At $159, RØDE’s NT1 Signature Series condenser microphone could be the ultimate studio all-rounder
We test the latest version of the classic to see just how much the design has been refined
Vocalist using a black RØDE NT1 Signature Series condenser microphone in a recording studio
⊕ Richly detailed with warmth and gloss br>
⊕ Low self-noise and high SPL capability br>
⊕ Improved analogue circuitry br>
⊕ Rugged aluminium casework and finish br>
⊕ Very affordable br>
⊖ Fixed cardioid response only br>
Following the success of RØDE’s NT1 5th Generation, which incorporated a plethora of high-tech features, we now have the new NT1 Signature Series, a revamp of the classic and beloved analogue microphone.
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The main features of the 5th Generation are its proprietary Dual Connect output with both XLR and USB connectivity, 32-bit float digital output and onboard DSP. But the analogue circuitry was also upgraded to deliver lower noise and higher SPL handling capabilities.
Now, the NT1 Signature Series incorporates the analogue improvements without all the digi-tech, for those who choose to work in a more traditional style. And while we are talking traditional style, the classic silver or black aluminium casework has been joined by a range of vibrant, limited-edition colours, including red, green, purple, pink and blue.
RØDE CEO Damien Wilson told us, “We wanted to offer creators this new-and-improved NT1 with the original pure-analogue design of previous generations – plus the option to get one in your favourite colour to match your own unique aesthetic.”
Whichever colour option you go for, the mic comes with its own high-quality shockmount, pop shield and a decent XLR cable so it’s ready to plug straight into your mic preamp or interface.
Under the hood, the microphone features an HP6 large diaphragm (1-inch) gold-sputtered capsule, which made its debut appearance in the 4th Generation model. This improves the capsule found in earlier incarnations of the mic, having been precision-engineered to sub-micron tolerances.
Like all NT1s, it’s a cardioid-only design with a tight response, which excels in rejecting unwanted spillage from extraneous sounds. This type of response really comes into its own when used in the context of a multi-player backing track session, yet also provides precise focus when used for vocals, individual overdubs and voiceover work.
As a vocal mic, the new NT1 retains the classic sonic signature that has placed it at the forefront of budget condenser designs for three decades. Its rich and detailed character flatters most vocalists with added warmth and a glossy high-end sheen that evades some mics costing considerably more. In this respect, it’s a great choice when a decent outboard EQ isn’t available.
Our vintage Neumann U 67 tube mic has a glorious midrange, yet it’s rare for us to achieve a final sound without adding a touch of super-top from a 16kHz EQ boost on a Pultec EQP-1A. Just think of the cost of that package…
Because of the Signature Series NT1’s inherent super-top lift, many users will find that they can produce a wonderful vocal sound with only a suitable level of dynamic control and no tone shaping whatsoever.
Although the broad treble region may not be as neutral or transparent as more expensive designs, the latest model expresses a more vivid, less scooped tonal balance than NT1s of the past.
Also, the mic exhibits extremely low levels of self-noise (at 4dBA), which, alongside the digi-equipped 5th Generation model, makes the new Signature Series the world’s quietest studio condenser microphone, according to RØDE.
Of course, our regular condensers are far more costly designs. But despite all three mics expressing their own unique sonic character, you wouldn’t pinpoint the new NT1 as the budget option.
Listening to the pass recorded with the new NT1, the guitar sound has a lovely, even midrange with just a hint of added low-mid warmth. It’s a presentation that works particularly well with singer-songwriter performances, especially when blended with an intimate, close-mic’d vocal.
However, in a busier mix, some of that low-mid can be usefully dialled-out with EQ to reduce clutter and increase clarity. That said, the clarity expressed in this microphone is impressive not only at its price-point, but also in absolute terms.
In comparison with the aforementioned U 67 and C414 mics, the NT1 has a more pronounced top-end, lacking the darkly forward nature of the ’67 or woody midrange of the ’414. This is no bad thing in the context of most popular music and speech recordings. However, those who desire to capture sounds without added top-end sparkle might prefer something a tad more neutral.
Granted, this type of product isn’t aimed at those who make highly-critical classical or jazz recordings and, for most of us working in the broad church of pop, it pretty much covers all bases.
As with any mic, its ultimate sound is a product of its interaction with the preamp it’s used with. We prefer the tonal balance of the NT1 with a punchy solid state design, such as a classic Neve-style mic preamp, rather than our softer, more open valve designs.
It’s with our Hairball Audio Lola preamp that we first use the NT1 to capture a full drum kit sound with the mic placed a few feet in front of the kit just above the top head of the rack tom. This produces an incredibly natural mono kit sound on its own yet also works brilliantly mixed with close spot mics and overheads; a pair of NT1s would make for a killer stereo overhead pair, then.
And as the latest incarnation of the mic has higher SPL handling capability than previous models – and way higher than most delicate boutique mics – you can happily place it close to an electric guitar amplifier or loud horn section.
The NT1 has always been a true studio stalwart, able to capture just about any sound you choose. Now it does a similar trick with more authority and refinement, with a price tag that definitely won’t break the bank.
When it comes to the age-old engineer’s debate of ‘if you had to choose one mic to record absolutely everything…’, the new RØDE NT1 Signature Series has shot straight to the top of our shortlist.
- Cardioid condenser
- HP6 gold-sputtered capsule
- Aluminium body
- Comes with studio-grade shockmount, pop filter and XLR cable
- Available in classic black or a range of limited edition colours – red, green, purple, pink and blue
- 10 year warranty
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