The RØDE NT USB is an Australian-designed studio quality stereo cardioid microphone that connects directly via USB to any of my Macs or even to my iPad via my USB Camera Connection Kit. Out of the box I’m holding a solid black metal microphone unit with a metal grille which mounts onto a flexible plastic tripod with a mounting ring.
A removable plastic pop shield, a zipped pouch and a generous 6m USB cable, which plugs into the base of the microphone unit, completes the package. It’s all very easy to assemble and it’s simple to adjust the tilt of the microphone on the tripod. My first impression? The NT looks thoroughly professional, with very clean design and, at a shade over 500g, feels pretty sturdy.
A small gold metal insert reminds me where the front is. Not as silly as it sounds if you’ve ever done a recording with the microphone set at the wrong angle! On the side of the unit are two adjustment knobs; a monitor mix control, which is handy if I’m recording a vocal track and need to balance the mic input over a backing track from my computer. The circuitry is sufficiently sophisticated to provide zero latency, so I’m not hearing the backing track slightly delayed which makes quality recording pretty difficult. The second knob controls the volume of my headphones, connected to the socket immediately below.
I do a lot of audio recording of narration and interviews for the documentaries and audio tours I produce so I tested the NT with the three Apple devices I use to do this.
Firstly I plug the NT into my MacBook Pro, open up my audio recording software, in this case Sound Studio, and voilà, the mic is recognised, as confirmed by a purple LED glowing inside the microphone cage. Nice touch.
I can’t set a recording level from the microphone itself. The folks at RØDE claim that the unit has been set at an “ideal internal gain setting, without the need for physical level adjustments on the microphone body.” In Sound Studio, the input volume was a bit low but quickly and easily fixed with the program’s slider control. I soon had a voiceover demo in the can with clean sound and surprisingly low background noise. If I had picked up any localised hard drive whine or other background noise problem the long USB cable would have enabled me to take the unit out of hearing range.
On my iMac the NT also got the purple light as soon as I plugged it in to do a voice recording in GarageBand. Adjusting the levels from within GB was simple. Getting the right monitor mix took a couple of attempts but wasn’t overly difficult. Again the sound was clean and natural with very low background noise. Very impressive for a USB microphone.
The last test run was with my iPad, connecting the NT via my USB Camera Connection Kit. I used the free sound app RØDE Rec to keep it all in the family. RØDE Rec lets me set an input device which comes up as Apple Camera Connector, with a microphone gain slider to set the input level. From previous experience I set it to around 70 percent and this worked fine. I won’t go into the details of the app at this stage, maybe in a subsequent review, but it was pretty intuitive with a nice range of features. Yet again the sound was crisp and clean with virtually no background noise. For comparison I recorded a track using the inbuilt microphone on the iPad and the background noise was quite pronounced. For ease of use the NT/iPad combo is hard to beat for a professional quality portable audio recording facility.
I wish I’d had the NT six months ago when I was recording a voiceover with a narrator with a severe plosive problem. No matter how we positioned my trusty old RØDE Podcaster every ‘P’ and ‘B’ produced a massive spike in the audio waveform. But when I hammered a stream of plosives at the pop shield of the NT it fended them off nicely. Looks like the old Podcaster will be retired. There’s a new kid on the block.
If I want to record an acoustic instrument I simply remove the pop shield, find the optimal distance and hit Record. The unit will also mount on a microphone stand if I want to set up near my amplifier to record some electric stuff. A couple of short videos on the RØDE website show how to do it. Recording guitar acoustically is not something I’ve ever considered, but the NT is so easy to setup and use that I’m inspired to give it a go.
Thoroughly professional in design, construction, appearance and performance, the RØDE NT USB at $219 matches it with units far further up the price scale and confirms the growing reputation of this dynamic Australian company.