The latest addition to the RØDE microphone line is the TF-5 small diaphragm cardioid condenser matched stereo pair. The mics come packaged in a nice two-tiered box with precision cut dense foam that included the mics, windscreens, really nice clips, and a wonderfully useful stereo bar (more on the accessories later). They're finished in a flat black with the signature gold dot near the business end of the microphone. The first thing I noticed was the mic's heft – these mics are small, but they have a nice weight that instills confidence. Luckily, I didn't drop either mic while I had them, but if they were mine I'm certain in time they'd take a fall or two, and I wouldn't really be worried if they did – they are sturdy.
I've been using the TF-5s for a couple months on several projects. I threw just about everything I could at them to see how they'd fair, and I've been quite impressed with most of the sounds I've heard. I think I would characterize these mics as slightly hard, but never harsh sounding. They have a defined presence, whether placed close to the source, or used to capture ambience. On a project with Chicago singer/songwriter and comedian Megan Hosack, we built up a lot of the songs starting with her playing guitar to a click. Both acoustic and electric guitars were used, with a few different amps. I was often using a close mic on the speaker paired with an ambient mic. What really impressed me, when I used the TF-5 for ambience, was what I can only describe as reach. It made the ambience really unique, as it was focused in a very different way than most mics I've used. I experimented a lot with different positions of the room mic, and, often I'll be somewhat random in this approach. With some mics, the tone will slightly change, but generally they just sound "roomy." With the TF-5, I felt I really could sense where the mic was pointed, and how the sound was interacting with the walls of the studio. I'm not sure if this is due to a tighter cardioid pattern than similar mics, or if there's something else going on here, but I found the TF-5s to be a great asset in this application.
The sound of this mic is quite clear, which aided in the capture of Megan's acoustic guitar. Her specific make of guitar isn't one of my favorites tonally, but, with some patient maneuvering, I got some really nice sounds with the TF-5 – it worked really well for articulating pick sounds. On one song she used the studio's acoustic guitar and the studio's Nashville-tuned acoustic on the same song. The TF-5 easily captured the tonal nuances of both guitars and maintained a unique character on the different tracks of each guitar. I didn't favor the TF-5 close mic'd on guitar amps, but, to be fair, I almost never like condenser mics on guitar amps unless the tone is really clean. I ended up swapping out the RØDE for a dynamic or ribbon mic but kept the TF-5 for room sounds.
I cut drums for both Megan's project and a project with Jeff Walker while I had the TF-5 pair. I first used them as drum overheads in ORTF configuration, which is a breeze with the included stereo bar. Again, the sound of the RØDEs was present and defined – making it quite easy to hear cymbal placement in the stereo field. The snare was present and strong, with a really nice attack from the toms. There was excellent definition on the ride cymbal, with loud crash cymbals never becoming too strident. I often feel like crash cymbals are the place overheads can easily fail – thankfully this was not the case with the TF-5s.
On later sessions I tried some different things with drums. For Megan Hosack's song "Head Space," I kept it simple with just a single bass drum mic and the TF-5 pair as room mics. The tone of the entire drum set was clear, with a nice air around it. On the mix, it was really easy to EQ the tracks in general and in a way that helped to pull a little extra snare out. A big tom fill articulated a nice classic feel – not a modern "in your face" thing – it really worked perfectly for the track.
On Jeff Walker's song "Giant Stacks" I put the TF-5s on short mic stands to use as room mics. Thinking back to the guitar sessions, I decided to point the mics away from the drums and absolutely loved how they sound on this track. The aforementioned reach and focus made for a really interesting tone. My room can be somewhat splashy, but in this position, the TF-5s put a nice air around the drums while deemphasizing any of the typical splash. I really like the snare tone from these mics in my room, and, though I haven't mixed the track yet, I can already hear that I'll be able to really push the room mics up without the track turning into a mess.
I needed to add Hammond organ to Megan's song "Pointlessness." I have the Leslie model 145 rotating speaker in the vocal booth, and decided to grab the ORTF pair of TF-5s off the large boom for overheads I was using on drums, then put them on a medium height Atlas stand – your studio does not have enough of these and other shorter mics stands. That put the pair about 26-inches off the floor and about three feet away from the speaker. I had two different sounds set up on the Hammond (one on each manual) and got to work. I performed some typical volume swells with the pedal while changing the Leslie speed several times. The TF-5s reacted quite well, and the organ sat perfectly in the track. The stereo spread is really nice, and on louder sections the tube drive from both the Hammond and the Leslie translated really well.
My good friend Mike Gardner came by to try the mics on piano. The piano at our studio, Oxide Lounge, is an 80- to 100-year-old Shulz school upright. It's a character instrument but still pretty versatile, and I often mic the soundboard, in back of the piano, for a richer, woodier tone, plus I capture less mechanical noises from the pedals. Mike played three jazz tunes for me. For the first song, I set up the mics in a simple X-Y configuration, with the second I used an ORTF setup, and on the third I placed the TF-5s behind him in the room. The close mic'd examples both sounded mix ready. The focus and tone worked really well. The entire range of the piano was well represented, without anything sticking out or dipping out in a bad way. Both X-Y and ORTF spacings sounded very even. The X-Y offered (as expected) a much tighter picture, with the left hand playing feeling a little closer in than the ORTF recording, which sounded just generally bigger. With ORTF it sounded almost like I'd moved the mics away from the piano even though the stand was in the same place. Using the pair on the room gave a wonderful airy sound while maintaining a lot of midrange detail.
On a tambourine overdub the TF-5s impressed me quite a bit – with one placed close like an overhead, and the other about ten feet away and chest high. As most of you know, tambourines can be a lot harder to capture than they should be. But with the TF-5s there was no smearing of the transient, and the jingly ring of the tambourine's bells came through really well. A plastic Rhythm Tech tambourine seemed to fit best with the song but others sounded great too. Again, the reach of the room mic was quite impressive and though I mostly use room mics with close mics, the TF-5 room worked well on its own without sounding super splashy or unclear.
On a simple brush on snare drum, I got a perfect sound with a single TF-5 about 18-inches over the drum. I spent a lot of time getting the drum to sound how I wanted, working with tuning, muffling, snare tension, and even putting a small bit of tape on the head of a lovely old Rogers wood shell snare. This was a pseudo bluegrass train beat, so articulation was key. The sound from the TF-5 captured everything I worked for in tone and performance.
I also recorded some backing vocals with the TF-5 as well, and they worked quite well. On occasion I work with a chamber group of piano, cello, and flute, and though I didn't have the opportunity to use the TF-5s in this application, I really think the it would work well for recording ensembles.
Now, let's talk about the included accessories. The mic clips are not only snug, but they have tightening levers quite similar to Drum Workshop cymbal stands. These might be the best mic clips ever – you just set your angle and tighten them down. How many mic clips do we each own that periodically need tightening with a screwdriver, or that we eventually stop using because they just don't hold position anymore? This clip tightens around the mic, holding it right where you put it. The hard plastic with metal thread stereo bar is damn near perfect. There are spacers designed to pop off easily, so one mic can be placed above the bar and the other below. The bar is about an inch and a half tall and keeps either the cables (when using ORTF) or the mics (in X-Y) from hitting each other. Add to that 90 and 110 degree markings, width markings, and a mark for ORTF. The box is coated cardboard, with foam cutouts that stack the mics and clips in one tier and the stereo bar in the other. At this price a hard case with a carrying handle would be greatly appreciated, and the cutout for the stereo bar requires you to put the spacers on the same side of the bar. Though there is some documentation in the box, I actually had to watch a YouTube video to realize how the spacers popped off. The spacers require you to use the included European thread adaptors, which I know I have plenty of extras hanging around should one of the gold colored RØDE ones go missing. Both the clips and the stereo bar are also sold separately, and I plan to buy both these accessories after I'm forced to send back this pair of mics. Minor beefs aside, the TF-5s are wonderful mics that would be welcome in just about any studio.