RØDE TF-5 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone Stereo Pair
By Phil O'Keefe |
RØDE steps up to the big leagues… and hits a home run
RØDE is no stranger to microphone manufacturing. This Australian company has been building them since they launched the NT1 back in 1990. Many of RØDE’s microphones in the past have been known for their impressive price to performance ratio. It’s not that they don’t make some very nice microphones, but some of them have been so budget-friendly that it may have impacted the public’s perception of the brand to a degree. That’s unfortunate, because they make many models that are used in pro studios around the world on a regular basis. But now RØDE, in partnership with legendary classical recording engineer / producer Tony Faulkner, is shooting at an even tougher target - the world of high-end, no excuses, world-class microphones, and the first release that has spawned from their collaboration is the new RØDE TF-5 small diaphragm condenser mic under review here.
What You Need To Know
- The RØDE TF-5 is a small diaphragm, externally polarized condenser microphone with a transformerless output. Currently they are sold only in stereo pairs.
- The TF-5 packaging is interesting, and while it’s not a true hard case, it does offer a place to store the mics and their accessories when not in use. The outer box sleeve slides off to reveal an internal box that has a magnetically sealed flip top. Inside is a removable foam tray with the two microphones and two mic clips, and beneath that, you’ll find the rest of the included accessories.
- The pair of “matched” RØDE TF-5 microphones bear sequential serial numbers, and in my tests the two were sonically indistinguishable in terms of noise levels, sensitivity and frequency response. When used as individual spot microphones, they can be freely interchanged.
- RØDE builds the TF-5 in their state of the art facility in Sydney, and tout the build quality of the TF-5 prominently in their ads. A quick visual examination tends to bear out their claims - the high quality construction is readily apparent.
- Each microphone measures 98.7 mm long x 20 mm in diameter and weighs 114g. This is nearly the exact same dimensions as the budget-friendly RØDE M5 electret condensers, but there are several significant differences between the two designs that are not as readily apparent from their similar exterior appearances.
- The bodies and capsules of the TF-5 microphones are finished in a tough, matte black ceramic coating that resists fingerprints and is quite durable and scratch resistant. There is a small gold colored insert on the bodies (typical of all RØDE microphones) and the RØDE logo is also printed on the bodies near the XLR end in bronze lettering, but in a fairly small font - much smaller than the larger white logos on the similar looking RØDE M5.
- Unfortunately there are no alternative capsules currently offered, but the cardioid capsules are removable, so it’s possible that other capsules may be offered as an option in the future. The threading on the capsules and bodies is exceptionally smooth and precise, and inspires confidence that they’d hold up to regular swaps if necessary without worry about cross threading, stripping, or other issues.
- Considerable development work went into designing the TF-5. According to the very informative mini-booklet that comes with the mics, even the design of the grilles went through over 40 different revisions, with each one being carefully tested and compared in RØDE’s own acoustic test facility.
- The cardioid capsules are all-new, and use a patented process in their assembly, and computer-controlled manufacturing technology that provide sub-micron levels of precision.
- The TF-5 uses a bipolar output buffer and a JFET impedance converter. The output impedance is 63 ohms.
- Various sources, from the product website (which has now been corrected) to the booklet that comes with the mics state the SPL handling specification as 120 dB and this initially caused some concern because there are some recording situations (even in classical music recording) where source SPL levels might exceed 120 dB SPL, or even approach 130 dB SPL. However, RØDE assures me that this was in fact a misprinted figure, and that the actual SPL handling of the mic is rated at 135 dB SPL (1 kHz @ 1% THD, 600 ohm load). Since I wasn’t able to audibly overload the review pair (even when close miking loud guitar amps, percussion and a drum kit), I feel confident in the revised figure, and despite my initial concerns I doubt that their maximum SPL handling capabilities will present an issue in real world use.
- Equivalent noise is rated at 14 dB SPL (A-weighted, per IEC651), which is very respectable, and the signal to noise ratio is 80 dB.
- Sensitivity is rated at -29 dB re. 1 Volt/Pascal or better (35 mV @ 94 dB SPL @ 1 kHz).
- The dynamic range is also very good, and is rated at 112.6 dB (1 kHz @ max SPL).
- The frequency response is rated at 20 Hz - 20 kHz (+/-4dB), and is +/-3 dB from 30 Hz - 20 kHz. It’s generally quite flat, with only a touch of added “air” in the high frequencies above 10 kHz. There is also a very slight dip at around 80 Hz, and an even slighter one at 4 kHz. The overall sound is very neutral overall, with two notable areas being the air added to the highs giving it a somewhat “open” and detailed sound, and the low mids are a bit fuller-sounding than a lot of small diaphragm condenser microphones, giving the TF-5 a bit of warmth that is uncommon in small diaphragm condensers.
- The phantom powered TF-5 requires 7 mA @ 48 V for power.
- There are a few nice accessories included with the TF-5 stereo pair. In addition to the box, the microphones and the mic clips, you also get a stereo bar. This is pre-measured and marked, making it easy to get the angles and distances between the two microphones just right for various stereo miking arrangements, such as XY and ORTF.
- A pair of foam windscreens is also included with the TF-5’s, along with a small hard cover handbook.
- There is no pad or high pass filter on the TF-5. In this reviewer’s opinion, the former is of more concern than the later - you can always roll off the low end in post if you feel it’s necessary, but once captured, distortion is forever.
- At this time, only the stock cardioid capsules are available. Optional omnidirectional and hypercardioid capsules would make an excellent addition to the TF mic line, and expand their capabilities and usefulness.
- While the stereo bar is very nice, unfortunately, no shock mounts are included.
I really wish I would have had some string sessions or ensemble recordings on my schedule so I could have tried the TF-5’s out on the types of material Tony Faulkner usually records, but I haven’t really done much classical recording since the 1990s, and I didn’t have any jazz or classical projects that I could use them on. But I did employ them on a wide variety of individual instruments, including drum overheads, piano, guitar amps, and percussion, with very satisfying results being achieved with everything I used them on.
So are they superb, or simply overpriced? RØDE is facing a significant challenge in attempting to get the engineers of the world to accept them as being equal to or surpassing current and long-loved high-end standards, but the quality of the sound you get from the TF-5 is truly world-class. Yes, they can play on the same field as your favorite small diaphragm FET condensers, and will acquit themselves quite admirably in the process. This is a very natural and neutral sounding microphone. I’d even go so far as to call it “honest” in its representation of the sound in the room. If you do your part in terms of optimizing positioning and placement, you’ll be rewarded with a very life-like sonic picture of whatever you’re recording.
While they’re not the absolute quietest small diaphragm condensers ever released, they do have very respectable low-noise performance. Sensitivity and dynamic range are also very good. The frequency response is very neutral and mostly flat, and the off-axis sound is impressively uncolored - which is absolutely crucial for realistic sounding stereo recordings. And while they are great as individual spot mics, they excel at stereo recording applications. My initial concerns about the maximum SPL rating turned out to be unfounded and a result of misprinted specifications; despite blasting away at them, I wasn’t able to drive them into audible distortion in my testing, which tends to confirm the revised figures.
These microphones look and sound like high-end microphones, and are built for years of professional use. At about $750 per mic they’re more expensive than RØDE’s previous small diaphragm condenser offerings, but they’re not at all unreasonably priced given their level of performance. It will be interesting to see if any other microphones are released in the TF range. Personally, I hope this is only the first product of what will be a long line of new high-end products from RØDE. The TF line is bound to change more than a few minds about just how good a RØDE microphone can be. -HC-
Want to discuss the RØDE TF-5 or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Studio Trenches forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
RØDE TF-5 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone Stereo Pair ($1,499 "street")
RØDE’s product web page.
RØDE product data sheet (PDF file), complete with frequency response and polar pattern plots.
You can purchase the RØDE TF-5 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone Stereo Pair from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.