Rode NT-USB vs Apogee MiC 96k sound test. With sound files!
Rode NT-USB vs Apogee MiC 96k sound test – was a little project I was planing to do for some time. My initial idea was to somehow compare Rode NT-USB, Apogee MiC 96k, sE Electronics X1 USB and Audio-Technica AT2020USB+, but it turned out to be quite hard to find these secondhand at a reasonable price and there are no distribution here, that would let me try them out before buying. So I found an Apogee MiC 96k really cheap on classifieds and got the Rode to try out from a distributor here in Lithuania. Olso it’s always a good idea to compare something new to something old and trusworthy, that’s why I dropped in my voice-over workhorse combo – Sennheiser MKH 416 + RME Babyface as a reference for myself and hopefully you.
So first of all here are the samples I recorded for Rode NT-USB vs Apogee MiC 96k sound test. And if you would like to hear how Rode NT-USB sounds compared to something more fancy (Sony PCM-D100 [700$] and Brauner Phantom V [3000$] for example) you can jump right to this post of mine!
Why am I doing this?
My wife and me own a small post-production company where we do TV, net and radio related ad work. Most of it is done at our house in a suburb of Vilnius. It’s cool to be able to work from home but the problem is that the roads here are awful as the suburb is new and there are lots of constructions still going on. Because 50% of our work involves recording voice-overs we deal with quite a large stream of actors coming to record their copies and a 30 minute long trip to an unknown suburb followed by a walk by foot trough really clayey road is not what we want them to go trough (yet). Because of that we’re renting a studio in the city which is OK until a two word copy comes in (like: “Only today!”). To record it I take a 25 minute long trip to the studio, set up my gear in 10 minutes there (I like it mobile, so I don’t have nor leave any of my gear in the studio), record one take, that I know QC will approve, I record few more takes thereafter just to make an illusion the recording was longer than 10 seconds, then I pack everything back in 5 minutes and take another 25 minute trip back home. Basically to do a one minute long recording sometimes it takes away about an hour of precious time that could be used 3D modeling, mixing, editing, rotoscoping or just sitting doing nothing and not paying for fuel and studio rent.
Because of that and not being on vacation for four years we decided to search for a place to buy near or in the center of Vilnius to establish a small remote recording studio there.
Remote recording studio?
For a year now I was thinking and overthinking a setup that would allow me to record VO talents while not being in the studio physically. Of course there are several actors who have their own pretty decent equipment at home and we do our sessions with me supervising them trough Skype or mobile phone, then they send me wav’es trough Wetransfer and that’s it. However as the VO industry/culture is relatively small and unpopular in Lithuania (compared to Germany, UK or US), talents who have their own equipment equal to 2% at best and most of the voice recording work is being done in the studio. So back to it – my initial idea was to rent a small space near or in the center of Vilnius and to establish a recording studio/room there. It’s hard to find one small enough (so it’s not an overkill) but we’re slowly getting there. And once we find the right place I’m planing to leave a silent PC there with enough power to:
a) power up and stay on forever without eating to much energy,
b) run some sort of remote access software capable of transmitting picture and sound trough internet,
c) be able to accept a USB mic,
d) run a DAW to record a single 24bit or 16bit wav file at 48kHz.
Now back to the Rode NT-USB vs Apogee MiC 96k sound test.
I was interested how do USB mics perform against industry standard MKH 416 and if I can put a USB mic in the studio instead of microphone + audio interface combo quality wise. Now after the test recordings are done I know I’ll go with Rode NT-USB because as far as I hear, the difference between my recent setup and the USB mic is so small, that I even starting to like Rode NT-USB over Sennheiser MKH 416. In fact all the mics sound quite close with Apogee MiC 96k being on the darker side and Sennheiser MKH 416 on the brighter. Tone wise.
My impressions on Apogee MiC 96k.
1. First thing that makes this mic a no-go for me is lack of direct monitoring capability. Yes, I have the most powerful laptop in the world, but still – monitoring trough a DAW is not what I want. A short bullshit story of glorifying a shortage of a device can be found here. Somehow I’m loosing respect for Apogee because of this…
2. A 1 meter long cable that goes with the mic is a joke if you’re trying to do something on a more professional level and not spit on your computer. And additional 3 meter cable costs simply too much for a cable. And while we’re on a subject of cables the fairy tail about Apogee’s “PureDigital” connector for pristine sound quality is PureBulshit. Are they trying to convince the young hipsters that connector is responsible for sound quality? Perhaps that and the fact that in case of cable accident you’ll need to buy an expensive one instead of using a random USB cable. Ah, Apple-esque philosophy.
3. I didn’t try to record at 96kHz, rather than only at 48kHz which is my standard recording sample rate. However the advertised 24bits of dynamic range didn’t work that well on this mic as it’s self noise is much higher that even 16bit dynamic range allows. So I’d say that 96kHz is a pure marketing trick and they’d better have improved S/N ration instead of going up on sampling range. Most of the people will use it with their iPad or iPhone anyway…
4. Sound quality of this mic on the other hand is superb. It has quite clean highs. Clean like in not distorted which seems to be a case in all-in-one products off all sorts of manufacturers for lower priced devices.
5. Another nice touch is ability to control its gain with a knob on the mic itself. And if I weren’t looking for a mic to control its gain trough software I’d really be excited about this.
6. And the final good thing about Apogee MiC 96k is its size and weight. Without writing too much, I definitely see myself taking this baby with me on vacation (if I’ll ever have one) in case I need to record something myself. Or someone.
If you’re a fan of Apple, don’t care about competitive prices, and don’t know that are the benefits of direct monitoring – this is a device for you. However if features vs. quality vs. price ratio is more important to you, I’d say that the bigger part of it’s features are designed and advertised only to get more money from you for stuff you won’t even use or need or to be honest doesn’t make any difference at all (“PureDigital”, short cable, no direct monitoring, 24bit, 96kHz).
My impressions on Rode NT-USB.
After watching several useless un-boxing “reviews” on youtube I got an impression that the mic might be on a brighter side because of the 7dB bump at 6kHz I saw in the specs. It came as a surprise that the bump wasn’t influencing higher frequencies as much as one could expect having seen the response curve.
Another nice discovery was that 16bit recordings didn’t have the noise I expected. Also the S/N ratio is more than comparable to both competitors. Here I must advise you to check the silence parts of the samples using spectral view (I usually do it in RX5), because Apogee’s noise shape is much more noticeable on silences and quieter parts as it is concentrated in the mid-range and has a fall-off on the highs. Probably because of that Apogee MiC 96k sounds less bright than Rode and Sennheiser. Opposed to that Rode seems to have inverted noise shape, it being scooped on the mid-range and having a shelving boost in it’s highs. Not such big a deal, however if recording at 24bit with Apogee we shouldn’t have a problem with mic’s self noise like we don’t with Sennheiser. But we still do with Apogee.
Headphone output, ability to monitor the input directly and to have a balance between input and playback is a big advantage for me. Standard 3 meter long USB cable as well. Oh, and did I mention the pop filter which comes with the mic?
If I wanted to take my mic with me on vacation, size and weight might be a problem with Rode NT-USB, cause it’s a full sized large diaphragm studio mic although a little lighter than a real one. But as long as portability is not a priority to me – dimensions isn’t a problem here.
I’m fully satisfied with its sound and can’t see 16bit being an obstacle recording professional quality voice-overs as long as talents are professional and have enough energy in their stomach. It might get tricky with quieter material, but hey, I have RX5 for that. And I use it even on Sennheiser sometimes.
Technical information on Rode NT-USB vs Apogee MiC 96k sound test:
As you might have seen in the video – back of my room isn’t treated acoustically at all although I have 10 acoustic panels in front and front corners. So that’s where the reverberation comes from – the back.
Rode NT-USB was connected directly to MacBook Pro and being recorded in Reaper in 16bit at 48kHz sampling rate (now it’s interesting how did Reaper deal with different bit depths – will need to check source files).
Then all files were aligned so they all have the same RMS reading (same volume). No post-processing was done to either of tracks except volume adjustment for the whole track.
Mic #1 – Apogee MiC 96k
Mic #2 – Rode NT-USB
Mic #3 – Sennheiser MKH-416
Did you guess right? What are your impressions on these mic’s? Was my article and sound samples helpful to you? Would be perfection if you’d left a comment here or on YouTube page.
And here’s the video in case you haven’t seen it. Thanks for stopping by!