The best ambient microphone, which one to buy?

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Buying a good “shotgun” microphone, also called “shotgun”, is not that simple, also because most websites presents many options without, however, providing information that helps to understand which product is best suited to our needs.

With this article we want to try to do the opposite, that is to present the best shotgun microphones with all the most important features , in order to help in the choice.

Before illustrating the models, we must first know what we are going to talk about. A shotgun microphone is a highly directional microphone which records a “beam” of audio focused only from the direction it is facing.

Recording sound from only one direction is extremely useful when in the surrounding environment there are unwanted noises or distracting.

The microphone capsule itself is unidirectional (usually cardioid, supercardioid, or hypercardioid) and is located at the bottom of a long tube. It is this tube that gives the microphone its name, due to its resemblance to a gun barrel.

Without the tube, a shotgun microphone would have the shape of a normal cardioid microphone , with a heart-shaped shooting pattern.

How does a shotgun microphone work?

The key behind the directionality of a shotgun microphone is the tube. The microphone capsule is located at the bottom of a long, hollow tube with grooved holes on the sides.

In this way, the sound will be able to travel without hindrance along the tube to the capsule.

The sounds on the side of the barrel, however, can only reach the capsule by traveling through the slots. The same sound enters through multiple slots, which creates phase differences inside the tube. When these different phases meet, they cancel each other out.

This phase cancellation works particularly well for frequencies above 2 kHz and it is less effective for frequencies below 2 kHz.

What are shotgun microphones for?

Shotgun microphones are typically used to record dialogue. Not surprisingly, their greatest use is in movies, in TV shows, in the news , but also in YouTube videos and conferences.

All these purposes have one detail in common, namely a main focal point. Shotgun microphones are perfect for registering a subject due to their tight shooting pattern. The subject is highlighted and the surrounding environment is reduced.

We come now to the data sheet of the shotgun microphone, which will allow us not to fall victim to the traps of marketing.

The car noise, also known as Self Noise , is the signal that the microphone produces even when there is no sound source. This noise is produced by the current flowing through the circuits and sounds like white noise. All microphones produce some noise , although the quantity can vary greatly.

The acceptable auto noise level will vary depending on the application. The recording of loud sounds, together with short distances between the microphone and the subject, it will lengthen the acceptable range of microphone noise.

Under these circumstances, the gain it will be set relatively low to avoid the spike and the subject will easily overwhelm the microphone noise.

However, quieter sounds and remote recording require more gain, which also increases the noise level of the microphone . Noise-free recordings under these circumstances require very low microphone noise levels.

The noise levels can be divided as follows.

Poor: 24 dB-A and above. At this level, the background noise is intrusive in any recording situation (unless it is a recording of the take-off of a jet engine, ed). The registration of any sound less than 70 decibels (e.g. a vacuum cleaner) will have an audible hissing sound.

Fair: 20-23 dB-A . Autonomous noise is still clearly audible at this level when recording something below the talk volume (60 dB).

Good: 16-19 dB-A. Great for most dialogues and booming applications. While recording whispers, quiet environments and other sounds below 30-40 dB noise may be heard.

Very good: 11-15 dB-A. Recorders may be able to distinguish a slight auto noise in some particular conditions, such as the rustle of leaves and other sounds below 20 dB (there aren’t many of them).

Excellent: 10 dB-A and below. Extremely low noise. Undetectable in any recording situation as even the quietest recording room maintains more than 10 dB of ambient noise.

Sensitivity

To put it simply, the sensitivity of the microphone measure the amount of output for a given input. The input is the sound that is being recorded and the output is the actual recording.

The output of a microphone is referred to as “the signal”. More sensitive is a microphone, the stronger the signal for a given sound input. A strong signal is ideal for low-noise recordings because lower gain can be used while keeping background noise low.

The best microphone sensitivity will depend on the recording application. In some cases it is more suitable a lower sensitivity microphone , while in other situations it is preferable to use a microphone with higher sensitivity.

Low sensitivity microphones are generally employed for recording isolated and loud sounds, while high sensitivity microphones are better for recording ambient and silent sounds.

Low sensitivity microphones are therefore useful for close miking, for voice in a noisy environment (for example for live music venues, ed), for guitar and bass amps and for high SPL sounds (shots, vehicles, etc.).

High-sensitivity microphones, on the other hand, are ideal for outdoor environments , the sounds of nature and parabolic microphones.

What are the microphone sensitivity levels?

Low sensitivity: -60 dBV → -50 dBV. Ideal for drums, instruments, vocals (singing) and other strong signals.

Average sensitivity: -50 dBV → -40 dBV. Ideal for handheld microphones, voice over work and noisy environments.

High sensitivity: -40 dBV → -30 dBV. Ideal for microphones, natural sounds and most environments.

Extremely High Sensitivity: -30dBV and below. Ideal for remote microphones, very quiet sounds and environmental situations.

Off axis rejection

Shotgun mics are better at discarding higher frequency sounds (above 2 kHz) versus lower frequency sounds (below 4 kHz).

There off-axis rejection is an important specification of the shotgun microphone, as it measures the effectiveness of the microphone in reducing unwanted off-axis sounds.

For this specification, the manufacturer measure the reduction (in dB) 60 °, 120 ° and 180 ° from the microphone capsule.

On this aspect too, we can proceed towards a three-level classification.

Good: 30-39 dB. Best used in environments with few distractions to the surrounding environment, such as recording studios.

Very good: 40-49 dB. Ideal for recording in environments with some unwanted sounds (eg interviews).

Excellent: 50+ dB. Ideal for eliminating distractions in noisy or chaotic environments, such as in very crowded areas.

Length

The length of your shotgun microphone will determine how portable it is, how tight the shooting pattern is and how effective it is in canceling out low frequency sounds.

Depending on the application, the overall length of the microphone can be a critical factor. For example, if you need a shotgun microphone to be placed on top of the camera via hot shoe connection, the microphone must not enter the frame.

In determining the maximum size, preferences can also intervene, which obviously vary from person to person.

Short (< 280 mm) : Less directional than their longer counterparts, short shotgun mics are useful when length needs to be kept to a minimum. They have a larger “weak point” and are able to overcome a slightly displaced positioning.

Medium (300-400 mm): mid-length shotgun mics work well in most situations delivering a good balance between rejection, ease of use and form factor.

Long (> 400 mm) : A long shotgun microphone will have the greatest off-axis rejection. However, due to its length, it will be more difficult to do the job. Long shotgun microphones are the best option for recording distant sounds or noisy environments.

Moisture resistance

If you’re planning on recording outdoors with your shotgun mic, be sure to select a resistant model humidity.

Outdoor environments are not ideal for electronics. Moisture, dust, dirt and extreme temperatures are the main features that make the outsiders particularly “hostile”.

To solve this problem, the internal wiring and circuit boards are coated with a film, called “conformal coating” , which protects against humidity, dust and temperatures that are too hot or too cold.

Weight

When operating a rod for several hours, the weight of the rifle microphone becomes a very important aspect. The best shotgun microphone can guarantee a good mix of performance relative to its own weight , which can be heavy, medium or light.

Diameter

Diameter is an important factor to consider when selecting a microphone clip , a shock mount or a wind shield for the shotgun microphone.

These accessories are made for microphones of specific diameters , therefore, before buying one, it is better to check carefully if it is really the right one.

Most shotgun microphones have a diameter between 19 and 25 mm and fits most accessories on the market.

We come now to list the best shotgun microphones , and let’s start from the model that seems to be the best.

Rode NTG5 (529 euros) – See price or buy

Rode’s NTG5 shotgun microphone is the best shotgun microphone ever , thanks to its professional-level specifications, accessories and affordable price.

Released in December 2019, NTG5 is the replacement for the hugely popular NTG3, and is capable of offer more brilliant performance at a much lower price.

Also, the NTG5 is quieter, more sensitive, shorter, lighter and has better off-axis rejection than NTG3.

Also, the NTG5 comes with some great accessories not included with the NTG3, such as the Rycote shock mount , Rode PG2-R pistol grip with Pro Cable attachment for optimal XLR cable management, RM5 mount, Rode WS10 foam windshield and fur windshield.

These accessories provide everything you need to start recording high quality audio immediately.

Weighing just 76g, the NTG5 is every operator’s dream who has to spend long days on set. Rode was able to achieve this low weight thanks to a reduced length and using aluminum for the microphone.

Ideal for the voiceovers , movies, noisy environments and interviews.

Rode NTG4 (261 euros) – See price or buy

The Rode NTG4 is the model with the best value for money : Outstanding performance and functionality at a very affordable rate, as similar microphones cost more than double.

This is a quiet 16dB-A auto-noise shotgun microphone with 47dB off-axis rejection, all wrapped up in a short 225mm package with a diameter that fits almost any accessory (22mm).

Its high sensitivity (-32 dBV / Pa) and the low weight (126 g) make it a great boom option.

The NTG4 also has three switches on the body , a 75 Hz low cut filter to reduce low frequency noise and +6 dB of treble boost for greater clarity and intelligibility. Just perfect for movies.

Sennheiser MKH 416 – See price or buy

Sennheiser’s MKH 416 is the industry standard when it comes to record dialogues for movies.

Developed in the 1970s, the 416 has been around for a long time, earning (with good reason) an excellent reputation especially for its reliability (solid metal construction and precision machining).

Sennheiser designed the MKH 416 specifically for recording dialogue on set. Transducer sensitivity adjustments in the frequency spectrum from 2,000 to 8,000 Hz are optimized to record the human voice with extraordinary clarity and presence.

DSLR shotgun microphone

If you are looking to lead audio and video quality on a higher level, a DSLR shotgun microphone is a great solution.

There are tons of options available for shotgun microphones mounted on a DSLR camera that runs on batteries instead of with phantom power.

Rode VideoMic – See price or buy

Under $ 150 there is Rode VideoMic , a great audio update for YouTubers, vloggers, and journalists who don’t want to spend too much.

This shotgun microphone features a integrated shockproof support that mounts directly to your DSLR, mirrorless or camcorder and reduces camera shake noise.

The 3.5mm TRS cable supplied ensures easy connection to the camera.

The VideoMic it is powered by a single 9V battery, which should be able to guarantee 100 hours of operation.

To reduce low-frequency noise from common sources such as air conditioners and traffic , the VideoMic features an 80 Hz low cut filter switch.

When recording loud sounds, it is possible attenuate the signal activating the -10 dB or -20 dB pads.

VP83 LensHopper – See price or buy

The VP83 LensHopper is the best shotgun microphone for DSLR cameras under $ 200.

The VP83 delivers performance improved over the Rode VideoMic in terms of automatic noise, off-axis rejection, sensitivity and battery life. It also fits into a smaller form factor.

It features a integrated Rycote shock mount system to isolate the microphone from vibrations and mechanical noise.

The bottom of the damper features a camera shoe mount with 1/4 “-20 thread, for easy mounting on the camera or tripod.

The housing, made of die-cast aluminum, provides a strong and sturdy frame for rigorous operation in a variety of environments.

Rode VideoMic Pro – See price or buy

Finally here it is Rode VideoMic Pro , which compared to VideoMic guarantees lower noise, higher sensitivity and more adjustable settings.

This microphone, on the market for less than $ 300 , is ideal for mobile journalists, vloggers and filmmakers looking for an affordable way to take quality to the next level.

The integrated Rycote shock mount system inhibits the transfer of vibrations from the camera.

Additionally, the VideoMic Pro is powered with a single 9V battery (70 hours of operation). A red light warns you when the battery is low.

To reduce low frequency noise coming from common sources such as air conditioners and traffic, the VideoMic has an 80 Hz filter switch.

Three gain controls are available: -10 dB for attenuating strong signals, flat for use with a dedicated preamp and +20 dB ideal for recording directly on the camera.

Shockmount for Shotgun microphones

Regardless of the recording mode, there is always a need for a shockmount, that is that support that allows you to “uncouple” the microphone from the shaft in such a way as to reduce the sounds due to vibrations.

When there is no shockmount, the microphone is extremely susceptible to noise caused by vibrations , but also from manipulation and movement.

Let’s see then the best shockmounts for Shotgun microphones

Rycote INV-7HG mkIII – See price or buy

The INV-7HG mkIII is the best-selling suspension system thanks to its performance and to an appreciable versatility.

The 7HG mkIII features Hytrel construction, which offers the best durability and the maximum shock and noise absorption among the models available on the market.

The base accepts almost all microphones, with a wide range of compatibility from 19 to 34 mm in diameter.

The shockmount can be tilted up or down and securely fastens in place with a star knob.

The design effective, simple and compact makes INV-7HG the best shockmount on the square.

Wind protection for shotgun microphones

Most shotgun microphones include a foam windshield, but it comes with a rather low level of protection. Quick arm movements can also cause unwanted wind noises.

How can you better protect yourself? For example, by relying on the Rode Blimp Windshield and Shockmount

Rode Blimp Windshield and Shockmount – See price or buy

This all-in-one solution from Rode includes a blimp, a wind filter and a shockmount system that protects against wind noise and insulates against shocks and vibrations.

The combination should be able to protect from winds up to 32 km per hour. The blimp is designed to hold nearly all shotgun microphones and can fit any model up to 320mm in length.

The shockmount is manufactured by Rycote and is built by Hytrel. This thermoplastic is characterized by a combination of steel, rubber and plastic, in such a way as to provide excellent sound isolation for the microphone.

Best Deadcat Shotgun Microphone

Rode WS6 Deluxe Wind Shield – See price or buy

WS6 Deluxe Wind Shield slides directly onto the rifle’s microphone to protect it from high winds. Made of synthetic fur , guarantees silent recording in winds up to 15-17 mph.

The WS6 is compatible with shotgun microphones up to 280 mm in length and 19-22 mm in diameter. The rubber base prevents the WS6 from slipping off the shotgun microphone.

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