Røde NT55 (omni capsule) compared with Neumann TLM 103

The Røde NT55 comes with two interchangeable capsules -- omnidirectional and cardioid. This page has some samples for the omni setup. Changing the capsules is very easy: just unscrew whichever's on the body of the mic and screw on the other. The two capsules have very different handling characteristics in the field, though. The omni setup can be handheld and even with minimal windsock protection behaves well in a light breeze. The cardioid setup cannot be held without a foam grip or similar on the mic body and is very sensitive to the slightest wind. Hence it's been much easier for me to collect some early samples made with the omni.

There are NT55 cardioid samples on the next page, but be warned: the mp3 files pre-load. Not recommended for dial-up!

First off as usual is some singing accompanied by piano. As for other mics on these pages, the Røde NT55 omni is compared with the "reference" mic, the Neumann TLM 103, which is being used to do the main recording for a CD. It's not a like-for-like comparison as the TLM 103 is cardioid and picking up sound more directly from singer and piano, giving a recording that's less affected by sound bouncing around the room. One result is that the TLM sounds clearer and more immediate, whereas the NT55 makes especially the singer sound a little distant and the overall effect is a lack of clarity -- even a "muddied" effect. So you have to pick your way through that before judging whether the NT55 is representing voice and instrument as well as the Neumann . . or not. Our first impression is it may not be.

The recording arrangement is similar to that shown on the mics intro page, though the singer is now standing a little further back as we're trying to keep the channels more separate. The respective mics for singer and piano were side by side -- same distance away and around 9 inches apart. The TLM 103s were plugged into an HHB Portadisc and the NT55s into an Edirol R4, allowing simultaneous recording. The recording is being done in a domestic room, which is giving some problems in achieving the desired end result. The clips here are as they've come off the recorders apart from a small amount of amplification of the NT55 tracks to make the volume levels broadly similar. All mp3s are sampled at 190 kb/s. In the AB comparisons the TLM 103 goes first, then the NT55.

Here Jonathan (pianist) and Corinne (singer) were having a practice session. The composer is Louis Vierne, and the two pieces I've taken clips from below are from his song cycle Poèmes de l'amour.


Vierne piece 1 TLM 103 (2.06 Mb)

Vierne piece 1 NT55 (2.06 Mb)

AB comparison 1 (574.51 K)

AB comparison 2 (339.41 K)


Vierne piece 2 TLM103 (2.30 Mb)

Vierne piece 2 NT55 (2.30 Mb)

AB comparison (458.79 K)


This is Corinne's response on hearing another piece and AB comparison from the same session: "Interesting. The Neumann sounds more trebly (tinny on the high notes) but picks up a lot more character on the low notes. The Røde makes the high notes sound rounder (less tinny), but doesn't pick up the low notes so well and makes the overall sound less immediate and slightly muffled (brings out the cupboard feel). I like what it does with the high notes (will be good for birds!), but I'd prefer to stick to the Neumann for my voice. Just shows that there isn't a microphone out there that's equally good on high and low."

Next day she added, after hearing more samples: "Funny, I hear less difference today than I did yesterday. But I still think the Neumann gets more colours in the spectrum, but at the colder end (lots of blues and greens). The Røde is a warmer rosy colour, but more monochrome."

Shows how difficult it can be to judge microphones. One can only really do it after a lot of experience with one.

For another very interesting comparison of an omni mic with the Neumann, listen to the AB clips on the AudioTechnica 3032 page.


Ambient/nature sounds

Somehow you can tell whether you're going to like a new microphone from the moment you switch on outside. The mic displays its characeristics immediately in the way it represents basic ambient sounds -- wind in the leaves, distant bird calls, and the dreadful jets and countryside traffic noise. And so I liked the NT55 omnis -- the ambient sound was relaxed, open, soft. We're having a lot of wind at the moment, and I was impressed by the realistic sound of the patter of a million leaves. There was little roughness or raspiness about it. Likewise, the sound of feet crunching on a grit road or cracking twigs was quite natural, with little crackliness or explosiveness. This impression was confirmed by some recording in rain. These are all fairly high-frequency impact sounds that can sound totally unnatural with some mics, which make rain, for example, sound like thousands of tiny firecrackers.

Let's start with rain. We had a couple of small thunderstorms over the weekend, and I've stitched some clips together to represent both rain and thunder. In the next clip the first two claps were recorded in a garden. The gear is under cover on a terrace, and rain is hitting stone and a watering can as well as the grass on a lawn. About 55 s into the sample I've stitched in two more claps, with heavier rain, from a storm earlier in the morning. Here I'm sitting in the back of a car with the door open and the mics as close to either side of the top of the open door as I dared hold them. So here much of the rain noise is from the top of the car. Otherwise the rain is falling on the unpaved ground of a forest car park and on the leaves of trees above. (All these ambient samples use the Portadisc recorder)

Thunder and rain (2.13 Mb)

Birds . . and wind and jets

I've found Chaffinch, Wren and Robin song to be tough calls for a microphone. They are high-pitched, shrill and piercing, and mics that overrespond in the high treble tend to make them sound unnaturally bright and aggressive. With an unsuitable mic any one of these three can ruin a dawn chorus! Robins aren't singing at the moment, I couldn't find a Chaffinch, and so here's a Wren. I've stitched together three calls made by the same bird over a period of several minutes. An early morning jogger and dog pass between the first and second calls, and a jet cruises high overhead in the third. As to the bird, I don't know. It's not bad, but I was slightly disappointed. Jury still out pending comparisons with my other mics. (My thanks to an observant reader for pointing out that this was a Wren, not a Chaffinch!)

Wren (870.21 K)

Here's quite a test for any mic -- budgies. Also useful as it's a familiar sound to many people. This is a cage of about 50 birds at the local owl rescue centre. A New Zealand Boobok can just be heard at 45 s.

Cage of budgies (1.97 Mb)

I think the mic handles that rather well. The next clip is the NZ Boobok, acompanied by the budgies and a couple of Kestrels. It's sampled at a lower rate of 160 kb/s. I was in the cage with the mics quite close to the owl – maybe 2 feet.

New Zealand Boobok (1.19 Mb)

The last clip is a bit inane, but in the interest of some lower frequency animal sounds here are some eagle owls and a crow .. and me stitched into a single clip. It's July and the owls are moulting, so uninclined to talk. The first single call is a Snowy Owl. That's followed by three European Eagle Owl calls. Then a conversation between me and a Great Horned Owl -- all these Eagle Owls seem to like exchanging hoots. Finally, at the end of a row of cages lives a Crow, and he always makes these strange deep noises when someone approaches. The clip ends with him chopping at a wooden perch with his huge beak, just like a woodpecker. Moments later he managed to capture the windsock from off one of the mics . . .

Eagle owls and crow (1.52 Mb)

Review of NT55 in Electronic Musician 1 September 2007 (short review by a guitar and violin player). is selling the NT55 at a very good price -- £155 -- on this page (linked Oct 2007; item is stocked and sold by an Amazon associate, Absolute Music Solutions). How good this is is shown by the dollar price on -- $349. On Amazon UK the weight/dimensions of the mic and boxed mic are shown completely incorrectly as 2.3 kg! Of course it's much lighter than that -- it's a pencil condenser mic.

The NT55 comes in a foam-lined metal can (see top pic) with a very tight mic holder. How I wish they'd provide a soft bag, like A-T do for the AT 3032.

Next page: NT55 with cardioid capsule

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