Fun. Joyous. Efficient. It’s hard to pick the best word to start this review because they all apply equally well to the RødeCaster Pro all-in-one podcast production studio from Røde. Oddly enough, I started a very different review when I first received the unit—but a recent firmware update radically changed the functionality of this machine, making it something that I simply had to own. (Editor’s note: As this review went to press, Røde updated its firmware a second time, releasing v2.0. This review is based on the v1.2 firmware released in late June 2019.)
In a sea of portable digital recorders, what sets this $599 device apart? RødeCaster Pro offers four XLR inputs with phantom power, four Class A servo-biased preamps, USB playback input, mini-plug input, Bluetooth connection, eight stereo sound playback pads, onboard multitrack microSD card storage, computer connectivity via USB-C, five headphone outputs with four volume knobs, stereo speaker connection via two 1/4-inch outputs, and control over all of it via eight faders and an extremely intuitive touchscreen.
Aphex’s Aural Exciter and Big Bottom have been incorporated into RødeCaster Pro’s audio processing section. Additional processors include highpass filter, noise gate, compressor, de-esser and ducking. All of these options can be turned on/off in the advanced menu. There are variations on these stored as presets that help you choose the sound that’s right for you without having to be an engineer. And that’s really the point of this machine. It’s designed to be ready to use even if you’re not a recording engineer. Røde has helpfully included presets to quickly fire up the mic you’ve connected, with custom settings for Røde’s PodMic, Procaster, Broadcaster, NT1, NT1-A and NT2-A, and general settings for condenser and dynamic mics.
The device offers multiple recording options. You can produce your show live to a stereo file on the microSD card (not included), along with all your preloaded music cues and sound effects, with the ability for people to call in/Skype in (or both at once). If you need more control, you can flip an internal setting to allow multitrack recording to the card, which you can then import into your editing software via the free RødeCaster Pro app. The file format is 24-bit, 48k WAV, stored on the card as a single “Poly Wave” file. You’ll need to extract the discrete tracks via the app before bringing it into your editing software. The process is painless.
With the included USB-C cable, you can connect your computer and use it as a multichannel interface. You’ll need to go to the advanced menu to switch to “multitrack via USB.” My Pro Tools system discovered it immediately, and the I/O setup was a breeze. The track recording options mirror those for saving to the internal card. For added protection, you can record to the card and your computer simultaneously, but it’s important to note that the built-in processing does not carry over to Pro Tools.
What I absolutely love about this system is that it can serve as the centerpiece of a podcast studio, or you can take it on the road and record a podcast without having to lug around a computer as well.
Setup is really fast. Put it on your desk, plug it in and you’re ready to rock. I love that it has a locking power port. The cable screws into place to prevent accidental disconnection. It’s a thoughtful and smart touch!
Updating the firmware is important if your unit didn’t ship with the ability to multitrack. The companion apps for Mac or PC are effortless and smooth. You’ll notice a warning card on the headphone volume controls—while that’s just Røde making sure someone doesn’t blow their eardrums out, it’s important to note that the headphones here give you plenty of gain. You can limit that gain via the touchscreen if you want to protect yourself and others.
While RødeCaster Pro is certainly not the only digital recorder in this price range, it distinguishes itself by how well it functions for podcasters. The customizable playback buttons are a fun and easy way to store music cues, clips and effects. The app makes loading clips a snap, and you can choose how they behave when you tap the corresponding pad (play once, loop, etc.). The designers even included a couple of whiteboards so you can make a cheat sheet for which sounds are assigned to which pad, and it comes loaded with sounds so you can get a feel for it the moment you turn it on.
While each track has its own solo and record mute button, keep in mind that engaging them affects what everyone hears in their headphones. It would be great if the headphone jack on the front of the unit was the only one able to hear soloed tracks; that would be helpful for real-time spot checking. It’s important to note that pressing solo on a track doesn’t affect whether it’s recording or not—but pressing the record icon definitely does.
In addition to the secure power port, other smart features ensure smooth operation. When you tap the power button on the back, the system doesn’t just power down; an on-screen prompt asks you to confirm the action, which should prevent unintentional power downs. It’s also useful that on startup, the unit reconnects Bluetooth, remembers mic settings and retains the last sound files loaded onto the pads.
I initially questioned the use of a microSD card for storage instead of a full-size SD card, but I’ve read that certain microSD cards actually perform better. It fits snugly and securely into its slot on the back of the device, and it seems unlikely you’ll ever unintentionally remove it. Since these cards typically come with an adapter, getting it into your computer is simple. I’m just always worried I’ll lose such a tiny thing!
Røde may not have intended it, but this is also a perfect solution for voice actors with home studios. Not only are you getting solid mic pre’s with easy-to-use processing, but you also get an excellent phone patch system. The built-in headphone jacks keep clients in your ear, and you can mute them easily between takes. Each hit of the record button creates a new take that you can upload after the fact. And if you’re on the go, you can do all this without a computer thanks to the microSD card storage.
When I first fired this thing up, the look of it was so inviting that it made me want to get to work. The analogy I can give is that it’s like loading up GarageBand on an iPad versus having to fire up your entire studio to create. My creative inspirations are often doused by the time I turn everything on and get all the devices communicating, whereas GarageBand is simply launch and go! The same applies here: When you hit the power button, the machine is ready to produce a great show!
(Available as a download on Røde’s website, v2.0 firmware allows users to save and load shows via the RødeCaster companion app; settings can also be saved on their own. A new Podcast Transfer Mode transfers podcasts from the microSD card to a computer directly from RødeCaster Pro. New Sound Pad features include a home screen indicator that tells which pad is playing and how long until it finishes, easier access to the sound pad configuration screen, more onboard control and a new Pause playback mode. Eight banks of sounds can now be saved to a RødeCaster Pro. Lastly, RødeCaster Pro and the companion app now communicate in real time.)
Røde Microphones • www.rode.com