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Rode NT4 & NT5

Condenser Microphones For Stereo Recording
Published August 2002
By Paul White

Do you prefer doing stereo recordings with two separate mics or with one dual-capsule mic? With their NT4 and NT5 models, Rode cater for both techniques.

It's probably still true that the most popular way of miking in stereo is to use a coincident pair of cardioid mics, though setting up the mics in a stable fashion usually involves specialist mounting bars or other hardware. Rode have provided an alternative in the NT4, a dedicated stereo microphone comprising two cardioid heads mounted at the end of a single body and fixed in close proximity to each other with a 90 degree angle between the capsules.

The Rode NT4 dual-capsule stereo microphone.The Rode NT4 dual-capsule stereo microphone.Photo: Mark EwingBoth 48V phantom power and 9V battery power can be used, which is great news for anyone looking for a mic able to handle location recording — the bottom half of the satin nickel body unscrews to accommodate a standard PP3 9V battery. To reduce wind noise, a foam guard is supplied that is designed to fit over both heads, and two special XLR cables are included: a short cable with a five-pin connector at the mic end and a pair of regular three-pin XLRs at the other, plus a second longer cable terminating in a stereo mini-jack. A slide switch on the mic turns the mic on or off and a red LED indicates when the mic is running from battery power. There are no pad or roll-off switches.

Where the flexibility of two separate mics is preferred, the NT5 offers essentially the same technical specification (with the exception of 9V battery operation) in a pencil mic format. These are supplied as a matched pair, with foam wind shields. Though the NT5 can't work from battery, it can operate on phantom power voltages down to 18V without compromise and even lower at the expense of some sensitivity and headroom. Both the NT4 and NT5 come in rigid, foam-lined plastic cases with mounting clips. I couldn't fault the build quality of the mics, both of which feature impressively machined metalwork finished to a very high standard.

Both the NT4 and NT5 are based around similarly specified half-inch, gold-sputtered cardioid capsules and JFET transformerless preamps, where the NT4 employs some surface-mount technology to save on space. Both use bipolar transistor output buffers in place of transformers, which generally results in greater high-frequency extension compared to transformer designs. The nominal response is 20Hz to 20kHz (though the bass extension continues well below 20Hz) and is largely free from significant peaks or dips, though the response of the NT4 is slightly less flat above 10kHz, almost certainly because of the acoustic interaction between the two closely spaced capsules and the main mic body. Sensitivity is 38dB (1V/Pa reference), which is roughly equivalent to 12mV/Pa. This is a respectable figure, and not atypical for mics based on this type of capsule. Similarly, the equivalent input noise is better than 16dBA, which puts it on the right side of the norm (the signal-to-noise ratio comes out at 78dB), and the dynamic range is a generous 128dB or better. Maximum SPL is quoted as 143dB, so there should be no worries about the lack of a pad switch.

Performance

The Rode NT5 matched microphone pair for stereo recording.The Rode NT5 matched microphone pair for stereo recording.As predicted, both the NT4 and the NT5 sound subjectively identical when a pair of NT5s are used coincidently, and the overall impression is of effortless neutrality. However, because the microphones don't feature low-end roll-off, the use of shockmounts might be wise, as the bass extension available is considerable. Bright, complex sounds such as small bells were handled well, with no obvious intermodulation distortion, while acoustic guitars came over with plenty of depth and detail. Noise was never evident and, in the case of the NT4, the stereo imaging produced by the coincident arrangement tied up nicely with that of the sound sources I'd been using.

Given that these are not unduly expensive microphones in the UK, both models turn in an extremely good performance and are versatile enough to use in a number of recording situations. The NT4 makes stereo miking very convenient and its ability to run from battery power makes it an obvious companion for portable DAT or Minidisc recorders where phantom power is not available. There's also adequate sensitivity, which means noise shouldn't be a problem even when working with the rather less than optimum mic preamps found on budget portable recorders. Which of these mics you choose depends on how much stereo recording you do. Both options will produce fine results in stereo, but clearly the NT4 avoids having to get the relative positions of the two mics right. On the other hand, the NT5s can be used as a pair of mono mics, which the NT4 can't, and you can also change the angle between them.

Published August 2002