Stephen Bennett puts this high-grade on-camera microphone through its paces.
Røde has made somewhat of a name for itself in the broadcast world with its range of microphones aimed at video and on-camera use, and the company’s latest product under review, the Stereo VideoMic X (SVMX) joins this increasingly illustrious family. Designed and manufactured in Australia, the SVMX is shipped in a sturdy Apple-like cardboard box, along with a range of essential accessories, including a furry windshield and Røde’s buckyball-like pop shield. I would have preferred the microphone to be supplied in some kind of flight case, but I assume that Røde is expecting potential purchasers of this microphone to already have some kind of protective carrying cases for cameras that they can drop the SVMX into.
The microphone features two acoustically matched, externally biased, 0.5in pressure gradient cardioid condenser capsules, fixed in an X/Y configuration. The transducers are coupled with the compact electronics, an in-built Rycote Lyre on-board shock mounting system and a standard hot shoe for connecting to booms or video and DSLR cameras. The microphone itself is compact at 118 x 102 x 100mm and feels sturdy in construction – Røde is obviously confident in the quality of its product, as the company offers a 10-year warranty. Constructed from aluminium – which Røde claims ensures an extremely high level of radio frequency rejection – the microphone’s 300g weight means that it sits securely on top of all but the most flimsy cameras and booms. Røde says that critical body components, such as the capsule and shoe mounts, are precision machined to ensure the tightest possible tolerances, which helps to minimise any acoustic resonance and I have no reason to doubt these claims when testing the microphone in real-world situations.
Power to the microphone is provided via a 9V battery and an LED display informs the user of low power levels. Røde recommends lithium or alkaline for the full 30-hour quoted lifespan, but you can also utilise 48V phantom power to energise the microphone. Audio is transferred to attached cameras or recorders either via a standard unbalanced stereo 3.5mm jack or on-board mini XLR connectors – so optional adapters or cables will be required to use the microphone with suitably equipped video or audio recording devices. This does mean you’ll have to carry around yet another adapter, but, as the microphone has such a small footprint, it’s hard to see how else Røde could have offered balanced outputs and phantom powering. It would have been nice, however, for the company to supply these essential adapters with the microphone.
The controls on the rear of the microphone are digitally controlled for improved reliability, protection against accidental change and suppression of switching noises. The SVMX sports a three-way high pass filter with 0, 75Hz and 150Hz settings alongside a three position level control that ranges from -10dB, 0dB and +20dB. There’s a novel high-frequency boost setting that provides +6dB of shelving equalisation from 3kHz upwards, designed to be used in conjunction with the furry. The capsules cover a frequency range of 40Hz to 20kHz and, while Røde doesn’t supply gain specifications over this range, it does provide both frequency and polar pattern graphs for the microphone. Maximum SPL is quoted as a useful 143dB with a reported sensitivity of -32dB re 1V/Pa (25mV at 94dB SPL) ± 2dB at 1kHz and 82dBA signal-to-noise ratio. All in all, the SVMX has a very respectable specification for a microphone that is likely to be used connected to potentially noisy equipment and set a fair distance from the source to be recorded.
A nice feature that derives from digital control is that the microphone retains its settings at switch off, something I find really useful in these days of recorders and cameras with extensive – and often complicated – multifunctional capabilities.
I used the microphone directly on a Canon XF100 digital video camera to capture impromptu interviews and conversations and an unamplified trio in a small venue blessed with reasonable acoustics. Results were impressive, with an excellent stereo image being captured alongside the video recording from approximately three metres – but you need to bear in mind that the microphone is not a shotgun type, so it won’t be suitable in situations where the sources are very distant or ambient noise might be an issue. Using the Røde as part of a surround recording project alongside a similar setup of Neumann KM 84’s demonstrated that the SVMX is no slouch in the audio quality department, holding its own in situations where recording dynamic classical music is required. I popped the Røde onto a microphone stand and compared the audio quality to my usual X/Y setup for recording acoustic music, with both setups connected via XLR connections to a Tascam DR-680 digital multi-track recorder. Although the results from the Røde were sonically different from my usual AKG 414 XLS microphones set to cardioid polar patterns, I wouldn’t be embarrassed by having to use the results obtained from the SVMX in a professional environment.
The Røde also has the advantage of being physically small and the black finish makes it less visible in situations where the audience ends up dictating microphone positions. The high frequency boost won’t work miracles in challenging environments, but could save the day if re-recording is never going to be an option and I found it especially useful when recording interviews in cafés, and to bring back some of the brightness lost when using the excellent wind and pop shields.
Røde now produces an impressive range of low to mid-price microphones for use in various recording applications. The Stereo VideoMic X is a welcome addition to the range providing a compact yet technically competent performer for both audio only and audiovisual applications.