Price: $500 - $600
Pros: Single package X/Y Stereo Microphone, Solid build quality, Supurb sound and sensitive pickup
Cons: Slightly larger diameter than most tube styled mics, 5 Pin XLR makes fitting in blimps complex
- Dual Cardroid Matched Capsuals
- X/Y Stereo Field Recording Pattern
- Dual Cardioid Polar Pattern
- 48v Phantom Powered
- 9v Battery Power On-Board
- On-Off Switch
- Single Connection Cable with 2 x XLR out connectors
- 20Hz - 20Khz Frequency Response
- Hard Carry Case
I sourced the Rode NT4 after purchasing a Zoom H4n recorder for better quality stereo recordings for sound effects gathering. I was very interested in recording stereo ambience and effects and though the Zoom mics were OK I knew that a proper large diaphram stereo mic would offer great results.
There is an obvious initial impression that this is a good looking microphone. The appearance (even in images) is a quality appearance. The brushed satin nickel finish looks great and will not show up marks and scratches during use. The microphone capsules are mounted in a 90 degree X/Y configuration which is a standout feature and the design of how these are mounted does make this look like a piece of art. It does seem such a shame that 90% of the time it will never be seen once enclosed in a wind blimp or covered in a “dead cat” wind protector. Out in the open it does showcase quality.
I purchased my microphone second hand as the cost of a new microphone was a little steep for a starter mic but the second hand one was in mint condition supplied in the original hard case. The foam lined case holds the mic very secure and all the accessories of which you get a basic stand holder, stereo 5 pin XLR to 2 x 3 pin XLR - Y cable, 5 pin XLR to 3.5mm TRS and foam pop shield.
Build Quality & Accessories
Taking the mic out the case you instantly feel the weight. Compared to something like a standard shotgun mic (Such as a Rode NTG3) the NT4 is about 3x the weight. It is about 2/3 the length of a NTG3 but is much wider. This is something to keep in mind as you will NOT fit this mic in the same holder for a standard diameter shotgun mic. The width is so you can fit a 9v internal battery to power it up if you don't have phantom power which is a nice feature.
The physical build quality is exceptional with the mic cartridges mounted securely on a metal fitting and there is no plastic to be found on the mic itself. The satin finish is a nice touch and keeps the mic looking nice and new all the time.
The supplied stereo XLR cable is a little bit of a letdown though. The cable is rather short (about 6ft) and the quality of the actual cable used looks low quality compared to some of the monster 20ft XLR cables I use. The XLR fittings also look cheap with the plastic screw on covers and one aim I have is to upgrade this cable when I get a chance.
I did not receive the 5 pin XLR to 3.5mm TRS cable which is designed for camcorder hookup unfortinatelly (downdside to purchasing second hand) but I would guess this would be a basic cable also.
The wind shield that comes with the mic is good for inside use to prevent small drafts from upsetting the delicate diaphram while recording but for outdoor use you can chuck it away. You need a much better protectrion system.
Sound Quality & Usage
Connecting up the microphone to the Zoom H4n and MixPre you have the option to power from the recorder using phantom power or use a 9v battery. A switch on the mic will switch the battery on and off but has no effect with phantom power. The battery option is great for situations where you cannot feed phantom power to the mic such as a camcorder but if the mic is installed in a blimp system you are best using external power as it can be a pain to access the mic to switch it off.
Once powered on and sound starts flowing the level of detail is amazong. The noise floor of the mic is very quiet and the capsuals are frequency tested to provide as close a match as possible. The mic is even delivered showing the serials and the frequency response test of each capsual and there is no noticable difference from Left to Right.
The actual mics pickup is vast and I found that standing behind it with the gain up high I could hear the whistle from my nose as I was breathing. Using the MixPre I could really push the gain quite high and I was able to hear people in the distance of my suburb speaking, dog barks that were miles away and every other sound that pollutes a city. This made me realise that the mic is probably useless for recording spcific sounds as it catches just too much detail. Compared with the Zoom stereo mics though it was a whole other world.
So the mic catches levels of detail I have never heard with my ears alone and the quality was fantastic... But, the body of the mic will also pickup even the slightest movement of your fingers. If mounted directly to a stand without a shockmount (using the supplied clip) it will pick up any vibrations. Without a wind protector then even the slightest hint of a breeze will cause pops in the sound. It is like a delicate flower that is about to drop all its petals. This is where I needed to invest in a Blimp wind protection system for outdoor recording... Which introduces further issues!
Things to Take Note Of
The first thing to realise is that though this appears to be a mic of a standard diameter, it is slightly larger in the body than most mics and therefore may not fit all mounts designed for this type of microphone. This is especially important to remember if wanting to use a Blimp wind protector that may not be supplied with mountings to accomodate this microphone. After all, not too many people use these in blimp wind shields. This leads to the next thing to keep in mind....
The mic uses a (rare to find) 5 pin connector to connect the custom stereo cable. If you use a blimp system that has a built-in XLR tail connector (such as the Rode Blimp) it uses a 3 pin connector. This is no good. I was unable to source any 5 pin XLR connectors locally so had to order in some fittings from an electronics component supplier. I then purchased 5 core shielded microphone cable to make a small extension cable to replace the stock 3 pin XLR in the blimp... I then had to source some 5pin to 3pin adapters so I can still use the blimp with standard shotgun mics. All of this is a little bit of a pain to sort out so good to keep in mind. Eventoally I will use a dedicaated blimp for the NT4.
This then leads to the fact that if you find your mic lead is damaged or lost, you cannot simply get another one. One thing to keep in mind if you are being relied on by others. I would look at where to get a spare lead or make one as a spare to save the embarrasment of having a specialised non-inductry standard piece of gear.
I did my research way before purchasing this mic and knew of the things to be aware of. I haven't found anything bad to really say about it. I was lucky enough to find this mic for $250 second hand but in perfect condition. I have now had this mic for over 2 years and recorded hhundreds of sounds. It is great for anything ambient and being a true stereo field mic it sounds natural when listning to the playback. It has caught some great thunder, train, city ambience sounds and always brings a smile to me when I hear some of the recordings. I have learned a lot using this mic such as small sounds (little bugs for instance) that you really never hear can upset a recording when you discover all these little clicks in the audio. I remember thinking there was something wrong with the mic once because the audio sounded like it had audio pops in it but it turned out to be lots of little bugs in the bushes. Sometimes being so sensitive can be troublesome but it is a mic worth the investment for anyone interested in stereo field recording. Get a nice portable stand and a blimp and you are set.