Hit the Rode

As podcasting has grown from a niche medium, driven by enthusiasts and early adopters, to a mainstream format, it has presented an all-too rare opportunity to the manufacturers of audio equipment - the opportunity to sell products to a whole new market. All manner of podcast-oriented products and packages have appeared over the past year or so, notable amongst them the Rode Podcaster USB mic... and thanks to UK distributor HHB Communications, we've been able to put the Podcaster through its paces over an extended test period.

Rode, for those who aren't familiar with the name, is a leading manufacturer of professional recording microphones. They made their name essentially by building classic 'large diaphragm' mics that retailed for a good deal less than was typical for such Rolls Royce recording kit, and products such as the Rode NT-1 have become favourites with musicians and producers who want a classic studio sound without paying a premium price.

Just the kind of company, therefore, who should be well-placed to offer a quality plug-and-play podcast mic solution. The Podcaster is based around a dynamic mic capsule, and looks very much like a old-school broadcast or recording microphone: a weighty metal cylinder, with a solid grille in its upper portion to protect the capsule. Unlike Rode's conventional mics there is no analogue audio output to plug into your mixer or mic input, rather a USB socket for connection to your computer. Hook it up via a standard USB cable and... well that's about it as far as setup goes. A green LED lights up to give useful visual confirmation that the mic is connected, powered up, and talking meaningfully to your computer. If you are using Mac OS X, the Podcaster appears as a selectable input source in your system preferences, and will be available in whatever audio applications you use - we used it with Logic Pro, GarageBand, Audacity and Peak, all without a hitch. (Windows setup should be almost as easy for those poor bastards who have to use Microsoft products - but we'll let someone else tell you about that, as PokerDiagram only does Windows at gunpoint. Or if there might be a buck in it.)

Audio quality proved to be well up to scratch. The Podcaster sounds full and fairly rounded, and its cardioid pickup pattern gives you a useful degree of directionality - with a little care taken over mic position you can comfortably pick up two or three speakers positioned in front or around the mic, without picking up too much signal from behind the mic. There's a little background noise evident (signal-to-noise is quoted as 78dB, if you're interested in tech specs), but not enough to be significant in a medium where practitioners rarely have access to soundproofed booths, and where the final delivery medium is not exactly CD-quality.

We didn't put the Podcaster through too many physical trials, but it survived at least one heavy knock unaffected, and could probably double as a hammer if it really came to it. A very welcome feature is a stereo minijack headphones output, complete with volume control, which lets you monitor your recordings at source (ie. you're hearing what the mic is picking up, before it gets converted and routed into your computer). You can also select the Podcaster as your computer's audio output, perhaps to monitor a processed and mixed signal.

We mostly used the Podcaster with its optional shock-mount, and a boom mic stand that allowed the mic to be positioned just above the screen on which we were playing. This provided physical isolation from bumps, footsteps etc, and also makes for a good, secure mount. While you can fit the Podcaster to any mic stand using the supplied mount, smaller desktop tripod-style stands will be a little too small and light to support it properly without the risk of toppling over.

So what's the final verdict? Two thumbs up. The Podcaster does just what it says on the box, and has made the PokerDiagram mobile studio a good deal more luggable than it was before - rather than pack a laptop, rackmount audio interface, mic stand and microphone, we can ditch the audio interface and fit everything else into a large laptop bag. The price looks right too - at around £130 (street price), it's a pretty cheap route to a professional sound.

© P. Ireson 2007. Just because this text is posted on the internet it does not follow that you are free to copy and reproduce it without permission - you are not.

Sampling Frequency 8kHz to 48kHz
Bit Resolution (Linear) 18 Bit
Pickup pattern Cardioid
Bitrates (MPEG) 192, 160, 128 kbps
Frequency Response 40 Hz - 14 kHz
Signal/noise >78dB
Sensitivity -51dB re 1 Volt /Pascal (2.8mV @ 94dB SPL) +/1 3dB
Digital output interface USB
Power requirements From USB port
Weight 610g
Dimensions 215mmx56mmx52mm


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