RØDE Classic, April 1997TUBE STUDIO MIC 5/14/2004 8:00 AM Eastern
When I first heard that Australian company RØDE was offering a multipattern, large-diaphragm tube condenser mic for only $1,999, I was a bit skeptical. The cost of manufacturing a quality vacuum tube microphone is usually very high. So how good could the modestly priced RØDE Classic be? Very good, it turns out. The RØDE Classic’s audio quality and construction are both top-notch. And, considering its low price, the package includes a surprisingly generous allotment of features and accessories.
INSIDE AND OUT
The RØDE Classic is quite retro-looking. Its almost perfectly cylindrical shape and unadorned nickel finish are reminiscent of vintage European tube microphones. The mic’s beefy size (approximately 7x2.75 inches), hefty weight (more than 2 pounds) and quality construction make a very favorable first impression. The hand-polished, solid brass body is fitted with a small, gold-plated Tuchel connector for the remote power supply. A very sturdy, wire mesh head grille is supplemented by a finer internal pop screen and an internal shock-mounting system for the capsule.
The hand-assembled capsule is mounted in a side-address orientation and features 1-inch, gold-sputtered, dual diaphragms that are 6 microns thick. The Classic’s shock-mounted GE 6072 vacuum tube is matched to an internal, Mu-metal cased output transformer that was custom-designed by Jensen. There are no switches on the mic body, and all adjustments are made remotely from its external power supply. A small, gold, slotted screw just below the head grille is the only visual clue identifying the front of the mic. It’s a very minor niggle, but an otherwise identical silver screw adorns the back of the mic, making correct setup in low light a rather squinty-eyed task.
A thickly jacketed, custom-made, 10-meter multicore cable mates the RØDE Classic to its remote power supply via gold-plated Tuchel connectors. I’ve had occasional problems with Tuchel connectors getting stuck on other mics, but the ones on the RØDE Classic unscrew and pull out easily. Besides providing a bomb-proof connection, Tuchels also offer superior RF rejection.
The RØDE Classic includes a full-featured, remote power supply and a generous (eight-plus feet long), detachable AC cord. Three large knobs on the front panel control the mic’s polar pattern, bass roll-off and padding, respectively. Polar patterns are adjustable from omni through cardioid to bidirectional in nine steps (achieving intermediate patterns along the way). The three-position highpass control selects flat response, or -6/-12 dB/octave roll-off of bass frequencies at 125 Hz. The mic can be padded 10 or 20 dB, or left unattenuated. A large, red front panel LED lights when the supply is powered up, which is good, as the on/off positions of the rear-panel power switch are unmarked. Audio output is via a standard 3-pin XLR (pin #2 hot) on the rear panel.
Amazingly (considering the price), the RØDE Classic also has a beautiful, foam-lined, aluminum flight case (lockable, with keys) for storing the system. In fact, the only items lacking are an external foam pop filter and external shock mount. A “naked” Classic can pop on a breathy singer, but a Popper Stopper stocking screen solved the problem. And although the Classic is a little susceptible to rumble, the highpass filter cures any problem nicely without throwing the baby out with the bath water. Both the highpass filter and polar pattern controls switch positions silently. However, changing the pad setting causes a loud pop in the audio path.
Mounting the Classic to a mic stand is simple. A large, knurled nut secures the mic to a sturdy L-bracket, which mounts in turn on top of a mic adapter. The circular nut can be loosened to allow the mic virtually 360° of rotation about a horizontal access, greatly easing accurate placement (and allowing you to hang the mic upside down). One caveat, though: the mic’s considerable weight does tend to make it slip out of position if you don’t secure the nut with a very firm twist.
Nothing out of the ordinary here. Sensitivity is a capable 13 mV/PA, maximum SPL is 130 dB (150 dB with the 20dB pad). The broadband self-noise spec. of 24dB is fairly typical of tube mics but does prompt some caution for critical applications—the Classic can be a tad noisy on exposed sources such as classical harp and wind chimes.
Like most multipattern mics, the Classic offers many timbral possibilities. The frequency response is quite flat in the bass and midrange, and never more than 3 dB down at 20 Hz for any polar pattern. Response at 20 kHz is only 2 to 4 dB down, depending on the pattern chosen. As is usually the case, Figure-8 mode has the least amount of “top,” though it’s by no means dull-sounding at 0° on-axis. In all other respects, it’s the flattest of the patterns offered. Omni mode has a slight, smooth dip in the upper mids around 2 to 3 kHz and a hefty 6dB boost centered around 11 kHz. Cardioid mode exhibits a broad 2dB boost in the upper midrange, rising moderately to 4 dB around 11 kHz.
All of my critical listening tests (and overdubs) were performed with a Millennia Media HV-3 mic preamp, chosen for its neutrality and extreme accuracy. The Classic’s off-axis response is outstanding, with one exception. In Figure-8 mode, close-miked sources 180° off-axis had a lot more low midrange content than sources miked 0° on-axis at the same distance. This makes it difficult to find the right balance on opposing background vocalists, although one could always use omni mode for this application. On the positive side, the rear side of the mic in Figure-8 mode yields by far the thickest (if not the blurriest) sound of all, which can be very useful when trying to add support to extremely thin or nasal instruments.
IN THE TRENCHES
Miking male vocals in cardioid mode at seven inches, the Classic sounded warm and lush with rich texture. The mic has both a big, fat bottom and an articulately detailed high end. If you’re looking for a mic with plenty of tube “splatter,” you won’t be disappointed—here, the Classic really delivers. However, the mic has a somewhat full lower midrange that can make it a tad cloudy on inherently woolly-sounding vocalists, who would be better served by a more open mic such as the AKG C-414TLII. This is not a criticism; I could say the same thing about the C12VR, U87, etc. That’s why every studio stocks a variety of mics for different singers.
I got similar results miking a husky, alto female vocalist. Spoken word sounded awesome—big, detailed, tonally balanced, 3-D and lush with pleasing harmonics. When she sang over a dense, busy mix, however, the Classic sounded a tad cloudy. The singer’s natural sibilance was also a little emphasized by the mic. Unfortunately, I never got to hear the Classic on a soprano vocal, but I would hazard a guess that it would probably fatten it up nicely.
Next up: a Fender Strat played through a Mesa Boogie Subway Rocket. The Classic was put in bidirectional mode, about 45° off-axis and 20 inches from the cabinet. This sounded downright awesome—creamy, fat, rich and detailed, with the perfect blend of thick body and raspy cut.
In cardioid mode on classical harp, the Classic demonstrated outstanding transient response. The tonal balance was very pleasing, with both a bright, vibrant top and deep, full bottom. The sound was considerably lusher and fatter than that provided by my B&K 4011s, though the latter mics were chosen in the end for their open upper bass and superior signal-to-noise. The Classic’s self-noise was a little obtrusive during quiet passages on this most dynamic of instruments.
Noise was also a problem on wind chimes. But if it’s possible for wind chimes to sound fat, then the RØDE Classic is your ticket to obesity. Simply put, I’ve never heard a more flattering mic (from a timbral standpoint) on this instrument. The sound was full and lush, yet sparkly and detailed.
Overall, the Classic is no noisier than a C12VR and exhibits better RFI rejection. Interestingly, much of the Classic’s self-noise (no, it was not transformer hum) lies in a broadband low-frequency region, where it can easily be rolled off on background tracks, chimes, etc., for perceptibly better noise performance.
Finally, we take a vicarious trip to India for overdubs of sruti box (similar to harmonium) and tamboura. The Classic is a great mic for sruti box, lending a rich and full—yet present—sound. And the tamboura sounded absolutely incredible. Here, the Classic perfectly balanced the sonorous, low-end drone of the instrument’s body against the rich, tangy buzz of the strings. The pluck of the strings was also very faithfully reproduced. The power supply’s switchable highpass filter removed excess low-frequency thumping in the string attack without robbing the instrument of its warmth and body.
The RØDE Classic is the richest and biggest-sounding mic I’ve heard in its price range. It imparts gobs of rich tube luster to whatever it touches, and its unusually good transient response (that is, for a large diaphragm mic) makes it a very versatile performer. The Classic’s only limiting factor is its self-noise level, which is about average for a tube mic. While noise won’t be an issue in most situations, it could be a problem in critical applications such as classical or a cappella recording. When you weigh the Classic’s beautiful tonality, tight off-axis response, beefy construction, generous feature set and quality flight case against its modest asking price, you can only draw one conclusion. It’s a bargain.
RØDE Microphones, www.rodemics.com