Sennheiser MKH 416 Shotgun Microphone Review

Updated On
25-Jun-2020
By
Ken

Amazing Microphone For Video AND Voiceover

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:).

[This review of the Sennheiser 416 shotgun mic originally appeared here a few years ago. But I thought I would update it a bit in the wake of all the microphone reviews I've been doing. 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. See that review here: Review Of The EV RE20 Dynamic Microphone]

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 features?

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 is 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.

Shotgun Shootout

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 below.

MKH 416 frequency response
MKH 416 frequency response

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

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). 

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

Summary

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.]

Cheers!

Ken

48 comments on “Sennheiser MKH 416 Shotgun Microphone Review”

  1. Yes, the Senny does sound good, but I've gotta say, that in your above examples, I like the Rode better. It has more "character" and a nicer resonance to it (that's the best way I can describe it.)

  2. Wow Chuck. That just goes to show you how much of audio is in the ear of the beholder (do you "behold" with ears?). Thanks for that perspective!
    -Ken

  3. Thanks for the great test. I own both mics also and love the 416. Though, i think in your test, although you could hear the difference, I think that the nt2a did a great job.

  4. Thanks for that comment! I envy you your ownership of the 416. One of the things I like best about it is that it resists plosives more than a large diaphragm condenser. And I listened to a full voice-over job I did with the 416 while I had it for review, and over a period of several minutes, the difference did weem to be more apparent. But I still love my NT2-A:).

    Ken

  5. Great review!!! minor mistake though - "This mic has a hypercardioid pattern..." Actually the MKH416 is "SUPERCARDIOID"

  6. Hanson - Thanks for the comment. But it actually is not a mistake. Here it is directly from the Sennheiser site: "Features Pressure gradient receiver with short interference tube. Hypercardioid at low and medium frequency. Above 2kHz approaches lobar pattern."

  7. Sure Malo. Check the post again. I just did that. You can right-mouse-click on the sample links.

    Cheers,

    Ken

  8. It's one not to miss! Got mine from a sweet deal here in Netherlands. Previous owner (ageing sound engineer) have quite an array of shotguns and was willing to depart with his vintage sets of Sennheiser. i walked home broke and happy, with a plastic bag stashed with Sennheiser MKH-416, Sennheiser ME-80 and an ME-40. http://instagram.com/p/P_opcoyPRh/

  9. Excellent review, Ken. I'm about to pull the trigger buying one of these, so this was really useful. Just a quick question: for the voiceover clip, how far away was the mic? Is it the usual 6-8 inches or a bit more given that this is a shotgun? Thanks!

  10. Hi Terence,

    Thanks. The distance from the mic was the same as I usually have it - a few inches away. Partly this will be trial and error for you and your room. I know. I feels weird to get up close and personal with a shotgun mic, given that it's usual purpose is several feet away. But just ignore that when using it for voice-overs;). Congrats! I'm envious. I still don't have mine yet.

  11. Thanks Eric! Great news. Sadly they are out of stock now. You must have gotten in just under the wire. I'll keep my eyes peeled for restock.

  12. Hi Ken. I'm guessing you just plugged the MKH straight into the camera for your video clips? There was more background noise than I would have expected. I'm just a novice, so pardon the question, but do you think that if you had recorded through a nice mixer like a SD302, that you could have reduced the background noise?

    Also, your audio clips aren't playing for me. I push the play button, and it just sits at 00:00. I can't right click to save them or anything either.

  13. Hi Chad.

    You're right. It was plugged into the camera directly (though it had to be plugged into a phantom power unit first), and so what you're hearing is the camera's noise. Camcorder's aren't the best audio interfaces:). The audio would definitely sound better if it had been recorded to a mobile device like a Zoom H4. Then the audio could be synced to the video in post.

    I just tested the audio and it works on all my computers AND my iPhone and iPad. Have you tried with a different browser? Let me know.

    Cheers!

    Ken

  14. I have a Neumann TLM 103 and just recently borrowed a Sennheiser MKH 416, I use a John Hardy Preamp and the the Neumann Sounds awesome without the preamp i go through a Focusrite Forte and it still sounds great. So when i used the Sennheiser MKH 416 it sounded very very muddy. I was actually planning to buy one to have but i was really dissapointed so I went through my audio interface and still that same muddy sound. Was at about a 3 or 4 inches distance if i tried going further back the voice would lose body. Any suggestions? By the way i have quality cables.

  15. Fernando,

    That almost sounds like you may have gotten a defective mic. The 416 is so sought-after because it's so incredible - definitely would give the Neumann a run for the money. If other mics sound great, and the 416 sounds bad in the same recording chain (preamp-converter-recording program), I would have to guess "bad/damaged mic." Is there any way you can get another one just for testing?

    Ken

  16. You have a great voice! Yes, it is very subjective, but IMHO, the 416 is far better than the Rode in your example. 🙂

  17. After reading your review (especially you mentioning how extremely well it's built -> nearly indestructible) I took a leap of faith and bought an MKH 416 second hand that, externally, looked like shit. Full of scratches and all.
    But according to the buyer - technically it was in mint condition.

    I just got it and it was the best decision ever. I couldn't care less about the scratches (even think it gives it character 😉 ) and oh my god this microphone is a blessing, I completely agree with your assessment.

    Belated thanks for that nice review.

  18. Wow Ragnar, that's awesome! I'm jealous:). I still have not dropped the grand for mine, though I will. My most recent is the RE20 by Elecro-Voice, which set me back a fair amount. But not as much as the MKH 416.

    Have fun with it and make lots of awesome audio:).

    Cheers!

    Ken

  19. Hi,
    First of all, thank you for your great content on homebrewaudio, I enjoyed it from the first time I read one of your articles.
    just one question about mkh 416:
    I want to record some tutorials and record my PC's screen, but I would like to have great audio as well. would you recommend 416 for a room of a size of 4x5x3? I mean, some people say it doesn't sound great when used indoors, specially small rooms. But I guess you recorded it in the room you record all your videos, didn't you?
    thanks for your help.

  20. Just add to my previous comment, my room is noisy and that is why I am considering g buying a shotgun instead of an LDC , tlm 103 to be exact!. I heard LDCs are very sensitive and they are not forgiving at all when it comes to ambient noise.
    thanks again.

  21. Well in a small room, nothing is going to sound terrific. But yeah, until just over a year ago, I did everything in a small room with no room treatment - including the MKH 416 demos. Still, it was bigger than yours:). Anyway, the MKH sounds incredible even in a small room, despite what others may say or think. Is it odd to use a shotgun mic for this? On the surface it may seem so. But it turns out to be awesome:).

    BTW, check out our series on making your audio sound good even in a small room starting here: https://www.homebrewaudio.com/improve-quality-audio-record-home-tip-1/

    Cheers!

    Ken

  22. I agree with you about the sensitivity of the LDCs. You can minimize the small-room effect(s) by following that link in my previous reply. But one of the good things about the extra directionality of the shotgun is that it does tend to reject more noise from the back and sides. It is a pretty expensive mic, but if you can get one with a return policy - even with a restocking fee - it might be worth a test, just to make sure how it sounds in your particular room.

    Cheers!

    Ken

  23. hi ken and thank you for this review.
    I have a used 416 p48 in silver ;-)) and it sound's wonderfull and it looks nice...
    I plan to make voice over recordings in a room I don't know jet.
    But my question is, how far away from the speaker, or how close you place the mike?
    With, or without a seperate pop killer ?

    best wishes,
    frank

  24. Hi Frank,

    I'm jealous:). I recorded a job while I had the mic for review and I placed it about 6 or 8 inches away. This is further than I would normally do with a large diaphragm condenser, but totally do-able if your room sounds decent. I still did use a pop filter though, which was about half-way between my lips and the mic.

    I hope that answers your question. But really I think you should do some experimentation with those distances, since things will vary from room to room and person to person.

    Best of luck!

    Ken

  25. Thanks for the write up and audio examples. Just pulled the trigger on a new 416 that B&H had on sale for $599, less than some are going for used on eBay. Looking forward to seeing what it can do!

  26. Like you Ken and unlike Chuck I preferred the MKH 416 to the Rode NT2 clip. Your voice seemed marginally richer and more subtly nuanced, less metallic or softer in a way which let those nuances be better heard. Difference was subtle and the NT2 would do me anytime. Actually, I use the MKH 416 but do not manage to get premium result from it. With it run through a Zoom H6 and my Rode Videomic Pro through a Nikon DSLR I am roughly as happy with the Videomic Pro. That shouldn't say an awful lot for the Sennheiser but likely I should either listen as closely as I did to your clips or get myself trained.

    Should qualify the above. The MKH 416 is used in a moderate room size but with two 32" screens in my face and a hard wall directly behind. The Rode is not similarly compromised if that is a compromise.

    (The foams on the MKH 416 and Videomic pro work fine but with deadcats on each outside the Senneheiser is clearly ahead.)

    Thanks for a valuable review.

  27. The MKH 416-P48U3 has a foam windscreen to reduce unwanted wind noise from breezes, fans, heaters, and air conditioners. For maximum reduction of wind noise in indoor or outdoor environments, consider the Sennheiser MZH 60-1 furry windshield (available separately).

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