Rode has just unveiled Connect, a new tool aimed directly at the home podcaster. The new free app aims to simplify multi-microphone recording with a single computer and no external hardware. Flagship features include recording from up to four USB microphones on the same PC, recording system audio (eg jingles and music beds) as well as a dedicated “virtual” channel for bringing guests. via Skype / Zoom and so on (and most importantly, they will also hear all the music / jingles).
Connect provides individual faders for the four local microphones so you can get the right mix while you record. All the audio in your system will be on one channel, so if you want a quiet music bed, but a strong sound effect, that won’t be possible, but it’s still a really useful feature. There is only one “virtual” channel too, so you can probably have multiple remote guests, but again, they will be recorded on the same channel. Or you can have one guest on the system channel and one on the virtual one if you don’t need other sounds at the same time.
More importantly, Connect solves a surprisingly common problem: using multiple USB microphones on a computer. For all the convenience of USB, you can’t really just plug two microphones into a computer and record – anything you record probably only lets you record from one USB mic at a time. With Connect, you can record up to four microphones in the same session effortlessly.
Previously, the simplest workaround was to have everyone record their own Micro USB to their own laptop, and then put all those files together in a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Or maybe you can do it by just using a microphone and taking turns? Not great though.
If you are tech-savvy, there are some OS level tricks to solve the micro multi-USB problem. On macOS, the most common is to create an aggregated audio device. In Windows, you will familiarize yourself with the ASIO drivers. But just typing that sounds like a lot of work. This is usually the time when you start looking for a hardware mixer (like the Rodecaster Pro).
Rode Connect simplifies all of this, but there are a few caveats. Well, one in particular and that’s a big deal. At launch, Connect only works with Rode’s own NT-USB Mini microphone, so you’ll need at least one of these for the app to be of much use. Rode has confirmed that more of its microphones will be compatible in the future, but it’s unclear whether there are plans to open this to “any” USB microphone further down the line.
This effectively means that, although free, there is always a certain level of “buy-in” for using the app. You can make a jury for certain items so that you can use other microphones. For example, I was able to use Quicktime’s audio recording option to conduct a XLR microphone in Connect via system audio. If you do this, it goes slightly against the idea of simplifying things, but nonetheless, it is possible.
That said, as someone who has used a Rodecaster Pro almost daily for about a year, Connect has some distinct advantages. For one thing, I don’t need to activate any other hardware if I want to check in myself and a guest (either locally or via a Zoom call). I use the Rodecaster most often to record both sides of a call or interview, which I can now do right on my Mac (something much easier on a Windows PC).
The advantage here is that the Rodecaster takes an age to export the audio in multitrack mode and you will end up with eight separate files (one for each mixer channel) with a stereo mix. Even if you just import the stereo mix, it’s a bit more work than doing it in your operating system. Rode Connect offers multitrack export or a simple stereo export and it seems faster in both my tests than with the Rodecaster.
Rode Connect almost looks like an attempted software version of the Rodecaster Pro. If you’ve used the latter, the Connect UI will ring a few bells, although it’s pretty sparse. There are channel faders for each connected NT-USB Mini as well as one each for system audio and “virtual” guests. The channel number icon is reminiscent of the physical channel buttons on the Rodecaster Pro. Click those buttons in Connect (on one of the USB mics) and you’ll find some of the same audio enhancement options: Noise Gate, Compressor, Exciter, and Big Bottom. These features rely on a previously unused Digital Signal Processor (DSP) found in the NT-USB Mini, another reason it’s limited to this microphone at this time.
The fun begins when you hit the record, of course. I was able to chat with a colleague through Slack’s call option and record both sides of the conversation by pointing Slack’s audio output to the Connect virtual channel. When I played music through YouTube we both heard it and I was able to turn the volume down to a level where it worked like a music bed. I could even play local audio files triggered from a Stream Deck, which means most of the adjustments you might need for a full podcast are possible. Naturally, everything is saved in separate multitrack files – whether you then want to edit and tweak it later in a DAW – or just export it as a single file to share directly on the platform of your choice.
It is important to note here that there is an inherent problem when registering any podcast with several speakers in the same room: Crosstalk. In my testing, I was able to hear a second speaker on my mic recording, which in the stereo mix made my mic sound more echoing. This is easily fixed in multitrack mode, as you can simply remove all other audio channels, leaving only the main speaker. But that does mean you’ll have to consider mic placement and room acoustics if you plan to use only the stereo mix. Fortunately, you get a nice long USB cable with the NT-USB Mini.
If you’re wondering about headphones for all hosts and guests, this is where Rode limiting the app to one of their own mics (for now) might make sense. The NT-USB Mini has a headphone port for direct monitoring, but when used with Connect, all local guests will hear any sound coming through the app. Again, that means music beds, jingles, and guests are heard by all. It also perfectly solves the need for a headphone splitter or even a spaghetti cable around the PC.
If streaming is your thing, or if you want to, Connect also offers a dedicated output channel so you can easily route the full mix to something like OBS or Xsplit.
Along with the release of Connect, a smaller and cuter companion accessory: colors. This is actually just a set of colored caps for the NT-USB Mini so you can mute or change the volume of the right microphone with a quick visual reference. There are four plastic caps that match the colors of the app’s four-channel icons. It’s not an essential purchase, but it will definitely make it easier for the host to stay on top of who’s talking and make sure they’re at their right levels.
You can download Connect as of today, and the NT-USB Mini is already available in most online audio stores.