In this episode, we discuss affordable microphones for indoor dialog:
Over the years, I’ve been trying to get the best microphones for my video work, without breaking the bank. There is some excellent option that already made their proofs, like the Sennheiser MKH-416 that is industry-standard by now, but it’s a bit over the 4 digits in price! So, I was always looking for inexpensive yet good microphones. And as there’s different polar pattern, each microphone in my collection has pretty much his own purpose. So far, the most expensive microphone I own is the Audio-Technica AT897 which sells for like 250$. Pretty much all other microphones are usually under 100$, and they make a very decent job despite their lower selling price!
In all the fairness of this test, we simply plugged the microphones into the camera, Canon XF100, without any additional preamp or audio device.
In the video, the first microphone I covered is the Audio-Technica AT875r:
This microphone is a short condenser microphone with a Line/Gradient polar pattern. In short, it’s a small shotgun microphone which is quite directional, despite it’s short length. This little beast runs on phantom power and as it’s very small, it can easily be used on top of a camera/camcorder and it’s not in the way, even when using wide angle lenses. This mic has a pretty hot signal output, which makes it a very interesting and solid workhorse when dealing with cameras that doesn’t have the best internal preamps. Using it paired with an XLR portable recorder like a Zoom H4 or a Tascam DR-40 makes it a little beast to get good and clean audio.
Next was the Audio-Technica AT897:
This one is also a Line/Gradient polar pattern shotgun. It’s also longer than the AT875r, making it more directional. It features a single low-cut filter option, but similar to the RØDE NTG-2, it can run on either phantom power or on 1x AA battery.
It’s roughly -10dB lower (green track) compared to the signal of the AT875r (yellow track). But with a little work in post with a good compressor, you can easily adjust your sound to the same level, without raising the noise floor much as you can hear in the video.
Then, I tested the Takstar CM-63:
A pretty unknown contender, but a very nice and affordable one. This one sells for like 60$ or so. While not originally designed for dialog capture, it performs quite well and the overall sound is decent. The overall frequency response is also very good (to my ears!) for the price. It sounds pretty flat, which is quite good. It’s also a small form factor, it can be used camera mounted as well as it has a Cardioid polar pattern, it can be useful when capturing a live event, it will pick up a good overall sound. As it’s not as directional as a shotgun, you can pick up sound from pretty much left to right from your position so this can be useful when you can’t position your mic before you shoot. Snap this little one on top of your camera and then you’re good to go. Won’t be as good as good microphone placement, but when you have to shoot on-the-fly, this one is very good at it!
A brand that I really like from their portable recorders, Tascam! I really fell in love with the DR-40 with it’s buit-in cardioid mics and it’s ability to record up to 4ch at the same time! I recorded some foley sound for a short film with the built-in mics, but I wanted more flexibility in the placement. After some researches, I found about the TM-PC1.
This one is a cardiod polar pattern but picks up more than the Takstar in comparison. For foley or just ambiance, this microphone is a beast! Sound is crisp, clean and it’s the most faithful in terms of frequency reproduction. It records what you hear, and it sounds exactly as you hear it! As I mentioned in the video, you could even use a single mic like this one to boom between two persons, and it would pickup them both clearly. Only downside is that if it’s a noisy environnement, you will hear pretty much everything else with it!
Still, B&H sells a 2-packs for roughly 100$, if you want to record stereo sound, it gives excellent performances! Either you want to record nature sounds or LIVE event recording, this mic is surprisingly good!
Another pretty unknown brand, the iSK Pro Audio company. I’ve heard about them on DVXuser.com last year. So far, I’ve tested their “Pearl” model, which is pretty similar and looks pretty much the same as the previously covered Tascam TM-PC1. It looks and sounds very close to the TM-PC1, only it’s cheaper in price. As it’s pretty cheap in price, like 29$ each, it’s a very nice addition to your sound bag, and it doesn’t break the bank!
Still with the iSK Pro Audio, the “Little Gem”. This one is probably my favorite one on the list, on-par with the AT875r, mainly because of it’s versatility. It comes with a set of 3 capsules, Omni, Cardioid and Hyper-Cardioid. It sells for like 60$ or so, and you get 3 different microphones at that price. Similar to the Pearl, using the Omnidirectional capsule, you can record ambiance and foley sound while when using the Hyper-Cardioid you can record clean dialog.
For the price, it’s really a solid contender and it’s hard to beat. It’s not as directional as a shotgun, even with the Hyper-Cardioid, but still, for 60$ the mic, it’s versatile enough to have a place in your bag. It can even be used camera mounted depending on the task! It also have a good sensitivity, making it working good even with weaker preamps. Very good sound, cheap price and versatile with a set of interchangeable capsules.
Finally, last on the list is the SONY ECM-NV1. As I mentioned, I picked this one on ebay for like 20-25$. Probably not the “real-deal” as it doesn’t sound excellent. Listed as a shotgun mic, it’s not as directional as the AT875r nor the AT897. It tends to pick up more ambiance, so it can turn into our favor if we use it camera mounted in a run-and-gun type of shoot. Not as bad for the price, but not the best. But to start with, on a very tight budget, it can do a fair job compared to the on-board sound of your camera!
So, I hope this video and article will help you to choose the best microphone for your needs! As usual, if you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the section below or on the video, and we’ll answer them as quick as possible!