PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in March 2001, contributed by then Senior Editor Bruce Richardson. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!
Last time I reviewed a microphone, it ended up being a lesson in everything that’s wrong with cheap large-diaphragm condensers. The ProRec mailbag exploded a few times, but we survived. Today, I get to tell you what’s right. The RØDE NT1000 and NTK break the mold, with world-class specs and a smoothness that stands alongside microphones three times the price. On top of that, they’re stunningly good-looking, with an over-the-top sturdiness that would serve as well in hand-to-hand combat as in the studio.
The Long Road to RØDE
These microphones, both based on the same edge-connected 1″ capsule originally appearing in the NTV, represent a culmination of a long-term vision, according to RØDE president and founder Peter Freedman.
“We have spent so much developing these mics we are effectively betting the ranch,” he says. “But hey, no one got anywhere in life by being cautious.”
From his humble beginnings, yanking the cheap parts out of Chinese mics and replacing them with upscale components, Freedman’s RØDE has always looked for a way to give the musician more mic for the buck. The NT2 and NT1 are the legendary results of that effort, mics which spawned many imitators. Quietly, Peter has spent the last several years and a goodly chunk of cash building one of the most advanced microphone manufacturing facilities in the world, and the NT1000 and NTK represent the most complete expression yet of his more-for-less design philosophy. They’re the new generation of RØDEs, certainly a distillation of previous efforts, but just as much a departure. From the sturdy and elegant cases to the capsule mount, every element is a lesson in functional economy.
“The NT1000 and the NTK share the same transducer, the heart of the mic. It’s the exactly the same capsule featured in our NTV, praised for its smoothness and rich bottom end, and is every bit as good as our flagship Classic II. With the same capsule, they have similar signatures, yet they’re very different mics. NT1000 is as clean as a wide bandwidth FET design can be, with the lowest noise floor you can get. The NTK gives you the mellow tube tone, but with ultra-low noise.”
The proof is in the listening, for sure. They sound fantastic. Startlingly fantastic, perhaps as good as any mic in the world. Certainly as good as any mic I have ever used, and yes that includes the obvious. But there’s more. These microphones are ruthlessly whittled down to the very essence of what brings value to a mic. While delivering expensive condenser sound and serious electronics, they simultaneously explore an entirely elegant and logical product design that puts almost all the money where you can hear it and protects that investment for you.
When I tell you what they cost, you’ll understand just why I’m pleasantly amazed at all this. The NT1000 lists for a scant $395, the NTK for $595. For this price, don’t expect the Barbie lunchbox cases or shockmounts. You get a very serviceable mic stand adapter and a thick-skinned bag with the NT1000, add a hefty brick-sized power supply (with groovy blue LED) and 30 foot multipin cord for the NTK.
Read ’em and Weep
Let’s talk about what you hear. Have a look at the amplification specs on these babies…
Sensitivity: -36dB re 1V/Pa (16mV @ 94dB SPL) +/-1dB
Equivalent Noise: 6dB SPL (A-weighted per IEC268-15) +/-1dB
Maximum Output: +13dBu (@ 1kHz, 1% THD into 1k( load)
Dynamic Range: > 134dB (A-weighted, per IEC268-15)
Maximum SPL: > 140dB SPL (@ 1kHz, 1% THD into 1k( load)
Signal/Noise Ratio: > 88dB (A-weighted, per IEC268-15)
Sensitivity: -38dB re 1V/Pa (12mV @ 94dB SPL) +/-1dB
Equivalent Noise:12dB SPL (A-weighted per IEC268-15) +/-2dB
Maximum Output: > +29dBu (@ 1kHz, 5% THD into 1k( load)
Dynamic Range: > 147dB (A-weighted, per IEC268-15)
Maximum SPL: > 158dB SPL (@ 1kHz, 5% THD into 1k( load)
Signal/Noise Ratio: > 82dB (A-weighted, per IEC268-15)
These are world-class specs in every dimension, both in what you hear (lots of wide-ranging signal) and what you don’t (noise). Lacking the equipment or inclination to pick nits with the published specs, I decided to do a little comparison listening.
I rang Rip to see what new and exciting mics we had in the house. Turned out we had a Shure KSM-44 and an Alesis AM-62 – a couple of hot little mics for sure. Both have gotten some good buzz, and both outprice these RØDEs by more than just a bit. The Shure lists for $1340 while the Alesis lists for $1499. To be fair, the Shure and Alesis are both multipattern mics, and the RØDEs are one-trick cardioids, so the price differential is somewhat hard to quantify.
But still, they were perfect foils for my purposes. I slapped them into cardioid mode with no pads or rolloff (the RØDEs have no switches whatsoever), hung all four in an array with identical preamps, then proceeded to scream, sing, whisper, bang, toot, and whack.
The RØDEs were total contenders. Matter of fact, they were champions.
The NT1000 was the clear gain-to-noise king, significantly quieter than the already quiet Shure KSM-44. Wow. The NTK was neck and neck with the Shure, within a fraction of a dB. Another wow. Remember, we are comparing a sizzly hot tube mic to a very quiet FET design. The expectation would be for the Shure to be significantly quieter. That makes the NTK is a stunningly quiet tube mic, perhaps more notable an accomplishment than the virtually silent NT1000.
The Alesis AM-62 was far behind the pack, being significantly noisier for less overall gain than any of the other three. Matter of fact, it was just not in the same league in any respect. Its sound was not what I’d call pretty or polished, and it lacked the quality I’d call “expensive smoothness” that the two RØDEs and Shure had in spades. I have a “vintage” Groove Tubes MD-1, and the Alesis “GT” is not even close to the quality of tone, and downright pathetic aesthetically compared to its gorgeous machined-stainless predecessor. Downright shocking, considering the price tag.
I can almost hear Lloyd Bentsen saying, “Sir, I knew Groove Tube. I worked with Groove Tube, and you are no Groove Tube.”
But that’s another review. Back to the stars of the show. Impressive performance is one thing, but it’s the sound of these microphones that has me going. They are, in a word, awesome. The NT1000 has a lovely weighty presence about it, just ever so slightly much brighter than the KSM-44 in the highest mids. Vocals sat dead-still with sparkle and remarkable presence. Some hand drums I recorded came through in the mix with clarity and power. I wouldn’t hesitate to throw up a pair of these mics for drum overheads in a room that could deliver the goods. They’d punch your lights out.
I recorded a Melodica solo that bit through a thick mix like gangbusters, without once getting the shrill quality that so many mics give the instrument. Everything I recorded with this microphone came out sounding exactly like I imagined it would in the mix, with no perceivable coloration of tone. Just a nice, big signal that takes compression and effects beautifully.
If you ever wanted a textbook example of what different amplification models can do, plugging in the NTK, with its identical capsule and high-end valve circuitry will get you there. As neutral and clean as the NT1000 sounded, the NTK takes that sound and builds a fire under it. What I noticed immediately was the expansive airiness and slightly excited quality overall. Where the NT1000 made my voice sound exactly true in the monitors, the NTK made it better than true. It gave me the feeling that I could hear the air rushing past my tonsils and the spit on my teeth. Not that it was harsh in any way at all, but just slightly bigger than life and slightly closer-sounding for the same distance to microphone. Imaging-wise, it gives a vocal a bit of spread and fullness without losing a bit of punch.
Some tube designs sound almost compressed. Not this one. The NTK will take serious maniacal screaming abuse and deliver up as much signal as you can use. The tube circuitry in this mic doesn’t top out until well past the threshold of pain.
Don’t get the idea that we’re talking about a hyped sound. Matter of fact, if I had to pick a single word for the NTK, it would be smooth. Actually, smo-o-o-o-o-o-v. I would love to hear Barry White through this microphone. Hell, I sound like Barry White through this microphone. My wacky crummy voice took on this sheen that had air for days, yet for all the high energy there was no modulated sibilance whatsoever. I even stood there hissing like a snake till I got dizzy and needed a beer. It wasn’t going to happen.
I got an amazing flugelhorn sound out of the NTK from about thirty inches–full and mellow, with a nice airy sheen and no muddiness at all. If I leaned in a little, and played soft, I got a great intimate whisper of a sound. That’s a good sign. Flugel is one of those instruments that you struggle with. As beautiful as they sound, they bring out the worst in microphones. You either get too distant, which thins out in the mix, or too close, which thins out in the mix because you have to back it down to get the presence right. The NTK gets the sound you need to make the mix. That’s usually the realm of far pricier mics.