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Review

Rode NTR Ribbon Mic

Issue #47

With ribbon mics making a huge comeback and prices starting to become sensible for the project studio owner, Andi Picker checks out a top contender from Australia's Rode.
Andi Picker

Pros:

Very good and distinctive sound
Distinctive looks
10 Year warranty with registration
Price

Cons:

Haven’t found any

Rode NTR Ribbon Microphone

With ribbon mics making a huge comeback and prices starting to become sensible for the project studio owner, Andi Picker checks out a top contender from Australia's Rode.

I like microphones - and I especially like ribbon mics.  Their 'motors', the mechanisms that turn changes in air pressure into an electrical signal, are very simple and largely free from the resonances that can make condenser mics sound a bit scratchy. Old-world ribbon mics were known for being warm (or dull, depending on your point of view) and a bit fragile, and they can also be hard work on pre-amps as they produce low level output that needs a lot of gain. Modern materials and manufacturing techniques, however, have allowed a new generation of ribbon mics that have a fuller top-end response but still sound smooth because of the resonance thing, and that are more robust and far less fussy about pre-amps.


The Rode NTR is an interesting blend of old and new. It's big and heavy like the old school mics, with a sizeable and heavy transformer but with modern active electronics (+48V phantom power required) that boost and buffer the output to make it bigger and easier to drive across long cable runs.

Sadly, I don’t have a £100k’s worth of vintage ribbon mics lying around for comparison, but next to some of the new style ribbons I’ve used, the NTR seems to have a classic sort of sound with a very full bottom end. The published frequency plot shows a downward slope from 20Hz to around 500Hz, rising to around 1000Hz, dropping again to 1200, peaking sharply at 1300, then dropping to around 11k before peaking again at  just shy of 20K. It’s an interesting chart, but as usual with mic response curves, it tells us (well, it tells me) little about how the mic will sound other than to confirm that it’s warm and dark with plenty of  top-end. Possibly more useful is the polar plot that shows a very tidy figure of 8 pattern, and certainly the NTR does behave very well off axis. Ribbon mics have a noticeable proximity effect which boosts their bass response when placed close to a source, and with the NTR’s buoyant low frequencies it needs a bit of careful placement to avoid drowning the lower mid range in rumble and boom. Where it excels is with some space around it, where the full extension and sweet off axis sound play well for the highly desirable 'just like it is in the room' sound – so long as you have a decent sounding room of course! Quoted self noise is 15 dB-A which is quiet, and the maximum SPL is quoted as 130, which is pretty loud.

I’m having to work from memory here, but I don’t think the NTR sounds quite like any other mic, ribbon or not, that I’ve used.  I hope that is the case, because it really does sound very good, with a balance of weight in the lows and smooth detail on the uppers that gives it a character of its own (and suggests that whoever is responsible for designing-in that slightly strange frequency plot knew what they were doing), and I’d really like to think that Rode’s design team was aiming to design an original rather than just trying to clone a classic.



 

There are some jobs that ribbon mics are famously good for, edgy guitar cabs, scratchy strings, smoky vocals – they all play well to the characteristics of this type of mic, and just about any decent ribbon mic will do a good job on them. I tried the review model on voiceover (where it was very kind to my natural sibilance) and on an unaccompanied female vocal, as well as a couple of quick acoustic and electric guitar tracks and it handled all of them in a very classy way. It also seems to cover some other jobs that we might not typically grab a ribbon for – with plenty of oomph for bass and kick-drum (use a pop shield to protect the ribbon from air blast and check SPL!!) with a gorgeous weight to the sound when it’s placed a few feet away to tame the proximity effect that suggests that it will also make a first-call room mic.

A couple of operational things to cover; the box contains a simple and very effective rigid mount that holds the heft of the NTR without any droop, but you are going to need a decent stand to hang it off. The microphone’s mechanism is internally shock mounted and Rode says that a suspension mount is not needed; I usually cringe when I read this sort of statement but in this case it seems to work so once again, kudos to the design team. Oh, and make sure you release the locking screw from the top of the microphone’s frame before you use it.

We are always going to be influenced by how an item looks and feels, and there’s no getting away from the fact that as well as having a distinctive sound the NTR is a visually impressive and solid feeling piece of kit. I tend to not look at the cost of review kit before I use it, and my guess for the price in this case was way off - it costs about 2/3rds of what I expected which is pretty astonishing. If you manage to damage your ribbon, Rode will fit one free replacement within warranty, and will extend the warranty period to 10 years when you register your mic which is pretty impressive!

The NTR is definitely worth a listen-to for anyone who’s ribbon-curious, and even if you already have a few in the mic locker it could still be a very tempting buy. It's a fine sounding ribbon mic at a very good price!

 

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Issue #51

Wolf Hoffmann

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