Just when you thought all the bargain mics came from the former Eastern Bloc countries, the Australians turn up a bargain of their own. Paul White decides whether it's as good as their wine or merely as good as Neighbours.
Australia's only really big claim to international audio was probably the Fairlight sampling system, but despite the predominance of Japanese and American gear on the world market, Australia still has a significant audio industry. The mic under review comes from Rode, a part of the Freedman group of companies, and though there's no sign of the Aussie dry wit in the physical design of the mic or its packing (no Wallaby‑skin case or wooden box with corks round it), it can't be just coincidence that Rode NT2 spells rodent! Humour is more evident in the manual, which contains a warning that you should never take the mic into the shower, go swimming with it, play football with it or use it to hammer nails in, as doing any of these may void the warranty...
I'd always thought of the Australians as being proudly original — so why have they styled this mic after Neumann's U87? I know there are only so many shapes you can make a mic, but to copy somebody else's cosmetics so blatantly is almost like shouting out loud that you're producing a cheap copy. However, having taken the mic apart, I have to say that it's very nicely put together, and the satin chrome casework is quite solid; the whole thing weighs 530 grammes.
Most capacitor mics are cardioid only, or offer a choice of all the main pickup patterns, but this model is switchable between cardioid and omni patterns. A 3‑position switch allows you to select a 10dB pad, an LF roll‑off filter, or to bypass both these functions. This prevents you using the pad and the roll‑off settings at the same time, but in most situations, this isn't a serious limitation.
The dual‑pressure gradient capsule is around 25mm in diameter, and utilises the familiar gold‑plated membrane. Unusually for a relatively low‑cost mic, the circuitry is transformerless, which helps to maintain the mic's fast transient response (see below). It's also evident that the designers are audiophiles, as each component has been selected not only on the basis of its electrical properties, but also for the best subjective sound. On top of this, the internal connectors (and the output XLR pins) are gold‑plated and coated with an antioxidant, and even the printed circuit boards are coated with Conformal, which I'm told protects against corrosion.
I was rather hoping that the package would include a frequency response plot, but no such luck. All we're told is that the frequency response extends from 20Hz to 20kHz, but without specifying within what limits, this doesn't really tell you much! Ultimately, what really counts is the subjective sound, but I always find a response plot useful. Sensitivity is quoted as 16mV/Pa, which is about what you'd expect from a large‑diaphragm mic, as is the 17dB A‑weighted noise figure. The mic runs from standard 48V phantom power, and can handle a maximum SPL of 145dB with the pad switched in.
Included with the Rode NT2 is a rather nice shock mount, and both this and the mic come in their own soft plastic storage boxes. There's also a zip‑up synthetic leather pouch to protect the mic.
Everything I've written so far tells you very little about how the mic works in the studio, so it's time to tell you what it sounds like. As usual, I dragged my other favourite capacitor mics out for comparison, and conducted extensive tests with vocals and acoustic guitar, as well as other miscellaneous sounds, including bells and an assortment of percussion. The NT2 seemed a little more sensitive than my other large‑diaphragm models, and the transformerless design certainly translated into a more detailed sound at the high‑frequency end of the spectrum. This was particularly evident on the steel‑strung acoustic guitar, bells and percussion, and on vocals, although here, fortunately, the tendency towards sibilance seemed no worse than my other mics. If anything, the open top end overshadows the warmth of the low end slightly, but working closer to the mic brings the proximity effect into play, and really firms up the bass end, giving a very intimate yet assertive sound.
The rear rejection and off‑axis performance was also comparable with my other mics, and the NT2's own noise was acceptably low, so the main difference has to be in the tonal quality. If you can imagine the classic large‑diaphragm sound with just a tiny hint of 'exciter' quality about it, you won't be far off the mark. On balance, this mic has to be considered an excellent buy at £500, especially as you get the shock mount thrown in.
- Good price.
- Shock mount included.
- Excellent sound quality (especially transient response).
- No figure‑of eight pattern.
A well‑made mic that offers a viable alternative to the big‑name models at a lower price. The excellent transient response makes this a good mic for acoustic guitar and ethnic percussion, as well as vocals.