Monday, November 25, 2013

Rode NTG8 - The Big (Shot) Gun

The long shotgun microphone is something you don't see in a lot of kits. I have one, but haven't used it in years. But then most of my work is inside. I remember playing with the long shotgun soon after I got it to find out what it would give me. 

I was on the front lawn in a quiet neighborhood in Baltimore. A short block a way, across the street, one of my neighbors approached his car. This was back in the day when you had to unlock your car with a key. I put on the headphones, aimed the long gun at him and cranked the input on the mixer. To my great surprise, I head the tinkle of his keys. Then a car came up the street, driving between us. It would have deafened me had I not ejected the headphones straight off my head.

You see long shotguns outside in sports, nature and some feature film work when wireless lavs are frowned upon and wide shots have dialog. Not used as often as hypers or short shotguns, they remain part of the audio tool kit, along with the wind gear that's usually required to keep them happy.

Some years ago, I remember using mine on a documentary shoot at a college in Pennsylvania. We were doing a piece on one of the students and the producer wanted to show the student hanging out with friends, tossing a football out on an open field. The producer asked if I could get the slap of the football being caught. I'd been using a Schoeps CMC641 for the locked down interview, but had the 816 in the car. I rigged the boom for the 816 and they began running, passing and catching. They were about fifteen to twenty-five feet away. I put the butt end of the boom on the ground and tracked them horizontally by rotating the boom. Because there was nothing behind them but empty campus and no significant noise sources, I got very good results. I could definitely hear the slap, running and body contact.

Fast forward to this summer when the Rode NTG8 arrived. I found the NTG8 and MKH 816 to be very similar in form and function. The MKH 816 has been replaced by the MKH 70 and then by the MKH 8070.

Rode NTG8 FRequency Response
The NTG8 is a line gradient, super-cardioid, RF-biased shotgun with a half-inch capsule at the base of its interference tube. The entire mic is 1.8 feet long and weighs three quarters of a pound. Frequency response is listed as 40 Hz-20kHz. Output impedance is 25 Ohms. The maximum SPL the mic will withstand without folding is 124 SPL (@ 1kHz, 1% THD into a 1 kHz Ohm load). Maximum output is 8.2 dBu. Sensitivity is -20 dB ref 1.0V/Pa. Equivalent selfnoise is a very quiet 8 dB-A. The NTG8 requires 44-52 VDC Phantom Power and at least 2.5 mA.

The NTG8's 8dB-A selfnoise figure makes it a good choice for nature recording when whatever you're trying to record is some distance away. You'll hear your preamp noise before you'll ever hear the mic's selfnoise. 

Rode NTG8 Polar Response
The NTG8 is an RF condenser microphone. That means, unlike most condenser microphones, it uses an RF voltage instead of DC on the capsule. 

Sennheiser was one of the first companies to use this powering scheme on their MKH 416 and MKH 816 and it has proven to be a better, more reliable approach than DC, especially in chancy weather conditions.

The first thing I noticed was the black non-reflective finish of the NTG8. Whether you're on a movie set or in the outback, you don't have to worry about a sun glint giving you away or spoiling a shot. 

There are two features of the NTG8 that are easily glossed over; the black metal storage tube and the 10 year warranty. The sturdy aluminum storage tube with internal foam cushion allows the NTG8 to be stored or transported safely. This is a significant innovation, especially for everyday run and gun situations. The NTG8, as with all Rode mics, comes with a one-year warranty. By clicking here and registering on their web site, you can extend that warranty to ten years. That's a great deal! 

Rode NTG8 in SM8 Suspension Mount
The double donut SM8 suspension mount fit nicely on my K-tek boom and the angle adjustment hardware was easy to use. Even with the obvious length of the NTG8, held it in place without drooping. Having said that, I'm used to booming with a Schoeps CMC641. Booming with the NTG8 requires some adjustment for weight and balance.

My first sound check was in my studio. I wanted to check how much selfnoise I could hear in a really quiet environment. The NTG8 did very well. At normal levels, I really couldn't hear any self noise at all. The NTG8 is noticeably brighter with the foam cover removed and you can hear that plainly on the In Studio recording files I uploaded as part of this review. You can download the files from my dropbox account and hear for yourself. Here's the link. (note: One person has reported that this link does not work on their browser. If that happens to you, try this:
Bird Hunting with the NTG8

You'll also find the pairs of files I recorded outside with the NTG8 and an 816. You'll hear wind noise on the NTG8, because I only had the pull-on foam cover. I had a Rycote Zeppelin on the 816. Don't worry, the NTG8 doesn't have wind problems once it's in a Blimp. Also, if you line the files up in pairs on a DAW timeline, expect some HF cancellation if you mono both tracks as the mics were about eighteen inches apart. 

You'll hear me moving to the edges of the pattern to get a sense of how wide the front lobe is and what the shoulders are like. I also have birds in trees and children playing down the street. An airplane goes over at one point and I am reminded that shotguns are interference tube mics and that they do hear mid and low frequencies coming in from off-axis. 

Standard Rode Blimp
The NTG8 comes with a long foam windshield (WSNTG8), the SM8 suspension ready to mount on a boom and the sturdy aluminum storage tube. In the real world, (one with a breeze over a few knots) you're going to need a cage and maybe some hair. A Blimp or Zeppelin provides the best results. The hair adds a little more protection and softens the sound of raindrops until it becomes saturated. You also get a nice comb to straighten out the furry when it gets tangled. How detailed oriented is that!? 

Rode makes a standard Blimp for shorter shotguns. (above)
Rode extension kit for NTG8
They also make a screw-on extension (right) to extend the standard blimp so that it will house the NTG8 and include a longer fur to cover it with some extra bands for the suspension.

You probably won't be using the NTG8 inside unless you have extremely high ceilings, such as on an acoustically-treated sound stage. Street price for the NTG8 is $999 USD. That's a very fair price for that much microphone and don't forget to register for the ten year warranty. If you need that much reach, reach for an NTG8. The standard blimp runs $299. The blimp extension, extra bands and long fur run another $69.

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