Rode NT1 vs NT1a
We review the Rode NT1 and NT1a microphones putting them side by side so that you can compare them for yourself.
We will start off by defining some jargon that is used with microphones, so that not only you understand the NT1 and NT1a, but you are also able to use this knowledge when looking at other microphones. Next we look at what you get in the box from both microphones and note in this review we will be looking at the kit set packages for both microphones. Then we will take a technical look at the microphones and relate back some jargon discussed earlier. Finally, we will take a brief look at Rode itself and learn about the manufacturing practices they follow.
Without a doubt the NT1 and NT1a are great microphones and you cannot go wrong with either of them in your setup. They are a step-up in quality when it comes to condenser microphones, so they are not aimed at the beginner since you will be able to find much cheaper alternatives that will do an OK job to start with. Instead, these microphones are aimed at those who want to upgrade their setups or need a few reasonably priced microphones that offer top quality for the money.
What’s with the name?
To get this out of the way, I wanted to address the names of these two microphones in particular the `a` in the NT1a. The `a` stands for anniversary edition and I am not sure which anniversary this is, but that is all the `a` refers to.
Now you might be very tech savvy when it comes to microphone jargon and if so feel free to skip on down to the next section. But if you would like to refresh your memory or are just interested please read on!
You may have read our article on condenser microphones we posted last month, and if you haven’t, I highly recommend giving it a read as it will help with the rest of this article. We will not duplicate what was discussed in that article, rather just extend the jargon section picking out a few keywords that will be relevant to the review of these two microphones.
Also, known as `Self-Noise`, the Noise Floor of a microphone is a measurement of the inherent sound created by the microphone’s internal electronic circuits, measured in decibels (db). In general a low Noise Floor is ideal, with some mics getting as low as 4 db in the case of the Shure KSM44A. But a microphone with a comparatively high noise floor is not necessarily bad since it is relative to what your use is. Furthermore you can think of the noise floor as a sound level or interference level that must be overcome.
So for example a microphone with a noise floor of 29 db is comparatively much higher than the KSM44A but when used for what it is designed for (amplifying drums or horns on a live stage), this noise floor becomes insignificant, since the drums or horns easily overcome the 29 db interference level. However, it may become noticeable when recording vocals like a podcast or soft singing.
A Pop Filter is a thin perforated membrane often made from thin and light fabrics stretched across round device to hold it in place. You will see these Pop Filters most commonly in front of microphone setup for voice recording like singing and spoken word. What they do is put a layer between the air pressure from the voice, and the microphone to help smooth out areas of high pressure.
An example of high pressure is the word `Pop`, you will notice that `p` sound is a sharp and sudden release of air from the mouth. These sounds can cause distortion in recordings since the microphone picks up this high pressure signal.
What’s in the Box
Let’s take a look at what you get in the box with these two microphones, again as a reminder, we are looking at the kit set packages for both in this review.
The NT1a comes with the SM6 shock mount with detachable Pop Filter, 6 meter XLR cable and Dust Cover. The SM6 shock mount holds the microphone with bands, as is quite common among shock mounts and is compatible with a large range of microphones. Click here to view the spec sheet for a list of compatible mics. The Pop filter is built into the shock mount and is a single layer fabric style filter.
The NT1 comes with basically the same accessories with the only real difference being the shock mount changing to the SMR. You can view more details about the SMR here including a list of compatible microphones. While both microphones come with Pop Filters, the NT1 built in Pop Filter is a little different. You get a metal, dual layer filter rather than a single layer fabric filter. This microphone does not appear to come with a XLR cable so be sure to get yourself one. Click here to check XLR cable prices.
Let’s dive into the technical details of the microphones themselves starting with what they have in common. Here is a list of some key features the two have in common:
- 1 inch condenser capsule with gold-plated membrane
- Cardioid polar pattern (discussed below)
- 10-Year warranty for registered users
- Designed and manufactured in Australia
- Gold plated output contacts
- Frequency Range 20Hz ~ 20kHz
- Output Impedance 100Ω
Direction (Polar Pattern)
From the above polar pattern diagrams provided by Rode you can see a very similar pattern and in particular where it counts (i.e. in front of the microphone) the differences are insignificant. There is a slight difference from immediately behind the microphone with the NT1 picking up slightly more signal than the NT1a. This difference is small enough to ignore, though it is unlikely to be an issue with testing since Rode take that very seriously as we will learn in later parts of this review.
The NT1a is slightly longer than the NT1 by 3cm but the NT1 is heavier by approximately 60g making it feel significantly heavier in the hand than the NT1a.
This is probably the most important part to consider when looking at a microphone. Here we can see quite a difference between the NT1a and NT1.
The NT1 has a noticeably flatter frequency curve and very little roll off in the lower base areas. It has a slight increase between 4kHz and 10kHz and only starts to drop off in the lower frequencies after 30 Hz making it a great microphone for accurate recordings.
The NT1a on the other hand has a number of peaks and troughs in its response curve. While they are not drastic at all, they are there, and give the microphone a character, something you may or may not like. The most noticeable difference is around the top end where we see a significant bias towards the frequencies between 2 kHz to 5 kHz and again from 9 kHz to 13-14 kHz. The second most noticeable difference is the gradual drop off from 100 Hz and down, making this microphone less capable for recording lower frequencies than the NT1.
The NT1 and NT1a have very respectable sound floors with 4.5 db and 5 db respectively which ultimately mean they are very quiet microphones. Above, we see a graph of the NT1, NT1a and a few other microphones to give you some context on where they sit compared to other manufacturers.
Lower is better, so you can see the Rode does very well in this context even against more expensive microphones.
The NT1 and NT1a are exceptional microphones for vocals at this price range, and so they lend themselves very well to podcasters and even youtubers who have a similar setup to a podcaster. The condenser capsule inside the microphones are able to catch even the slightest nuance sounds of vocals making the recordings crystal clear and warm. They are easy to set up and go well with a Focusrite audio interface like this one. Check out an example of spoken word with the NT1a below.
These mics are great for recording live drums, and work particularly well when placed high above the drummer to catch the sounds of the symbols crashing. They would not be the best for recording drums like the snare and kick up close as they may distort like any other condenser mic. Check out the recording by rode using the NT1 on drums below.
These microphones are perfect if you want to create demos of just yourself with vocals and a guitar or any other backing instrument. Their big frequency response range means that you can rely on just the one mic to do the job for you. Check out this recording of an acoustic guitar.
The company as we know it started in 1990 in Australia with its first product, the Rode NT2 being released. However, the company was really born out of Freedman Electronics founded in 1967 which is now synonymous with Rode. In 2000, they invested a lot of money in the machinery to manufacture microphones as the demand for their low cost, high quality product was rising. In later years they have specialized and begun to dominate the camera microphone markets with their range of on camera microphones.
In researching for this review I came across some interesting information around the manufacturing practices that Rode do to ensure the best quality microphones for their customers. The most interesting was a video that I have linked below which takes you on a tour of the facilities. This video take you though everything they do to get a microphone from a solid bar of aluminum, to a finished product.
So there you have it, the Rode NT1a and NT1. We have covered what’s in the box, done a technical comparison, looked at some Microphone jargon and even taken a look inside the Rode manufacturing warehouse. So I guess now all there is to do is pick the right one for you. Will it be the NT1? Or will it be the NT1a?
For me I think the 60-70 USD (approx) difference in price of the NT1 over the NT1a is worth it. You get a flatter response curve and in my opinion a better shock mount & pop filter setup. That being said you cannot go wrong with either of them so go ahead and check out the current pricing for the NT1 here, and the NT1a here.
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Thanks for reading!