We normally think of shotgun mics as “movie mics” – the things that sound crew folks hang over people’s heads with those long boom poles when shooting video. and though they are awesome for that job, did you know they were also highly prized as voice-over mics? Either way, I want one:). My Star Rating –
[This review of the Sennheiser 416 shotgun mic originally appeared here in 2013. But I thought I would update it a bit in the wake of all the microphone reviews I’ve been doing in 2019. I still want one of these, BTW:). But I ended up buying an Electro-Voice RE20 (another one I was reviewing for B&H) for my voiceover purposes until then.]
I had the privilege of testing out the Sennheiser MKH 416 microphone recently. What can I say? This mic has been described as the desert island mic by many. It’s so well known and well-liked that it goes by other nicknames too, like “The L.A. Mic” and “The Movie Mic.” Around the internet you see words like gold, the one, amazing, industry standard, and staple crop up over and over again.
So what is this thing that makes it so great?
Well you’ve probably heard audio through it before if you’ve ever watched a movie – or television. It is a standard in the film and TV industries, often used outdoors for news casts and interviews as well as location shoots. It is also used a lot in the voice-over world because not only does it make voices sound awesome, but it helps them cut through background sound effects and music. Many a movie trailer has been recorded with a 416. The next time you hear “In a world where……” etc, chances are that was recorded with a 416.
Also in this review I tested the Rycote Softie Windshield on the Sennheiser for an outdoor video test on a windy day.
So, enough of the gushing – gimme details. Yes, I heard you. OK, here is the skinny.
The Sennheiser MKH 416 is a short shotgun mic. That means that it is ultra-directional, picking up audio that is in front of it really well at longer distances than a standard condenser mic. We’ve heard of the cardioid pickup pattern. This mic has a hypercardioid pattern, which rejects sound coming from behind it in about a 120-degree field. The 416 is also different from regular condensers in that it uses something called RF biasing rather than the more common DC-biasing. You can read the technical details of this in this article, but RF (radio frequency, btw) biasing has some benefits, such as that the mic becomes less sensitive to moisture ( a good thing in an expensive mic commonly used outdoors), has a wider frequency response, and is extremely low noise levels.
Other awesome features of the 416 make it nearly indestructible (not that I put that to the test with the review mic:)), less sensitive to plosives (p-pops), and less sensitive to the proximity effect, which is that thing where the low bass frequencies get more hyped the closer the mic gets to the source. Voice-over folks may think, “hey I like it when my voice sounds deeper when I get close to the mic.” My answer to that is that with this mic, you don’t need to rely on the proximity effect because the 416 picks up the lows of a human voice incredibly well already.
Use as a VoiceOver Mic
The 416 is fast becoming one of the most popular microphones in the voiceover industry, which has traditionally been dominated by large diaphragm condenser mics (LDC). I’ve already mentioned one of the reasons for that – you can spend less time worrying about p-pops, though in my testing, I still needed a pop-filter for the plosives. Another reason that the 416 can be a little further away from your mouth without picking up room sound noise. Plus it is lighter and much skinnier than your typical LDC. Both of those things can help when you’re reading a script while recording. But ultimately the real reason this mic is terrific as a voice mic is that it simply sounds incredible.
I compared the Sennheiser MKH 416 against my mainstay, the Rode NT2-A large diaphragm condenser, recording a short bit of voice-over copy. I was really impressed with how much better the Sennheiser sounded than the Rode – and THAT has never happened to me. Sure, I’ve never tested a $999 mic against my $399 Rode, but to date I have never recorded another mic that sounded better than my beloved Rode. There is a first time for everything. The Sennheiser made my voice sound rich, detailed, deep and punchy all in one aural experience of awesome. I now know why people call it the desert island mic.
Be careful of the 5 dB bump starting at 4Khz
I did notice in the first test that the 416 produced a little more sibilance (the high hissy “ssssss” frequencies) than I normally like. Then I remembered that I have a bit of EQ permanently set on my preamp to reduce the lows and increase the highs. I did that because the Rode sounded a bit heavy in the low end without it. So I bypassed the EQ on the preamp and that took care of the sibilance issue with the 416. I did notice in the pamphlet that comes with the 416 that it is designed with a 5 dB “bump” in the high frequencies starting around 4 KHz. See the frequency response graph on the right.
Below are the two audio samples, first with the Rode, then with the Sennheiser.
VoiceOver On the Rode NT2-A
VoiceOver On the Sennheiser MKH 416
Sennheiser MKH416 Sample
Outside Test In The Wind
As I stated above, the 416’s most common use is in the film, TV and electronic news gathering (ENG) fields. I recorded a few different videos, one with just the built-in mic of my Canon Vixia HD Camcorder, and then three different shots with the 416 hooked up to the camera (one of the reasons I went with the Canon Vixia is that it has an external mic input) using a BeachTek DXA-2T Camcorder XLR Mic Adapter (see our review of the DXA here). First was the video with the 416 naked, without a windshield of any kind. Next I put on the foam windshield that comes with the mic. Then I thought I’d test a 3rd-party windshield (the fuzzy “dead-cat” kind) called the Rycote Softie Windshield (standard 19-22 mm hole size).
Results in the wind
The first result was that The shotgun was on a mic stand right next to the camera in this test, so the audio in all video clips below was recorded on mics that were the same distance away from my noggin.
The audio would have been truly awesome if we had a 3rd person holding the mic on the end of a boom pole (sometimes called a fish pole) mic holder with the mic just above my head and out-of-frame, pointing down at my mouth. I’ll do that test another day.
Now for the test against the wind. In video 1 (just the camcorder mic), you’ll notice the wind is extremely loud and the voice audio is thin and distant. In video 2, using the shotgun mic instead of just the on-board camera mic, the audio quality of the voice was MUCH better. But because there was no windshield of any kind, the wind was still pretty loud. For video 3 using the foam windshield that came with the mic, the wind noise was noticeably less of a problem. For final video we used the Rycote Softie Windshield. And though there was a pretty significant breeze, it was amazingly quiet.
Only the built-in camcorder mic (not shotgun mic attached)
With Sennheiser 416 shotgun mic attached, but without a windshield
Sennheiser attached with included foam wind shield attached
Sennheiser attached with Rycote Softie Windshield attached
The Sennheiser MKH 416 shotgun mic is – how shall I put this – officially freaking awesome! Sadly, I have to return mine since it was on loan from B&H Photo-Video-Audio. Otherwise it would be my primary mic for all my voice-over and video work. It does cost $999, and as soon as the piggy bank gets heavy enough, to quote Mike Meyers, “it will be mine – oh yes – it will be mine.” Also the Rycote Softie Windshield worked magic at reducing wind noise for outdoor video use.
As long as I am quoting my favorite movies, here’s one from Ferris Beuller applied to the 416. “if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.“
[Update: B&H has “hands-on review” of this wonderful mic. Check that out here.]