RØDE NT4, November 2002

RØDE has answered the call for a high-quality, midpriced stereo microphone with the introduction of the NT4 ($899). The NT4 features a pair of small-diaphragm
Author:
Publish date:

RØDE has answered the call for a high-quality, midpriced stereo
microphone with the introduction of the NT4 ($899). The NT4 features a
pair of small-diaphragm cardioid condenser capsules permanently set in
a 90° X/Y configuration; the capsules have gold-sputtered,
½-inch diaphragms, and you can power the mic from 12-volt, 24V and
48V phantom power, or
from a 9V battery.

My first thought when I saw the NT4 was that it would be perfect for
location recording. Evidently, RØDE was thinking the same way:
Besides a sturdy mic clip and foam wind screen, the NT4 comes with two
cables that interface with the mic's 5-pin connector: One offers a pair
of XLR cables
(conveniently marked L and R) and the other has a single 1/4-inch plug,
which is perfect for plugging into a MiniDisc or portable DAT recorder.
In addition, RØDE thoughtfully included a rugged, lightweight,
plastic foam-lined case.

I use stereo microphones when convenience and portability are
important. However, I prefer to use a pair of mics for stereo work so
that I can adjust the spacing to meet the demands of the recording
situation. I admit that, at first, it was challenging to look at the
capsules and not be able to futz with them. But that's the way it is
with stereo mics in this price range. Other than the on/off switch and
a light that indicates battery status, the NT4 does not offer any other
features—a model of simplicity.

The capsules of the NT4 I tested were well-matched. Their frequency
response includes a slight bump of nearly 2.5 dB in the area of 120 to
190 Hz, and between 5 and 7.5 kHz. Then it bumps up 2.5 dB around 11
kHz before dropping 7.5 dB as it reaches 20 kHz. Frightening as that
looks in print, the NT4's sound is very good. It had a darker sound
than other small-diaphragm condensers to which I compared it (mics from
AKG, Neumann and Oktava) but not unpleasantly so. The NT4 handles loud
sounds very well, and is rated with a maximum SPL of 143 dB. And with a
dynamic range of 128 dB and self-noise at less than 16 dBA, it's in
line with the small-diaphragm mics I favor.

HOME AND AWAY
I took the NT4 on a number of location dates where space and setup
time were limited. The first gig required me to document several
rehearsals and a performance of a musical theater work. The show
featured a male lead, a nine-voice female chorus and a 10-piece
instrumental group situated near the wings, stage right.

The first thing I noticed was the NT4's wide stereo spread, which
helped capture the singers when they moved to the far sides of the
stage. I also noticed how sensitive the NT4 is to position. At one
point, the weight of the special XLR cable pulled the back of the mic
down and raised the capsules a few degrees. This changed the timbre
substantially and led to this discovery: Although the angle of the
capsules is fixed, you can change the sound of the NT4 by rotating them
(so that one capsule is slightly above the other), and not just by
changing proximity and direction, as you would with other mics. I was
able to hone in on just the right position, allowing me to get the best
blend of voices and instruments.

The next assignment required me to come up with bits of audio
verité for an English radio documentary. For this, I required a
portable recording rig. The convenience and sound quality the NT4
provided were perfect for the job. To keep things light, I powered the
mic using the 9V battery and recorded direct to CD-R. As you might
suspect, the mic was a bit noisier when powered by battery.

Nonetheless, I was very satisfied with the results. The foreground
sources (voices, a piano, an espresso machine) sounded rich and
natural, while the background details in each environment (the radio in
a back room and the ice-cream truck that chose just the right moment to
cross the stereo field) were tucked nicely behind.

In the studio, paired with my Langevin Dual Vocal Combo or the
Focusrite preamps in my Digidesign Digi 001, the NT4 gave me smooth and
natural recordings of a mandolin, octave guitar and upright piano.
Aiming the mic slightly above or below the source further darkened the
sound in a nice way and came in very handy while I was recording a
Gibson M6 mandolin-shaped octave guitar. The real mandolin, on the
other hand, didn't have as much high-frequency zing. By pointing the
NT4 directly at the body from a distance of about two feet, I got the
instrument's warmth and captured a nice mix of the room, which had
hardwood surfaces. To get the best stereo image of the piano with
maximum room ambience, I backed the microphone even farther into the
room.

In contrast, I couldn't resist the temptation to boost the highs
slightly on metallic percussion sources. But when I recorded a live
concert of a five-piece jazz group, which included a drummer with
plenty of cymbals, the NT4 gave the recording a somewhat mellow
quality. The unhyped high end fit the material well, without
sacrificing definition.

For well under a grand, the RØDE NT4 is a stereo mic that
travels easily, can be powered from a battery and sounds like it costs
nearly twice as much. Anyone seriously into stereo recording should
give the NT4 a listen.

RØDE Microphones, www.rodemic.com