the NT1-A gave good, but not great, results. Recording male VOs was relatively easy, so long as they respected the mic’s proximity effects. The windscreen for the mic is optional — you’ll probably want it, even though the NT1-A is not over-sensitive to plosives.

NT1Aplot

Since the NT1-A is powered by J-FET transistors instead of tubes, there’s no tubey-warmth here as with the others. What there is here is a clean and open sound that’s ideal for male VOs, and works with female VOs with just a little caution. You can feel free to crank up the volume, without fear of noise build-up. It’s a simple, cost-effective condenser microphone whose build quality is excellent, and it’s as quiet as a church mouse. And with a street price of under $200, it’s the least expensive of the group.

A NOTE ABOUT THE PLOTS

Overall the NT-1A is the least flat of the mics evaluated, although you can’t readily see that from the plots. And this brings up a sore point for me — the Rode plot is calibrated at plus or minus 40dB (a total scale of 80dB), so the NT1-A’s frequency plot looks flatter than it really is. Compare that to the Marshall V69 plot at a total of 50dB, and the Studio Projects plot at 40dB. If you don’t take note of the scale, the Rode looks flattest and the Studio Projects looks least flat. On closer examination, almost the opposite is true. It’s up to you to pay attention when you’re evaluating mics, but if you use your ears you’ll be fine.

SO WHADDYA LIKE?

Dang, I knew you people would ask me that...

Okay, first the short answer: I like them all, for some things. Am I going to sell my Lawson? Not hardly, even though its plot is not flat, its self-noise is way higher than the Rode, and it didn’t come with a shock mount. I’m keeping it because I still like the sound of ME (and of most others) on it better than anything else. And that, dear reader, is the point.

Now the longer answer: these mics are incredible values for the money. They’re all very good, if not great, microphones, and coupled with a good preamp you’ll get a lot of mileage from them. Yes, they all have a hyped high-end to some extent. Yes, some of them are a little noisy. But they all cost less than most of the preamps to which they’ll be connected. If you’ve done all your work on an RE-20 for the past ten years, you owe it to yourself to go listen to these and others. You may end up with something that will give you a different sound, and that’s always a Good Thing.

For more information, visit Marshall Electronics at www.mxlmics.com, Studio Projects at www.studioprojectsusa.com, and Rode at www.rode.com.au.

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