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Rode NT1 Review – We Put the Signature Series Condenser to the Test

16/05/2024

The Rode NT1 has been a stalwart classic of home recording since its release in 1990. Coming off the release of its 5th generation, this condenser microphone has seen a lot of variations and has become a popular choice for vocal and instrument recording thanks to its inviting price point and sound quality.

I managed to get my hands on a unit of the latest model for an in-depth Rode NT1 review. What sound sources does the Signature Series mic thrive with? What tone does it bring? Are there any drawbacks? I’ll explain all!

In a hurry? Here’s our verdict

The NT1 Signature Series is an excellent entry point to the world of condenser microphones. For those seeking a home studio workhorse, it’s hard to fault. Some much pricier models may sound better or offer versatility through additional features, but it’s near-impossible to beat the sound quality and value for money the Signature Series offers in its range.

ProsCons
Excellent sound fidelity with articulate low frequencies and sparkling high-frequency air for clarityHigh-frequency detail can emphasise sibilance
The full kit comes with a high-quality shock mount, a pop filter, and a sturdy XLR cableSingle cardioid polar pattern limits versatility
Good build quality and robust machined bodyNo advanced features like a high-pass filter or pad

Rode NT1 review

Initial thoughts

I received the Rode NT1 Signature Series in black, but the range comes in a large variety of interesting colours.

Personally, I’m a little bit of a traditionalist when it comes to microphones. I prefer the sleek minimalism of colours like black and silver, so upon unboxing this mic I immediately connected with the classy aesthetics of this finish. However, for anyone looking for a little more style in their microphone, the Signature Series is one of the most colourful ranges on the market right now.

Its bright pastel blue, red, green, pink, and purple variants are unlike any studio mic I’ve seen, and while they’re not to my taste, they’re undeniably cool.

I set up the shock mount and pop filter on my tripod stand without any hassle. It was extremely quick to set up, and everything locked position in a way that made me very confident it would stay that way. I swapped out the Aston Stealth that has been my home studio workhorse for the past few months and got the NT1 set up and plugged into my Audient iD44 MKII audio interface.

I set my gain to 12 o’clock and switched phantom power on. This turned out to be the perfect setting for everything I then used it on.

Rode NT1 Signature Microphone


Build quality

The microphone itself is lightweight, but it feels sturdy and robust. I was surprised at how premium every accessory felt. Bouncing mostly between my university studio, home studio, and DIY for-hire studios, I’ve dealt with plenty of sagging pop filters (or the complete absence of them in some cases), cheap XLR cables, and awkward shockmounts. None of that is to be found here.

The NT1 has an aluminium body with nickel plating and a ceramic coating. This feels pretty durable, but I didn’t exactly wish to throw it around to double-check! Usually, I’d expect a sort of pinging resonance from ceramic when tapping on the mic’s body, but while testing handling noise, this wasn’t the case at all.


Tone and sound quality

Testing the NT1 on vocals

Once again, the NT1 pleasantly surprised me by its tone. I expect the more affordable condenser microphones like this to have really hyped high frequencies; this is what we see in a lot of cheaper mics in place of offering the detail they wish to claim.

It had brightness in the higher frequencies for sure, as all condensers do, but it felt smooth to the ears. Detailed and bright, but controlled. More remarkably, it had an extremely neutral midrange and full low-end.

Naturally, I first tried the NT1 on my own voice. My voice is relatively deep, so I expected to lose some of that low-frequency detail and for the higher-frequency detail to balance it out by emphasising the airier frequencies I rarely notice.

It did do this to some extent, cutting out muddy resonances and bringing out some crispness in speech, but it was subtle enough to feel mostly right.

The NT1 remained surprisingly warm in the low frequencies, keeping that depth I was concerned it might lose. It felt full-bodied and I particularly appreciated the neutrality of the mids.

The more scooped midrange of many recent popular mics doesn’t really do much for me, so hearing the mids as balanced and flat as they are on the NT1 was a huge perk and goes a long way in giving the sound some fullness.

With and without the pop filter

I tested the NT1 both with and without the pop filter. Without the pop filter, it was pretty sensitive to plosives, but generally handled them acceptably at regular speech levels. The lack of a pop filter was more of an issue for sibilant sounds, which all felt aggressive and upfront. With the pop filter, however, plosives weren’t an issue at all, and sibilance was much tamer, although still slightly exaggerated.

This remains my only issue with the NT1. I find that its crisp high frequencies bring out sibilance just a little further than I’d like. However, this is a common issue with many condensers, not just the NT1. It’s easily fixed with the application of a de-esser, and it doesn’t need a lot of reduction, but if you have anything to look out for with the NT1, this is it.

Recording an acoustic guitar

I also tried the NT1 on acoustic guitar. It sounded absolutely fantastic. It easily picked up the warm resonance of the large dreadnought body; every note felt clear and articulate, shimmering with high-frequency detail, and the string separation on strummed chords was excellent.

The mic even picked up, much to my own dismay, every mistake in my playing (I’ve only been playing guitar consistently for a few months). It’s reassuring to hear this level of detail in the mic, not so much for my ego! Joking aside, I could have heard this tonality in a track and believed it to be straight from a U87.

I wanted to try the NT1 on a few other acoustic instruments, but I didn’t have any other options to hand in the time I had with it. However, I recorded with it enough to heartily recommend it for this purpose. I think it would be just as great on a guitar amp, and downright excellent on a violin or cello.

Ever since studying music technology at university, I quickly fell in love with the luxurious sound of the Neumann U87 on vocals and acoustic instruments. And while it is its own beast, the NT1 is about as close to that U87 sound as I’m able to get now and likely for quite some time to come.

Rode NT1 Signature Series mic in a studio with acoustic guitars in the background

Noise floor and handling noise

Rode have made some pretty grand claims about the noise floor of the NT1. The specifications and their measurements indicate it as one of the quietest microphones ever made at just 4 dBA. Microphones ten times the price can’t even claim this.

I can’t speak to how it compares to every microphone, but I set the preamp on my interface to maximum gain, and the noise floor wasn’t even visible on the waveform in my DAW, let alone audible on playback.

The Aston Stealth is a very clean, quiet microphone in all regards, but I ran the same test on it to compare it against the NT1, and the Stealth’s noise floor was visible in the waveform display of the recording and noticeably audible. Given how clean and silent this and all the other recordings I made were, I’m willing to take Rode’s word on this spec.

Handling noise is also exceptionally well-managed on the NT1. I tapped on the mic, shook it in its shock mount, grabbed it and wielded it in my bare hands; it was all pretty quiet so long as I didn’t mess with the grille and capsule itself. It wasn’t until I cranked the preamp gain all the way up and opened my windows that the microphone even registered the ambient noises outside – and even then it was nearly dead silent.

Polar pattern and off-axis pickup

The only other thing to test was the polar pattern and off-axis pickup. To try this, I clicked my fingers and clapped whilst circling my hands around the mic. It performed about as well as most cardioid microphones would in its situation.

The off-axis cancellation certainly wasn’t flawless, but the NT1 isn’t really built to be used live; it’s primarily a studio mic. That said, it could still hold up in front of a guitar amp in a live venue and is robust enough to do that job well, and with a maximum SPL of 140 dB, it can do that without distortion.


Usability in different situations

The Rode NT1 has been associated with content creation and podcasting lately, and whilst I think it’s obviously very good for that clearer condenser sound in podcasts, videos, or streaming, this is underselling what it’s capable of.

In both home and project studios, a condenser mic is often not only a centrepiece for vocal recording but a multi-functional tool for recording pretty much any instrument or source that comes your way.

A quality condenser, when paired with a good instrument-based dynamic mic, will be able to cover just about any source and get you most of the way towards a do-it-all studio. This includes drum overheads, as a room microphone, on guitar amps, close-miking acoustic instruments, and, of course, vocals.

I’d argue that the NT1 is a great pick to fill this role, and it’s one of the most affordable ways to do so at the new price point of the Signature Series.

As your productions scale up, maybe there’s the possibility of getting a pricier, flashier centrepiece condenser later on, but I can’t think of a mic locker that wouldn’t at some point benefit from at least one NT1.

Especially for engineers and musicians like myself who have no need for the USB recording functionality of the NT1 5th Gen that may benefit content creators, and instead just want an XLR output, the Signature Series is a pretty enticing pick.

Rode NT1 studio setup

Who is the Rode NT1 suited to?

The Rode NT1 Signature Series is a good choice for content creators thanks to its clear and balanced sound. It’s ideal for anyone who wants an alternative to the broadcast sound of the SM7B and the similar dynamics that have taken the world of online creation by storm.

Between its comprehensive set of accessories – shock mount, pop filter, and XLR cable – and its direct simplicity, it’s a great first mic for people doing voiceover, podcasts, streaming, or videos.

However, the NT1 5th Gen has a USB output with a pretty unique design, a built-in preamp for level boosting, and a 32-bit floating point resolution that makes it impossible to clip your recording. It also has onboard DSP features for enhancing your sound.

These are features that I could see being extremely useful for content creators and those who aren’t as well-versed in audio engineering principles like gain staging, don’t have high-end preamps or effects plugins they’d want to use to record, or don’t want to invest in an audio interface.

The 5th Gen something I could see most content creators purchasing for the sake of clipping prevention and having some easy-to-use effects to enhance their signal without having to invest in plugins to do so.

I see the NT1 Signature Series as a useful and invitingly priced high-quality microphone that will always have utility for expanding recording setups for producers, musicians, and engineers.

Whether I have a comprehensive mic locker with everything I could ever want or I’m running a bare-bones home studio with just this microphone, I’d be hard-pressed to think of a situation where I couldn’t see the benefit of having this mic around.

Where the NT1 5th Gen offers plenty of extras I think are technologically exciting, but I don’t necessarily need, the no-frills feature set of the Signature Series fits what I look for in a mic perfectly. It sounds good. It’s low noise. I don’t have to worry about hunting down extra shock mounts, pop filters, and XLR cables for it, making sure they fit properly, and buying them separately.

Plus, it wouldn’t break the bank to get a stereo pair, which I am now very tempted to do…

Condenser vs. dynamic mics

As we’ve discussed, the NT1 is a condenser microphone. My Aston Stealth that I’ve been using as a point of comparison is a dynamic microphone. So, to better understand what the NT1 is capable of, let’s take a look at what separates these two microphone topologies.

Condenser microphones are more sensitive than dynamic microphones and require phantom power for their signal to be audible. This sensitivity is great for achieving a detailed and precise sound. Dynamic mics, however, are more robust with higher SPL handling to manage louder sounds without distortion. As such, condensers tend to be prized for their fidelity, seen particularly as excellent vocal microphones.

Dynamic microphones are often more associated with live music as their larger SPL handling is seen as a worthwhile tradeoff since the mix is already blasting out of a PA system in a venue and that extra detail won’t be especially noticed. However, dynamics also tend to be excellent all-rounders or instrument mics; there’s not much you can’t set them up on and not get a functional sound.

Most recording studios will have a range of condensers and dynamics to set up on different sources, and combining them gives you more detailed, responsive recordings. While live venues tend to rely more on dynamics for live sound, some condensers will usually be around for things like guitar amps and drum overheads or orchestral recordings.

Condensers tend to be associated with detail and airy high frequencies, where dynamics are darker, bolder, and louder. This isn’t always necessarily the case but covers the stereotypical differences in sound character between the two.

FAQs

Is the Rode NT1 Signature worth it?

The Rode NT1 Signature Series is a worthwhile investment for anyone seeking the fidelity of a good condenser microphone for recording. It’s a versatile tool for content creation and music recording, includes plenty of accessories, sounds great, and is built to last.


What is the Rode NT1 Signature Series?

The Rode NT1 Signature Series is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone that takes its heritage from Rode’s very first microphone release when they started modifying and improving cheap microphones to work properly and sound better. It’s a reliable home recording tool for musicians, podcasters, and streamers, and could easily fit into professional recording studios, too.


What is the difference between the NT1 Signature and the 5th Generation?

The NT1 5th Generation offers a dual USB and XLR output that allows you to record 32-bit floating point audio, whereas the NT1 Signature Series has a single XLR output and is well-suited to musicians and producers, as well as content creators. The 5th Gen prevents clipping, has a built-in preamp, and has DSP effects. While the Signature Series doesn’t include these frills, it sounds identical and is priced more affordably.

Final thoughts

The NT1 Signature Series may, at first, seem like a cut-down version of the 5th Generation, and whilst that might be what it delivers, this is actually to its benefit, bringing its excellent sound to an inarguably accessible price point for almost anyone.

It has a detailed sound with warmth in the low-end and detailed high-frequencies that allow vocals and instruments to shine. The NT1 is an excellent choice for content creators, musicians, and producers or engineers, and whilst you may want to expand your mic collection beyond this one mic, there’ll never be a time when there isn’t a use for it and its great sound.

 

Content Writer - Live Sound

Callum is a former audio and music technology student who has a love of punk, rock, metal, and electronic music. In his spare time, he produces music, and DJs occasionally. He's also a freelance engineer when possible, helping local bands make their noise even noisier.

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