Price (RRP): $289, but $129.95 until 31 December 2019
It’s astonishing the quality of video that can be captured by a modern mirrorless camera. So why not boost the sound quality to match by adding an affordable shotgun microphone, such as the Sennheiser MKE 400.
Sennheiser MKE 400 features
I do mean affordable. Even the normal price of $289 is quite reasonable, given that the cameras with which it will be used are typically more than a thousand dollars. But if you buy before the calendar ticks over into 2020, it will cost you a tiny $129.95. I’ll save you from doing the arithmetic. That’s 55% off.
So what does that buy you? Well, it’s a nifty little microphone that slips into the flash mount of your camera and plugs into the 3.5mm microphone socket on its side. Pretty much any camera with pretensions to capture serious video has the necessary socket.
Power is not required for the Sennheiser MKE 400. You insert a single AAA battery for 300 hours of operation.
The body of the microphone is metal and isolated from the mount by two 6mm tall rubbery stalks. These act as a shock mount, reducing the transmission of camera-handling noise to the Sennheiser MKE 400 microphone. Above the slide section of the mount is the traditional inch-wide locking disc to tighten the grip on the mount. There are no electrical contacts here, since the microphone is internally powered and the signal connection is via the 3.5mm plug. The 200mm coiled cable can easily stretch to over half a metre so should be no problems reaching any microphone input.
At the top is the microphone itself. This is a 78mm spike, protruding from a raised section of the housing. Of course it points forward. It is less than 11mm thick for most of its length, narrowing to only 7.3mm wide at the front.
Sound capture and processing
Perhaps surprisingly, there are no perforations on the end of the microphone which points towards the sound. Instead there’s a 64mm long slot on the top of the microphone spike, plus a ring of holes around its base. These are designed, clearly, to admit sound to the microphone capsule in the manner of shotgun microphones. These exhibit a “lobar” pickup pattern. That means they are highly sensitive directly to the front, quite sensitive directly to the rear, only modestly sensitive directly to the sides, and least sensitive at 45 degrees from the front or back. This pattern is the best available for capturing sounds at a distance … so long as the microphone is pointed in the correct direction.
You won’t see the microphone spike because you’ll have the foam cover over it. I guess this reduces wind noise a little. In any case, the spike part of the microphone doesn’t look pretty enough for you want to use it naked.
On the left side of the housing (when you’re holding the camera ready for shooting) are two switches. The front one is for sensitivity. In the normal position the microphone is rated at 8mV per Pascal of sound pressure. At the high setting, the microphone produces 20mV per Pascal. That’s an 8dB difference.
(So, what’s a Pascal of sound pressure? That converts to 93dBSPL.)
The other switch is on, off and wind filter. In the filter position the bass is cut to reduce wind noise.
Sennheiser rates the frequency response of the Sennheiser MKE 400 microphone at 40 to 20,000 hertz, and its maximum sound pressure at 126dB in low sensitivity mode, or 118dB in high.
Using the Sennheiser MKE 400
Sennheiser isn’t all about headphones. It is a big player in professional microphones, and it has brought its expertise to bear on this entry-level model. The Sennheiser MKE 400 microphone is easy to use and highly effective. The compact size means that it doesn’t get in the way.
The switches are light enough to flick easily, yet firm enough not retain their positions securely. A small LED flashes briefly when you switch on the microphone to show battery status. A quick flash means that all’s well. When you’ve got 50 or fewer hours of life left, it remains on to remind you that you’d better replace the battery.
Some weeks ago when I was thinking about reviewing this microphone, I watched some demo videos on Sennheiser’s website in which it was compared with using the microphone built into a camera. And, really, I didn’t think there was all that much difference.