Rode NTK

Valve Microphone

Published in SOS July 2001
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Reviews : Microphone

RODE NTK TUBE MICROPHONE

Rode have brought down the cost of their celebrated large-diaphragm valve microphone technology still further with their new NTK model. Paul White warms it up.

Australian mic manufacturers Rode were one of the first companies to push down the cost of owning a serious capacitor microphone, and their range includes a number of rather nice tube models, including the Classic and the NTV. Their most recent addition to this series is the new Rode NTK, a cardioid valve microphone with a one-inch diameter capsule. A Sovtek 6922 dual-triode tube operating in Class A, working in conjunction with some discrete solid-state components, provides the impedance matching and pre-amp gain for the capsule -- using a modern valve like this means that replacements ought to be cheap and easy to find. The standard of mechanical and electrical engineering is impressively high, and the components, while not being esoteric, are of high quality and are mounted on a robust glass fibre circuit board. The tube itself is held in place in its porcelain socket by means of a plastic spring clip assembly that locates over the 'pip' at its top.

Special K

The all-metal housing is meticulously machined and finished, with easy access to the tube compartment via a screw-off body sleeve. The dual-layer grille, which seems very tough, is made from heat-

RODE NTK £700

pros
Warm, detailed, expensive sound.
Sensibly priced.
Nicely engineered and styled.
Uses a readily available, sensibly priced modern tube.
cons
No low-frequency cut switch.
No hard carry case.
summary
The Rode NTK is a very serious tube microphone at a middle-market UK price. It is especially suited to vocals and seems to reinforce the character of each singer rather than imposing its own.

treated steel and the capsule itself sits on a shockmount. Though the mic bears more than a passing resemblance to other classic studio mics, it doesn't seek to directly emulate any specific model and there is no frivolous 47 or 87 in the title. A satin nickel finish augments the classic appearance, with a gold-plated stud indicating the 'hot' side of the capsule.

A simple mic stand adaptor comes with the mic and this locates securely to the base of the microphone via a threaded locking ring assembly. Rode's SM2 shockmount fits the NTK and is available as a cost option. A seven-pin XLR cable connects the microphone to its power supply, and the audio is then fed out via a regular three-pin balanced XLR. The PSU includes a power switch with status LED, ground lift switch, but no pad or filter. The seven-pin XLR and power cables are supplied along with a vinyl carry pouch, but there's no fancy flight case.

Though the paper spec can't tell you much about the sound of a mic, the sensitivity figure of -38dB (ref. 1V/Pa) and an equivalent noise figure of just 12dBSPL (82dB signal-to-noise ratio) shows that this model more than holds its own in those departments. The dynamic range is better than 147dBA and the maximum output can be as high as +29dBu, which explains why no pad switch is needed -- you could record battles with this mic! In fact, the maximum SPL is a staggering 158dB, which is some way beyond the point that most people's eardrums would meet in the middle of their head...

Looking at the frequency response curve shows a couple of presence bumps, a small one at around 5kHz and a higher, broader one at around 12kHz. Overall the response is from

  Second Opinion  
  I had high hopes for the NTK, mainly because I tried and loved Rode's Classic when it was released some years ago. That tube giant, though, cost around £1200 at the time, and this was way more than I could justify on one microphone. Obviously, then, I was hoping that some of the Classic's magic might have rubbed off on the rather more affordable NTK.

I wasn't disappointed. From the outset, the NTK is a lovely mic to handle and is obviously beautifully and robustly engineered. And as for the sound -- it's one of those mics that you only have to speak into to know that it's going to be good. Smoothness, purity and immediacy are three words that instantly spring to mind. Though it has what seems to be a natural quality, there's some subtle enhancement going on. With my voice I found there was an edge to the sound that I could really work with, emphasising and de-emphasising it by slightly changing the way I was singing -- probably something like the way guitarists feel when they've achieved a satisfying 'singing' tone from their instrument. I found the mic helped me with articulation, too, though the flip side of that was a very slight tendency to sibilance. The NTK is not lacking in warmth, but it's far from being muddy or fat-sounding, and the vocal I recorded with it sat beautifully in the mix and really made its mark. Needless to say, I made sure to get a good take done before the mic had to go off to Paul for the main review! Debbie Poyser

 
20Hz to 20kHz ±6dB.

In Use

The Rode NTK lives up to all my expectations in sounding both warm and flattering, yet open and detailed. Every subtle vocal articulation is captured, and though the tube circuitry does seem to make for a slightly larger-than-life sound, its effect is nicely understated insomuch as the end result sounds perfectly natural. The lack of a bass roll-off switch means that you'll need to rely on your mixer or voice channel if you need to engage any low-frequency filtering -- you'll certainly need to use a shockmount if you don't have this facility anywhere in the signal chain.

Working with vocals fairly close to the mic allows you to exploit the proximity effect to make the sound even bigger and warmer. The grille seems more than reasonably effective in reducing pops, but for any serious studio work you really should use the mic in conjunction with a pop filter, even if it's only a piece of stocking over a wire hoop. I also tried the mic with wooden flutes and acoustic guitars and found it tackled both with equal capability. Again, it flatters, but in a way that doesn't lead to it being 'found out'. I like it very much!

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