Vocal Microphones and Related Gear Review

At Cygnus Studios, I use a R0DE NT1-A large-diaphragm condenser microphone to record vocals exclusively, and also to mike various other instruments as required. Built in Australia, its construction quality and sound are unsurpassed as compared to other similar microphones in its price range (around $230), and even much more expensive models.

Just a few of its features:

  • Delivered as a complete package, including a shock-mount, pop screen, dust cover, and even a high-quality XLR cable.
  • Large 1″ capsule, with a gold plated diaphragm. Output contacts are also gold plated.
  • Satin-finished, nickel-plated body.
  • Ultra-low noise transformerless circuitry.
  • An extremely wide frequency response range of 20Hz-20kHz.
  • Handles up to a 137dB sound pressure level, allowing it to also be used in front of loud audio sources, such as guitar cabinets.
  • Electronic circuitry operates on both 24 and 48 volt phantom power.
  • Includes a “Studio Secrets” DVD (shown complete at the bottom of this article).
  • 10 year extended warranty.

R0DE NT1-A Product Manual

Small anecdote time…

When I was first installing it, I heard some weird hissing background noise. Great, I thought, seems I’m cursed with always getting defective units. This got so bad in the past that I now have my wife pick out items when we go to a store. If there’s a stack of 25 boxes with only one containing a defective product, I’ll grab that one without fail.

As it turns out, after a bit of troubleshooting I discovered it was actually picking up my studio ceiling fan (running on low) because it was directly underneath it. Talk about sensitivity, I can’t even hear that with a naked ear. So, no fan allowed during vocal recording from then on!

Now, all you need to do is add a stand, and you’re in business.

I use an Ultimate Support MC-125 studio microphone stand, which is built like a tank.

It has a cast-iron base that weighs in at 35 pounds with large, locking polyurethane casters (like those on in-line skates), a 6 pound counterweight, 100% field-serviceable parts, along with a myriad of adjustments and a maximum height of 83″ (which comes in handy if you have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sitting in on vocals). It’s a bit pricey ($200), but the rock-solid quality of this stand is so good, I’ll guarantee you it will never need to be replaced. In fact, Ultimate Support guarantees that too, with a lifetime warranty. You’ll also never need to worry about this thing tipping over… You could probably use it to jack up your car and change a tire.

The NT1-A is first connected to a BOSS VE-20 vocal processor, which can generate multi-voice harmonies, chorus, delay, reverb, tone adjustment, variable gender changes (for example, female vocals, since there’s usually not a willing gal around here), and a host of other effects. There are 30 presets, and another 50 user slots to save your own combinations of effect parameters. Phrase looping, which allows you to record up to 38 seconds of audio, is also a very nice feature that I normally use for sound checks (no need for the usual “testing… 1… 2… 3…” repeatedly). Its bypass pedal comes in handy, to disable the processor when required without having to remove it from the cabling loop. Of course, 48 volt phantom power is built-in. It’s not a cheap date ($280), but to me it’s worth every penny.

Hey, when it comes to vocals, I need all the help I can get, and this thing certainly fits the bill. For a demo, check out my cover of “Joe’s Garage with vocal harmonies performed by the VE-20 beginning at around 01:20, along with various other effects added by the processor throughout the song.

The VE-20 is then fed directly into a mixer XLR input, with the channel configured for absolutely flat EQ settings.

R0DE NT1-A microphone mounted on Ultimate Support MC-125 studio microphone stand, and attached in-line to BOSS VE-20 vocal processor.

The following video is from the included “Studio Secrets” DVD. Hosted by Peter Freedman of R0DE, it demonstrates tips and techniques for getting awesome results using the NT1-A:

Without a doubt, it’s the best microphone I own.

Related URL List:

R0DE web site page for the NT1-A

Ultimate Support web site page for the MC-125 microphone stand

BOSS web site page for the VE-20 vocal processor

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