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Cheap $15 shotgun mic really great for production sound


Vital Butinar
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OK so recently because we were shooting a short film I bought a sound recorder the Tascam DR60 mk2 and since it doesn't have an integrated mic we had to connect something. So we were in a tight spot and I tried to hooked a $15 no name stereo shotgun mic with an integrated battery onto the recorder and to my surprise the sound was grate.
And I don't just mean that it was usable but we ended up using this mic for the entire short film and all the dialog sound was really nice and even the ambient sound was really nice and I was even able to do come foley on the same mic.

How is this possible that this little mic gave me such a great sound and when I compared it to an xlr Sennheiser mic I borrowed of a buddy yes there was a difference but the level of noise was virtually the same and the only noticeable difference was that the Sennheiser mic had a little better dynamic range and the low tones were a little richer from what I could tell.

So my question is how is it that this little shotgun mic gives me such a good sound?

Anyone has any ideas on this?

Best regards 

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It depends on the mic - you didn't say which sennheiser - for instance the ME66/K6 doesn't sound as good as the MKH60

I would be very surprised a $15 mic was in the same ballpark soundwise to a proper sennheiser shotgun, the off axis rejection and noise in the sennheiser should be noticeably better. So maybe your not monitoring the recording on the best speakers. e.g all mics sound similar monitored over laptop speakers. 

Sometimes you can get a cheap bit of kit that sounds surprisingly good. I've used the built in mics on zoom's etc and they are quite usable. In good conditions its possible to get usable results. The place where a sennheiser shot gun will come into its own is when the location sound is more problematic - maybe there's more background noise or you can't get the mic that close. In those situations a better mic is more noticable. In situations where the background noise is low and you can put the mic in a good position you can get away with a cheaper unit.

In terms of cost vs performance. It's similar to comparing a GOPRO vs an Alexa. The Alexa is better, but its not 200X better as its price dictates 

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20 minutes ago, Phil Connolly said:

It depends on the mic - you didn't say which sennheiser - for instance the ME66/K6 doesn't sound as good as the MKH60

I would be very surprised a $15 mic was in the same ballpark soundwise to a proper sennheiser shotgun, the off axis rejection and noise in the sennheiser should be noticeably better. So maybe your not monitoring the recording on the best speakers. e.g all mics sound similar monitored over laptop speakers. 

Sometimes you can get a cheap bit of kit that sounds surprisingly good. I've used the built in mics on zoom's etc and they are quite usable. In good conditions its possible to get usable results. The place where a sennheiser shot gun will come into its own is when the location sound is more problematic - maybe there's more background noise or you can't get the mic that close. In those situations a better mic is more noticable. In situations where the background noise is low and you can put the mic in a good position you can get away with a cheaper unit.

In terms of cost vs performance. It's similar to comparing a GOPRO vs an Alexa. The Alexa is better, but its not 200X better as its price dictates 

Yeah it's true I monitored all the sound on my pc monitor speakers so I can't say for sure where the difference was and I did not do a proper test. It was just fooling around with the Sennheiser mic because I only had it for a couple of hours since it was attached to some TV broadcasting equipment that I was working with. 

So all this was just playing around but it did surprise me because I really expected it to be bad and not as good as it was. In fact I was considering not using the mic and just wanted to use camera audio but then opted to use the recorder in order to free my girlfriend of cables who was the camera operator. 

Naturally I do think that we were lucky enough to have had a location that had ideal conditions for sound. The whole short we only screwed up majorly with sound on one shot where there was an AC vent right behind the actor and got really crappy sound making it wors I couldn't do ADR later so the bad sound stayed. Other than that we were shooting at an old mansion and the only thing that bothered us was a plane that kept circling around one time when we were shooting an outside scene. 

Probably you're right that other better shotgun mics would perform better in not so ideal conditions. On this shoot we were able to place the boom operator virtually just out of frame on almost every shot where there was sound.

Anyway I was just surprised how well it worked out and I'm probably going to have to spring for a better shotgun mic soon. 

Thanks for the input.

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25 minutes ago, Max Field said:

I would post the sound clips you had, great is a matter of opinion.

I don't have any clips to compare because I didn't save them and unfortunately wasn't testing stuff out. Just played around a little.

But it did surprise me that it was good enough to use.

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mic technology is like comparing acoustic music instruments... a cheap one may sound OK in some situations and some of the mid priced can be very excellent for your taste but the super expensive may not be that much better than the mid priced one in your use. For example if you compare a very very cheap acoustic guitar to a slightly better one you will definitely hear the difference despite both have exactly the same functionality. but if you would need to choose between a good quality one and very very expensive one then it is more of a matter of taste and depends on the exact job and the results you want to archive with it. A 40€ guitar will always sound worse than a 500€ guitar but you may not need the 5000€ or 10 000€ guitar for all uses especially if not being a professional musician who performs daily. Most people would use something from 300 to 800€ price range and would be totally fine with it for 20 years.

with mics the most cheapest one may work OK in some circumstances and if you use it only on those it could be totally OK choice. If you have more variance in the conditions you may want a slightly better one to have more headroom so that the setup will perform great in more varied circumstances (so that you will choose from the 100 - 300 € range instead of using the cheapest 15buck one) . There is usually lots of quality difference between the really low end and the lower mid range but most of the persons don't need the really high quality ones which in case of the shotgun mics cost 1000 bucks and upwards. For short films, most people can do with Rode NTG2 type of lower quality and affordable mics unless they need more directionality or lower noise levels (the most usable choice is then to add some kind of wireless lavalier instead of trying to manage with a more directional and more expensive shotgun style mic)

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At the higher end of the scale. I'm editing a short film with a scene shot close to a lake, where lots of children were feeding the ducks and gulls. On set it sounded like the Birds - with loud screeches and quacks. The location looked beautiful on camera but it was not a good choice for audio.

I was expecting to probably have to ADR at least some of the scene.

We had a Sennhiser MKH 60 on the boom and I was incredibly impressed how well it rejected the background noise (we also had a great sound recordist/boom) swinger. The audio turned out totally usable. In that situation with a less directional mic we would have been forced into ADR and expensive post production fixes. Its an expensive microphone, but with sound often you have to deal with less then perfect location sound. Sound can be improved with post techniques, but once you get into ADR its slow and expensive to nail. At that point its better to have just spent the money upfront and hired the better gear/sound recordist. 

Comparatively sound gear is cheap. A £1000 microphone is up with the best there is and will last (as Aapo states) 20-30 years, paying for itself many times. 

On the budget end, I've found Rode NT3's to sound very close to the Sennhiser 416 they are based on. Its difficult to tell the difference. But at the University I work at, they brought 10 NTG-3's and 4 x416's about 15 years ago. Since then about 4 of the NTG-3's have just died but all the 416's are still in service. We have been replacing the NTG-3 with the MKH 60's which sound noticeably better. They cost quite a bit more, but are hopefully a good investment and will last as long as our 416's which we still use. 

I've found (in the UK at least) hiring microphones isn't that expensive or just find sound recordist you can bring on with all the gear. For a drama shoot you ideally need at least 1 or 2 boom mics, 2 or 3 radio lapels and multichannel recorder. An investment that's going to be in the £5k+ bracket. Still much cheaper then camera gear, but a big investment if your not planning on doing sound as your main line of work.

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10 minutes ago, Phil Connolly said:

On the budget end, I've found Rode NT3's to sound very close to the Sennhiser 416 they are based on. Its difficult to tell the difference. But at the University I work at, they brought 10 NTG-3's and 4 x416's about 15 years ago. Since then about 4 of the NTG-3's have just died but all the 416's are still in service. We have been replacing the NTG-3 with the MKH 60's which sound noticeably better. They cost quite a bit more, but are hopefully a good investment and will last as long as our 416's which we still use. 

I've said this multiple places: Never found a Rode mic that beat every competitor at the same price point.

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19 minutes ago, Phil Connolly said:

But at the University I work at, they brought 10 NTG-3's and 4 x416's about 15 years ago. Since then about 4 of the NTG-3's have just died but all the 416's are still in service. We have been replacing the NTG-3 with the MKH 60's which sound noticeably better. They cost quite a bit more, but are hopefully a good investment and will last as long as our 416's which we still use. 

when bought a NTG3 the first one was totally useless, it started to create buzzing chainsaw noise on random occasions and had to be replaced. The replacement one has worked OK for years but it may start very loud chainsaw screeching in cold below about -15°C  where my NTG2 works totally fine. When recording some reindeer sounds for a movie I had to use them in -30°C at times so used only the NTG2 then and reserved the NTG3 for warmer days. Go figure, it was exactly the other way around than the manufacturer advertised (ntg3 should be more moisture and cold tolerant one....) 

Maybe it was that one of the earlier batches of NTG3 was bad OR the whole model is mediocre, I dunno. Have been happy with the Sennheisers when been able to use one but never had enough money to buy them :)  

One of the very long lobar sennheisers I used for the same production was from the late 70's or early 80's I think. Originally owned by a famous Finnish filmmaker who himself passed away many years ago but his microphone is still used on regular basis. THAT is a long lasting investment for sure 😎

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Rode microphones are extremely good on paper. The specs are great on the price point. 

The actual manufacturing quality may be anything though. And it may not sound as great as you could expect watching the specs. 

I consider them being indie and low budget mics. Usable for videos and short films and event videos and such. Small budget documentaries and such (that is why I have those as well). For higher budget they could maybe be sometimes used but NOT trusted. For scratch audio could be totally fine I think 😄

Rode as a manufacturer may be close to how the Behringer brand is regarded on music circles? Their products look good on paper and are very affordable for the specs but most musicians are like pfft and go with the better and potentially more expensive brands. It is not that they are not usable. They are just not great for most uses. Why take the cheapest OK quality product if you can use the better sounding and more durable alternative which costs a little more? 

Edited by aapo lettinen
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4 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

mic technology is like comparing acoustic music instruments... a cheap one may sound OK in some situations and some of the mid priced can be very excellent for your taste but the super expensive may not be that much better than the mid priced one in your use. For example if you compare a very very cheap acoustic guitar to a slightly better one you will definitely hear the difference despite both have exactly the same functionality. but if you would need to choose between a good quality one and very very expensive one then it is more of a matter of taste and depends on the exact job and the results you want to archive with it. A 40€ guitar will always sound worse than a 500€ guitar but you may not need the 5000€ or 10 000€ guitar for all uses especially if not being a professional musician who performs daily. Most people would use something from 300 to 800€ price range and would be totally fine with it for 20 years.

with mics the most cheapest one may work OK in some circumstances and if you use it only on those it could be totally OK choice. If you have more variance in the conditions you may want a slightly better one to have more headroom so that the setup will perform great in more varied circumstances (so that you will choose from the 100 - 300 € range instead of using the cheapest 15buck one) . There is usually lots of quality difference between the really low end and the lower mid range but most of the persons don't need the really high quality ones which in case of the shotgun mics cost 1000 bucks and upwards. For short films, most people can do with Rode NTG2 type of lower quality and affordable mics unless they need more directionality or lower noise levels (the most usable choice is then to add some kind of wireless lavalier instead of trying to manage with a more directional and more expensive shotgun style mic)

Oh I definitely understand. When I was still playing I had a bunch of guitars and among all of them that were all between $300 TO $1200 range there was a marginal difference but I had one $10000+ range that was hand made and even the feel of it was different not to mention the sound. So I definitely get it.
Thank you for explaining it.

43 minutes ago, Phil Connolly said:

At the higher end of the scale. I'm editing a short film with a scene shot close to a lake, where lots of children were feeding the ducks and gulls. On set it sounded like the Birds - with loud screeches and quacks. The location looked beautiful on camera but it was not a good choice for audio.

I was expecting to probably have to ADR at least some of the scene.

We had a Sennhiser MKH 60 on the boom and I was incredibly impressed how well it rejected the background noise (we also had a great sound recordist/boom) swinger. The audio turned out totally usable. In that situation with a less directional mic we would have been forced into ADR and expensive post production fixes. Its an expensive microphone, but with sound often you have to deal with less then perfect location sound. Sound can be improved with post techniques, but once you get into ADR its slow and expensive to nail. At that point its better to have just spent the money upfront and hired the better gear/sound recordist. 

Comparatively sound gear is cheap. A £1000 microphone is up with the best there is and will last (as Aapo states) 20-30 years, paying for itself many times. 

On the budget end, I've found Rode NT3's to sound very close to the Sennhiser 416 they are based on. Its difficult to tell the difference. But at the University I work at, they brought 10 NTG-3's and 4 x416's about 15 years ago. Since then about 4 of the NTG-3's have just died but all the 416's are still in service. We have been replacing the NTG-3 with the MKH 60's which sound noticeably better. They cost quite a bit more, but are hopefully a good investment and will last as long as our 416's which we still use. 

I've found (in the UK at least) hiring microphones isn't that expensive or just find sound recordist you can bring on with all the gear. For a drama shoot you ideally need at least 1 or 2 boom mics, 2 or 3 radio lapels and multichannel recorder. An investment that's going to be in the £5k+ bracket. Still much cheaper then camera gear, but a big investment if your not planning on doing sound as your main line of work.

Oh yeah I know we rent both camera gear, sound gear and lighting for projects that we work on but for our own projects that we play around there's usually no money involved anyway so we need to use the equipment that's on hand. So slowly I buy stuff that we can use semi-professionally. But like I said I can't afford everything at one time so one of the next steps will be either finding a lav wireless system that's affordable or a shotgun mic that will be good enough. But it will be a couple of months since this year the BM Pocket 4K and a couple of lenses and some additional stuff broke the bank. So I have to wait a while before the next big spending.

On a side note we had a situation on the short film where we were shooting near a AC vent and the person doing the sound was not experienced enough to know that it will be impossible to filter out the humming of the AC in post so we unfortunately had some bad sound but in the end it was my fault as the director for not noticing this. But we learned some stuff along the way and I'm glad we have a chance to learn on equipment that maybe may not be top end professional but is good enough to do the job and we actually get a nice end result. So the equipment is good enough for our projects.

But thank you for explaining these stuff to me.

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Rode are just a bit uneven - the NTG-3 we still have, work great and sound great. The dead ones are dead - but they worked and sounded good for 4 or 5 years.

I've used the NT1 for years in music production and for a long period of time it was crazy good for the price. You couldn't get a large diaphragm condenser as good at the price point. 

Rode did disrupt the market and bring prices down.

They make a decent wind zeppelin and fluffy for the price. 

I've never had an issue with them sonically, they perform well at the price point. Just some reliability issues on the NTG-3's, but that was on mics manufactured 10 years ago. I can't comment on their current build quality.

There are more options on affordable mic's now, so it's probably worth shopping round.

But the mid range sennheisers seem to be the most common mics, I encounter on most productions. There are higher end audiophile mics, but the 416. MKH50 and 60 suit most circumstances. Also in cinema screenings some nuance is lost, because the speakers are behind the screen - some HF detail is rolled off. So ultra high end recording won't be heard by the audience also horn loaded cinema speakers aren't exactly hifi.

Also sometimes it's about having different mics for different situations. e.g on my last shoot we had a MKH50 and 60. The 60 is more directional and less forgiving of poor boom swinging. So in some locations the MKH50 sounded better and outdoors the 60 was preferable. Sometimes the Lapel mic audio sounds better and sometimes the boom (we recorded both). Ideally being able to be flexible is good. 

Booms for instance don't work that well on wide shots and lapel mics are dependant on costume choices. I once spoke to a sound recordist that did period drama with quite a lot of nude/sex scenes and he had to resort to hiding mics in the actors wig's... 

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20 minutes ago, Phil Connolly said:

Rode are just a bit uneven - the NTG-3 we still have, work great and sound great. The dead ones are dead - but they worked and sounded good for 4 or 5 years.

I've used the NT1 for years in music production and for a long period of time it was crazy good for the price. You couldn't get a large diaphragm condenser as good at the price point. 

Rode did disrupt the market and bring prices down.

They make a decent wind zeppelin and fluffy for the price. 

I've never had an issue with them sonically, they perform well at the price point. Just some reliability issues on the NTG-3's, but that was on mics manufactured 10 years ago. I can't comment on their current build quality.

There are more options on affordable mic's now, so it's probably worth shopping round.

But the mid range sennheisers seem to be the most common mics, I encounter on most productions. There are higher end audiophile mics, but the 416. MKH50 and 60 suit most circumstances. Also in cinema screenings some nuance is lost, because the speakers are behind the screen - some HF detail is rolled off. So ultra high end recording won't be heard by the audience also horn loaded cinema speakers aren't exactly hifi.

Also sometimes it's about having different mics for different situations. e.g on my last shoot we had a MKH50 and 60. The 60 is more directional and less forgiving of poor boom swinging. So in some locations the MKH50 sounded better and outdoors the 60 was preferable. Sometimes the Lapel mic audio sounds better and sometimes the boom (we recorded both). Ideally being able to be flexible is good. 

Booms for instance don't work that well on wide shots and lapel mics are dependant on costume choices. I once spoke to a sound recordist that did period drama with quite a lot of nude/sex scenes and he had to resort to hiding mics in the actors wig's... 

Wow yeah. Where do you hide a mic when the actor is nude hehe. Well thankfully with our no budget projects I don't see many actors signing up to walk around naked in front of the camera. So that shouldn't be a problem hehe.

I was looking at the NTG-3 but I'll see when I'll get ready for buying.

Thank you.

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