RØDE NTR Active Studio Ribbon Microphone
By Barry Rudolph
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The NTR is a large microphone; it's 216-mm tall, 65-mm wide, and weighs over a kilogram with the internal transformer, base assembly and XLR connector contributing to its heft. I liked the windscreen design; it allows for plenty of room around the ribbon and its mesh shape has been designed to be sonically transparent and to help with plosives.
It is an active ribbon studio microphone with a 1.8-micron ribbon and features an internal shock-mounted motor assembly obviating the need for an external shock mount. When not is use or when moving the mic, the internal shock mount and ribbon motor are locked down securely using an included "travel" screw.
The ribbon motor assembly starts with laser-cutting the ribbon from a large sheet of aluminum. A laser-cut ribbon produces clean edges with dimensional accuracy for consistent performance from mic to mic. The ribbon is then embossed with an acoustically optimized, corrugated pattern to increase total surface area, add strength and maintain tensioning. After tensioned in RØDE's proprietary tensioning jig, the ribbon is placed in the motor frame within the magnetic field of two Neodymium magnets mounted on either side.
Leads soldered to terminals clamped to the ends of the ribbon are then fed through a small hole in the base of the internal rubber shock mount to enter the mic's base for connection to the primary winding of a large step-up transformer--also made in-house.
The NTR's base is comprised of an internal aluminum casting that contains the transformer and an FET-based buffer amplifier made using surface-mount technology. The transformer and entire base assembly are suspended from the internal rubber shock mount. Screwing on the base's cover--another machined aluminum casting--locks it all in place.
The transformer develops most of the voltage gain with the amplifier providing the low impedance (200-ohm) XLR balance output. The NTR draws 4.5mA of 48-volt phantom power current, has a maximum output level of 8dBu, handles up to 130dB SPL, and noise measures 15dBA.
Using The NTR In The Studio(s)
Setting up the NTR is no different than any large studio microphone. It comes with the RM2 swivel-type mount that threads into to the base cover. I found the mount to somewhat limit the exact positioning of the mic. The mount's knob for tightening down the swivel is a bit large and although it makes it easier to use, I couldn't always plug in an XLR cable once I had the mic in a desired location.
My first use was a pair of NTRs as drum overheads. My drummer's kit was set up to project lengthwise down the length of Musicians Institute's Studio A. Ceiling height was 12-feet and I had the NTRs spaced three feet apart over the drummer's head and about three feet above the kit. I used standard size stands and booms for this close setup but if you want them higher up in the air, you'll need larger boom stands. The studio's SSL Duality mic pre-amps were set at minimum gain with no attenuation pad or high pass filter required.
Listening to only the two NTRs, the low frequencies of the kick, toms and snare were in good balance--relative to the cymbals--actually a better balance than when I stood out in front of the kit in the studio! Out there the drummer's cymbals were loud and abrasive but (back in the control room) the NTR had them sounding smooth and not harsh. I could hear the sound of the room as well as leakage from the adjacent guitar and bass amps.
I was pleased with using the NTRs for overheads; I got a great, balanced coverage of the entire kit that mixed well with the additional presence provided by the close mics on the kick, snare and toms. I checked and found good mono capability when summing both overhead tracks in mono in the monitor mixer.
I had no overloading issues using my PreSonus AudioBox iTwo USB interface, with any tone changes made on the amp clearly heard. I found no need to exaggerate the amp's treble or bass tone controls to compensate. When centered on the dust cover, it reproduced the sound of the amp exactly as I heard in front of it--including the booming low end I had dialed in. This mic worked well to reproduce the thick low end of chunky drop-tuned guitars--my monitor's subwoofer got busy.
At LAFX Studios, I recorded a Yamaha C7 grand piano with two NTRs. I first tried placing the mics as if they were cardioids 24-inch apart--just in front of and directly aimed at the hammers--Rock n' Roll-style. But the reflections off the inside of the piano's lid coming into the back of the NTRs made for a 'boxy' sound. Moving both mics out from under the lid and at the edge of piano's curve and aiming back at the hammers produced a great big fat rich sound with solid lows and smooth highs!
I used the studio's API console with the mic pre-amps set to minimum, no pad or EQ. With so much sound to work with, it would be easy to dial in any finished sound with EQ/compression right away or later during a mix. I had complete flexibility.
For fun, I tried the same setup but flipped the NTRs around with the rear of the mics aimed back at the hammers. Some ribbon mics have a brighter sound on the rear because of the way the ribbon is positioned within the magnet structure. However not with the RØDE NTR; they sound the same.
For a lead vocal recording, my female singer's voice and technique were pleasantly complimented using a single NTR. My singer's voice tended towards a hard and harsh sound especially when singing loud. Singing into a Pete's Place Blast Filter (metal pop screen), the RØDE NTR smoothed out her edginess greatly. It was important to keep her aimed at the NTR to maintain a bright sound and in that way when singing loud and hard, the NTR was brilliant yet full-sounding for her.
RØDE also offers the SMR shock mount with Rycote Lyre suspension and integrated metal pop filter. Apart from a longer Stereo Bar (due for release soon) for mounting two NTRs side-by-side such as I used for pianos or for Blumlein pairs, RØDE has no plans for any future mount choices for this mic.
RØDE recommends removing the travel screw completely before use. I had no problems with it rattling by leaving it threaded in the top of the mic so it wouldn't go missing. A threaded, "blind hole" drilled somewhere on the mic's body for interim storage might be a good update at some point.
The RØDE NTR Active Ribbon Microphone comes in a black matte finish and has a one-year ribbon replacement guarantee during the warranty period. With online registration, there is also a ten-year extended warranty available. A local RØDE distributor would replace the entire ribbon motor assembly and if outside of warranty, it will cost $120. Check: www.rode.com/contact for a list of local distributors.
I tried the NTR on many different sources with great success on most. For any source with a percussive edge like drums, pianos, electric guitars, or vocalists with their own edginess, the NTR is invaluable to obtain a flattering and lovely sound instantly.
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