A lot of people write me asking what kind of small-diaphragm condenser to buy. To quote Craig Anderton, "That's like asking me to pick your girlfriend." But people still ask, so I'm always keeping my eyes open for a good buy. The R0DE M3 is a newer model in the R0DE line. In person it looks like the lovechild of the R0DE NT3 and the AKG C 1000S. In use, it has a sound and feature-set all its own.
Billed as a dual-use studio/live microphone, the M3 features a flat-black metal body, switchable high-pass filter, three-step pad; and it can be powered by 9V battery or 48V phantom power. The review mics arrived in rugged plastic carrying cases and included really-cool rubber clips, foam windscreens, and a 10-year guarantee.
Angela Baughman and I had live sound duty for a two-day acoustic festival on Pittsburgh's South Side. We took the M3s to record the performers and noticed a few things. First, you know those foam windscreens that recording studios ignore? Well, they can save your bacon in an outdoor environment. Also, trucks, generators, and other sources of low-end rumble will overcome many a studio mic. But the M3s with their rubber mic clips and built-in anti-shock capsule mounts were able to ignore all kinds of rumble. Ultimately, it proved too windy to record the whole show (the gusts picked up the mic stands!), but the recordings we did capture were clean and true sounding. It was back to the studio for more testing. So far, the score was R0DE +1, the road 0.
For studio use, the M3s are natural, slightly warm, and have just a touch of high-end boost. Clearly, this is a workhorse mic. Acoustic guitars sounded clear and present (especially positioned at the 12th fret). Backing vocals through the Purple Audio Biz preamp (Tape Op #55) were focused and cut through the mix. I also liked the M3 on ride cymbal (for times when we mic it), on hi-hat, and for overheads in X/Y configuration. During a session, an errant drumstick tore the grill off of the M3. Without the mesh grill/foam protection, I was able to examine R0DE's internal mounting solution, which forms a rubberized spring supporting the capsule. Bumps, handling, and rumble do not have a free pass to the diaphragm; they have to fight their way through this built-in shock absorber, and I applaud R0DE for this ingenious little addition. Putting the grill back on, the mic works just as it did the day we got it. More kudos for durability.
Compared to other mics in this realm, I find that the M3 is a touch darker (or should I say less bright) than the AKG C 1000S (a longtime Hong/Haines favorite here at Tape Op), and a little less revealing than the smaller R0DE NT5. Nor do they possess the tube-based girth you can get out of the Chameleon Labs TS-1. But none of this is bad. I'm just trying to paint a picture where these mics land in the current gamut of commonly-used small-diaphragm condensers. In fact, the M3s handled everything we tried them on. And any concerns about them are very minor. First, they do not have the same (very) low noise you will find on R0DE's dedicated studio mics. But I challenge you to hear the noise floor on anything but classical recordings. Second, at 9" long before you add the XLR cable, placing the M3 on some drum setups can be tricky. And finally, I don't think there is any provision for swapping out capsules, a la the NT5. But that's all I could come up with.
So, picking up a pair of R0DE M3s makes a lot of sense. Well-stocked mic lockers will appreciate the added flexibility of having these utility players. And if you only have one of those $99 import mics, the M3, while double the price, is at least a three or four-fold improvement in sound quality. But unlike the $99 entry-level mic, you won't outgrow the M3s. Their natural sound makes them a solid choice on just about any source. And let's not forget the free foam windscreen, too! ($199 street; www.rodemic.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.