Better sound with the Sennheiser MKE 400

I neglected audio for a long time. The built-in microphones are not bad but a good external microphone sounds better.

I've chosen the Sennheiser MKE 400 because of it's small size and good reviews. It records directional mono sound and is powered by a single AAA sized battery which allows about 300 hours operation time.

The MKE 400 recordings have much less noise and sound more transparent and natural but somewhat "thinner" with more treble and less bass. But listen for yourself:

Canon HF100 + Sennheiser MKE 400 from Martin Koch on Vimeo.

I used two HF100 for this comparison. Both camcorders where about 1.5 m (5 feet) away. Wind cut was off. Both HF100 where manually set to the same audio recording level (green indicator at the -12 dB mark)*. The MKE400 was set to "+" in order to have the same sensitivity as the built-in microphones. I recommend the "+" setting since the first amplication stage is the most critical and the preamp in the MKE 400 is most likely of higher quality (less noise) than that of the HF100.

Note that the MKE400 doesn't fit into the Mini Advanced Accessory Shoe of the HF100 without some sort of adaption. The simplest solution is to file the 18 mm wide plastic foot of the MKE 400 microphone to a width of 16 mm as shown in the photo above. By doing so you are able to slide the foot into the Mini Advanced Accessory Shoe plus you can still fasten the microphone securely on any standard flash shoe.

Ready-made adapters are available too. I found this Hague shoe adapter and this adapter at Adorama or DM-Accessories. By using such adapters you will also have extra distance between the microphone and the zoom lever of the HF100. Without there's a chance to touch the microphone while zooming which would produce unwanted noise.

Caution: If you make your own adapter use plastics material inside the mini accessory shoe since a short cut at the electrical contacts will damage the camera. Or stay clear of the electrical contacts like this adapter made of aluminum.

What's about the Canon DM-100 accessory microphone? It has no connection problems and it has two important advantages. First there's no audio cable since the electrical connections are made inside the Mini Advanced Accessory Shoe. It also doesn't need an extra battery since the power is supplied via the HF100. A big plus.

So despite all these advantages why didn't I order it? Because it's strange that you can't find a detailed description of this microphone on Canons website or in the HF100 manual. Very strange. I finally found an DM-100 review at amazon that reveals the technical data. E.g. 100 - 10,000 Hz in shot gun mode doesn't sound too convincing. The frequency response in stereo mode remains Canons secret. If Canon would be proud of their product they certainly would offer more information or even sound samples. Somehow it looks like another overpriced accessory. Unfortunately I had no possibility to actually try it out. You can see the DM-100 up close and personal in this clip:

Sennheiser on the other hand offers all specifications including a polar pattern diagram at the their website. The MKE 400 is also smaller than the DM-100 and it can be used on other cameras. I'm very pleased with it.

Of course the Sennheiser MKE 400 is a compromise between size and sound quality. There are better, fuller sounding microphones (Rhode make good ones) but all are much larger than the Sennheiser and will not fit as well to the HF100.

What's about stereo? It depends on what you're filming. You may want stereo in a wide angle shot of a large orchestra or of a car passing by in the distance but most of the time it will be a single sound source and narrow field of view so mono will be sufficient. The MKE400 is a directional microphone designed to isolate a single sound source so mono makes sense.

*To set equal audio levels on two cameras play a continuous, constant tone. I looped a 660 Hz sine wave recording using the QuickTime player.


Jeff said...

I use a Canon HF100 plus DM-100 mic for my video podcast, Scene from Florida HD (http://scenefromflorida.com). While I don't have the tech specs handy, the recorded sound is clear and crisp under low or high volume audio surroundings. The "raccoon tail" sleeve for the mic prevents any and all wind noise unless I'm in sustained 30km/hr winds. And as you've mentioned, the camera's battery powers the mic, which is nice. Check out the Tuba episode or the baseball episode to listen to some of the best sound recordings on the podcast. But please note: I use a clip-on wired mic for all of my standups and interviews - that keeps the vocals strongest instead of picking up too much ambient sound.

Martin Koch said...

Thank you for your experience Jeff. I'm glad you like the Canon mic. It sure is the more practical option for the HF100. I listed to the Tuba episode and you're right it sounds good but I still wished there where a comparison available like the one above to actually hear the differences.