Rode’s NT-USB Mini Is A Great Little Microphone With One Catch

Rode’s NT-USB Mini Is A Great Little Microphone With One Catch
Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

Australian microphone makers Rode have been in the business for literally decades – the company was first founded in 1967. And yet, despite the rise of gaming and streaming in particular, the firm has never really targeted gaming or the legions of content creators interested in entry level or prosumer audio gear.

It’s not like Rode haven’t had plenty of mics. But with the NT-USB Mini, the company has an affordable USB offering targeting gamers. It’s excellent, like most Rode gear, but there’s one significant catch.

Available for $149 through most audiophile shops and some major PC retailers like PLE Computers and Mwave, the NT-USB Mini is largely meant for people looking for a desktop microphone for gaming. It’s not the first dabble Rode have had in the USB microphone market, with the NT-USB Mini being a slimmer version of the NT-USB condenser cardioid microphone.

The NT-USB actually had a lot to like: it shipped with a pop shield and a tripod desk stand, and had nice buttons on the side for mixing. If you were after a USB microphone now, however, I’m not sure you’d consider the NT-USB. The NT-USB Mini is $40 cheaper, comes with an in-built pop filter rather than an external filter, it’s a lot lighter and smaller, and it’s compatible with all the same boom arm/microphone stand accessories that you could fit the NT-USB into. The NT-USB Mini, however, records in 24-bit, compared to 16-bit for the original NT-USB.

The big difference, really, is the magnetic desk stand that the NT-USB Mini ships with. It’s small – just larger than the palm of your hand – with a single brass rivet and a central point for the NT-USB Mini to stick into. As a physical, tactile object, it’s a lot of fun to play with, and the mic detaches from the base easily enough.

Well, maybe a little too easily.

There’s two problems with the NT-USB Mini, and the stand is one of them. Being a magnetic stand means that it’s never really fixed at any point. And while the magnet is strong enough to hold the microphone, you can easily bump it out of place. There’s a pop filter built into the NT-USB Mini, but no shock mount like HyperX’s QuadCast. That means any vibrations or bumps from things like mechanical keyboards or mouse clicks are going to get amplified by the microphone, making for a miserable listener experience.

rode nt usb mini review The magnetic stand is relatively small, and barely comes up to the height of the bottom bezel of this 27-inch MSI monitor. Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

And even if you wanted to use the microphone as-is, chances are you’ll run into difficulty because of how short it is. The NT-USB Mini is a tiny microphone, and the stand is minuscule. Together, the whole unit barely surpasses the bottom bezel of the 27-inch monitor in the photo here.

Now just imagine putting that microphone stand on your desk, and picture how far away it would be from your mouth. Rode’s FAQ recommends users have their condenser mics about 10 to 15cm away for an ideal result. But the only way the NT-USB Mini would accomplish that with the supplied stand would be directly in front of you, and if you’re leaning forward into the mic. It’s just too far away to be of any use, and definitely too far away to get the best possible result.

But with some extra accessories, it’s a lovely little microphone. If you’ve got a boom arm you can screw in the NT-USB Mini does a superb job of accentuating your voice without too much hiss. Correction: An earlier version of this article linked out to Rode’s PSA1 shock mount, but that’s not compatible with the NT-USB Mini, and Rode has advised customers that the the NT-USB Mini is internally shock mounted, so you can get away with just the boom arm if you want.

It’s my preferred microphone out of the three that I currently own: it doesn’t pick up external noises as much as something like the Yeti Pro or Yeti X, although it’s obviously still going to record cars doing 30km/hr over the speed limit outside my window. There isn’t a lot of punchy mid-bass, but it’s well-rounded and warm. Having the in-built pop filter is a huge plus, and I’m a big fan of connecting through USB-C instead of micro-USB. It’s not as sensitive as some other mics, which is good if you’re in an environment where you can’t completely isolate all forms of noise or you don’t have the ability to add soundproofing and dampening to your walls and windows.

There’s no gain option on the NT-USB Mini itself, but that’s not the worst thing in the world. It means you have to get accustomed to setting the volume through the Windows options, which you’ll have to go back and check anyway as Windows (or other apps) have a tendency to muck around with microphone levels from time to time. There’s also no in-built software, but again I don’t consider that a negative: gamers have enough launchers, drivers and software on their machine as-is, and not having another third-party program to mess around with is a good thing. It does, however, mean that you don’t get the ability to apply software-based compressors or noise gates, but you can replicate that functionality in other streaming or recording software like Audacity or OBS.

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It sounds like I’ve been quite harsh on the NT-USB Mini throughout, but I want to stress that’s not really an indictment of the quality of the microphone. It’s just more pointing out that you should never have a mic rest on your table if at all possible. Hell, if you have the option you shouldn’t even have a boom arm attached to your microphone – it should be attached to a separate table. And then there’s the whole other question of getting into mixers, noise gates, compressors, and removing as much ambient noise from your room as you can.

And you should be looking to do that with any microphone you buy, not just the NT-USB Mini. Other microphones might be more usable in a pinch, like the HyperX QuadCast, but you should still be factoring in the cost of things like a pop filter, shock mount and boom arm. Once you’ve got that all sorted, the NT-USB Mini is light, well designed and does the job real well without sounding metallic or weak. You’re losing future versatility by picking a USB microphone over XLR, and it means you’ll be spending more than $300 instead of just $149 as originally intended. But if you’re looking at buying a microphone, you should be keeping that in mind anyway.

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