Technology

Field Test: RDE NT2000

More than 35 years ago, Henry and Astrid Freedman founded their Australian-based Freedman Group of companies to design, manufacture and install pro audio gear. 11/01/2003 7:00 AM Eastern

More than 35 years ago, Henry and Astrid Freedman founded theirAustralian-based Freedman Group of companies to design, manufacture andinstall pro audio gear. The first products from the resulting FreedmanElectronics were loudspeakers, amplifiers and crossovers sold to thegrowing Australian market. RØDE evolved from the company's yearsof experimentation and research into modifying existing microphones forexpanded bandwidth, smoother response and lower noise. In 1990,RØDE's first microphone, the NT2, debuted, and through the years,the company has distinguished itself as a provider of high-qualitystudio tools that are well outside of the “me-too” mold ofso many other microphones.

So when RØDE president Peter Freedman began working on thecompany's latest creation, he wanted to do something completelydifferent, and the NT2000 is the result of that quest. To give thebarest of descriptions, the NT2000 is a solid-state, multipattern,large-diaphragm studio condenser mic. But besides its pristine 7dBA EINspec and clear, smooth sound, what sets the NT2000 apart from the restis the versatility of its “Totally Variable” controls. Setinto the mic body are continuous pots for setting polar pattern (fromomni through cardioid to figure-8 and anything in between); a 20 to 150Hz tunable highpass filter; and a (also variable) 0 to 10dB pad. Thepattern-selector pot has a center detent for the 12 o'clock cardioidposition.

The NT2000 is a side-address design, with the control pots facingthe sound source. Under the large, multilayer windscreen is the HF-1, atrue (externally polarized) condenser capsule with dual-1-inchdiameter, 5-micron-thick Mylar diaphragms that are gold-sputtered andthen hand-tensioned and aged before clean room assembly at theRØDE factory.

Under the nickel-finished, heavy brass body is a modern,double-sided board with low-noise FET electronics in a combination ofaxial and surface-mount components. The fit and finish are impeccablethroughout. The NT2000 has a most distinctive look, and bucking thetrend of the ever-growing logos on gear with the company name only onthe dark band at the base of the mic. The only obviousRØDE-looking touch is the trademark circular brass insert thatmarks the “front” of the cardioid direction on all of thecompany's side-address studio mics.

IN THE STUDIO


Once the box arrived — with its familiar logo and Sydney,Australia return address — I was anxious to get started. TheNT2000's $899 retail price includes a molded, padded protective casethat houses the mic and shockmount. Speaking of the latter, theshockmount is made of a tough, polymer material, with threaded metalinsets for the stand-mount and angle-adjustment screw. One nice touch:A long handle with a release button really ensures the mic angle issolidly locked.

The 6-inch diameter shockmount is fairly sizable, which could makesome placements difficult, should you want to use the NT2000 in acramped space such as on a snare or in a complex percussion setup.However, most applications for the NT2000 don't involve such obstacles.The shockmount is highly effective and required, as the mic is highlysensitive and susceptible to handling noise. The mic itself is cradledwithin the shockmount by an inner basket supported by thick elasticcords that keep the mic aligned, yet provide ample protection fromvibrations, thonks and bonks that could transmit nasty low-endrumble.

The mic is no lightweight: The NT2000 and shockmount tip the scalesat a hefty 2.33 pounds, so make sure that your mic stands are sturdy,particularly when using booms.

My first session was recording a 4-string Appalachian dulcimer usingthe cardioid setting, about 2.5 feet above and in front of theinstrument. The dulcimer's bridge end has a brighter tone, so I turnedthe pattern control a bit toward omni, which resulted in a nice, widecardioid that wasn't entirely focused on the center of the instrument.It provided a tone that was rich with upper-end harmonics and a fullbass from the drone strings. One thing that was evident was theNT2000's noise — or lack thereof — especially when using aclean Millennia Media HV-3 preamp.

On a later (but unrelated) session, I tried to make an uncooperativecat meow on cue for the mic, which was fruitless. When I decided togive up, the cat finally walked away, stopped about five feet back andgave a couple (far-field) meows. Fortunately, tape — er, disk— was still rolling at that time, and because I had an ultracleanaudio path, I could just boost gain later and get a usable take.

Cutting (human) vocals was a lot more fun. Recording somedoo-wop-style a cappella tracks, I decided to go the old way: onesinger on either side of the figure-8 pattern. A few things becameevident: The figure-8 pattern is consistent on both sides and —like the cardioid setting — exhibits a wonderful proximityeffect, adding a nice bottom-end richness to the sound, without beingoverbearing.

Switching to cardioid for some close-in solo vocals, I had to use astocking pop filter to eliminate popping “p” and“b” sounds. In cardioid, the NT2000's wide, fairly flatresponse doesn't roll-off until about 14 kHz or so, and doesn't exhibitthe huge presence peaks common to many other condensers. The mic has asmoothness that's more reminiscent of a C-12 than a C414, with a round,full bottom and an unexaggerated top that worked well for male andfemale vocals. On certain male singers — particularly basses— you might want to add a hint of EQ for punch and clarity, butthis is hardly the mic's fault.

Combined with the mic's low-noise performance, the omni position wasgreat for distance room-miking — whether on piano or rock guitaramping. Even when I used the NT2000 close in on loud amps, I neverneeded the pad, as the mic handles high-SPL sources without ahitch.

The continuously variable 20 to 150Hz roll-off is a gem. At thehalfway position, the mic was perfect for close radio-style narrationwithout a pop screen. The full-on 150Hz setting is more useful as aneffect, such as a “your table's ready”-style narration, orfor rolling off low frequencies when recording drum overheads. I onlyhad one mic to test, so I didn't track any drums, although I switchedthe HP filter out and put the NT2000 over my studio kit, where its widebandwidth and excellent off-axis response offered a natural sound onthe entire kit with tons of detail.

At $899 retail (and a lower street price), the NT2000 has all of themakings of a classic, with its sweet sound and versatility to handlejust about anything. Here's a top choice for your mic locker.

RØDE Microphones, 310/328-7456, www.rodemic.com.

Big Changes Down Under


Five years ago, RØDE built a 20,000-square-foot mic factory onthe outskirts of Sydney, but there was a problem: With the company'sgrowth, it soon needed a larger operation. Last month, RØDE beganmoving into a totally new 70,000-square-foot plant. Located inSilverwater, barely a stone's throw from Sydney's Olympic complex, thenew factory houses the company's operations except metalwork forbodies, which is handled by a facility in Aussie's famed BlueMountains. The Silverwater complex offers state-of-the-art assemblywith surface-mount systems, clean rooms for capsule assembly, CADdesign and special listening rooms where each mic is evaluated beforeshipping.