Here is my review of the US$99 RØDE NT-USB Mini microphone with optional ≈US$20 WS2 windscreen, which is also from RODE. I also used the optional tabletop tripod stand from RØDE rather than the unique magnetic base which comes included. I had seen and heard so many reviews where the NT-USB Mini sounded wonderful, but suffered from severe plosives, so I was anxious to try the NT-USB Mini together with the WS2. Read ahead to learn how this mic interfaces and functions via USB with standard computers and mobile devices and how its inboard latency-free monitoring works. Of course, listen to the test recordings too.
Above graphic courtesy of RØDE.
Multiplatform compatibility, connections and power
RØDE officially offers the NT-USB Mini to be compatible with Android, iOS, iPadOS, macOS and Windows. All of my test recordings you’ll hear ahead were made with a laptop running macOS Catalina 10.15 using Hindenburg Journalist Pro (covered in many articles). I suspect that the RØDE NT-USB Mini will also work fine with Chromebooks too, as I have used several other USB microphones and interfaces with Chromebooks with no problems.
- To use the RØDE NT-USB Mini with a modern Android device with USB-C connection, you should use a direct USB-C <> USB-C cable.
- To use the RØDE NT-USB Mini with an older Android device with an older USB connection (but supporting USB audio), you can use the included USB-C <> USB-A cable together with an OTG Y-adapter to connect from USB-A female to the USB connector on your phone (often Micro USB and infrequently with Mini USB). Some Android phones I have owned fortunately included this OTG adapter.
- To use the RØDE NT-USB Mini with a very modern iOS/iPadOS device with USB-C like the iPad Pro 2018 (the first iOS device to be shipped with USB-C) or the iPad Pro 2020, you should use a direct USB-C <> USB-C cable.
- To use the RØDE NT-USB Mini with an iOS device with a Lightning connector, I would use the Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter since it gives you a passthrough power connector to connect to some external power source.
- To use the RØDE NT-USB Mini with a standard computer with a USB-A connector, be it laptop or desktop (ChromeOS, macOS or Windows), simply use the included USB-C<>USB-A cable.
- To use the RØDE NT-USB Mini with a standard computer with a USB-C connector, be it laptop or desktop (ChromeOS, macOS or Windows), use a direct USB-C <> USB-C cable.
As you’ll conclude, the the RØDE NT-USB Mini offers a very smooth connection with conventional computers with any type of USB connection, but see my only precaution about using it with Android ahead in this article.
RØDE NT-USB Mini pickup pattern
The NT-USB Mini exclusively uses a standard cardioid pattern as shown above, courtesy of RØDE. Note that the above image requires a color display to grasp, since the red pattern drawing is not visible on a greyscale screen, and may be not visible from daltonic people either (i.e. those who have color vision deficiency). For you, just imagine a heart shape at the top.
Available sampling rate and resolution
The RØDE NT-USB Mini exclusively uses our absolute standard of 48 kHz audio sampling and at 24-bit (see Enter the 48 kHz alliance) and also my 2015 article Understanding 24-bit vs 16-bit audio production & distribution.
As I have covered in prior articles, to set your audio sampling on Android or iOS, simply select it in any of the recording apps that offer such an audio sampling selection (i.e. Auphonic, FiLMiC Pro, FV-5 Cinema) or use an app that uses 48 kHz exclusively, like the RØDE Reporter app. (Stay away from the native camera app or GarageBand, which only support 44.1 kHz, which is kryptonite for video production.)
On macOS, first select it in the Audio MIDI Setup (illustrated above, you’ll notice that there is no pulldown menu in this case, since the NT-USB Mini only offers a single mode). Then select 48 kHz in your desired recording app,
which must not be GarageBand. See my 2015 article 48 reasons why GarageBand is kryptonite for video production illustrated above.
Bulletproof and strong latency-free monitoring
The RØDE NT-USB Mini’s 3.5 mm jack for monitoring is designed to be used with either TRS stereo headphones or even with TRRS headsets with a microphone included. The RØDE NT-USB Mini is fortunately designed to ignore the microphone on a TRRS headset, if present, while outputting the latency-free audio.
I call it bulletproof since it solves the issue discussed in my 2015 article TS/TRS/TRRS/TRRRS: Combating the misconnection epidemic (illustrated above).
The same 3.5 mm jack also works just as well for playback monitoring (or listening to a remote guest or panelist live), as long as your app and system are set to send audio playback to the RØDE NT-USB Mini.
Unlike some other devices I have tested recently (which have a much weaker headphone amplifier), using my favorite CB-1 isolating headphones (which are rated at 32 ohms, shown above, reviewed here), the output level in my headphones fortunately was great even at about 11 (in clock nomenclature) on the volume pot (potentiometer) for the headphones when recording at -12 dB and setting the headphones. Since the headphone amplifier in the RØDE NT-USB Mini is so powerful, even the popular Sony MDR-7506 headphone (officially 63 ohms, although Ken Rockwell measured it to be even higher) should be fine.
The RØDE NT-USB Mini comes with an interesting magnetic desk stand. However, using a table or desk of standard height, most people I know would have to bend over to reach an ideal position for recommended microphone distance from the mouth. Although the magnetic desk stand is a cool idea, for best results, a longer stand is appropriate with most table/desk heights and human statures. Even better is a flexible boom arm like the Heil PL-2T I use in the studio. I love that one since it hides the cable inside. But the test recordings I made for this review were not done in the studio, but in a hotel room, and I used RØDE’s optional desktop stand (as shown above) which RØDE officially calls the “Tripod”. It does have three feet, so I suppose the name is correct…
How the RØDE NT-USB Mini introduces itself to the system
Unlike most USB microphones I have tested (but not all), the RØDE NT-USB Mini fortunately introduces itself to the system as mono (single track). With many apps, this allows us to save drive space and bandwidth when uploading a file and in many cases, do it that way without any special adjustments. With others, i.e in the Auphonic app for Android or iOS, just set Mono in the settings. In Hindenburg Journalist Pro (my favorite audio editing program for storytellers on standard computers, covered in many articles) is another audio program which gives us this option, but it’s automatically with the NT-USB Mini since Hindenburg Journalist Pro already knows that it’s a single track, as you’ll see below.
A single potentiometer! How does that work?
There is a single potentiometer (“pot”) on the RØDE NT-USB Mini, for the headphone volume. In addition, depressing it activates or deactivates the RØDE NT-USB Mini’s latency free monitoring. If its activated (indicated by the left LED), you hear yourself in real time with zero perceptible delay. If it’s not activated, you’ll only hear playback from the connected host device and/or possibly the other person/people connected remotely to you if you are broadcasting live or connected via Cleanfeed, Google Fi, Google Voice, Hangouts, Zoom etc. Of course, you’ll continue to hear them in either position.
But how do I set the mic level with no potentiometer for that?
The short answer is that you need to adjust the mic level of the RØDE NT-USB in the host software, either on a system level or (in some cases) in the recording app.
in iOS or iPadOS:
Just set the gain in your professional recording app, like Auphonic (audio only) or FilMiC Pro (audio with video).
As shown above, System Preferences > Sound Preferences (Sonido if your macOS is in Castilian) > Input tab (Entrada) > Input Volume. You can also do it in certain pro apps like Hindenburg Journalist Pro (the sliding mic input slider shown below) since it works in tandem with the on in the System Preferences one.
Recording Devices > click on NT-USB Mini > Properties > Levels.
What about with Android?
Sadly, there are very few Android audio apps I have ever found which are capable of driving (controlling) the gain adjustment of a microphone connected digitally (USB or wirelessly). Of the only two Android audio apps capable of this, only one USB Audio Recorder PRO (reviewed in 2015) was able to work properly with the NT-USB Mini microphone and allow remote access to its mic gain.
After testing many audio apps for Android for many years, USB Audio Record PRO is indeed the most full featured but the least friendly for rushed mobile journalists, since it requires connecting the USB audio device before launching the app and after “killing” the app to avoid an error at the beginning (or a scolding at the end). My current favorite Android audio app for mobile journalism in mono (single track) or stereo (dual track) recording on Android is Auphonic (reviewed here), but Auphonic (for Android) does not currently allow accessing the gain adjustment in the digital source, the way USB Audio Record PRO does. When I tested the NT-USB Mini microphone with Auphonic at the ideal microphone distance to my mouth and my typical voice level, the level was way too high and clipped in Auphonic. Getting further away from the microphone to reduce the gain would sadly reduce the signal to room noise ratio, as well as eliminate the positive proximity effect. So if you want to use the NT-USB Mini without whispering or sacrificing the signal to room noise ratio or proximity effect, USB Audio Record PROis the current recommendation. If any reader knows of another Android app capable of controlling the gain of a USB mic remotely, please let me know in the comments. It should be noted that this undeniable limitation in Auphonic is completely irrelevant when using other USB mics which have their own gain control via their own potentiometer, as many of the other USB mics I have reviewed in the past, both from RØDE and other manufacturers. The NT-USB Mini is one of the few USB mics without an inboard potentiometer for mic gain. This is not an issue on iOS, iPadOS, macOS or Windows. It is only an issue with popular audio apps on Android, and fortunately can be solved with the USB Audio Record PROapp, as long as the operator remembers the rule: always connect the mic before opening the app, and “kill” the app before disconnecting the mic. (This brings me back memories of SCSI disk drives.)
All below recordings are uncompressed 48 kHz WAV. Use Ethernet, wifi or unmetered data. I recorded this in Coral Gables/Miami, Florida, where it was about 33 palindromic degrees Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit) outside. After 1:27 in the recording, I activated the room’s air conditioner, which was in the opposite corner, so you can hear the difference with and without the air conditioner’s rumble, before and after Hindenburg Journalist Pro’s noise reduction.
Above, flat (other than normalization).
Above, mild noise reduction from Hindenburg Journalist Pro.
Above, mild noise reduction and mild compression, both from Hindenburg Journalist Pro.
Looks and build quality
Operability with iOS, iPadOS, macOS and Windows
Operability with Android mobile devices
(See details in article.)
(in its price range, using the aforementioned pop filter)
The RØDE NT-USB Mini has extraordinary quality for its price (when protected by a good pop filter like the WS2 shown above). Post-processing is required to remove rumble if used in an environment with air conditioning. See my comments within the article about mounting options.
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