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 ⅛-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, Box 3279, Torrance, CA 90510-3279; 877/328-7456; fax 310/328-7180; www.rodemic.com.
When she's not recording in the great outdoors, Laura Pallanck spends her time in the San Francisco Bay Area.