Category: Gear Reviews

Rode Videomic Pro Review

Rode Videomic ProWhen making videos for any purpose, sound is always one of the most important factors. Whether you’re making something for YouTube, or you’re working on a big budget production, sound quality will either make or break your presentation. Ask anyone who has been making videos and they will tell you that the ability to record high quality sound is just as important as the ability to capture the images you’re looking for.

Why use an External Mic with a DSLR?

Why is sound so important? Unless you’re telling a story with no dialogue or sound, voice and audio recording plays a large part in how you convey your message to the audience. Most viewers will not notice seamless sound recording and editing, but nearly all will cringe when levels are off and inconsistent. The last thing you want to do is distract your viewer with technical problems. Not only will they lose interest, but you will lose credibility as a filmmaker.

One company that makes a plethora of products that will help your cause is Rode. Rode has a large and diverse line of microphones, and makes some of the most diverse mics on the market today. For example, the Rode NT1-a is one of the finest choices for musicians doing home recording on a budget. At around $230 USD new, it’s great for vocals, acoustic guitar, and many more applications, without breaking the bank. Sure, you can spend more and get better quality, but many consider the NT1-A to be an ideal multi-purpose mic for budget minded musicians. I was hoping that the Videomic Pro would be similar in terms of quality and versatility. After a few weeks with it, here are my results.

Rode makes four microphones that come with camera mounts integrated into the design. It makes for easy attachment to most camcorders and DSLR cameras. This is extremely helpful if you’re shooting in a simple setup, don’t have a crew dedicated to sound, or just want the ability to point and shoot.

Videomic Pro Specs and Features

Rode Videomic ProThe Videomic Pro is a shotgun mic about 6 inches in length. As stated above, it attaches quickly and easily to most cameras, and has an integrated 3.5mm stereo plug that can go directly into your cameras mic input jack. A 9 volt battery powers the 1/2″ capsule and the same signal is sent to the left and right channels. There is a on/off switch that allows you to conserve battery life. It has a native 40Hz-20kHz response, however also offers a built in high-pass option which will cut off all frequencies below 80Hz. This is helpful if you are dealing with a lot of low end outside noise, like traffic. Another useful feature is the -10db pad, and +20db boost. The pad is useful if your audio source is incredibly loud, like a concert. The boost is designed for use with DSLR cameras, more on this below. It has a 3/8″ thread connected to the camera mount for the purpose of using the mic as a boom. It is held in place by elastic bands that keep it suspended, allowing roughly 1/4″ of space on all sides. It weighs 80 grams so it doesn’t really add that much weight to your rig. Full Videomic Pro specs.

How to use the Videomic Pro with a DSLR

My application for this mic is with a Canon T3i DSLR camera. The mic on this camera sounds terrible for nearly all applications, and most reviews will list the mic as the weakest feature. This is the case with nearly all DSLR cameras, not just this model. I have installed Magic Lantern, which offers audio input monitoring, a feature that is a must have if you are not using an external audio recorder. When in use, I have found the best results turning the input volume nearly all the way down (in the cameras menu settings) and then activating the mics +20db boost. By letting the mic do all the work and not having to rely on the cameras digital gain, you end up with a much better sound quality then if you were to turn the -10db pad on, and boost the cameras internal volume. What’s important to understand is that while this may work best for my needs (interviews and events), it may not be ideal for every purpose. It comes down to you liking the sound that is recorded, so you will want to mess around with it yourself.

The fact that it comes boom mount ready is really a great feature. All you need to use it as a boom, is a pole and a headphone extenuation cord. I’ve been using a 50 foot cord that I got on amazon for $5, and can not detect any loss in quality versus having it plugged directly in. The elastics are a little thin, but do a surprisingly good job at keeping the mic suspended above the mount.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the quality and ease of use from the Videomic Pro. I would say that this is the perfect mic for entry level filmmakers who want to up their sound quality without breaking the bank or needing additional sound recording equipment.

The casing is made entirely of plastic, but it weighs far less than a metal counterpart, so it’s fantastic if you want something light on your rig. My only real issue comes in the fact that he 3.5mm connection is hardwired into the mic. The cord is reinforced, but if you are using it on a boom pole, be sure that there’s no way that it can be yanked on. The good news is that if something does happen to it, Rode has excellent customer service and offers a 10 year warranty on all their products.

The value here lies in the plug and play element, and of course ability for numerous applications, as is the standard with so many other Rode mics. With the features it has, it’s a great purchase for anyone looking for a fast and easy way to high quality sound. At $229, it’s well worth it.

Videomic Pro Examples

I did a couple of very brief experiments with the mic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to show everything I want, but I will revisit this post once I am able to illustrate some more examples of just how versatile it is.


Rode NT3 Review

Rode NT3 ReviewSome mics are built with one specific purpose in mind. Others are well rounded and can do more. The Rode NT3 is a mic that falls into this category. I needed something that was going to be versatile, durable, and accurate. I didn’t want to spend an insane amount of money wanted something that was going to be simple to use. Since I’ve been using the NT1-a for a while and absolutely love it, I figured I would give the Rode NT3 a try. Here’s my review:

Review of the Rode NT3

What’s in the Box: The mic, A padded zipper case, a sticker, a clip for your mic stand, a small foam windscreen, instruction booklet.

Physical Characteristics: It fells well built, much like the other Rode mics I’ve had a chance to use. The NT3 can be powered by a 9 volt battery or phantom power from your preamp. It is roughly 9 inches long and the bottom unscrews to access the battery compartment. The battery option is one that is great to have if you’re considering using this mic with a camera for video production. It’s durability and size make an excellent choice for a field mic. There is a power switch so you don’t have to remove the battery every time you use it.

Potential Applications: I use this mic mostly for acoustic guitar and hand percussion. It Represents the high end very well with a lot of presence in the sound, and the design allows for good room ambiance. It actually records room and outdoor conversation pretty good. I imagine that this would be a great field mic for low-budget video production.

Sample Recording with the NT3

Rode NT3  Overall Thoughts: I think that this mic has multiple of uses in a home studio. It can be used to record any acoustic instruments, which is a plus, but it also sounds good when recording from slightly farther away. I like the way it sounds as a reinforcement mic. Take a listen to these two tracks.

Solo take with the Rode NT3

NT3 and NT1-a blend

The first one is the NT3 by itself, positioned roughly 10 inches from the 12th fret of the neck of the guitar. The second one is the NT3 blended with the an NT1-a located roughly 12 inches from the back of the body of the guitar. As you can hear, the two mics compliment each other pretty well. I would imagine that this would make a fairly decent overhead mic on a drum kit based on the response I was getting from it. Unfortunately I am not able to try that at this time, however other reviews of the NT3 have said that this is one of the things it does best.

I also used the Rode NT3 to record the electric guitar parts in this cover of Here Comes Your Man (Ham), as opposed to my usual SM57. Not bad.

Listen to Here Comes Your Ham

All in all I would say that this mic would make a fine addition for any home studio. It’s multiple uses make it a great asset to have.


Rode NT1A Review

The Rode NT1-a is a large diaphragm condenser mic. It’s warm, natural tones are perfect for recording voice and acoustic guitar. A pair of these mics together will record many things quite well. I picked up a couple and put them through some basic tests. Here’s what I found.

Testing the Rode NT1-a

Rode nt1-a review from Old Port JinglesFor starters, it’s built pretty solid. No moving parts on the exterior means no switches to concern yourself with. There is a gold dot to indicate the front of the mic. I opened it up to make sure the capsule was legit. To Rode’s credit, it was not too easy. It involves taking the bottom off and then having to pull pretty hard on the circuit board. The top of the board where the mic is connected is made of rubber, which sticks to the sides of the case. Anyway, it’s a very sturdy design. I wouldn’t toss it around like an SM57, but I wouldn’t do that with any condenser.

The Rode NT1-a needs phantom power, which we supplied with our Focusrite Saffire Pro24 DSP. For recording vocals, this mic worked extremely well. It was quiet, and accurate, and quite warm. It’s hard to explain the sound without actually hearing it, but it is by far the most accurate mic in it’s price range.

I set up the pair and recorded some acoustic guitar, and I have to say, it’s impressive how well it recorded. Pointing one at the neck, and the other at the body, I captured what may be my favorite sounding acoustic configuration. I will be using this for a while, or at least until Old Port Jingles spends big bucks on some more condensers. I also used this mic as an area mic for an electric guitar coming through a Fender Deluxe amp. It sounded pretty good when paired with an sm57.

Is the Rode NT1-a Worth Buying?

Overall there is no better mic in this price range, period. Some come close, but most don’t reproduce the warmth and accuracy with less noise. There are mics that go for more that probably aren’t as good. You won’t find a quieter mic in the 2-$300 dollar range. This mic is great for use in studios of all kinds, as well as musicians recording at home. If you’re on a budget, it can’t be beat. Check on Ebay, but beware of fakes. Mics are one thing you are generally better off buying from your local music store, or direct from the supplier.

For specs, check out the Rode website.


New Ibanez SR400

Ibanez sr400 green

Click to see the Ibanez sr400 larger

Yes. I wasn’t sure if I was going to land this bass guitar. I’ve been out of a bass since I had my last one autographed by Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman of Phish, and was in desperate need of a replacement. I had decided on an Ibanez SR model, but didn’t want to spend too much, as our studio musicians have stellar equipment. I found the Ibanez SR 400 on Craigslist and with one short drive up north, I was the proud owner of it. My favorite part? It’s green. No seriously, I love the active pickups, built in EQ and good action. I have to replace the strings and give it a good tune up, as it’s been sitting for a while, but it will be well worth it.

So far, I haven’t done much with it, other than look at it. You might find this a little strange, and that’s because it is strange. Erich, you got a new toy, how come you’re not rocking out right now? Well, the answer is simple: I’ve just been busy. Between making some excellent hold music with a narritive for Hubspot, Portland Buy Local meetings, and Record Store Day coming up, I’m a busy bee. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll get it tuned up and restrung just in time to wake up the neighbors.

In other news, I’ve been ordering unhealthy amounts of TNG figures on Ebay. I am up to 14. At least I was able to give Geordi a job. In this economy we could all use the help, am I right? Sorry this post is all over the place, but it’s been a long week and it’s only Tuesday! Call me when it’s Friday please. -Erich


Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP Review

An audio interface is used to connect your instruments and mics to the computer, so as you can imagine, it’s pretty important in the production of radio jingles and the other custom music produced by Old Port Jingles. I recently decided to search for a new one to use that would provide me with some portability, without sacrificing quality. After looking at several options, I opted for the Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP. Here’s a little review of my thoughts after owning the interface for about a month.

Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP Overview

The interface connects with a firewire cable, that is included, along with the wall outlet (with three adapters), and two software of CD’s. The fact it comes with all these adapters is nice forethought on their part. The box itself is made of metal, with the exception of the inputs on the back. I do not know why they did not elect to make these metal, but they are plastic and feel a little weak. The front knobs are pretty standard, although they stick out a little farther than they need to. I would prefer short and fat to this long and skinny design, because when you twist it by the top, it feels somewhat unstable. I can imagine after a couple cups of coffee, an overzealous engineer would snap these off. I do hope that’s not the case. The box it’s in itself is otherwise pretty solid.

Lets take a look at the ins and outs. On the front of the box you have your two TRS XLR inputs. These can also be used as 1/4″ connectors. There are two headphone jacks with separate volume control knobs, a nice feature. The back of the unit has 2 TRS 1/4″ inputs, 6 TRS line outputs, Midi input/output, an optical input connector which can be used as either ADAT or SPDIF, and the RCA SPDIF in/out.

Saffire Pro 24 DSP Software

All of these inputs and outputs are able to be controlled with the software that Focusrite provides. You can also add effects and compression to individual tracks coming in with the DSP chip inside the interface. This is a cool feature if you’re trying to save the CPU processing power, however I would probably only use the compression with a direct line in bass. The reverb has already come in handy. The focusrite also comes with several AU plugins for your DAW, as well as a light version of Ableton Live Light.

Another piece of the software that I must mention is the VRM. It stands for virtual reference monitoring. The idea behind this is that if you mixing in headphones and you want to hear what it would sound like through a flat panel television, the VRM can replicate that sound by using a series of presets that come with the software. The problem with this software, is that it doesn’t have any way of knowing what headphones you are listening with, thus being really only to give you a rough idea what your sound would be like in the pre loaded conditions. It’s too bad, because Focusrite clearly put a lot of effort into making this a new feature. You can choose different kinds of rooms, and many different kinds of speakers. When it really comes down to it, I don’t see it as being all that useful in a studio setting.

Other features include the phantom power button, a mute button which will mute all the outputs, and a clip button that will allow you to cut the volume by about 60%. There are also LED monitoring on the front for the frost 4 channels.

Focusrite Pro 24 DSP front/back

click for larger image

After recording on this for a couple of sessions I like the sound quality, however when you hook up your XLR phantom powered condenser mic, the gain needs to be about 8/10 in order to get a good level if you’re recording lyrics. On previous interfaces that I’ve used, I never had to put this gain past 5, giving you more boost for non phantom powered mics. I like having more of a range to work with when getting the levels right for a vocal, and for all intents and purposes, this might as well be an on/off switch. This isn’t a major issue for many people, and were this my first interface, I wouldn’t know the difference. It’s a matter of preference, that’s all there is to it. The VRM is also a good effort, but it’s not that practical. Other than that it’s got a nice natural sound, lots of features and feels like a quality box. I can safely say I would recommend the Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP. 4 out of 5

On another note Focusrite just released the USB version of this model. I would imagine that the features are similar. Hopefully we will get to check it out in the future!


Gear Review: MXR Phase 90 (mod)

the MXR Phase 90The Phaser of choice for many musicians is the MXR phase 90. You’ve probably seen it before, it’s used by hundreds of musicians from all walks of life. The reason I like is because it’s simple, and it sounds great. It wasn’t always that way though. Here’s my MRX Phase 90 story:

I needed a good phase effect pedal for live recording and studio work. Plugins weren’t quite cutting it, and I couldn’t take them with me, so I tested out a few different pedals. I eventually bought a used Phase 90 off ebay for around $50, a total steal. First thing I noticed was that it was built like a tank. It has one large knob that controls the speed of the phase. Out of the box it did not sound that great. There was a huge drop in volume when I would turn it on and so I initially thought it was defective.

After some research, I found a modification that was being done by many people, and was apparently quite easy. I found a link to the Phase 90 mod here and cut out the r28, c11, and c12 nodes. I was very nervous about doing it, but the difference that it made in the sound of the pedal was huge. I take no responsibility if you choose to do it to your own pedal, but it’s hard to understand why MXR makes the pedal with those nodes in the first place. Anyway, I don’t see ever using another phaser. This one seems to do the trick perfectly. Deep smooth watery sounds like nothing else.

If you’re in the market for a cool sounding effect that can be subtle, or over the top, the MXR Phase 90 may be just what you’re looking for.


Gear Review: Maxon OD-9

The Maxon OD-9 is a solid pedal which features true bypass circuitry and a legendary distortion sound that most guitarists would love. For those of you who don’t know, Maxon is the company that made the Ibanez Tubescreamer for Ibanez from 1974-2002. That pedal was the preferred overdrive for guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, and Carlos Santana, just to name a few. Once Maxon and Ibanez parted ways, Maxon did the right thing and continued to make the pedals under their own name, so thankfully, if you don’t have an original, you can get close to the same sound with the Maxon Reissue or the Maxon Nine series.

The OD-9 is essentially a Tubescreamer. The shape and color is nearly the same, which is a good thing, as it’s solid as a rock, and can withstand nearly everything you can throw at it. It has the same simple control knobs, drive, level and tone, and a sound that is unmatched in the right setup. personally I think that this pedal sounds best when coming through a lightly crunched tube amp, like the Fender Deluxe. It adds a richness to the distortion that is hard to beat. It sounds okay on its own, but if you have a mid level distortion setting on your amp and you turn this baby on, your neighbors will know it.

If you’re a guitarist looking for a rich full tube distortion but don’t want to pay outrageous prices for an original, you will not go wrong with the Maxon OD-9.


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