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sE Electronics RNT

Multi-pattern Valve Microphone By Neil Rogers
Published July 2019

This premium studio microphone is the result of a long-standing collaboration between mic-makers sE and legendary studio equipment designer Rupert Neve.

The latest product to come out of the ongoing partnership between sE Electronics and Rupert Neve Designs is also the new flagship of the sE range: a multi-pattern valve capacitor microphone called the RNT. The partnership has previously yielded a small–diaphragm capacitor mic, the RN17, and the RNR1 active ribbon microphone, but a quick look at the sE website makes clear that they're going 'all in' with this product. As a result, it comes with a price tag that is much higher than you would typically associate with sE, who are probably best known for producing a wide range of respected but affordable microphones. Teaming up with perhaps the most revered audio electronics engineer of all time certainly helps credibility–wise, and I was interested to see how the mic performed in the studio, and whether it deserves to be taken seriously as a new high-end large-diaphragm tube mic option.

Who Did What?

sE Electronics RNT large diaphragm condenser valve microphone.The RNT is described as a direct collaboration not only between both companies' engineering teams, but between sE Electronics' owner Siwei Zou and Rupert Neve himself. On paper it would seem that such a partnership makes sense, with each company being able to bring specific areas of expertise to the party, so to speak. Electronics–wise, the RNT incorporates two Class–A active stages: a valve preamp and impedance converter within the microphone itself, and a solid-state circuit in the external 'floor box' which supplies the power to the microphone as well as controlling the polar patterns, gain staging and filter options.

The microphone itself is based around a custom hand–crafted, gold-sputtered, large-diaphragm capsule which sE say is the finest they have ever produced, with particular care taken at the listening stage of the development process. The valve stage employs a hand-selected, low-noise ECC82 valve, which feeds a custom–built Rupert Neve transformer and, as mentioned, the mains–powered floor box is doing a bit more than just powering the microphone. This 'second stage' of the electronics includes another custom–made transformer along with the same op-amps used in Rupert Neve Designs' large–format 5088 consoles.

Case On Point

As well as providing power to the microphone and housing the polar-pattern, filter and pad controls, the floor box also incorporates an active solid-state gain stage.As well as providing power to the microphone and housing the polar-pattern, filter and pad controls, the floor box also incorporates an active solid-state gain stage.A trustworthy case makes a good first impression when you encounter a new high-end microphone, and I can confidently put a big tick in that box on the RNT's behalf. This is the kind of solid metal case you would see chained to someone's wrist in a James Bond film, and it houses all the components of the system very nicely indeed. Within this case, the mic itself occupies an additional wooden box, and is substantial in both size and weight. Styling–wise, it makes no attempt to look like any particular classic microphone. There's what looks like a hand–scribed serial number on the mic chassis, which is a nice touch, and it looks and feels like a solid, modern product that is doing its own thing. I find that refreshing, but there's also a little part of my brain that thinks about investment and resale value with equipment in this price bracket. I can also think of a few discerning clients of mine who might take some convincing if I pulled the RNT out in a vocal or voice session instead of one of the usual (German–looking!) suspects! This stuff shouldn't matter, of course, and the proof will be in how it sounds and whether it can establish itself — as some newer microphone designs have — by just being outstanding at what it does.

As you would expect, all the cabling is of a high standard, and the floor box is surprisingly big when removed from the case. The styling of this box is very much in the vein of recent Rupert Neve Designs products, with the main focus being the large red dial that controls the polar pattern options. There are nine settings available: the traditional cardioid pattern in the centre, with omnidirectional and figure-8 at either end and two additional positions inbetween on either side. A quick look at the manual indicates that the frequency response changes to a noticeable extent in these different polar positions. The cardioid pattern has a broad bell–style lift which starts around 6kHz, but this changes to more of a resonant–type boost, with a slight dip around 4.5kHz, when switched towards omnidirectional. Lastly, the high-end lift is somewhat less pronounced in figure‑8 mode. As someone who's never been hugely convinced about the need for quite so many directional options, I was intrigued to see how these would perform in the studio. Also incorporated in the external box is a switch offering three different gain settings: 0dB, or a potentially useful 12dB cut or boost. Lastly, there are two sensible high-pass filter options, at 40Hz and 80Hz.

In Use

The RNT arrived at my studio on the morning of a drum tracking session, and I immediately unpacked it in the live room and stuck it up as an extra room–mic option, about 10 feet back from the drum kit. I'm sure this wasn't the first application the designers had in mind, but I was immediately struck with the detail in the low end, with the mic set in the fully omnidirectional position. Often these room-mic options fall by the wayside come mix time, but once I'd applied a little top–end roll-off to dull the cymbals, it played a very respectable part in the final drum sound.

Its next job was on a very dark–sounding nylon-strung acoustic guitar, and the RNT did a great job helping me squeeze out enough top end. The detail captured was also impressive, and it performed more like a small–diaphragm capacitor mic in this application. My studio was then taken over for 10 days for an album session, but I made a point of asking the producer of that session, Matty Moon, if he'd managed to try out the RNT. He explained that they'd done quite a big mic shootout before tracking the vocals and that they'd chosen the RNT for lead vocals on the whole album. There's no shortage of good mic options at my studio, but apparently the band especially liked how it helped the vocal cut through their big guitar sounds.

The first vocal session I myself got to try the RNT out on was for a female singer I've recorded a few times, and as we began recording, I began to get a feel for the microphone's personality. Perception can be a factor when evaluating audio equipment, and I think that because of the dimensions of the RNT I was perhaps expecting it to have a Neumann U47–type character. This was entirely wrong, however, and as I used it on a few more singers over the review period it began to remind me more of another revered (and very expensive!) microphone: the Sony C800G. A look at the frequency-response graphs gives a good idea of what to expect, and in use, I found it to be a microphone that definitely emphasises high frequencies. This is not a negative, though, and it generally brought out the top end of a vocal in a very natural-sounding way that meant it needed little work come mix time.

For all the singers I recorded with this mic, it framed the voice in a way that just worked in the song.

Despite being quite a bright–sounding mic, it was generally very easy on sibilance. On one singer, who was sounding a little harsh, I found that switching the polar pattern to supercardioid helped smooth things out: as I mentioned, each polar pattern has a slightly different frequency response, and although the patterns always sound similar, they do seem to offer some welcome versatility. The remainder of the review period for the RNT happily coincided with quite a busy period at my studio, and I was able to put the mic into action on a number of different singers — three female and three male, to be precise. In each case, I was impressed with not only the clarity and detail captured but also how easy it was to get the vocal to sit nicely in the track quickly.

One preconception of mine that the RNT challenged concerned the proximity effect. With some large-diaphragm mics, you can get a really exaggerated bottom end as you get closer to the microphone's capsule, especially in figure–8 mode. The RNT is certainly not lacking by any means, but I would describe the way it captures the lower frequencies as controlled and transparent. I didn't get a chance to extensively test the different polar patterns as, honestly, it's not really my style to fiddle about with this stuff in the middle of the session, but if you do like to really 'dial in' how much room ambience you capture, you should have plenty of options to play with. Generally, I stuck to cardioid for vocal recording, but I did also find myself really liking the mic set to its omnidirectional polar pattern, which felt exceptionally well balanced for general instrument recordings like piano or acoustic guitar.

Lastly, I thought it was worth seeing how the mic sounded in front of something quite loud, and it coped admirably on a very loud guitar cab, with the mic positioned about four inches back from the speaker cone. Having the option of attenuating the output by 12dB was handy here, and on such a loud source, I felt I could begin to hear the electronics help round the sound out in a really lovely way.

Summing Up

I was saying to someone the other day that while you don't have to have lots of high-end gear to make a great sounding recording, it just makes your job that bit easier — and the RNT just plain helped me out during its time at my studio, in terms of getting great results quickly. I don't like using the term 'musical' with audio equipment, but for all the singers I recorded with this mic, it framed the voice in a way that just worked in the song. In isolation it might be a little bright, even lean–sounding compared to other large-diaphragm tube microphones, but its forward–sounding top end, combined with a focused bottom end, is a combination that will work well on a lot of sources. If you're seeing the name Rupert Neve and expecting this to be a characterful and coloured–sounding mic, this isn't really the case. It's certainly not sterile — especially on louder sources — but the RNT is more about clarity and detail, with just a touch of tube and transformer goodness helping round things out a little.

As you can tell, I had a really good run with this microphone during the review period, but as with any mic, especially one you plan to use on vocals, it's important to make sure it suits the role you have in mind for it. That can be difficult with new mics that don't already have lots of experienced users and a big body of work to check out, but equally, most of the big–name vintage tube microphones have long disappeared over the affordability horizon price range! Although it's still a serious investment, the RNT's price does put it in the same ballpark as most of the other really good new capacitor mics that I've personally come across, and it's well worth checking out.

Alternatives

Forgetting about the vintage options that you'd need to sell your car(s) for, there are many large-diaphragm tube mics available. For less money, Telefunken USA, Neumann, Sontronics and Pearl offer some options, but typically with a fixed cardioid polar pattern. Around a similar price, Flea do excellent recreations of vintage designs, and you can get their U47–style offering for just over £3000. The Neumann M149 is probably the closest feature-wise, but is rather more expensive. The next jump up in price brings you into the realm of a new U67, the Blue Bottle, or something by Bock Audio.

Audio Examples

I've prepared a number of audio files to demonstrate the RNT's performance across a range of sources, including male and female vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, and a drum kit. To listen to them, visit https://sosm.ag/se-rnt-0719.

You can download a ZIP file of hi–res WAV audio examples in the righthand Media sidebar or use the link below.

Download | 35 MB

Pros

  • A great all–round capacitor mic that's especially good on vocals.
  • Extensive polar pattern options.
  • Useful additional features on floor box.
  • Original styling.
  • Good–quality case and mic mount.

Cons

  • Possibly the price, if longer-term investment is a factor.
  • Styling maybe won't be to everyone's taste.

Summary

sE Electronics and Rupert Neve Designs have teamed up to create a detailed, classy–sounding large-diaphragm tube microphone. The RNT's forward top end, combined with a focused bottom end, excelled on a number of singers during the review period, and the large selection of polar patterns also makes it a very flexible, high-quality general instrument mic.

information

£2899.99 including VAT.

Focusrite +44 (0)1494 462246

info@focusrite.com

www.focusrite.com

www.seelectronics.com

Published July 2019