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Thread: Cheap Microphones... An Explanation.

  1. #11


    some excellent info !

  2. #12
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    London, England

    Default why so expensive?

    -this is a bit long, sorry....

    My background has covered small components like microphone capsules, these are typically 50p, but require some detailed knowledge to make them work in practice . . . . along with abilities in mechanical engineering to build a body, source the shield and so on.

    Looking at the spec. of many 100+ mics - - They are condenser "...with permanently charged fields, etc" . . . this means is they are electrets. Tiny mics which require only a matching amplifier (yes "only" - that's beyond this discussion.) - but what it means is this: they are probably using one of those 50p inserts.
    I wonder if any pro's here know for certain where these mic-companies get their bits? For it seems to me that few are manufacturers of delicate parts, so they must get them somewhere and if it's not a dynamic (moving-coil, like a loudspeaker in reverse), then they will be likley as not electrets, which are cheap and have a fabulous freq ability, typically 20Hz - 18kHz and it is their LF ability that makes the manufacturer provide a Bass-cut facility. This is a clue, IMHO.

    What I've not found is the original source of the larger (eg 20mm Dia.) electrets which some studio mics boast - presumably they are made by the same co's that make the 10mm Dia capsules - which find themselves in Video-cameras, portable recorders, phones and thousands of other applications. Indeed at that price/performance you'd be a foolish designer not to give one a try.

    The interface circuit of course is a different matter, using low-noise amplifiers and surface-mount components, it can fit into a small space and in volume-production will add maybe 1 to the total. Then there is the sleek anodised tube, connector and shield, say 2 the lot.
    So, overall we are talking about maybe 5 including the foam-line carboard box.
    Whilst I accept these Co's have to make a profit, it doesn't seem right to say that cheap mics are necessary bad mics - although one described above - could be priced maybe 50 and no-one would complain.

    However, I did buy one mic for 1 (poundshop), which was about as close to rubbish as I have found. The capsule (moving coil) was loose, so it rattled (not a good start) and the on-off switch was mis-wired and the cable was loose in the tail-end grommet, so that rattlerd on its own. A small attention to detail would have made this at least useful (ie if all else failed). As it is it will provide me with a Good Story ( Reading this far?), and the component parts to make an electret experimental platform. Oddly the shield is real wire mesh with an open-cell foam behind - this is what you'd expect in decently engineered product, but I guess they get the throw-outs from a good mic company and sift through their bins...?

    What it come to is this, IMHO
    1) the sound - very important naturally, - but note 2,3,
    2) handling - it must contribute as little noise as possible.
    3) electrical noise, usually caused by poor electronics, but the cable is also a contributor if poorly spec'd. Sometimes you can change the cable and Pro's use XLR because you can stand on them without damage (to the connector!) and they have a decent cable-grip, so it won't fall apart miles from base.
    4) this is the convenience of battery-changing, where phantom-power is missing....something to consider that the battery-life is long and easily replaced in the cold.

    Now how do we check the "sound" if the listener wasn't present at the Recording? Very difficult which is why many OB's are dubbed with appropriate noise - much easier to control. But you can perform an easy test..... not applicable to recording drums, though.

    This won't apply to "shotgun" mics which are directional, unless you know otherwise...
    = Take a CD of piano recordings and play it at normal volume in a reasonably bright but damped room. (thus little in the way of echo). Record, using fav mic and the one under test, ideally placed close together, centre. Then replay through the same Hi-Fi. As a casual observer, you should not be able to tell the difference between the two recordings - well, that's some hope, but it should provide a means to "rank" your collection of mics.
    Sadly, some prefer "bright", others like smooth . . . etc. so unless it has "resonances" (Ugh!) almost any decent mic should perform well enough.
    Of course, "outside" presents other problems - mainly wind (and rain).

    One of the shortcomings of electrets is their sound-level ability - they don't like high-level sounds and will distort if used close to percussion (eg drums, cymbals). But then I wonder why there aren't silencing-hoods for this application (audio equiv to Video ND filter), as this would provide some degree of protection against peaks of sound . . . which is what we hear as distortion, any good sound-designer should be able to come up with something that doesn't ruin the freq resp, but this may be the greater picture...
    Last edited by vidmanners; 06-24-2011 at 02:33 PM.

  3. Default

    Wow where did you get all that info?

    wedding video from wedding videographer

  4. #14


    Quote Originally Posted by Rembrandt Rob View Post
    One of the most common questions in this part of VideoForums is "What (cheap) microphone should I buy for video recording?" The answer, given time and time again is "None." The trouble is, some newbies don't want to hear this and keep asking the question in the hope that, miraculously, they will get a different answer.

    So, I'm going to try and explain why there's no such thing as a "decent" cheapo microphone.

    It doesn't matter which camcorder you buy, the in-built microphone will not be the best solution to recording sound. It's better than nothing, but only just. Even on a 4k camcorder, the manufacturer will only have spent 25 on the microphones. They figure that most serious videographers will buy a separate microphone anyway. So, theoretically, a 50 - 100 mic should sound better than the camera's mic. Unfortunately it doesn't work like this.

    Cheap microphones sound like cheap microphones. They are often identical to the capsules used in the camcorder mic, just in a different housing. When you consider that the housing, packaging, transport and import duties will be about 70% of the cost of a sub-100 mic, you can see how little is left over for the actual capsule and electronics! There is a myth that cheap chinese microphones are identical to more expensive makes, since some of the expensive brands' components are made in China. This isn't the case. What sometimes happens is that components rejected by known brands find their way into the cheap mics. Not an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination.
    In the same way cheapo mics from firms like Vivanco, Hama etc will not improve your sound dramatically. When you work out labour costs (small though they are in some countries) A 50 mic will still only have components worth about a fiver!

    One fact should be remembered at all times: To get the best sound, you need to get in close. Distance kills sound. It reduces the clarity and the high tones. A cheap microphone up close will, nearly always, sound better than a good microphone a long way away. Since it's not always practical to have the microphone six inches in front of the speaker's mouth, different types of microphones have been developed. The most common, for video use, is the "shotgun".

    The following is meant to let beginners have an idea of how microphones work. Some explanations have been simplified or reduced in order to avoid ten pages of technical descriptions.

    Shotgun Microphones:
    There are more misconceptions about shotgun or short-gun microphones than anything else. They are directional, sort of, but are not the aural equivelant of a telephoto lens. They work by rejecting sound from the sides using an interference tube. In essence this tube delays the sounds coming from the sides, or "off-axis" in such a way that they cancel each other out. Where it has difficulties is with middle and lower tones and with echoes. So, a shotgun microphone ten feet from the speaker will still sound "distant" or "roomy". For recording the spoken word at the best quality, even a shotgun should be no more than a yard from the speaker.
    It's also worth noting that off axis sounds lose some of their spectrum, resulting in speech sounding distorted if you aim the microphone incorrectly.

    The top Shotgun microphones are the Schoeps CMT5U and the Sennheiser MKH60, both costing over 1500. Next, at just under a grand, comes the Sennheiser workhorse the "416", a solid microphone which has been around since the seventies and is still going strong. These microphones will last for ever. One of our most prolific members is using a thirty year old MKH416 and it still sounds superb.
    Moving down the scale are the sort of "shotguns" which most enthusiasts or semi-pro videographers should be looking at. The Rode NTG3, the Sennheiser K6 range and the Audio Technica 8035 and 4071 mics all around the 400 - 500 range.
    In the budget shotgun section the only serious contender, in my opinion, is the AT897 at around 150. Anything less will sound poor. It doesn't matter how you phrase the question or how many times you ask, the answer remains the same... Cheap microphones sound cheap.

    The biggest restriction on your choice of microphone will be the powering required. Most profesional microphones need "48v phantom powering" which professional camcorders deliver through the xlr cable. If your camcorder doesn't deliver 48v phantom power then it doesn't mean that you can't use pro microphones, there are alternatives.

    Some mics, such as the Audio Technica AT897 and the Sennheiser K6 system have the ability to power themselves with an AA 1.5 volt battery which fits into the microphone. It results in a slightly weaker signal than if phantom power were available but it means that you can (with an appropriate adapter) use these mics with any camcorder, even those with a 3.5mm socket.
    Alternatively you can buy a Location Mixer, a sort of electronic handbag which enables you to adjust the volume and mix various mics together. It's not the sort of thing you can operate at the same time as the camera, so it requires a sound assistant.
    Finally you can get a 48v supply. This delivers phantom power to the mic.

    If you are starting out and/or don't anticipate going pro in the near future I would recommend the Audio Technica At897 as a good value-for-money shotgun microphone at about 150.

    Audio-Technica - Microphones, headphones, wireless microphone systems, noise-cancelling headphones & more : AT897 Line + Gradient Condenser Microphone

    If you anticipate moving into semi-pro or drama videomaking then you should be looking at something like the Rode NTG3 or the Sennheiser k6 series. In the past Rode, although known for good value studio microphones, hasn't had a good reputation for video mics. Its chinese-made NTG1 and NTG2 were not at all good however the NTG3 seems to have broken the mould and is getting good reviews for a 500 shotgun microphone.

    The Sennheiser range consists of a base unit (the K6) and a selection of capsules which are fitted onto the K6 depending on what type of characteristics you want. This has the advantage that you don't spend as much on a range of microphones as you would buying a non-modular set of mics.The most common capsule is the ME66 shotgun. Sennheiser mics are known for their clarity and nice tonal qualities.
    Sennheiser Worldwide: Microphones, Headphones and Wireless Systems

    If you're just going to have your microphone attached to your camcorder and only want it to replace the in-built mics for general shooting, then a shotgun is probably a bit too directional for this purpose. You need a "cardiod" or "hypercardiod" microphone. These accept sound from the front and (to some extent) more from the sides than a shotgun. With a narrow pattern (shotgun) mic, anyone off the axis will sound strange as some of the vocal frequencies are filtered out and others remain. It means that the camera has to be pointed directly at the sound-source. Not always possible, or what you want.
    The two decent (but not cheap) budget hypercardiods which I recommend are both modular systems. This means that you can change the capsule to another one, depending on your needs. One system is the K6 from Sennheiser. The other, which I prefer, is the "Blueline" series from AKG which is very good indeed and a reasonable price.


    As with all aspects of videomaking, it's a question of taste. Some people prefer the sound of Schoeps microphones, others the Sennheiser MKH range. In the budget section, some swear by the AKG or the K6 range, others are fans of the Audio Technicas. There is no "right" microphone but there are a hell of a lot of "wrong" microphones.

    I hope this answers your question "Which cheap microphone should I buy?" and explains why the answer is "None... get something decent."
    This has been well written. I would just like to add a couple of things:
    a) sometime the use of lav and wireless mics attahed to the talent is a viable alternative to other forms of mic'ing, so long as it doesn't matter if the mic is visible
    b) for Voice over work, you can use dynamic mics that do not require phantom power. Long time standards have been the Shure sm7 ( or sm7B) and the Electrovoice RE20. Large diaphram condensor mics are also often used for this purpose. These tend to be more expensive, and long time standard mics are the Neumann U87 and AKG C414. There are other less expensive mics, that can do the job well too.
    c) For recording ambiences, a stereo pair of small diaphram condensor mics with cardiod capsules is a good option. Some to mention here are, Shure sm81, AKG C451, Octava MK-012

    Having good microphones is very important, but the quality of the mic preamps and the A/D conversion will also greatly affect the results, and your overall sound will only be as good as the weakest link in the chain.
    Last edited by rocksure; 03-11-2012 at 08:29 AM.

  5. #15


    Microphones similarly play an crucial roll in the sound quality of audio recording. Using a cheap microphone on even the most advanced audio recorders will result in terrible sound. Thanks for the wonderful explanation, it will changed my thoughts of using high ranged microphones..

  6. #16
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    London, England


    We must not forget that the Law of Diminishing Returns also applies - a mic costing 30 will give reasonable sound, one costing 300 is not 10x better, although a pro may believe the extra cost is worthwhile. However a 3k mic should be some improvement . . . but only slightly better . . . and in many instances the original is a distortion - so what does it matter if a little more is added by the mic? (I exclude noise/ clipping, of course).

    An earlier Poster got close to this as well - namely that a poor mic close to the source will almost always sound better than a very expensive mic at a considerable distance.

  7. Default

    Please don't think that I'm trying to show off but what do you think of the unprocessed sound in this clip, then I will share how I did this:

  8. Default

    Un-named 20 SG mic (with battery) from China used on Sony CX740E. Mic mounted on a hot shoe bracket (7) screwed to the tripod receptacle as the cam has hot shoe only for Sony accessories (Sony SG for the cam is too pricey for me)!

  9. #19
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Surrey, UK
    Blog Entries


    I listened through headphones and was really put off by the amount of background noise. I assumed that it was because I was listening for it. So I listened again through my mid range PC speakers, expecting no to hear the noise, but it was surprisingly prominent. It's a shame beacsue without the background hiss it actally seems to do a reasonable job of capturing the dynamics and tone of the Mayor's voice. As Paulears says the hiss seems to be a bit lower in frequency than normal hiss (it's certainly not white noise). If anything, I fear this would be more difficult to reduce in post because it is in the same frequencies as the voice.

    I'd suggest trying a cheap lav for such interviews (eg ATR 2550). Proximity is everything.

  10. Default

    Thanks, Tim! Could it be the camera noise as the mic was mounted on the camera (through the bracket that I used).

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