Update: See the AT2035 review which is known for being the “best affordable large diaphragm”, so it is definitely a better bargain buy.
The Rode NT1A is a large diaphragm condenser microphone which was designed and made in Australia. The original Rode NT1 was released in 1991. The company released the NT1A model in 2003, and have continued to manufacture it since. The NT1A looks fairly similar to the original NT1, although the microphones are quite different. The NT1A has completely new circuitry and a much wider frequency response. The original NT1 is now discontinued, although somewhat confusingly, Rode have reissued the NT1 with a different capsule (a HF6). The new NT1 is mostly flat and has a vintage voicing, while the NT1A has a more tailored, modern sound. Both mics have fairly similar technical specifications. The NT1-A is available in a factory-matched pair, which is listed as the Rode NT1A-MP.
Simple design for the Rode NT1A
The Rode NT1A is a side address condenser with transformerless JFET circuitry. It has a cardioid polar pattern and a large 1″ capsule with a gold-plated diaphragm. It has a very simple design with no pad or filters. Rode leave these extras to the higher-end microphones in their product line. The NT1A has a standard large diaphragm condenser frequency response of 20Hz – 20kHz. The mic has a maximum SPL of 137dB. It’s a reasonably high rating but if you are particularly concerned about SPL you may be better off getting a mic with a higher overall rating or a pad switch.
High sensitivity and low self-noise
The mic has an extremely low self-noise of 5dB-A, making it one of the quietest large-diaphragm condensers on the market. The sensitivity is -31.9dB re 1 Volt/Pascal. The mic’s high sensitivity and low noise make it ideal for capturing quiet sources. The dimensions are 190mm H x 50mm W x 50mm D, and it weighs in at 326gm, making it fairly average as far as large diaphragm condensers go. The mic can be run on 48V phantom power or 24V phantom power and has a gold-plated XLR output. It has a satin-finished, nickel-plated body and the capsule is protected by a stainless-steel grill. Buyers can expect a standard one-year warranty with the option of a free extension. Rode offer a 10-year warranty upon registration.
The Rode NT1A has internal capsule shock mounting and ships with a Rode SM6 shock mount, pop filter and fabric dust cover. Buyers best keep the box or buy a case if they want to protect their investment. A Rode 20′ mic cable is included, which is a handy inclusion for people starting a home studio set-up. There’s also a Rode instructional DVD included in the package, which gives a rundown of the features and accessories as well as some studio tips.
Rode produces bright, present sound
The NT1A has a bright sound and produces detailed results. The mic has a presence peak of around 12 kHz and there is a lift to the low end at around 120Hz. The result is that the mic will flatter sources without being excessively coloured. It produces very detailed highs and doesn’t skimp on the lows either, creating a balanced sound. The mic is well suited to vocals and acoustic instruments. Acoustic guitars sound very much at home on the mic, and the low self-noise level lends it to this application. The SPL rating means it can handle electric guitars as well. The Rode’s response helps it reproduce clean sounds quite nicely, although it’s no slouch with overdriven guitars either.
NT1A polarises users
The NT1A does have some issues with sibilance. You will need to pair it with a good pop filter. Unfortunately the included pop filter is not high quality. Placing the mic off-axis to the source can alleviate the issue. Naturally some good de-essing software (or hardware) wouldn’t go astray either.
Many people like the crisp highs of the NT1A but a number of users decry the highs as being overly harsh and tinny. The issue can be addressed by the use of EQ or placing the mic off-axis. If you are concerned about the high end, I would definitely recommend listening closely to the wide array of vocal recordings posted online featuring the mic, or better yet, actually trying it out on your voice before buying.
The Rode NT1A is a popular microphone for a reason. The affordable mic produces clear, detailed results on vocals and acoustic instruments. It has a high enough SPL rating to be used on loud sources. The low self-noise is a notable feature. The timbre of the mic is somewhat polarising. Whether you enjoy the distinctive high end sound is a matter of personal preference.
Acoustic Principle: Pressure Gradient
Active Electronics: JFET impedance converter with bipolar output buffer
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Address Type: Side
Frequency Range: 20Hz – 20kHz
Output Impedance: 100Ω
Maximum SPL: 137dB SPL (@ 1kHz, 1% THD into 1KΩ load)
Maximum Output Level: 13.7mV
Sensitivity: -31.9dB re 1 Volt/Pascal (25.00mV @ 94 dB SPL) +/- 2 dB @ 1kHz
Equivalent Noise Level (A-weighted): 5dB-A
Power Options: 24V phantom power, 48V phantom power
Dimensions: 190.00mmH x 50.00mmW x 50.00mmD
Output: XLR Output
Warranty: 1 year with free extension to 10 years following registration
The Rode NT1A produces quality results on a budget. It has low self-noise, reasonably high SPL rating and is suitable for use on both vocals and a range of instruments. The tone of the mic is considered pleasant by many although there are certainly a number of users that take issue with the timbre of the highs.