The gold standard large diaphragm (aka “large cap”) condenser microphone is the Neumann U87. If you have 3 grand laying around, buy one.
I’ve long suspected that the U87 is the model that every mic maker is trying to replicate with a 1-inch diaphragm solid state condenser mic design. The U87 is about as close to the elusive Swiss Army Mic as there probably is. The Rode NT1000 is a reasonably priced attempt to mine the same ground, from vocals to acoustic guitars to pianos and even drum overheads. Considering the NT1000 is about 1/10th the price of a U87, I think I’d consider it pretty successful.
If You Have To Know Right Now Department: This mic is a workhorse and a keeper. If you have a U87, you may not need an NT1000, but you might want one just in case.
This is a no-nonsense side-address cardioid mic. For those who need a polar pattern refresher, the NT1000 stands up straight and you sing into the side with the little dot below the grille. “Cardioid” means heart-shaped, so the mic is more sensitive in the direction of that dot and least sensitive on the side opposite the dot. As you move around the mic, it’s increasingly less sensitive from front-to-back.
Usability is straight-forward. The NT1000 uses a standard XLR mic cable and requires 24V or 48V phantom power, all standard for a mic of its type. Shipping with a ring mount mic stand adapter and zippered carrying case, this is where I have issue with mic.
With no bass roll-off switch on the mic, every step, bump, nudge or rumble is going to be transmitted through the mic stand into the mic. I can understand the decision to omit the roll-off switch and the attenuation pad to preserve the mic’s pristine electronics, but to my way of thinking this makes a suspended shock mount essential. Rode sells a very useful shock mount, the SM6, for about $60 with a pop filter built on to it. Very clever, simple and convenient, but… not included with the NT1000. It will be tough to use this mic out of the box in typical home studio conditions without extreme caution against ambient low-frequency noise.
The NT1000 sounds good. It’s a mic that actually sounds like its frequency response chart. The ideal mic would hear all frequencies equally well, and thus would plot as a straight line on that chart. If there was a mic that did that, we could all buy it and be done with these reviews. Except that half the fun is how different mics throw sonic curve balls. The NT1000 is all fastball, right down the middle, but it has a few musically useful dips and bobs, sort of a split-finger mic pitch.
At about 150 Hz, the low end of the frequency spectrum, the NT1000 starts rolling off low frequency. It’s not enough to compensate for the lack of a roll-off filter, but it does get rid of 2 dB or more of the frequencies below 100 Hz. This minimizes the effect called bass proximity. As you get closer to the capsule of a directional mic the amount of bass in the signal increases. That can fatten a singer’s voice, but too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing. This natural roll-off is a Good Thing, particularly for vocalists.
On the other end of the chart, the NT1000 gets a little wiggly, but again in a musically handy fashion. There are three pronounced peaks in the upper frequencies. Try to stay awake for me here, because if you’ve never made heads or tails out of these charts before, you might do the “eureka” thing with this mic. These peaks are at about 3,500 Hz, 5,400 Hz and 12,000 Hz. Typically, the 3,500 Hz region is going to add clarity to a male voice and 5,400 will similarly complement a female voice. The 12,000 Hz range gives that quality called “air”. Now, those frequencies aren’t universal. Not every voice matches up. However, in the NT1000, you have a great starting point for a lot of voices.
That air thing: one of my favorite uses for the NT1000 is as a re-recording mic for cymbals generated from samples. When I’m using MIDI sequences to generate drum parts, a tell-tale sign is often the way the cymbals sound. When it bothers me, I will set up an NT1000 about 4 feet in front of a studio speaker. Isolating the cymbals, I will play the track and record the sounds through the NT1000. That 12,000 Hz range makes the cymbals breathe, to belabor the air analogy. The recording through the NT1000 approaches more shimmer than the cymbals have otherwise.
Rode is known for well-built and affordable mics, and this is one of the models that contributed to that reputation. The metal is heavy and machined well and the welded diaphragm basket gives a bespoke, high-end feel. Weighing just under a kilogram, or 2.2 lbs., you can use this mic to bludgeon unauthorized intruders. I recommend using an SM57 and swinging harder. While the NT1000 can handle sound pressure levels up to 140 dB (roughly equivalent to a jumbo jet purring on your lap), condenser mics should be treated with some care. These are not masochists like the ’57.
Only 2 of the 28 reviews I tracked for the NT1000 were two stars out of five or below, and of those two, one felt the Rode was poor compared to an AKG C414. Remember me raving about the U87? The C414 is the other Swiss Army Mic and while it’s only about three times the price of the NT1000. We’re talking apples and mushrooms. Discount that reviewer as an elitist. The other negative review came from a poor sod who has no idea that you can return goods damaged in shipping.
You need to spring for a shock mount to use with this, but that alone is not enough to affect my impression of a truly decent mic at a truly decent price. I suspect many people write off the Rode when they compare prices at the budget end of the large cap condenser scale. That, too, is in unfair comparison. The NT1000 is really a solid mid-level mic. I can heartily recommend it.
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