If you don’t know much about audio choosing a microphone can feel a little overwhelming. It’s like learning a whole new language full of omni-this and cardioid-that. But it really doesn’t have to be so complicated. Sennheiser’s Simon Beesley walked DIYP through choosing the best microphone for the job at hand.
So which microphone will cover all of your needs? “It’s a very good question,” says Simon, “realistically it depends on what you’re going to do, the type of working environment. There are lots of questions to be answered before you can select the ‘best’ microphone. There is no fix-all for all scenarios”
Of course, there isn’t, we suspected as much! Instead, you need to determine your needs and start from there. So what options are there, particularly for someone just starting out with recording audio?
So if you’re just starting out, perhaps using your phone to film content one of the simplest ways to improve audio is to get the microphone as close to the sound source as possible. “If you’re shooting on a phone and trying to pick up audio that’s five or six feet away then you need to get the microphone off the phone,” says Simon.
The simplest solution is to use a lavalier-style microphone (lav mic) that clips onto the shirt of the person talking. This is used a lot in news broadcasting situations or interviews. Wired Lav mics are relatively inexpensive although wireless options are available for even more flexibility.
But what about if you’re further away from your subject or if you need to talk as well? For this, you can use a small shotgun microphone. The MKE 200 is a very compact device that is easy to slip inside a bag. It’s also very easy to use, explains Simon, as you don’t need to put it together, it’s a ‘run and gun’ style microphone.
If you have a slightly larger budget you could go for the MKE 400 microphone. It’s a little larger than the MKE 200 and has the additional advantage of having a headphone jack so you can monitor the audio directly through the mic. It also has a gain control feature (that controls the sound recording levels) and a low-cut filter. A low-cut filter will cut out ambient noise like an air conditioner for example and eliminate any background hum. These microphones also come with a dead-cat (yep they really are called that!) windshield to reduce wind noise if recording outdoors. Remember that shotgun mics are uni-directional so they do have to be pointing in the direction of the sound that you want to pick up.
So what about if you’re doing a little commercial work and want something a little more high-end? The AVX system is very compact and simple to use so it’s perfect for travelling with. It’s also great for example if you’re recording in a crowded area.
“It also operates on 1.9Gh rather than 2.4Gh,” says Simon, “which means you’re much less susceptible to interference from wifi and things like that.” Within the AVX system, you can choose from a range of mics, from a handheld reporter-style microphone to a lav mic. You often need both to cover any scenario, particularly if you’re doing short impromptu interviews or vox pops as you don’t have the time to fit a lav mic.
Let’s just stop and talk about frequencies for a moment. Different countries have different rules regarding radio frequencies. If you want a public domain frequency you generally want to choose 2.4gH. If you want a public domain frequency that has less traffic then you can go with 1.9gH. “UHF is the most stable,” Simon explains, “but you are tied to using fixed frequencies, and those can change depending on which region you’re in.” Basically, if you’re only shooting in one country then UHF is the way forward, but if you’re travelling or touring then you may find that you can’t use the UHF system which is a huge limitation. That’s something you don’t have with either 1.9 or 2.4gH.
More relaxed scenarios
If you don’t want a visible mic in the scene for example, then you could choose the MKE 600, which is a wired microphone. Usually, these would be positioned overhead on a boom pole out of shot. This gives a very clean environment from a visual point of view. Again, it’s a directional shotgun mic and can be mounted on-camera or like mentioned on a boom above.
You can also put a lav mic on each person using a wireless system. A good example would be the G4 Evolution system. This comes with a bodypack transmitter that sends the signals back to a receiver on the camera. These however don’t come cheap. A more entry-level option would be the XSW-D.
So there you have it. There isn’t one single best microphone that can possibly cover all of your needs. But Sennheiser does have plenty of options that will more than cover your requirements.
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