Similar in name, yet quite unique in character
Something that crops up from time to time are questions that pit products against each other, none more so than in the case of the Rode NT1 vs NT1A.
When it comes to designing professional studio-ready microphones that don’t cost the earth, there are few that come close to Rode Microphones. Hailing from a state-of-the-art manufacturing centre in sunny Sydney, Australia, Rode’s crack team of experts cover disciplines as wide ranging as audio and acoustics engineering to robotics. By taking a holistic approach they are able to execute some truly innovative ideas. From professional recording facilities to modest home studios, there is a Rode mic to suit any and every setup.
A couple of their most popular models are the similarly named NT1 and NT1-A. However, though they may share similar specs they are known to produce subtle idiosyncrasies. We’re going to do a little digging to find out why that might be so.
Originally released back in 1997, the NT1 was re-designed and re-released following the success of the NT1-A. Rode’s engineers approached the redesign of the NT1 by working from the ground up, starting with the capsule. Codenamed the HF6, it embodies Rode’s ability to infuse lavish visual aesthetics alongside bleeding-edge manufacturing techniques to produce stunning results. Aluminium is machined to create the body, which is then nickel-plated for improved resistance. Taking things one step further, Rode coat the body in a durable, military-grade ceramic using proprietary techniques to make it as durable as possible.
Quite the character
The NT1’s character is rich and full whilst boasting extremely low-noise, quite a feat for such a responsive mic. At the heart of the NT1, the transducer is suspended inside the mic using Rycote’s industry-leading Lyre System, which keeps the influence of external vibrations to an absolute minimum. Coupled with premium electronics the NT1 boasts an astonishingly low 4.5dBA of self-noise.
So impressive is the NT1, it holds its own against some pretty stiff competition as can be seen in the video below.
The NT1-A was also released in the late 1990s, and quickly rose to become an industry-standard for vocals and acoustic instrument recordings. The nuanced character of the NT1-A captures instruments with remarkable clarity, whilst its ability to handle high sound pressure levels makes it suitable across a wide range of applications from vocals to percussion.
Looking at the table below, both mics appear to be pretty similar:
|Microphone Model||Rode NT1||Rode NT1-A|
|Dimensions||Length – 187mm / Diameter – 50mm||Length – 190mm / Diameter – 50mm|
|Net Weight||395g||326 g|
|Acoustic Principle||Pressure Gradient||Pressure Gradient|
|Active Electronics||JFET impedance converter with bipolar output buffer||JFET impedance converter with bipolar output buffer|
|Frequency Range||20Hz ~ 20kHz||20 Hz ~ 20 kHz|
|Output Impedance||100 Ohms||100 Ohms|
|Equivalent Noise||4.5 dBA SPL (as per IEC651)||5dBA|
|Maximum Output||8.0mV (@ 1kHz, 1% THD into 1 kOhms load)||13.7mV (@ 1kHz, 1% THD into 1 kOhms load)|
|Sensitivity||-29 dB re 1V/Pa (35mV @ 94dB SPL) +/- 2dB @ 1kHz||-32 dB re 1 Volt/Pascal (25 mV|
@ 94 dB SPL) +/- 2 dB @ 1kHz
|Dynamic Range||128 dB SPL|
|Maximum SPL||132 dB SPL||137dB SPL|
|Signal / Noise||90 dBA SPL (as per IEC651)|
|Power Requirements||24V phantom power|
48V phantom power
|24V phantom power|
48V phantom power
|Output Connection||3 Pin XLR|
Balanced output between pin 2 (+), pin 3 (-) and pin 1 (ground)
|3 pin XLR|
balanced output between Pin 2 (+), Pin 3 (-), Pin 1 (ground)
Too close to call?
As you can see, the differences between the pair seem to be minimal at best. The NT1 vs NT1A side-by-side table shows they are both as adaptable as each other, can withstand being put in front of a snare hit or an overdriven guitar amp, and are virtually the same size and weight.
However, many users of both mics claim that there are aural subtleties that separate the two – so what gives? The only way to get to the bottom of this is to check out the frequency response charts for each mic.
Frequency Chart for Rode NT1
From the chart above we can observe that the frequency response is incredibly flat. There is a roll-off from around 30Hz to 20Hz and then a slight lift by 1 dB between 4kHz and 10kHz, before tapering off at roughly 15kHz. What this means is that the NT1 captures frequencies between 30Hz and 4kHz with exceptional fidelity. The microphone doesn’t introduce colouration or influence the integrity of the audio source, it simply records it as is. With regard to vocals, the NT1 does an excellent job of capturing a true representation of someone’s voice without imposing any emphasis on sensitive frequency bands, e.g. people are particularly susceptible to changes across the midrange where vocals sit.
Frequency Chart for Rode NT1-A
The NT1-A frequency chart tells a very different story. Straight away we can see a more exaggerated frequency response that peaks and troughs freely. There is a less emphasized low-frequency range with a 1 dB uplift from 100Hz to 250Hz. Within the mid to upper mid frequency range there is a stark difference, which rises to a 2.5dB lift around the 12kHz mark. The result is increased focus on higher frequencies, which in turn explains why so many refer to the NT1-A as having a ‘brighter’ response. The extra lift in the higher frequencies can be helpful for capturing subtle harmonics, presence for clarity, and “air” – which is crucial for creating a sense of openness in a mix.
When it comes to application, the NT1 vs NT1A debate seems moot, as both fit for purpose across everything from vocals to guitars to percussion. The question, as always, lies in what “sound” you’re aiming for from the recording and making the recording, editing, mixing process easier. At the end of the day we can all edit things to our hearts content with the plethora of filters, compressors, equalizers, etc., that are available. However, knowing what your mic is capable of and what its limitations are will remove a lot of headaches at the source.
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.