There’s no denying that podcasting has now turned into an enormous industry. Stats from mid-2018 confirm there were over 550,000 podcasts available online with over 28 million episodes on virtually any topic imaginable, with the numbers climbing daily. To endorse those stats, Spotify recently purchased a four-year-old podcast publisher, Gimlet Media, for the impressive sum of $230m.
While top end podcast production can make for scintillating audio, the podcasting world is still largely untouched by the pro audio industry — it’d seem listeners will forgive poor sound quality if the content is unique and relevant — but that’s changing. With great foresight, Røde Microphones has jumped in with easy-to-use audio tools. Like its move into the video world, this has already proved very lucrative.
RØDE’S GOT IT IN THE BAG
Røde isn’t new to podcasting, it has a USB mic called The Podcaster. It’s also been steadily releasing broadcast-style microphones. However, its latest product — the RodeCaster Pro — is much grander. It ties all those products together and shows that Røde takes podcasting deathly seriously. Taking the appearance of a small digital mixer, RodeCaster Pro is an all-in-one podcast production studio designed to give podcasters a professional sound with minimal audio fuss. Bearing in mind that a lot of these content creators don’t possess huge amounts of audio knowledge, Røde has ensured the RodeCaster Pro is extremely simple to use.
Røde sent us a comprehensive podcasting kit which not only included a RodeCaster Pro but also two Procaster dynamic mics, DS1 desk stands, XLR cables and even a microSD card, all snugly packed into a custom backpack. While you can buy all these products separately, we couldn’t find this custom configuration on Røde’s site. Hopefully, it’s a package Røde considers releasing in time.
The RodeCaster Pro unit is fairly light and kicks back at a good angle for desk use. All inputs and outputs are along the back, except for the secondary 3.5mm TRS master Headphone 1 output on the front edge. Next to the four XLR microphone inputs is a 3.5mm TRRS aux input to accept audio from a smartphone, iPod, etc. The four stereo 6.5mm headphone outputs each have a level control on the top righthand corner, as does the main left/right balanced TRS monitor outputs. The microSD slot sits next to this and a readout in the corner of the touchscreen will tell you how much storage remains on the card in hours/minutes. A USB-C connector lets you turn RodeCaster Pro into an audio interface for use with a computer and DAW.
NEED TO KNOW
SIMPLE, YET EFFECTIVE
The Class A microphone preamps offer 100dBA dynamic range and 55dB of fairly clean gain, and the audio resolution is 24-bit/48k. The Aphex processing on board consists of both Aural Exciter and Big Bottom processing, both of which are well suited to spoken word channels.
Each fader is tied to an audio source — the first four being the XLR mic inputs, then USB input, 3.5mm aux input, and Bluetooth input. The right-most fader controls the level of audio triggered by the eight sound effect pads. Sounds can be loaded to individual pads using a PC and accompanying drag ’n’ drop software, or by recording a sound straight in. A total of 512MB of internal storage is assigned to the pads. Using the companion app, you have a choice of three options for how the pads fire — Play (one-shot style, stoppable if you press and hold for two seconds), Replay (restarts the sample every time you hit the button), or Latch (starts/stops the sample with every consecutive button press).
There is a backlit Mute and Solo button beneath every fader and these affect the recording feed. A large Record button sits next to the screen and lights up solid red when you’re recording.
Headphone outputs have loads of oomph, enough to run even high impedance open-backs. In the menu are options to Boost Headphone Volume or Limit Maximum Volume. Brightness can be adjusted independently for the screen and backlit buttons. All the knobs and buttons feel sturdy, however, the fader movement did feel a little scratchy. Hardly a deal breaker, though.
Powering up instantly brings the touch screen to life. The high-resolution and responsive interface make it a joy to use while the matte surface ensures good visibility even in bright and reflective rooms.
Our first podcasting attempt with the RodeCaster was a success, at least by technical standards. It’s immediately apparent everything about this system is designed to provide a path of minimum resistance for a podcaster. Once the mics are connected, press the mic channel button to apply processing to that microphone. Presets for individual Røde microphones are pre-loaded into the RodeCaster, including the Procaster, PodMic and NT1A.
Other processing features are dumbed down to make sense to anyone. For example, instead of terms like ‘high shelf’ or ‘threshold’, EQ curves and compression settings are dictated by how you’d describe a presenter’s voice — by tone (Deep, Medium or High) or by strength (Soft, Medium or Strong). For more in-depth control, there is an Advanced section tucked away in the Setup screen; but even here you can’t get any deeper than turning a processor on and off. It can be annoying for an audio person but extremely time-efficient for everyone else.
RodeCaster automatically gained up the Procaster the moment I plugged it in. Not only that, it applied the full gamut of onboard processing right off the bat; the Aphex Aural Exciter and Big Bottom, De-Esser, Noise Gate and Compressor. To hear a mic’s true character, go to Setup, hit Advanced, and flick the bottom switch to turn all processing off. As anyone who’s used an Aural Exciter will know; they can be a dangerous high and hard to come down off. When deactivated, it left the Procaster sounding a bit dull, like an SM58 with suppressed high mids.
Bluetooth pairing was super easy. Just press the Bluetooth button above the fader and the screen prompts you through the rest. Not only does this let you play music into RodeCaster Pro with your smartphone, it enables you to run phone call interviews during a podcast. RodeCaster Pro automatically provides the caller with a mix-minus feed so they hear everything in the show except their own voice. Having tried it out, it couldn’t be simpler. If you want to avoid the call up process mid-show, make the call prior to hitting record and keep the channel muted until you’re ready to bring the person in.
PACK IN THE MULTI-TRACK
Upon its release, the RodeCaster Pro did not have multitrack recording capability — your only option if using the microSD card was to record the stereo output of the ‘mixer’. Røde quickly resolved this with a firmware update, however; no doubt after receiving numerous requests and/or complaints from users. Firmware V1.1.0 introduces a ‘Multi-Channel Mode’ (accessed via the Advanced Settings menu) which records every input channel as an individual track in addition to the summed stereo output; a total of 14 tracks.
One omission worth mentioning is that RodeCaster Pro doesn’t offer a way to pause a recording. Once you hit the big red button, then hit it again, the audio files are finalised and saved onto the microSD card. It would have been nice to be able to hit pause then continue on the same recording if you want to, say, set up a phone call, or sneeze.
GETS OUT OF THE WAY
I certainly don’t possess any radio talent but I’ll still gladly admit the RodeCaster Pro is very fun to use. It’s easy to see the appeal for those whose podcasts are their livelihood and need efficiency without sacrificing professionalism. If I was a podcaster, I couldn’t care less about a mic’s input noise level and the dynamic range of my interface converters — I just want to be heard. In this sense, the RodeCaster Pro does an incredibly good job of ‘getting out of the way’.
With RodeCaster Pro, Røde has nailed the winning combination of identifying a gap in the market before its competitors, and filling that gap with an extremely attractive and functional product at the right price. Well done, Røde, you’ve done it again!