What is the best Electronic News Gathering microphone for my Zoom H4n on a $150 budget? Also, critique suggestions I've already received.
September 25, 2009 11:37 AM   Subscribe

What is the best Electronic News Gathering microphone for my Zoom H4n on a $150 budget? Also, critique suggestions I've already received.

I decided to purchase the H4n after this post, which nearly changed my mind.

Now I'm looking for the perfect starting microphone to round out my kit.


Price: $150 or less

Purpose: Conducting interviews in locations ranging from very noisy (Stadium crowd) to very quite (office). The mic will serve as my vocal track while I collect ambient noise with the H4n's onboard mics.

Style: Cardiod or Shotgun, dynamic or phantom powered.

Advice I've Received So Far

"If I could only have one microphone, it would be hard to decide between my MD46 and ME66, which are the two I probably use the most. I think for audio-only reporting (where you're not worried about whether the mic appears on camera), the MD46 would probably win. It's excellent, and durable, and you'll probably still be using it 30 years from now if you stay involved in the business.

Now in all fairness, I should say that the Sennheiser E835 is almost exactly the same microphone as the MD46; acoustically and electronically they are pretty much identical. The only real difference is that the MD46 is physically longer and heavier, and therefore it is easier to use as a hand-held interviewing mic. But either one would work fine from a sound perspective, and the E835 is a lot cheaper, even more so if you can share the cost of a 3-pack with a couple of your friends."

Is the Sennheiser E835 really that similary to the MD64? If so, do the E8* series (The e845, for instance) grow in quality for my purposes as their series number rises?
posted by DumbPoet to Technology (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Shure SM58 is one of the industry standards for music, because it sounds pretty good on almost everything, can drop 10 feet and keep working, and because it looks like what people expect a mic to look like. It may not necessarily be the best option out there solely for recording interviews, but being able to toss it around without worry of it dying is a definite bonus. I have used a few other mics that sounded better, but if you were at a stadium and it dropped onto the cement stairs, it would become a paperweight.
posted by markblasco at 12:44 PM on September 25, 2009

I think we need to a know a bit more about what you are really trying to do before we can give good suggestions. Its hard, for example, to imagine what situation you could use a regular cardioid mic that you would also switch to a shotgun and vice-versa.

I don't know jack about ENG mics, but I do know a bit about mics, and like, I'd think we need to know more about what you are trying to make.

Like a straight ENG mic is probably going to be focused on getting maximum comprehensibility with maximum off-axis noise rejection, while being super durable and having reasonably low self-noise and a practical wind screen.

But like if you want to make This American Life stories, the sound itself is probably important. I'd think you'd want a condensor rather than a dynamic. A condensor farther away from someone, like in an ENG situation, is going to pic up a *lot* more detailed sound: mouth noise, ambience, etc. Not necessarily desirable for CNN, but very desirable for Story Corps. Dynamics will also generally exhibit a pronounced proximity effect, meaning the bassiness of your source will appear to change with distance. Lots of people in news (but not ENG) use mics like the EV-RE20 to give themselves a bit more gravitas, but its not as pure-sounding.

Dynamics will take way more abuse though. Dynamics also have way lower self-noise, which is important if you are going to be hand-holding this mic. Senn e835 is supposed to be a tank, I think.

Is the Sennheiser E835 really that similary to the MD64?

I'm not sure in the case of these two mics, but one thing to bear in mind is that (a) yes, mic companies do this all the time where they keep the same head amp, capsule, electronics, etc. and tweak windscreens and bodies for different applications but (b) tweaking windscreens and bodies can really change the mic. For example, changing the porting on the 'back' of the capsule end really changes the pickup pattern. Moving the capsule up the mic body by making the mic longer makes it much less likely that your hand will encroach on the capsule, which (a) changes its pickup pattern (b) changes its response pattern (c) increases self-noise.

Again, with the caveat that I don't know jack about the specific challenges of ENG OR what you are really going for, I'm going to throw the Shure SM-87 into the consideration pile. The SM-87 is a very good sounding microphone that is condensor, but its designed for hand-held situations and has relatively good durability and self-noise considerations. That with the optional foam windscreen would be the kind of thing I'd think might be a good ENG mic. I'd also get a very small portable stand so I could use that when possible. Its beyond your budget new, but within your budget used. Personally, I like to buy these kinds of things used, because then I'm not really buying them, I'm just parking money in them temporarily. This mic used won't lose value if you don't break it, so if you realize your needs are different than you thought, swap it out for something else.
posted by jeb at 12:48 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

The SM58 is indeed a durable tank, I have SM58s that have been submerged in mud for days that I rinsed off, allowed to dry, and have worked more or less fine, but personally, I would not recommend the SM57, 58, or the Beta series equivalents for ENG, but I'm having a hard time describing why...they will not sound right. Its a weird combination of too much directional sensitivity, not enough overall sensitivity...a person talking into a SM58 held at chest height by another person, interview style, does not sound like an interview, plus this is going to tax your preamp, and with a portable rig, you don't have much pre headroom to tax.
posted by jeb at 12:51 PM on September 25, 2009

Whatever you end up going with, make sure that not just that it sounds good on its own, but that it sounds good with the Zoom H4n. I'm sure they've improved the recorder in the move from H4 to H4n. But it's worth mentioning that at least the H4 really didn't handle external mics well, especially if they used phantom power. The internal mic sounds great for the price, but the xlr was a bust.
posted by umbĂș at 12:52 PM on September 25, 2009

As far as between the MD46 and the ME66, I'd go with the MD46, for two reasons - first, it's a cardiod. While having a nice tight (hyper/shotgun) pattern can be useful for reducing background noise, it's a lot harder to hold the mic in one place, and get a consistent sound. If you're doing an interview of any length, you're going to be holding that thing out, moving it back, and mics with narrow pickup patterns are VERY sensitive to positional changes. Second, the ME-66 appears to be part of a capsule/body configuration, which while nice for flexibility (and the pocketbook, on occasion), is shit for reliability. If you're going to be working in ENG, you want something ultra-reliable, which capsule/body is not. The improved high frequencies of the condenser would be nice, but I wouldn't personally make that trade.

And, as is mentioned above, the SM-58 is a tank. But it's not right for ENG. Far too susceptible to proximity effect for my taste, and not quite the right sound to begin with.

Do yourself a favor, and as umbĂș mentions, make sure it's the right mic for your recording unit - I've put hours and hours of use into the Marantz PMD-660, and the preamps on that thing are super-sensitive. They distort if you look at them the wrong way. I've run into a handful of mics that simply can't be used with it, as they will clip the input no matter what. So make sure there's a generous return policy, and do some test recordings to make sure that you're getting clean audio from whichever mic you choose.

For the record, my particular organization uses EV RE-16s for a lot of news gathering, but let's just say they wouldn't be my first choice. Also, they're ugly as hell.
posted by god hates math at 1:18 PM on September 25, 2009

Response by poster: Some news gathering situations I will be in.

1) College football days are really big in my town. Fans do all sorts of interesting things while tailgating. The environment is very noisy, with music, traffic, shouting and large crowds constantly roaring. I will walk around this environment with a photographer, spot people doing interesting things and interview them about it. The mic will always be handheld by me, usually while both the interviewee and I are standing. I will have control over the distance between us.
I hope to achieve isolated vocals through my handheld mic, but I understand the issue of directionality with shotguns. Being absolutely precise in these cases is not feasible.

2) When local officials make interesting decisions I will visit their offices to discuss coming changes. These will be sit down situations where a stand for the mic will be doable. Of course ambient building noise could be a problem, computers, lights, air-conditioning, etc.

3) There is a musical festival coming to my town in October. There are 8 bars which will host over 200 punk bands during 3 days (or something like that). I will cover this extensively, recording song clips (not studio quality, of course, but at least listenable) along with interviews both in quite and noisy settings. Conditions will mostly be similar to those on game day.

I realize that 1 mic is not best suited to do all of these things. But I am hopeful that I can get 1 mic that is capable of producing usable audio for each situation.

As for the "what mics work with my recorder" question. Here are some Websites that have samples:





From what I've read here, dynamic mics don't work as well in the XLR inputs in quiet situations, but I can purchase an XLR to 3.5mm converter cable which would solve that problem.
posted by DumbPoet at 3:37 PM on September 25, 2009

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