If you’ve been reading my blog for any stretch of time, you already know that mini-shotgun microphones like the RØDE VideoMic Pro and the Sennheiser MKE 400 are something I’m very interested in. Why am I obsessed with these little mics, even though I own professional shotguns and field mixers? I just love the idea of having the ultimate miniature ENG kit with me every where I go. I’ve got my compact HDSLR camera, now I just need the perfect little mic to go with it. It’s awesome to be able to produce cinéma vérité style documentary work at a moments notice. This is 100% possible, and having the ideal little shotgun is a big part of what makes it happen.
I’d been dying to get my hands on the RØDE VideoMic Pro ever since it was announced in January 2011. From the very first time I saw its size and shape, I could only think one thing: I must hear this thing in a shoot out against the Sennheiser MKE 400. I placed an order for one really early on, and I’ve been using it for several months now. I decided not to write a hands-on review until I received the free DeadCat VMP fluffy windscreen in the mail. As soon as the hairy sock arrived, I pitted it in an old fashioned microphone shoot out against the MKE 400 (and the Sennheiser MZW400 windscreen and the Rycote Mini Windjammer). Here’s how it played out:
Which microphone did I like best? Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. But I will be blunt and tell you this: neither microphone could handle wind. The outdoor shots that I included in the video were by far the best sounding ones I had. Most of the takes were a distorted mess. There were 17 MPH winds that evening (15 knots), which isn’t much for New York City. No one was saying “Wow, it’s windy out there today.” Even though the weather was unremarkable, none of the softie windscreens or wind filter switches on the mics could cut it. The moral of the story? If you’re shooting in real wind, you’ll need a professional microphone with a full-blown zeppelin.
The difference between these two microphones really comes down to two things: size and build-quality. To my ears, they both sound decent for what they are. The VideoMic Pro has more lower mids and low frequencies, so it tends to sound a little more natural. The audio I got from the MKE 400 was good sounding, and would be passible if it were cut together in a “real” production. There are shootout videos on YouTube between these two mics which seem to portray the MKE 400 as thinner sounding. This wasn’t my experience. Simply by adjusting the volume level a few dB in Final Cut Pro and using the wind cut switches properly, the mics sounded nearly identical.
With sound quality out of the picture, the difference between these two mics again comes down to size and build quality. In my opinion, the Sennheiser MKE 400 wins out in both of these categories. It’s plain to see how it’s the more compact design. Its chassis is made out of a metallic alloy, where the VideoMic Pro is made out of plastic. Shotgun microphones need to be designed for travel and the elements, and the build quality of the VideoMic Pro falls short.
The shockmount is another important thing to consider. The rubberbands on the RØDE VideoMic Pro constantly pop out of place. In the few months I’ve been using this mic, I’ve never taken it out of my bag and mounted on my camera without having to reinsert a few of the rubberbands on the shockmount. This slows down my workflow, and makes me feel like they’re going to wear out faster and fall apart.
The Sennheiser MKE 400 I was using was a loner, so I didn’t have much time at all to really put it through its paces. However, I have researched this mic extensively, and I’ve heard from numerous sources that the little rubber legs of its shockmount can also pop out, and unlike the VideoMic Pro, they’re very difficult to put back into place. I concluded that neither mic really has a reliable shockmount.
Inserting and removing the battery is also very different on these mics. With the MKE 400, it’s as simple and painless as it’s supposed to be. You slide a switch and it opens just as you suspected it would. This is not the case with the VideoMic Pro. Operating the battery door is very unintuitive. You need to grab the mic and apply pressure with your thumbs in such a way that it feels like you’re going to snap the thing in half. The battery door is a small piece of plastic that could easily be lost. Without the door, the mic would be dead in the water. If you put the 9 volt battery in the wrong way, it’s impossible to slide the door back on. It’s still pretty difficult to close the door with the battery in the proper way.
One nice thing about the VideoMic Pro is that its LED light stays lit the entire time it’s turned on. The LED light on the MKE 400 only quickly flashes once when you switch it on. I imagine this is to save battery life; instead of using the battery’s juice to keep the LED glowing, the electricity is used to power the mic. But this kind of economy isn’t as important to video people as the confidence that their equipment instills. If a piece of equipment is on, we want to know it. The VideoMic Pro wins in this category.
As far as the foam windscreen is concerned, I liked the RØDE VideoMic Pro’s better. It does a better job of staying fastened to the interference tube (without being glued). It seems like it would be easier to have the foam windscreen slip off and be lost with the Sennheiser MKE 400. As far as the high wind protection goes, again, all of the options ultimately failed. The Rycote Mini Windjammer did the worst job, and the MZW 400 and DeadCat VMP were about equal.
At the end of the day, which mic is the best? Honestly, both have their ups and downs. If you own the Canon 5D MKIV or the 80D, then you may want to lean toward the RØDE VideoMic Pro. It has a +20dB function that can give you a better sound if you turn the mic input level on the camera all the way down.
I tested these mics on a Canon 7D and a Lumix GH2. The 7D doesn’t have audio level controls, so the +20dB function was useless. The GH2 does have level controls, but the VideoMic Pro was still too hot when set at 0dB. The +20dB setting sounded awful on the GH2.
My opinion is only worth so much. You should get out there and try these mics out for yourself. Hold them in your hands, and mount them to your cameras to see how they handle. If you’ve used either of these mics before, I’d really like to hear your impressions of them. Please post your thoughts in the Comments section below! Your personal opinion is as vital as anyone else’s. Thanks for reading this post, and stay tuned for more gear reviews and nerdy tutorials!
Rode VideoMic Pro - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Sennheiser MKE 400 - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Sennheiser MZW 400 Windscreen - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Rode Deadcat Windscreen - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Rycote Mini Windjammer for MKE 400 - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de
Rycote Mini Windjammer for Rode VideoMic Pro - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de