“Check. Check one. Check two. This thing on?”
When it comes to successful production, it’s vital to remember that audio is just as important as video. This truth is routinely disregarded by many — at times, even by myself. Usually, the punishment for doing so is spending several regret-filled hours trying to salvage a project in post.
This is why choosing the right microphone is essential to the overall outcome of your production. Of course, that might seem easier said than done. After all, there are so many different mics to choose from, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and price tags. With all of this in mind, let’s explore the vast world of mics in order to determine which one is right from the best budget microphones to some more expensive, professional options.
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Best Shotgun Mic
These directional mics are an absolute must-have for any production kit, and they’re the standard for capturing clean, crisp audio in the cinematic world. These “interference tube” mics have the ability to block out unwanted noise, and they only capture sounds from the specific direction the mic is pointing.
Make this mic your first go-to option for running sound. Just remember, they can struggle in small spaces, in rooms with lots of organic reverb, or in wide-shot situations when you can’t get close enough to the subject. Here are a few shotgun mics to consider:
Best Budget Microphone – Rode NTG2
Top quality at an affordable price makes this the most popular shotgun mic on the market. For some, $269 might still be too expensive, but this can be a one-time investment that lasts a lifetime. I personally rocked the NTG2 for the first six years of my freelance career, and I was an extremely happy customer. This condenser mic has both battery power and phantom power (external power source via sound board) options built in.
Professional Option – Sennheiser MKH416
With a price tag of $1000, this mic might fall into the “let’s just rent it” category. (Absolutely take advantage of your school’s equipment lending program if you have access!)
These magnificent mics provide beautiful, rich, natural sounding tones and feature a sturdy casing that’s tough enough to survive even the poorest conditions. This shotgun mic is incredible for on set, interviews, and even voice-over work — you name it.
Mobile Option – Rode VideoMic Pro
This is an excellent option for the mobile journalists of the world. Beastgrip makes a pretty cool cage for your cell phone that supports the VideoMic Pro and provides so much more functionality to your MoJo setup. It can also be affixed directly to a camera’s hot-shoe mount and includes a 3.5mm audio out that’s perfect for most DSLRs. It has a self-contained shock-absorbing cradle to help limit the amount of unwanted friction that’s picked up, and, for a short-throw shotgun, it can actually provide some surprisingly effective audio. Consider this mic if you’re running solo and don’t have enough hands to run audio/video simultaneously.
Shotgun Mic Pro Tips: When picking a boom pole to pair with your shotgun mic, look for one that has the XLR cable run within the pole. It’s the best way to avoid picking up noise created by a cable slapping up against the pole itself. And be sure to mind the sensitive ports on either end of the pole — if they’re damaged, you’re out one nice boom pole. Lastly, always be sure to capture a room tone when you’re recording on location. You’ll thank yourself when you get to post.
Best Lavalier Mic
Essential for journalists and a great tool for filmmakers, the lavalier is a cornerstone of capturing high-quality audio. Known mostly for their small footprint and their ability to become invisible to the lens, every video professional should invest in a worthwhile pair of lavs.
Worth mentioning — while there have been advances in lavalier wireless technology, expect some challenges when attempting to maintain certain operational frequencies due to the ever expanding range consumed by mobile phones.
Best Wireless Mic - Sennheiser AVX Digital Wireless System
I love this kit for its incredible functionality. No XLR cables needed here; the receiver is outfitted with a male XLR jack, allowing it to be plugged directly into any XLR audio input. You can plug directly into your camera (if it’s outfitted to receive XLR), an audio board, or your Zoom audio recorder.
This system has a normal belt pack transmitter to be worn by talent, or you can get the SKM AVX-835S handheld microphone for a more traditional news standup look. I’m a believer in the Sennheiser name, having used their G3 and G4 wireless systems for years, and the AVX is a welcome addition to their product line.
Wired Option – Sony ECM-44
If you’re worried about wireless interference, your best bet is the guaranteed quality and functionality of a hard-wired cable like that of the Sony ECM-44. You might not be able to meander aimlessly around with your talent while recording an interview, but with XLR attachments and the ability to capture quality audio, these are perfect for isolated situations on stationary sets.
Affordable Option – MOVO-WMX-20
For those looking to put together a high-quality kit on a budget, the MOVO-WMX-20 delivers an entire wireless system that comes in under $200.
The receiver can be attached directly to the hot-shoe mount of a DSLR. It has 3.5mm capabilities to embed the audio directly to the footage, and includes an XLR option to run into a soundboard. Additionally, it boasts 96 unique wireless frequencies, includes a nice hard case for safe travel, and has adapters that can hook directly into a phone for mobile streaming. These tend to burn through AA batteries, so be sure to pack extra when heading out on a shoot.
Lav Pro Tip: Be sure to know proper lavalier placement and procedures before arriving on set. Hiding these microphones (especially the wired models) is an art form unto itself, and making the talent feel comfortable while they’re getting “mic-ed up” is essential.
Best Studio Microphone
Whether it be for recording voice over, an instrument for a score, or streaming original content, here are some solid recommendations for “at home” microphones.
Best Microphone for Streaming – Blue Yeti
This microphone has become the standard for vlogging/streaming and a go-to for VO and podcasting — and for good reason. The Blue Yeti offers next-level functionality for a USB mic, with three different condenser capsules, four different wave patterns, and a headphone out for real time monitoring. It also features a built-in mute button and a removable tabletop stand. Plus, it’s plug-and-play right out of the box — no drivers or downloads needed.
Right now, they cost $129, but I was able to get one recently for just $99 — a fantastic price for this fantastic product. I love this mic, and it just so happens to be one of the more stylish options out there, if that matters to you. Need XLR capabilities? Get the PRO model for only a few dollars more.
Best High-End Studio Mic – Shure SM7B
The SM7B. It’s a legend. Considered the GOAT by many. It’s been around for a long time, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. When you watch professional streamers or vloggers that have some money behind them, usually this is the mic they’re using. You can use this to record vocals for music (and even some instruments), or just make yourself sound like a pro thanks to the silky natural tones this mic provides. It even has a built in pop filter!
The SM7B is an XLR microphone. With no USB functionality, you’ll need an audio interface like the Focusrite Scarlett to digitize the sound waves (making the whole package even more expensive). Additionally, this mic is meant to be used with either a mic stand or boom arm, so plan accordingly.
Best Microphone for Vocals – Audio Technica AT4040
Priced in between the Yeti and the Shure, this large diaphragm mic has been able to win over many with its durability, warm bottom end, and the inclusion of a nice shock-mount that’s perfect for using in conjunction with a boom arm. This is a really solid option for anyone looking to explore musical recording, and it’s often used specifically for vocals.
Studio Mic Pro Tip: Be sure to outfit your studio microphones with a pop filter (like the affordable Nady MPF-6) to take the edge off of plosive speech sounds, such as the hard “P” made when saying “pop.” This extremely easy step will pay off in post, guaranteed.
Best Handheld Microphone
From the news reporter on the scene of a breaking story to the lead singer belting out a chorus in front of thousands, the handheld microphone is what most people initially think of when they hear the word mic. Take a look at these great handheld microphones.
The Live Performance Standard – Shure SM58
If you have ever sung a song on stage before (including your local karaoke spot), chances are this is the dynamic mic you were using. The most popular mic around which has been the standard for live vocals for decades. One of the best features of this mic is its all around durability, the thing can sustain significant damage and still keep on sounding great.
Some will argue there are better sounding mics, and they might be right, but I know the SM58 has been trusted by some of the biggest names in the world and it will treat you right. Shure also makes a wireless version that is fantastic called the BLX2 if you don’t want any cables tripping you up while you do your best rockstar impersonation.
Best News Microphone – Sennheiser MD 46
Specifically designed for interviews in the field, this microphone was built to specifically limit background noise and reduce wind interference. It also features a long handle that is perfect for sharing with a guest and can fit a news logo microphone flag comfortably while being used. For any aspiring journalists, this is the mic for you.
Hopefully you’re now better prepared to make some strong microphone choices for your next project. Just remember, if you have access to an equipment lending program, then you have access to incredible microphones. Take advantage and make some audio magic.
Be sure to keep an eye out for more Connect2 content, and may all of your audio be crisp, clean, and free of any external disturbances like nearby construction crews. (I swear, they follow me around.)
About Lorensbergs and Connect2: Equipment checkout software Connect2 from Lorensbergs supports equipment lending programs in colleges and universities worldwide. Over 150 institutions use Connect2 to showcase, schedule and track their resources. It enables students to browse, select and borrow the kit available to them - helping them to choose the most suitable mic and other equipment for each project. It adds up to better creative output for students, and higher ROI for the institution. Find out more about Connect2 here.