Rode X XCM-50 & XDM-100 microphone review: Making a splash
Rode’s first dedicated entry into the gaming space, Rode X, is here, and while it impresses, there’s still a lot of room to grow yet.
It’s a little weird to be writing about USB microphones so positively. For years, they’ve always felt lacking in certain areas – especially in comparison to XLR.
While condenser microphones and a tonne of other products have entered the market, not once has the urge to convert to USB over XLR ever been a thing. USB microphones lack a certain amount of flexibility and performance, and the knowledge that companies can take advantage of unsuspecting users with their overpriced junk has outstayed its welcome.
Yes, those Elgato and Yeti microphones are great for streamers, but once you begin to leave the compression of a Twitch stream or Discord channel, they falter at bringing a certain panache to your productions.
Well, it seems then, that Rode has come out swinging. It’s a refined, knowledgeable swing, but almost like they’ve entered the heavyweight bout while still fifty pounds too light. They won’t get knocked out immediately, but there’s room for improvement on their way back up.
The XCM-50 and XDM-100 both sport your familiar designs. While the 50 takes on a smaller, more Fight Night announcer microphone shape, when combined with the included tripod, it feels rock solid.
However, we found the XDM-100 far too heavy for Amazon-bought microphone arms. When equipped with the same Rode arm that holds our Rodecaster Pro II microphone, it wasn’t an issue, but with no included tripod, it’s something to take note of. You can’t even just balance it in the sturdy shock mount, as the USB-C port is positioned on the bottom and there’s not enough room.
A neat inclusion with said shock mount is the dual-thread mount, which can support the thinner or fatter mounts you might have on your arm without the need to adjust or twizzle them off.
Aside from their weight, the overall finish and materials on both feel sublime. These are worthy of their prices – $150 and $250 respectively – and definitely feel like they could take a few knocks.
Both microphones are thankfully slim in features, opting to just be simple and plug-and-play. It’s only when you begin to operate them with UNIFY, Rode’s new software for controlling their X line of products do they begin to get a little more complex.
However, out of the box, these microphones function perfectly and as expected.
We appreciated that both devices act as their own headphone jack. Being able to simply plug in, monitor ourselves, or listen to the PC we were testing on was excellent. On Windows, it even separated them out as two individual devices.
UNIFY is Rode’s attempt to do what Elgato and others have failed to do and simplify the virtual mixing desk experience. Operating almost identically to the Rodecaster’s interface, your PC effectively installs several new audio interfaces that can all be controlled within the UNIFY front end.
It works seamlessly, allowing you to incorporate games, chat, and even a dedicated browser audio source into your workflow. The microphones can both be plugged in at the same time, and managed, allowing you to (ridiculously) easily operate a virtual mixing desk for podcasts, or dual streaming.
Rode’s UNIFY isn’t particularly straightforward though. While it’s great at lowering the barrier to entry with certain aspects of production, it does still require a glance at the manual to better understand what’s going on. This isn’t a slight against it though, as most audio software requires at least one or two glances at a guide somewhere.
The major downside to UNIFY is that it’s fiddly when swapping menus. Rode’s other piece of software for the Rodecaster Pro II feels much more polished, with this having odd UI quirks like not being able to record while looking at your prior recordings, or constantly booting you into Windows 11’s dreadful settings apps. Seriously, reroute your code to open Control Panel, please.
Minor hiccups and issues
A small, but a minor issue that persisted with the XCM-50 was that it would not cooperate with our desktop PC. When testing on the Framework, MacBook Pro, and Razer Blade 15 2022, we didn’t find a singular issue. On the Steam Deck, it was recognized and even worked.
On this particular PC though, there’s a lot of USB activity. We’re talking four external SSDs and a RAID backup, the Mountain DisplayPad, and a dreadful USB hub for various peripherals. Though, after removing a majority of the items, we still couldn’t get it to function right.
We noticed that when plugging it into various ports, certain devices would short out and need to be replugged in or the XCM-50 removed. This wasn’t an issue on the much lesser Framework laptop, which was utilizing two SSDs and the microphone, as well as an external monitor – all of which effectively run over USB.
The far more powerful XDM-100 worked just fine, producing quality audio even over the back of our ultrawide monitor’s USB hub.
No support for the Rodecaster Pro II
Yes, getting the USB microphones on the Rodecaster Pro II was an absolute no-go. It feels wrong, but we get it. If you’re buying the Rode X brand, you’re not in the market for the Rodecaster, so why include it? It does feel like a shame, considering that we did find them to be top-notch in their quality.
Guess what? Rode actually made two top-quality microphones that we couldn’t find a single issue with the sound. They produce a rich sound, and when taken over to the MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) and combined with the audio engine it uses, offered something that we’d use in a lot of production scenarios.
They’ll be the bell of the ball for any content creator who decides to pick them up, with the quality comparable to the XLR-powered Rode Procaster microphone and our selection of Behringer microphones.
We did find that the XDM-100 could be a little quiet, but again, the UNIFY software and changing the mix fixed a lot of our issues.
However, you will always hit that massive wall of compression when you begin to actually produce live content or even prerecorded content. Websites like Twitch have come a long way, but the nuances that these microphones bring to a local recording can be lost depending on your connection. Over Discord, and other VOIP apps, they’re wasted as they still come out the same horrid online chat either way.
Should you buy it?
Rode’s Rode X brand has managed to do what some brands are still figuring out and it’s their first real attempt at catering to this particular market. The two microphones are excellent to work with and the XCM-50 will continue to be in our employ going forward for smaller projects.
We do find that UNIFY still has a ways to go, and the various hardware hiccups are something to be ironed out. For now though? These might be our default choices for those looking for a step up in their USB microphone game.