Review by Mike Metlay
Australian audio tech firm RØDE celebrated the 50th Anniversary of parent company Freedman Electronics in 2017, and rounded out its golden year by stepping into a realm where it’s never been before—audio interfacing. The Complete Studio Kit is a full package for the beginning singer/songwriter, centered around the new AI-1 audio interface. All you need to add is a computer and a pair of headphones, and you’re ready to record!
The first part of the Complete Studio Kit is a microphone we know well from a review in May 2014—the NT1. This is a large-diaphragm condenser mic with a cardioid polar pattern, with –29 dB sensitivity, 128 dB dynamic range, and 132 dB maximum SPL. If you’re doing the math, you get a self-noise of 4 dB (4.5, actually)… and yes, this mic is that quiet. There are very few other firms in the world turning out microphones with electronics this vanishingly silent.
Sonically, the NT1 has a very smooth and flat response with a very gentle lift in the high mids. It’s not one of those bright, brittle mics that are all too common when you haven’t a lot to spend; it sounds great on male and female voices without any harshness, and ranges from fine to spectacular on pretty much any source—I love it on electric guitar amps and acoustic string instruments from guitar to dulcimer. It has a tone that is wonderfully clear without being stark, pleasant without being hugely vibey.
I’d consider the NT1 the sort of workhorse that every beginner wants in their locker. It can start out as your only mic, because its overall sonic signature “stacks” well—that is, a bunch of instruments multitracked with just this mic won’t become overwhelming at any particular frequency once they’re mixed together. Even after you’ve added more mics to your locker, you’ll still find yourself coming back to it often as a reliable high-quality choice.
The Complete Studio Kit tricks out the NT1 with an SMR shockmount using the Rycote Lyre suspension system that won’t loosen up and require new bands after a few months or years. The custom-fitted dual mesh pop screen works exceptionally well at removing plosives, and is fixed in place at 2.5″ from the capsule, a very workable distance for vocals without a ton of proximity effect. There’s a high-quality XLR mic cable, a mic bag, and the one new piece of gear that completes the Kit—the AI-1 interface.
The AI-1 is dressed to impress—small but heavy, with a machined metal body that feels expensive and offers exceptional fit and finish all around. It’s a 1-in/2-out interface, with a front-face Neutrik Combo XLR/TRS input, two pots for input gain and output level, a 1/4” TRS headphone output, and twin 1/4” TRS balanced line level outs on the back. It’s bus-powered, and has a USB-C connector and a C-to-A cable included.
Using the AI-1 is designed to be as simple as can be: plug in your source, set gain and listening volume, and hit Record. Push-clicking the Gain pot turns on 48V phantom power, and push-clicking the Volume pot activates zero-latency monitoring, where the input signal is routed directly to your headphones or speakers and blended with what’s coming back off your DAW. With Ableton Live Lite included, you can be recording your first song in no time.
The AI-1’s sound quality is as impeccable as its build. It handles up to 24-bit/96 kHz audio with clarity and utter lack of coloration, an appropriate choice for an entry-level interface. The headphone amp can get really loud, but delivers great audio at all levels; I could see carrying the AI-1 just as a portable listening interface, since it blows away the headphone jack on pretty much any laptop out there!
The audio quality of recordings made with these components is exceptional at this price. RØDE will be selling the AI-1 on its own later this year; in the meantime, the Complete Studio Kit is a perfect package for the beginner who’d like a set of starter recording tools that won’t be outgrown any time soon.
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