If you’ve watched a YouTuber at any point in the last few years, you’ve probably seen them using a Rode microphone attached to their camera, but the company makes much more than vlogger mics. One of their most popular products is the Rode NT1-A, which is a relatively affordable condenser microphone perfect for anyone building a home studio or even a professional one. It was released in 2003 and is still going strong, so what makes it so appealing?
Editor’s note: This post was updated on September 1, 2020, to include an acoustic guitar sample of the Rode NT1.
Who’s it for?
- Anyone upgrading from a USB microphone. While it isn’t cheap, the Rode NT1-A is also not absurdly expensive and is just within reach of most people looking to make their first solid investment into a microphone. Whether you’re recording yourself for a podcast or booking studio time with singers, this mic gets the job done.
- Someone who has access to phantom power. If you already have a voice recorder or audio interface that can provide phantom power to a microphone, then you’ll have no problem using this.
- People in studios. This microphone isn’t the kind that you’ll see your local newscaster using while out and about. The Rode NT1-A isn’t meant to move much, making it perfect for a studio setting.
What’s it like to use the Rode NT1-A?
Getting the Rode NT1-A set up isn’t too much of a hassle but it still requires you have the right equipment. You won’t be able to just take this out of the box and plug it into a computer given that it isn’t a USB microphone. You’ll need an XLR cable in order to connect it to an audio interface or even a voice recorder. Thankfully Rode included a decent 6m long cable in the box along with a shock mount and carrying case. Once you get it mounted and connect the XLR cable to your interface out choice, the next thing you need to know is how to power and position it.
The Rode NT1-A is a condenser microphone, and like many condenser microphones requires a little more power to get it working. That’s where phantom power comes into play. You’ll need a recorder like the Zoom H5 or an interface like the Scarlett 2i2 that can provide that extra +48V of power that we affectionately call phantom power. Though +24V will also power this mic adequately.
Another important thing you should be aware of is the fact that the Rode NT1-A has a fairly high sensitivity. Sensitivity is more straightforward than it sounds, and it just refers to how sensitive the microphone is to noises. In other words, how good is it at picking up low noises. This microphone has a sensitivity of -31.9dB which means it’s very good at picking up low noises. Combine that with a max SPL (the loudest sound the microphone can take without distorting) of 137 dBSPL and this microphone has a pretty great range that it can record without needing to do too much in post. That’s especially useful when recording vocals as it’ll pick up everything from whispers to full-blown singing.
Unfortunately, the large 1-inch capsule has no true padding which can result in some sibilance issues with s‘s or t’s. The microphone comes with a pop filter to help you avoid this, but it isn’t the best so you might want to consider upgrading the pop filter at some point if you decide to invest in one of these.
How’s the microphone built?
As far as build quality goes, the Rode NT1-A is very well-built and sleekly designed. It has a stainless steel construction that feels tough, but I still would caution against drops or moving it around too much as the nature of being a condenser microphone makes it easier to break then something like the Shure SM58. It measures 190mm x 50mm x 50mm, so it isn’t the most portable microphone either though you can definitely get away with tossing it in a bag.
The more concerning spec is that it weighs 326g, which isn’t light. I’ve had this mic for about five years now and it had eventually destroyed the locking mechanism on three different mounts and tripods due to its weight. To be fair, I’ve been getting the cheapest ones I can find on Amazon, so don’t make my mistake and invest in a good mount as well. On the bottom of the mic is the XLR input while the top has gold plated capsule behind a metal grille.
Where to place the microphone
The first thing you need to know about this mic is that you need to place it vertically, and speak to the side of the mic instead of directly into the top. You can kinda see the capsule in the photos, but it’s placed in such a way that many people wind up trying to record themselves off-axis, which isn’t great. Just follow how I position it in the photos and you should be golden.
The full name of the Rode NT1-A is actually “NT1-A Cardioid Condenser microphone” which makes the rest of this section pretty straight forward. The Rode NT1-A is a cardioid mic, meaning that its polar pattern, or the directions in which it picks up sounds, is in a heart-shape. This is great again a good pattern for vocals as it won’t pick up any of the sound coming from behind the microphone reducing background noise in your final recording.
However, because of the issues with s’s and t’s that I mentioned earlier, this pick-up pattern also allows you to record slightly off to the side of the microphone. This means that you can avoid sibilance issues while still being in the range of what the microphone can pick up. If you don’t want to, or can’t yet pick up a good pop filter, this is one way to solve the issue.
How is the sound quality of the Rode NT1-A microphone?
Everything about the Rode NT1-A makes it perfect for recording vocals. From it’s high sensitivity to the fact that it only produces 5dB of self-noise, which is super low so as not to interfere with your recordings. Of course, it’s not only made for vocals. It has a fairly nice flat frequency response which hovers right around the 0dB mark on its graph below.
Technically, this just means that at some points the microphone is playing certain frequencies louder (bumps) or quieter (dips). Practically, this somewhat flat frequency response means that you’re going to be able to record vocals without changing the sound too much in the process. This is one of the reasons this microphone is so popular for beginner home studios. The flat response means you’ll actually sound somewhat true to life in the final recording, letting you tweak it in post-production however you please.
To hear a demo of how the microphone sounds, check out this episode of our podcast which I recorded entirely using the NT1-A.
Should you buy the Rode NT1-A?
The Rode NT1-A is a best-seller for a reason. Everything from its cardioid recording pattern and flat response to its high sensitivity and low self-noise makes it a perfect pick for a quiet studio. Compare that to something a little more versatile like the Shure SM58, which is more of a rugged all-around microphone that people can take out in the field as well as the studio. That isn’t the case here. This is a tool meant for studio recording. Whether that’s in a professional sense or just at your own house, it gets a lot right. Of course, nothing is perfect and the annoying sibilance issues and the need for phantom power to properly power it is definitely an inconvenience. While it isn’t cheap, the Rode NT1-A is a great upgrade for anyone looking to move on from a USB powered microphone.
How does the Rode NT1-A compare to the Rode NT1?
The current version of the Rode NT1 was created after the NT1-A. They’re very similar except for when it comes to the frequency response. While the NT1-A has a neutral-leaning frequency response, the NT1 has a very neutral-leaning frequency response. If you’re looking for a sound that gives you free reign to mix and edit however you like, the NT1 is a better choice. However, if you’re looking for a slightly more colored response, the NT1-A in comparison offers a slight high boost and a bass attenuation. Both mics have very low self noise and overall produce a lovely sound.
Rode NT1 speaking sample:
Rode NT1 singing sample:
Rode NT1 acoustic guitar sample:
What other options are there?
Another great microphone that you might recognize from some of your favorite podcasts or YouTubers is the Shure SM7B microphone. It also has flat frequency response that makes it great for picking up vocals and while it’s definitely a big investment, it’s still worth looking into. Keep in mind that if you decide to go with a Shure SM7B you’ll likely need to also pick up a Cloudlifter CL-1 preamp to power it. Just make sure to check out the full reviews and know all your options before deciding on one.
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is a good budget alternative, costing only $99. While the quality won’t match that of the NT1-A due to its self-noise being higher, as long as you have a pop filter and phantom power, the AT2020 will make a great first microphone.