Rode K2… Sings like an Angel, sits like a king.
Originally published here: http://www.12am.com.au/?id=824
By: Andre Cato
Microphones are a very unusual breed of musical instrument. In essence they are not an instrument at all; they are simply a device to properly capture and transfer sound… but as I have discovered over the last month testing the RØDE K2, microphones are one of the most vital tools in your studio.
We use them in phones, in public transport and in the studio, which has led to a variety of different microphones being developed over the last Century. Like anything in life, there are good microphones and there are bad microphones, but as you are about to discover, there is an Australian company that has truly changed the face, sound and price of good quality Tube microphones.
How can we use what we don’t understand? Well, in my opinion we can’t, so lets have a quick look at what it is we are actually talking about today.
What is a Microphone?
Microphones were born out of necessity and were first implemented in the latter part of the 19th Century with several gentlemen vying for the breakthrough that would create a better sound for what was at the time, the world’s latest invention… the telephone. These microphones were carbon-based and worked…. but only just!
The carbon Microphones were soon found to be far too noisy for music recording and so an advancement was made by changing the carbon setup. This formed a spring-mounted double-button carbon microphone that was designed to keep the carbon granules inside the transmitter from moving and touching the diaphragm during operation…. Oh! did I mention that this all happened around 1921! This carbon technology became the backbone of radio technology up until about 1931. Many other forms of microphone technology were developed in the 20th Century, including Tube, Ribbon, Crystal and Dynamic and of course the type we are looking at today, the Tube (or Valve) Microphone.
What is a Tube (or Valve) Mic?
A tube microphone is basically the same as a condenser microphone, where a Tube diaphragm and back-plate conduct electrical messages. The pair work together, basically as a capacitor and the sound pressure on the diaphragm stores the electrical charge. This message is then sent down through the glass tube in the body of the microphone. The tube acts as the head amplifier for the unit, creating the smooth warm sound associated with tube technology.
Anyway that’s enough of the history lesson…
Right, so who is Rode anyway?
Up until the early 1990s, it was only the rich and large recording studios that could take advantage of the obvious sound attributes of Tube microphones. It was not until the emergence of Rode in the early 90s that a company focused on research and development to create a range of professional studio Tube microphones for a growing home recording market.
During the 90s, Rode developed, designed and created tube microphones but were much more focused on creating the circuits and tubes that would set their sound apart from all others. By 1998, Rode Microphones were not only world-renowned for their warm sound and quality parts, but also for their price tag that was very quickly putting smiles on recording artists’ faces around the world.
So why is a good microphone important in recording? If you sit still in a quiet room and close your eyes for a while, you will realise how many things you can hear in the background. A microphone is designed to pick up sounds that you did not even know existed and therefore you really want to ensure that your microphone is going to record exactly what you want and not the other sounds bouncing off every surface in your studio. To put it simply, a good Tube microphone will record your sound with practically no extra noise whereas a cheap and nasty microphone will have a sound that cannot be boosted in dB level, or used in a recording without massive reconstruction work or many layers of audio hiding the horrible mess underneath.
So, with all that information under our belts, lets have a look at the K2, a Tube microphone package that has seen Rode once again lift the bar in home recording quality. I honestly thought they had sent me a keyboard or drum machine due to the large moulded case. Instead, what I found inside was an abundance of bits, pieces and add-ons that come standard with a Rode K2 Mic. Inside the case you will find a dedicated low noise mic cable, with seven pins (as opposed to normal 3 pin XLR mic leads) that transfers all the data and power smoothly and silently from the K2 into the power unit. The beautifully metal-cased K2 Mic feels strong, heavy and solid in the hand. This is great as Tube microphones have always been seen as a fragile piece of gear. The K2 looks like you could literally drive a truck over this mic without seeing a mark. The power supply box is also a control unit for the fully variable polar pattern dial. To finish off you will also find a SM2 shock mount included in the price of the unit.
Main Features of the Rode K2
Making The K2
The K2 has a beautifully-crafted gold metal casing which is made right here in Australia. Just 250 kms north of Sydney is Rode’s metal work facility, equipped with the latest computerised machinery for producing their range.
One outstanding piece of information about Rode is how they achieve the end result. Rode have built thousands of valve mics and their testing capabilities are beyond that of any other company or design team in the world. The tubes designed by Rode are tested on a rare piece of equipment called Tektronix 570 from the 1950s giving Rode an unquestionable advantage. The advantage is that Rode can test and push to the limit each circuit to ensure the best quality from every part resulting in great sound at a fraction of the cost you would expect to pay.
Totally Variable Polar Pattern
What? Ok, a microphone as advanced as this does not simply act as a point and shoot kind of tool. With the fully variable polar pattern you are able to tell your microphone what direction to record the sound from. The drawings here will show you the difference in the three standard types of polar patterns.
A cardioid setting is perfect for impact due to the fact that it records from the front only and therefore is great on acoustic guitars and violins and vocals.
The figure 8 setting will pick up sound from the front and back of the mic but does not pick up sound from the left and right sides so would be perfect for recording simultaneous backing vocalists.
The omnidirectional pattern setting is great for a more ambient recording and will pick up sound from everywhere within your recording space.
Right, that is standard, so obviously Rode will take it another step, which they do. The K2 allows you to select one of those three settings or any position in-between giving you full control over the setting of polar patterns to suit your project or instruments.
Incredibly low Self Noise.
10dBA! This basically means that the unit itself is very quiet and will not add unwanted sounds to your recording. You are also provided with a shock-mount as mentioned earlier which will ensure that you do not pick up vibration through the mic stand.
Now, in regards to the testing of this unit. I am a musician and a music teacher, but in no way am I a musical boffin who is interested in filling your heads full of information you can read on a product fact sheet or comparison sheet. The tests done with the Rode K2 were performed at 12am Studios in Melbourne with a variety of instruments (acoustic violin, trumpet and voice). The K2 was set up on a standard Mic Stand with a pop-shield. The power box for the K2 was attached to my Studio desk (Mackie 24/8), Motu Soundcard and G4 duel processor with Emagic Logic Platinum as the recording sequencer.
Recording the violin and trumpet were first on the agenda, so the pop-shield was not needed or used for this part of the testing. What I found most amazing about the recording of these instruments was the ability to dictate the direction of sound. The recorded files produced a rich and warm tonal quality on the cardioid setting but by turning the cardioid setting in either direction the sound is dramatically changed. The omni position lead to a much more spacious mix with obviously less impact directly from the instrument and picks up the ambient undertones from the rest of the room as I play. This makes the recording space seem larger and more hollow resulting in quite a haunting tonal quality.
The frequency response on the K2 is a lot wider than that of a standard Dynamic mic and therefore a much wider spectrum of sound is recorded. This is great for a very simple reason. A microphone is the first in a long chain of transfers and processing for a raw audio file. The better response and recording of this raw file will dramatically effect the final product.
Now, if you heard me speak, you would understand why I brought my sister in to test the vocal capacity of the Rode K2. Tube microphones are the first choice for Vocals in a studio and this is due to the warm characteristic it adds to the sound. This is very true, even with an untrained ear, it is easy to hear the difference when comparing recording from a dynamic to a tube microphone. Many times in the past, we have recorded voice overs for radio and promotional CDs, always resulting in a transfer through an vocal producer such as the Antares Vocal processor. The recorded sound files in our testing of the K2 were not only clean, and bright, but also was amazingly simple, once again to change the direction of polar pattern ending up with totally different impact on the sample.
The quick guide to the K2 features and statistics
For those of you that really just want the stats on the K2, here you go!
- Acoustic principle: Externally polarised 25mm (1'') Tube
- Active electronics: Thermionic impedance converter with bipolar output buffer
- Pickup pattern: Multi-pattern
- Frequency Response: 20Hz ~ 20 kHz
- Output impedance: 200 ohms
- Sensitivity: -36dB re 1 Volt/Pascal (16mV @ 94dB SPL) +/- 2dB
- Equivalent noise: 10dBA SPL (per IEC651, IEC268-15)
- Maximum output: > + 30 dBu (@ 1% THD into 1k?)
- Dynamic range: 150dB (per IEC651, IEC268-15)
- Maximum SPL: 162 dB (@ 1% THD into 1k?)
- Signal/Noise: > 81 dB (1kHz rel 1 Pa; per IEC651, IEC268-15)
- Power requirements: Dedicated Power Supply (110 ~ 120V/220 ~ 240V, 50/60Hz)
Who is this for?
The K2 is a highly professional Tube microphone with a very, very small price tag (K2 rrp – $1399). So in my opinion, who wouldn’t want one for their recording setup? The K2 provides a platform for amazing sound transfer for any sound you wish to record, whether it be an acoustic bass, drums, orchestras or vocal samples. Obviously this form of mic (Tube) is used in a recording/studio setup, not for live performance, so I guess that is also something to note if this subject is new to you. The K2 has a separate power supply so you will not need phantom power in your mixer or sound-card which is also a handy advantage of the K2.
Finally there is an option in the market place for small studio owners to upgrade their recording quality, without mortgaging the house to do so. If you are in the market for a tube microphone then the K2 will certainly please even the most fastidious of studio owners with its sound, lack of noise, price and package contents.
Go test it yourself and compare the quality and price with other quality microphones such as Neumann, Blue and AKG. Where as many of these companies create fantastic microphones, none have the same the diverse range of instruments the microphone is well suited to in the price range. The K2 is a perfect all-rounder for studios large and small with Tube technology that you would expect from a unit 10 times its price.
Where can I purchase or find out more information about the K2?
Click here to see the web’s lowest sale prices on the Rode K2.