three microphones being compared: sennheiser mkh-416 vs rode nt-usb vs apogee mic 96k sound test

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.

Conclusion.

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.

Conclusion.

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.

Sennheiser MKH-416 was connected to RME Babyface going straight into MacBook Pro and being recorded in Reaper in 24bit at 48kHz sampling rate.

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).

Apogee MiC 96k was connected directly to another MacBook Pro and being recorded in Audacity in 24bit at 48kHz.

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.

An now the spoiler for blind Rode NT-USB vs Apogee MiC 96k sound test on youtube:

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!

16 comments

  • Awesome man! I am totally with you on the stupid unboxing videos. The Rode seems to sound a bit more open but with a tad more sibilance, the apogee seems a bit more warm but also flat.

    I have a stereo pair of the apogee 96k and it works amazing on my guitar, but for vocals, it can’t handle my decibel range. So I was considering the Rode as it seems to handle rock vocals.

  • Good day, Shane Mason Vincent. Thanks for your comment and it’s nice we share some hate about the un-boxing videos.
    Now as I’ve been using Rode for some time I can only say good things about it. It may sometimes sound thin because of the openness you mentioned, but there’s nothing that can’t be fixed in post with some EQ. The head-amp is super powerful. In my usual setup I feed two headphone sets from it and there’s still headroom on the headphone volume know if one wishes to blow his or hers head of. Connection and interfacing with my mac is straightforward. And what should be of most interest to you – you can adjust Rodes gain trough software – so I believe it should handle not only rock vocals but random shit-core screaming pretty well. If you’d like, I could scream in few shit-core lines and send them your way just to check how much SPL it can handle.
    Again thank you for your message. Not getting too much of theme here, so always nice to see someone appreciate your work. Cheers!

    • That would be great! Would love to hear some creed-esc screams to hear it’s decibel range.

      There’s a rode nt sub link page now with all the vocal videos compiled, you should add vid there and maybe point out at the end which mic was which.

      I am going to keep the apogees as I have a stereo pair 96k and the jam 96k which makes for a warm acoustic recording.

      But I will IIkely buy the rode for vocals as its so cheap nowadays for the quality. I have a studio tube mic m-audio Sputnik but want simple; tired of a studio filled with plug ins wires and boxes all over; especially when I would rather just play and not have to engineer if the tech will do it for me. Damnit Jim I’m a musician not a mixer.

      I have had major sound cards and rigs and am just down sizing to simple no brainier stuff as the tech catches up with the quality. Really all I need a sound card for is mastering to my studio monitors. They used to make mini dac but no longer.

      • Here you go: https://we.tl/X8EyFxDVTq
        My son and mostly me did some extreme screaming for just for you. This performance was made about 5-10cm from the mic using a standard pop-filter (not the one that’s included – that one sucks and does not protect the mic from plosives so I don’t use it). Also I reduced it’s gain trough software controls to the minimum setting.
        I was surprised, but unfortunately the mic could not handle my random screams and you will hear some internal distortion (at the input of the mic’s pre-amp). So depending on your style of singing you might not get lucky with Rode as well. Anyway – that was revealing. Sad, but revealing. You can try to approximate the range from the wave.
        Not funny, but you’re speaking about gear overload just like me. I have sold tens of thousand worth of hardware and software gear in last few years and trying to get as minimal as I can. Even sold my waves, uad, steinberg and other similar accounts as well as a Neumann U87Ai etc. Downsizing rocks! I love not having any dongle dependent plugins and software on my MBP 15″ as well as a Babyface instead of 2U 19″ sized monster interface. Now even more I love just using Rode NT-USB for my voice -over talents. Less cables – less prep-work. Also I love using low end stuff to achieve best possible result that is comparable to hi-end outputs. And I love mobility as well.
        Again, thanks for being interested in what I have to say. Let me know what are your impressions on my Rode tests.

        P.S.: I’m not sure I got what you had in mind with this: “There’s a rode nt sub link page now with all the vocal videos compiled, you should add vid there and maybe point out at the end which mic was which. “

        • Thanks man!! Your son sounded great, lol. The screams and the recording was much cleaner than I expected. Since its so cheap I am going to give it a shot and back off more; I found a video of a rock dude using it, but he was about 2′ away from it and it sounded ok.

          Here is the link to what I was talking about:
          https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZXQp_XoNBBMLwD00mkLplVtrWlcQegT7

          Rode has its own youtube page and has a collection of videos under the nt-usb (“sub was a typo and was supposed to say “usb”)

          Thanks again for your help =) !!!!

  • Is it possible for me to hear the screams recording as well? The link didn’t work for me. I have a vocal teacher that wants recordings once a week. I may have to scream at some time. Who knows. I did my research and saw the guy on YouTube and his wife sing into a Rode NT USB mic. It’s in the mail but now I’m not sure since I have a iPad Pro and a camera adapter already (which, of course, I would have to use anyway) I also have a Surface Pro so it is good that I could use either. I wasn’t too happy when you said the pop shield wasn’t any good. I also have no set up for acoustics so when I recorded on my iPad, she told me to head to the closet and just keep the clothes I there. Still not sure what I will do about that.

    Your comment about box openings was great and I agree with you. Oh yes, I have listened to the 3 mics and prefer the Seinnheiser and the Rode. Not pleased that Apogee comes wil such a short cable. Already ordering a long knock-off cable from Amazon because my cable fir my IPad is already tearing. Not long enough. Haven’t had my ipad even a year.

    Thanks again.

    Fiona

    • https://youtu.be/rBSrD3IAE58

      (Here is the direct link)

      Apogee does not handle decibels well at all. The rode is better. I have decided upon a sure sm7b with a cloud lifter

    • Hey there Fiona,
      1. Unfortunately I have the recording of me screaming no more. Is your vocal lessons about singing or voice over? Anyways Rode will handle some amount of screaming pretty well. In the video example suggested by Shayne Mason Vincent https://youtu.be/rBSrD3IAE58 seems like there is no audible distortion (although we can’t see that actual wave being recorded, and there may be some clipping already going on although we’re not hearing it yet). That being said you can pretty much hear and see the amount of screaming that can be done into Rode NT-USB. If you will encounter internal clipping just try to move away few inches or feet.
      2. You’ll be able to use Rode both with iPad Pro as well as Surface Pro I believe.
      3. My comment about Rode’s pop filter is truth. But it is pretty simple procedure to make it work better. You can either put a piece of stocking on the pop shield or use a 2 to 3 mm thick piece of foam and stick it on the inner side of the pop shield (this way you won’t cover the fancy Rode sign on it. (here’s what I’m talking about, only it should be as thin as you can get: https://www.google.com/search?q=packing+foam&client=firefox-b-ab&biw=1440&bih=771&noj=1&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjw9rrZqrrSAhXEIsAKHVXEBQcQ_AUICCgB#imgrc=rYYTQCne0Q5HFM: )
      4. Recording in closets is a standard procedure if you don’t have an at least minimally acoustically treated room. So keep doing that, only keep some space between the mic and the clothes as those will absorb some frequencies while reflect (diffuse) other ones. So some unpleasant resonances might occur because of close proximity between mic and clothes. Or you can just ignore what I said and record in your closet as it is because a record made in a closet will sound subjectively much better (no noises, no room reverberation etc.) than one made in a living room.
      Hope that helps!

      • Wonderful. Thanks for the extra tips. Yes, the lessons are for singing. It was pretty daunting when she said she wanted to hear recordings. She has a Facebook group with Amateurs and Professional singers. She is also a VO Pro and a Worship Leader in a church in Seattle, US and has been in the biz since childhood. She had an early start because her mom was a professional Opera Teacher. She changed her methods over the years. She’s really smart. Her name is Kim Snyder and she is Director of The Voice Club. Anybody can join the FB group. There’s no cost just singers supporting each other. She’s just started it. So if you ever want to branch into singing……I’m in Canada and she’s in the US and you, I believe are in Lithuania. What a great thing the internet can be.

  • Hello, I’m considering the Sennheiser 416 + the XLR to USB from Shure (X2U) or the Apogee One.
    I can’t always use my home studio gear, I need to be mobile as I travel around the world making video for clients and sometimes I have to do voice over on the go. RØDE is good for sure but it’s hard to beat the 416 when there is a bit of sound around, hypercardiod is a beast…

    What do you think about this setup 416 + a “good” XLR to USB ? Is it a real weak point or it should be doable ?

    • Hey, thanks for your question. Honestly – never heard this thing from Shure existed in the first place. But now since I checked it out – it might work for you. Probably you only need to decide if it really will be enough. Are monitoring capabilities powerful enough to feed whatever headphones you’ll be plugging into it etc.
      If I understand correctly – you only record yourself as a VO, right? In that case convenience of being able to have talk-back isn’t that much of a deal… So I’d say go with 416+X2U and let me and everyone know how it worked for you?
      16bit/48kHz is more than enough to record quality voice over.
      And as you mentioned 416 is a great device that can pick up less ambient noise compared to cardioid mics. However be informed that shotguns can pick up o good deal of signal from the rear. If you’re not fully familiar with the concept, feel free to read my post about unidirectional microphones and how lots of us wrongly interpret what they are capable of doing:
      http://www.tomasdabas.eu/advice/unidirectional-microphone-myths-revealed/

      Hope I was able to help you out here! If you’ll buy X2U it would be great to know tour opinion on that!

      • Sandro di Carlo Darsa

        Thank you for this honest response 🙂
        About the Apogee Mic, a new one is just out, the MicPlus. Delivery in December, correcting most of the concerns about it, mic output without latency, etc… http://www.apogeedigital.com/products/mic

        The mic itself is the same, so my question is quite simple: is this new Apogee Mic+ enough for a professional voice over job? Anyway I’m not the best voice talent and my studio is most of the time a homemade but reflection proof hotel bedroom…
        The size of the Apogee is so tempting…

        • No problem! About the apogee mic+ – in my opinion it will be more than enough. You should have been able to work with the apogee mic (v1). And now since the new one has direct monitoring capabilities it should be kind of no-brainer for a traveling voice-over artist, who’s making enough income from the craft so he/she can afford to pay a bit more for the small footprint.
          As of the quality – I am sure it will perform top notch as long as you have ambient noise and more importantly room reverberation under control.
          If I was going for an mic+ I’d also buy some kind of additional pop filter in order to be able to get to the mic capsule as close as possible.
          My final thought is – since there’s temptation involved, I believe you’re doomed to buy it. I also believe you won’t be disappointed!

  • I LOVE YOUR REVIEW!!!!!!! You are totally right, who cares about the unboxing? hahaha. Thanks a lot! It will help me to choose one. i will choose the apogee, not for the sound and the price, but only because I´m going to travel (backpacking), and the size is important!!! 😉

    • Love the amount of exclamation points! Really glad I helped you decide. And in case you didn’t check out yet, feel free to take a look at my Blue Raspberry vs. Rode NT-USB comparison. Blue Raspberry is even lighter and might be of better price in your location. Also it has direct monitoring capability, which is lacking on Apogee. If I were you, I’d probably go with the Blue Mic for backpacking. Thanks again for the LOVE part. You made my day.

      • Thanks for the recomendation. I´ve been watching it. Price seems to be the same in Spain for the blue raspberry (than the apogee). It´s incredible that the Rode costs about 100€ less than the rest…and for me it sounds better.
        Thanks a lot for your reply, you have a new follower in me 😉

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