Microphone Review: The Rode NT-USB Is Great for Podcasting

Rode nt usbI record several podcasts, and co-host two: The Next Track, a podcast about how people listen to music today, and The Committed, a weekly tech podcast about Apple and more. I’ve used a number of microphones over the years for podcasting, but I finally decided that I needed something better. After reading a number of reviews, I settled on the Rode NT-USB. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

As you can see from the photo on the left, the Rode NT-USB comes with a desk stand and a pop screen, both useful accessories. While the pop screen is excellent, the desk stand is too low for any serious use; you need to be much closer to the microphone than you can be with this stand to make it sound good. You could use the desk stand for, say, Skype calls, but you don’t need such a good microphone for that use.

Onboard monitoringAs the name suggests, this is a USB microphone. Just plug it into a computer or hub, and choose it in your recording app. The sound is very good, and it’s best if you are very close to the mic. There is a 1/8″ headphone jack on the side of the mic, and two knobs for onboard monitoring. The bottom one is for the headphone volume, and the top one is a monitor mix control; if you want to listen to yourself through headphones, you adjust the balance between your source and your incoming audio.

This is a cardioid mic; here’s the polar response from the manual :

Rode response

In order to be comfortable, I mounted the microphone on a boom. I first bought one that mounted on my desk, but the NT-USB is too heavy. I then bough a standard microphone boom, which is highly adjustable. (I bought this one from Amazon UK; you can find something similar on Amazon.com.) When I record, I place the boom to my right, and the microphone in front of me.

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Mac Pro Audio Ports: Microphones Not Recognized

You can’t plug a microphone with a 1/8″ plug into a new Mac Pro. Here’s why.

I’ve got a microphone to review for Macworld, specifically for its use with speech recognition software such as Dragon Dictate. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) I was surprised to find that the Mac Pro doesn’t recognize this microphone.

HT6024_1-macpro-audio_ports-001-mul.png Apple has a support document entitled Mac Pro (Late 2013): Audio ports which explains the audio interfaces on this computer. It says:

Audio out: The left audio port with a speaker icon is a 1/8″ stereo minijack for audio line out. It can use analog audio and digital S/PDIF fibre optic cables. Audio devices you connect to the port will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Output. Note that this port does not support headsets or microphones.

Headphone port: The right audio port with a headset icon is a 1/8″ stereo minijack for headphones. When you plug in headphones to this port, sound is redirected from the internal speakers to the headphones. Headphones will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Output. If the headset contains a microphone, it will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Input. iPhone headsets including mic and inline controls are supported. Digital output devices are not supported on this port.”

You’d expect that the headphone port would work with a microphone. When I plug a Sennheiser PX 100 II-i into that port, it shows up in the Input pane of the Sound preferences as External Microphone.

System Preferences001.png

But when I plug the microphone I’m reviewing into the same port, it doesn’t show up. Since it’s a microphone only – not a headset with mike – it’s not recognized.

2014-08-01 10.27.55-4.jpgI’m not sure why this is the case, but I suspect it has something to do with the type of plugs each device has. As you can see in this photo, the Sennheiser headset with microphone has a 4-part plug; the other microphone has a 3-part plug. My guess is that the Mac Pro is recognizing the different parts of the plug in order to detect whether or not it will recognize the device.

Whatever the case, it’s important to know that a standard microphone with a 1/8″ plug won’t work in the Mac Pro. If you have one, and want to use it with the Mac Pro, you’ll need some other way of getting the audio into the computer, such as a USB adapter. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) The mike I’m testing does come with a USB adapter, but I wanted to try it without the adapter to see if there was any difference in accuracy.

SpeechWare USB TableMike: A Great Microphone for Speech Recognition and Podcasting

31swg6bRw2L.jpgAbout two years ago, I reviewed the SpeechWare USB 6-in-1 TableMike for Macworld. I looked at the microphone, at the time, for its use with speech recognition; specifically with Dragon Dictate for OS X. It was the best microphone I tested, among a number of different mikes, offering the best accuracy for speech recognition. It is also easy to use: it sits on your desk, and has a long, flexible boom, so you don’t need to worry about the wires of a headset, or the often finicky wireless headsets available.

Since them, I’ve been using it regularly when recording podcasts, such as the one I co-host, The Committed. It’s great for podcasting, since it takes up very little space, and the flexible, telescopic boom means I can lean back in my chair and be comfortable. (It’s not obvious from the photo, but it flexes both at the bottom of the boom and the top, just below the microphone.) It also has a line out port, so I can plug a headset into it to hear my other hosts.

The version I’m using is the 9-in-1 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which includes an additional USB port, an SD card slot, and a built in speaker, which can be good if you’re using Skype or other VoIP software. There are slightly cheaper 3-in-1 and 6-in-1 versions (it was the latter that I reviewed for Macworld in 2012).

If you want a great microphone for speech recognition, this is one of the best. It’s not cheap, but if you dictate a lot, you know how much time you can save with a good microphone. And if you want an unobtrusive mike for podcasting, this is also a great choice. Unlike many other mikes that podcasters use, which are big and bulky, this one has a small footprint, and a slim boom. In both cases, this is my mike of choice.