Six sound choices for better audio
Audio-Technica AT8024 £186/$249 www.audio-technica.com
The Audio-Technica AT8024 is a shoemount shotgun mic that offers a broad array of features. It sports a rubber mount to insulate the mic from camera and handling noise, and offers two pickup patterns for either wide-field stereo or cardioid mono. This means you can use it for recording ambient tracks like traffic or birdsong in full stereo, or home in on a tight pickup pattern for speech and spot sound effects.
Given that it’s the most expensive option here, it’s good that the AT8024 comes with both a foam windscreen and a furry windjammer that’s very effective at cutting out wind noise – even in a strong breeze. This is a real bonus, as windjammers (also known as ‘dead cats’) often have to be purchased separately.
It runs for 80 hours on a single AA battery (included in the box), and delivers a 40Hz-15KHz frequency response. Overall, this is a great fit-and-forget mic that’s well-constructed and well-appointed with accessories. The mic’s noise floor isn’t perfect, so it does suffer from a little high-frequency hiss, but recordings are full and natural sounding. It’s great having the option to capture stereo at the flick of a switch, and there’s also a roll-off filter to cut bass rumble plus a three-stage gain option to tune the mic’s output to your camera’s input. Pair this with a lav for interviews or presenters, and you’ll be well-kitted out for high-quality videos.
PROS Stereo capture; windjammer included
CONS A little high-frequency hiss is evident
Boya BY-M1 £15/$20 www.boya-mic.com
The Boya BY-M1 is a wired lavalier mic with a switchable power source. This runs on an LR44 button cell, and needs to be switched on if you use a ‘passive’ source, or off if you record via a device with plug-in power, such as a smartphone. It comes with a clip to attach it to a jacket lapel, plus a mono 1/4in jack plug adapter, and also includes a foam windscreen to help dampen wind noise and speech plosives.
It offers an omnidirectional polar pattern, so picks up sound from all directions, and the frequency response stretches from 65Hz to 18KHz. While that’s not as wide-ranging as some mics here, it is perfect for voice recording.
The plastic construction of the capsule is a little bulkier than that seen on professional lavs, but the 6m lead is long enough to mic up your presenter and keep things tidy in the frame.
Considering its low price, the BY-M1 delivers audio quality way beyond expectations. It has a hotter output than others here, and there’s no attenuator switch to reduce the volume, so there’s the possibility that it may distort on some equipment. On our Canon 5D Mk III test camera, however, the result was some excellent, hiss-free recordings with an extremely low noise floor.
Although the build quality means it needs to be treated with care, this is an outstanding little mic overall. It’s a great contender as a wired backup mic, even if you have a pro wireless system.
PROS Great sound quality; very low noise
CONS A bit oversized; easy to break if you’re not careful
Rode VideoMic Pro £135/$170 www.rode.com
This hotshoe shotgun mic offers a good selection of features for those seeking more flexibility and higher-quality recordings. It’s suspended on a shockmount; this incorporates a chamber for a 9V battery block (not supplied), which serves as the power source for around 70 hours.
On the back of the unit, there are two switches to let you tailor its performance. One alters the output gain (-10, 0 or +20 dB) to best match your camera’s input; the other offers the choice between a flat response or one with a low-frequency cut. The latter is often useful outdoors when you want to reduce bass rumble that may be present in the environment.
The sound quality is excellent, with rich tonality throughout the 40Hz-20KHz range, and a flat response all the way through the speech frequencies. This ensures really natural-sounding recordings. Impressively, there’s a very low noise floor that’s comparable to the Boya BY-M1 lav mic, so only the hypercritical will be concerned about the small trace of mic-generated hiss that’s present. The supplied foam windscreen serves to protect the mic, but outdoors, a furry windjammer is essential to prevent wind noise. The dedicated Rode model costs another £30/$38 on top, so that pushes up the outlay.
That aside, The VideoMic Pro is an excellent piece of kit, and more than justifies its price with its thought-through features and slick performance.
PROS Great feature set for top recordings
CONS Windjammer is needed, but costs extra
Better known for innovative LED lighting, Rotolight also offers the Roto-Mic. Originally designed as a kit with an LED ringlight that surrounds the mic (priced at £125/$199), the Roto-Mic is also available separately. The mic sports an impressive frequency response of 40Hz-20KHz, and its output can be set to -10, 0 or +10dB to match up with the input specifics of the camera in use.
The polar pattern is supercardioid, so it picks up sound from a narrow area directly in front of the mic. As well as a foam windscreen, it comes with a furry windjammer that does a good job of eliminating wind noise outdoors. With this, we found the best results were obtained by placing it over the top of the foam windscreen, rather than swapping them over.
The Roto-Mic is suspended on a shockmount to isolate the mic from handling noise. Spare rubber bands are included in the box if you manage to break one when you’re out in the field.
Relatively compact, and powered by a 9V battery block (not included) the only real downside of the Roto-Mic is some high-frequency hiss that’s noticeable when compared with some of the quieter shotguns here. This can be processed out in post-production using noise reduction software, so it isn’t a deal-breaker considering the otherwise good set of features, but this aspect of its performance gets in the way.
PROS Comes with the accessories you’ll need, including a windjammer
CONS High-frequency hiss is noticeable
Sennheiser MKE 400
The MKE 400 is a very compact shotgun mic that mounts on a hotshoe via a mini shock-absorber. Although it weighs in at just 60g, it sports a rugged, well-constructed feel. It runs for up to 300 hours on a single AAA battery (supplied) and offers two gain settings (marked ‘- vol +’). To further tune the mic’s output, you can switch between a standard, flat response and a low-cut setting, which rolls off the bass to reduce any rumble present on location.
A supplied foam windscreen protects the mic capsule, but a windjammer for breezy conditions outdoors is an optional extra. The MZW 400 accessory kit (around £35/$40) includes one, and also provides an XLR adapter that allows you to plug the MKE 400 into professional video or audio equipment. The polar pattern is supercardioid, so sound pickup is rejected from the sides and focused on a narrow arc in front of the mic.
Although the frequency response stretches from 40Hz to 20KHz, there’s a noticeable lack of bottom end on recordings, and it’s rather thin-sounding, especially when compared with the Rode VideoMic Pro. Recordings are crisp and clear, with mids and highs punching through, but it’ll take extra time in post to restore the low frequencies and get rich, natural-sounding results.
The diminutive size of this microphone is a real plus, though, and it will be very appealing to those looking for better sound from a super-compact and lightweight mic.
PROS Very small; good mid-to-high clarity
CONS Lack of bass gives thinner results
Shure VP83 LensHopper
The VP83 LensHopper is a short, hotshoemounted shotgun mic that runs for 130 hours on a single AA battery (included). It offers a supercardioid pickup pattern, which suppresses sound very effectively from the sides, focusing attention on where your lens is pointed.
The mic capsule is mounted on a shockabsorbing Rycote lyre system that isolates the mic from handling noise, and switchable gains of -10, 0 and +20dB are on offer to tune the mic’s output to your camera’s input. Another switch gives the option of a flat or low-cut response to reduce any bass rumble. In our tests with the Canon 5D Mk III, the VP83 gave the lowest noise floor of all the models here; barely any hiss at all was evident in our recordings.
Although the VP83 boasts a frequency response of 50Hz-20KHz, the response curve isn’t as flat as the Rode Video MicPro, and there’s less bass in the resultant output, giving a thinner-sounding recording. With the emphasis on mid and high frequencies, the mic actually cuts through really well in terms of clarity, but ultimately, it doesn’t sound quite as rich and natural as the Rode Video MicPro.
It’s not a huge issue, as the low frequencies can be restored in post-production, so this ultra-quiet mic is well worth considering. It is relatively steep on the price side, though, especially when you add the cost of the dedicated windjammer (£35/$45), which isn’t included as part of the kit.
PROS Crisp, clear audio with noise-free results
CONS Bass response is a little lacking