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This article was originally published in issue #48
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What are the perfect workhorse all-purpose mics for a modern project studio - and maybe on stage use, too?
What are the perfect workhorse all-purpose mics for a modern project studio - and maybe on stage use, too? Andi Picker tests a pair of very strong contenders from Australia's Rode.
Our microphones are a bit like our guitars; sometimes we want the full-package luxury of a handcrafted masterpiece with authentic vintage credentials and the perfect sonic signature – but most of the time what we really need is something that sounds good, works every time we plug it in, and leaves us with enough money to pay the electricity bill. Say hello to the Rode M1 and M3 mics.
Warm, open sound
Low handling noise
Good feedback rejection
Lifetime warranty with registration
None at all
The M1 is positioned as a live-sound vocal microphone, and even a quick glance puts it firmly in the ballpark of the classic SM58. By way of comparison, it’s a bit heavier and a little longer; it balances well and has a very satisfying heft. I took the M1 into a rehearsal with my band and our singer Sam swapped-out his regular SM Beta 58A for the session. The M1 needed a little more gain than the more sensitive Beta, but even turned up to ridiculous levels it had very low handling noise, and in our small rehearsal space with vocals, bass, guitar and drums blasting there was no problem with feedback. The frequency response chart shows a couple of gentle bumps at around 200 Hz and in the 6-8 kHz regions, which translate into a nice warm and airy version of what we’d expect from a mic of this type, with perhaps a little more open top-end than is typical. Sam was very happy with the sound, until he discovered that the mic cost around half of what he paid for his Beta. Back at home, I stuck the mic in front of a guitar cab and in this role I actually thought it sounded a bit more like a 57 than a 58 – which is a pretty neat trick.
Smooth and articulate sound
Can be battery powered
10 Year warranty with registration
No markings for the power/lo-cut switch
Pad switch is on the inside of the case
Small Diaphragm Condenser mics are, in some ways, the unexciting end of the microphone spectrum. They typically have little of the 'kindness' of other types; they don’t tend to thin, fatten or flatter imperfect sources, but when we really want to capture just 'what’s there' then an SDC is often the mic of choice. We do need to be a bit careful – our ears tend to focus on the parts of sounds that help us to understand them, where an honest mic just captures the lot – we don’t get the focussed cut of a typical vocal mic, and whilst we get the thump of a guitar cab, we also get any low mid-range tubbiness.
The Rode M3 is an electret design rather than a true capacitor mic, which means that it can be battery powered (useful for location recording) as well as using 48 or 24 V phantom power. The body is quite long and unscrews to accommodate the 9v battery (I’d like to tell you how long it lasts, but the PP3 I rescued from a stray distortion pedal refused to die during the time I had the mic). Whilst you’ve got the mic open, you can set the internal pad switch – the marketing material claims that this is buried inside the mic to prevent it from being accidentally switched in use, but they trust us with the OFF switch being mounted on the outside! That OFF switch also sets the low cut filter, once you remember which way it works as there are no case markings.
In use the M3 does what you’d want an SDC mic to do; the frequency response plot is pretty-much rule straight from just above 100 Hz, with a gentle roll-off below that and just a hint of lift in the high end, so it captures a pretty neutral version of what’s actually there. Self noise is good for this design of mic, sensitivity is fine unless you want to record a sparrow falling over at 120 paces, and maximum sound pressure level is high enough to allow use on drum overheads and guitar cabs.
I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth and detailed the sound is, and on some sources where it captured a slightly too honest version of the low mids, the 80Hz low cut proved to be very effective. Given the price of this microphone, I’d go so far as to say that if you’re setting up a studio and you need to get miked-up without going into 10-year pay-off territory, just order a pair of M3s to cover your 'honest' mic needs.