Rode's new NTG5 makes pro-quality location recording more affordable than ever.
The videographer market is a very important one for the popular Australian mic manufacturers Rode, accounting for a substantial proportion of the company's retail sales. Indeed, the 'Video & On-camera' section of the Rode website now includes 18 variations on the shotgun mic theme alone, with prices spanning a very wide range. Impressively, the mics at the top end of that scale are directly comparable to some of the most stalwart benchmarks of the professional broadcast industry.
One of the latest additions to this section of Rode's microphone offerings is the NTG5, a short-shotgun or 'line and gradient' mic billed as the new flagship model and derived directly from the slightly larger (and more expensive) NTG3. In comparison, though, the new mic is about 20-percent less expensive, 50mm shorter, and almost half the weight! And that price reduction is even more impressive given the included complete — and pleasingly high-quality — accessory kit, which allows the mic to be used on the road, straight out of the box. Now that's a very refreshing and enlightened approach that genuinely enhances the product's value for money and practicality, and especially as it's not at the expense of technical excellence. The NTG5 boasts some impressive technical specifications and technological innovation too.
Grab Yer 'Cote
The NTG5 Location Recording Kit arrives in a sleeved cardboard box, with artwork detailing the kit components and properties in multiple languages, alongside a prominent 'Rycote Onboard' logo. If that name means nothing, Rycote are the leading manufacturers of innovative shockmounts and windshields, and their products are used by professional sound recordists the world over.
With the outer sleeve removed, the inner box can be opened to reveal five further smaller cardboard boxes, each containing various parts of the kit. Packed loose in the box is a faux-leather zipped pouch bag for storing the mic, whilst the smallest carton contains a simple Chinese-made plastic mic-stand clip (complete with 5/8- to 3/8-inch thread adaptor). The microphone itself is packed in another box, protected by a foam windshield which is intended for indoor use, featuring the Rode logo printed along both sides.
A larger box contains a 'Softie'-style windshield of around 175mm in length, intended for outdoor use. Were it not for the Rode label sewn into the material, most casual observers would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this WS10 windshield and Rycote's 'Classic Softie'. The internal open-cell foam and external faux-fur materials, as well as the general construction, are all very similar indeed. The only obvious difference is that the Rode version uses a smaller rubber sealing ring at the open end instead of the large black rubber end-cap employed on the Rycote models.
Inside yet another box is a pistol-style handgrip mount, called the PG2-R, with an integral suspension and a 3/8-inch threaded insert at the base for stand or pole mounting. Again, this is similar to a Rycote design, although it feels quite heavy in comparison and the scales indicate an all-up weight (with the windshield and mic) of 414g — a perfectly manageable mass for the end of a fish-pole, but lighter (and more expensive) alternatives are available. The microphone is suspended from the mount in a pair of the brilliantly effective Rycote Lyres, used here under licence.
The final box contains a 'Pro–Cable' which runs between the microphone in the shockmount and the handgrip — but this isn't a simple XLR-XLR cable! A Switchcraft male XLR clips securely into a recess in the handgrip, with a shaped channel that grips the cable and guides it up towards the suspension platform. At this point the standard-sized mic cable goes into a moulded connector box that clips onto the suspension base-plate, and a thin, flexible, lightweight cable continues on to a Neutrik female XLR which plugs into the microphone itself. Although the Neutrik XLR plug seemed secure in the review model, Rode also provide a castellated blue rubber ring, which can be inserted into the male XLR plug within the microphone body to help ensure a snug and secure fit with other brands of female XLR socket, which might have slightly different dimensions.
Based on the 'Conn-box' system used on Rycote's own location shockmounts, the Pro-Cable's conversion from the robust standard output mic cable to a lightweight ultra-flexible cable has been shown to greatly reduce vibrations reaching the mic via the connecting cable. It also ensures that the connecting cable doesn't inhibit the suspension's movement, which would compromise its effectiveness. I wish more microphone manufacturers paid this much attention to effective shockmounting, as supporting the mic correctly plays a big part in the final sound quality that can be achieved. Rode obviously appreciate the benefits of Rycote's innovative and elegant designs, and it was a very smart move to agree a licensing deal.
Not surprisingly, to save size in the shipping carton, some minor assembly of the handgrip shockmount is required before first use, as the two Lyre clips and the Pro-Cable are supplied separately from the handgrip and suspension platform. However, suitable hex bolts and a hex driver are included, along with simple instructions, and it only takes 30 seconds to assemble everything. While I could nitpick at some areas of the PG2-R handgrip's design and construction, I have to say that these accessories are certainly of a professional grade, and raise the standard quite dramatically of what can be achieved — and should be expected — at today's serious semi-pro level.
Of course, while a genuinely useful accessories kit is very nice, it means nothing if the mic doesn't pass muster! Happily, though, there's no risk of that here as the microphone itself builds directly on Rode's hugely successful NTG3. Remarkably, the new NTG5 is substantially shorter and lighter than its sibling, and also features improvements to the acoustic design of the interference tube and in the electronics as well.
Rode say that the revised nature of the sound entry ports means that the 'active' part of the interference tube is actually the same length as that in the NTG3, and it therefore has a similar HF directivity despite the mic being 50mm shorter overall.
The electronics, although again derived directly from the NTG3, have also been revised to yield a noticeable improvement in the self-noise specification, as well as 6dB higher sensitivity. The frequency response has also been tailored to improve voice clarity (as well as minimising wind and handling noise) by reducing the low-end response and enhancing the presence peak. These factors all combine to make the mic much easier to use with semi-pro equipment, and for less experienced sound recordists to acquire very usable audio even in challenging circumstances.
Physically, the mic measures 203mm in length by 19mm in diameter, weighs just 76g, has a matte–black anodised finish over its aluminium body, and it looks and feels well made. Its supercardioid capsule sits around 85mm down from the end of the grille at the base of an interference tube formed with a pattern of small holes replicated on opposite sides, instead of the slots more typically employed by other manufacturers (and in the NTG3). A fine wire mesh lines the inside of the tube, and further sets of holes below the capsule provide the rear sound entry port.
The company say that the arrays of round ports are of a "revolutionary design" which "improves the acoustic transparency and results in a more natural uncoloured sound". It's a bold claim to which I'll return later, but there is a distinct similarity between the round ports used here, and those employed in Rode's excellent high-end TF5 small-diaphragm capacitor mics.
I'd be very happy to use the NTG5. It really is an extremely good-sounding, highly effective, reliable and cost-effective location recording mic...
As with the NTG3 (which is itself based on Sennheiser's revered MKH416), the new NTG5 employs an RF-biased capacitor capsule, and the electronics are sealed under a conformal coating, ensuring reliable performance in environments with high humidity and dust. Although certainly not a new concept, the RF bias system is an ingenious one as it operates the capacitor capsule in a very low-impedance circuit, essentially as the tuning element of an RF oscillator. In contrast, a traditional DC-biased capsule has to operate within a very high-impedance circuit, and in humid environments the conductivity of airborne moisture can cause the charge stored within the capsule to leak away, resulting in unwanted noises and loss of signal. The RF bias system is immune to such problems, which is a major advantage when working outdoors in all weathers!
The only downside of the RF bias arrangement is the relative complexity of the supporting circuitry. Instead of a simple impedance converter and output driver, the NTG5 comprises an RF oscillator to bias the capsule, and an FM demodulator to retrieve the wanted audio signal. Thankfully, squeezing all this circuitry into the slim microphone body is much less of a challenge than it once was, given the advance in miniaturised electronics.
Inspecting the published specifications, I note Rode claim a frequency response within a ±3dB window from 80Hz to 20kHz, and the included frequency response chart suggests the mic is reasonably flat from 2kHz down to 100Hz, with a top end that rolls off above about 16kHz. There's also a broad presence peak above 2kHz reaching +3dB between 5 and 10 kHz. The result of this tailored frequency response is a mic which sounds distinctly lean and crisp for on-axis sounds — which enhances the clarity of speech in most typical videography situations while also reducing unwanted ambient sound (and wind/handling noise). This tonal shaping will also be of particular benefit when the mic is used with semi-pro recorders lacking suitable high-pass filters to reduce handling/wind noise, and the presence boost will also compensate for the inherent (small) HF losses incurred when using the windshields.
The polar pattern plots show a fairly typical supercardioid response at low- and mid-frequencies, with the expected increasingly directional high–frequency region due to the action of the interference tube. However, because the tube is relatively short the polar response only gets significantly narrow above about 4kHz.
In other specifications, the sensitivity is given as 66mV/Pa, which is a very strong output level and about 8dB hotter than the industry standard MKH416. However, this high sensitivity hasn't compromised the mic's headroom, which is quoted as a healthy 130dB SPL for 1-percent THD (the same as the MKH416). The equivalent self-noise figure is also impressively low at 10dBA SPL, and the current consumption from standard 48V phantom power is just 2mA, so the NTG5 won't be a major drain on a portable recorder's battery life.
I loaded the NTG5 into its handgrip suspension, fitted the WS10 windshield, cabled it into my trusty Sound Devices MP-2 portable mic preamp, slipped on the standard Sennheiser HD-25-1 ii headphones and went for a walkabout 'interviewing' my unsuspecting neighbours. I'm pleased to report that the results were genuinely excellent, certainly of professional broadcast quality, and the very strong output signal will be a positive benefit when partnered with budget cameras and recorders whose preamps often become noisy at high gain settings.
The handgrip is comfortable and easy to use, and the shockmount is highly effective at minimising handling noise. The WS10 windshield is pretty good too and definitely well worth using, although it struggled with significant gusts and breezes, which produced considerable LF rumble. To be fair, though, the Rycote Softie would also struggle in the same situations, and Rode do offer their own Blimp and DeadWombat windshield accessories for the more challenging and exposed outdoor jobs.
Given the remarkable lightness of the mic itself, it seems a shame that the handgrip is so heavy. Although this isn't a problem at all for handheld use, it can become very significant if the mic is being 'flown in' overhead on a fish-pole. So for that application I'd recommend acquiring Rode's SM4-R shockmount, which is the same suspension base-plate but fitted with a standard thread adaptor instead of the handgrip. In that way the weight at the end of the pole is halved from 414g to around 200g — and that makes a really big difference on a long day's shooting!
In terms of the mic's tonality, the NTG5 sounds very clean and crisp, with excellent dialogue intelligibility when pointed accurately on-axis to a speaker. However, while I completely understand the decision to roll off the low end — something which definitely enhances usability in the field — I'd have preferred that to be controlled by a switchable filter so that a fuller, deeper tonality could be captured when desired in the appropriate circumstances, such as indoors and when recording studio voiceovers.
Ambient sounds around the sides of the mic are attenuated pretty well compared to the wanted on-axis sounds, although there is quite a strong rearward pickup tail associated with the underlying super-cardioid pattern, and some care in aiming the mic is beneficial to minimise the pickup of unwanted ground reflections or loud sources located behind the mic. As expected from a 'line and gradient' microphone of this type, moving the microphone off-axis from a speaker quickly loses a lot of level and high frequencies. However, the critical point is that it's a very smooth and predictable transition and, most impressively, there's very little phasiness or tonal variation even when off-axis sources move around the sides of the mic.
This is a big advantage when physically panning the mic between multiple contributors, for example, because the character of background sounds remains reasonably consistent and less aurally distracting. Of course, the 'pointy' nature of the NTG5's on-axis pickup region means that the user really does need to pay attention, not only to keep the mic pointing directly at the source, but also to anticipate a response or interruption from other contributors and reposition the mic appropriately in advance to avoid that glaring amateur error of the new contributor initially sounding dull and quiet before being brought into audio focus!
It's been a good few years since my job required me to stand outdoors alongside a video cameraman waving a microphone around in all weathers, but if I had to do it today I'd be very happy to use the NTG5. It really is an extremely good-sounding, highly effective, reliable and cost-effective location recording mic, with good-quality, genuinely practical accessories. This is undoubtedly another remarkably impressive product from Rode, and one which I have no hesitation at all in recommending.
Plenty of manufacturers offer short-shotgun microphones, but when working in hostile exterior environments, RF-biased microphones are associated with better reliability than other technologies. This technology was the exclusive province of Sennheiser's MKH microphones until Rode introduced the NTG3, and now the NTG5 — so the direct alternatives are only Sennheiser's MKH416 and MKH60, as well as the NTG3, all of which are considerably larger, heavier and more expensive. The sealed nature of back-electret capsules provides better immunity to humidity than traditional DC-biased capsules, so some lower–cost electret-based alternatives include Audio Technica's AT875R, Sennheiser's MKE600, Shure's VP82 and Rode's NTG4+.
- A true RF-bias location shotgun mic at a remarkably attractive price.
- Impressive build quality and technical specifications.
- Tailored frequency response optimised for location work.
- Highly practical and usable included kit of location accessories.
- Rycote-licensed shockmounting and other technologies.
- The suspension can't be removed from the handgrip, which may impact use on a fish-pole.
- Tailored low-end response reduces the mic's usefulness in studio voiceover applications.
A highly cost-effective compact shotgun mic optimised for use by keen amateurs rather than experienced professionals, but with impressive technical specifications and a genuinely worthwhile location recording accessories kit.
£449 including VAT.
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