RØDE VideoMic Pro vs. Sennheiser MKE 400 – Indoors & Out!

Canon DSLR with Rode and Sennheiser on-camera micsIf 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.

Canon DSLR with Rode and Sennheiser on-camera mics

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.

Rode VideoMic Pro and Sennheiser MKE 400

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!

Purchase links:

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

Published by

Sam

Writer, musician, photo taker and video maker. When not writing somewhat longish articles for this blog, I write incredibly short things on Twitter: @SamMallery

31 thoughts on “RØDE VideoMic Pro vs. Sennheiser MKE 400 – Indoors & Out!”

  1. I have very little experience with audio, but I´d like to say that I find the AGC basically killing every bit of goodyness that may come out of those microphones. I find it odd that you being a sound-pro decided to pick up the one Canon camera where the AGC-disable ML trick is unavailable…

    Secondly, I´ve heard most people, both experts and not, say the Rode is a better mic than the Sennheiser, including Mr. Bloom, yet you didn´t seem to find that big of a difference. And, most importantly, I´ve heard than the Sennheiser picks up way more handling noise than the Rode, which is essential to me, since I´m the runnin’&gunnin’ type.

    Finally, and since you know far more about audio than I do, I just want to honestly ask you: are those two truly the best sounding examples you could get with those mics?? Because I find it odd that someone with your knowledge is getting results so unsatisfactory. Did you try disabling AGC with a Juicedlink or something like that? Those mics there HAVE to sound better (I´m positive they do, using ML, at least).

  2. Nice test bra! I’ll not completely give up on the MKE400, since I own it as well as the VMP. I just don’t have my own DSLR yet, so there won’t be the occasion to just have it on a camera ready to go for a while.

  3. “I find it odd that you being a sound-pro decided to pick up the one Canon camera where the AGC-disable ML trick is unavailable.”

    Hi Andario… thanks for stopping by and commenting! I totally would’ve tested these mics out on a Canon with AGC-disable, but I simply didn’t have access to any of them. I’m lucky I had the 7D. I borrowed it and the MKE 400, and only had them for a day or two.

    “I´ve heard most people, both experts and not, say the Rode is a better mic than the Sennheiser, including Mr. Bloom, yet you didn´t seem to find that big of a difference.”

    I agree. I hear this all the time too. It just so happens that my tests revealed different results. I found the Rode to be of low build quality. It sounded good, but in my tests it wasn’t dramatically different from the MKE 400.

    “I´ve heard than the Sennheiser picks up way more handling noise than the Rode, which is essential to me, since I´m the runnin’&gunnin’ type.”

    That’s really important to me too, but I found both of the shockmounts to be of poor quality, as I stated in my article. I plan on picking up an MKE 400 and doing more extensive research, so stick around for more reports in the future.

    “are those two truly the best sounding examples you could get with those mics?? Because I find it odd that someone with your knowledge is getting results so unsatisfactory. Did you try disabling AGC with a Juicedlink or something like that? Those mics there HAVE to sound better (I´m positive they do, using ML, at least).”

    Those are indeed the best sounding clips I recorded, but again, I only had the MKE 400 for a short period of time, so this is by no means an in depth, scientific review. But, it is a legitimate enough review in my opinion. These are simple little mics that you mount and plug into a camera and shoot. That’s exactly what I did, and these are the results I ended up with.

    I didn’t test them out with a juciedLink box or anything like that. I only use mics like this in a pinch, when I’m away from my good sound equipment – or when I’m doing a simple shoot that doesn’t require perfect audio. I’m mostly interested in how these mics sound going directly into the camera.

  4. Hey Sam, thanks for the detailed response.

    And I definitely consider your review “legitimate”, perhaps I was just expecting that you of all people would be precisely the kind of person that would be able to show off what those mics are capable of, but I do understand if you don´t have the resources to do so. I was mostly venting out my “frustration” with your poor results, so to speak.

    The best sound I´ve heard coming out of those mics was using a combination of both ML and a Juicedlink device, that would deliver cleaner results than using either one separately. Since you haven´t been able to use any of those, though, I guess your poor results are not so unexpected after all.

    Anyway, I´m subscribed to your blog, so I´ll definitely be aware of any upcoming results you may come out with, if you manage to spend more time/resources with these mics.

    Cheers mate.

  5. What is that 2 hot-shoe adapter you show there in the photo? I’m looking for something like that to put my led light and my shotgun mic on. What would you recommend for that? Should I go directly to a RedRock solution?

  6. That shoe adapter is an old Panasonic one from a VHS video camera I bought in high school. An American company called K-Tek recently came out with a nice one called the KTBAR. You can check it out here:

    http://ktekbooms.com/camera/camera-accessories/

    My old shoe adapter is made out of plastic, so it’ll eventually break (I just recently unearthed it and started using it again). This new one from K-TEK is all aluminium, and should last forever.

  7. The one thing you didnt mention is the substantial difference in mfg warranty 10yrs vs 2yrs

  8. Hi Tom. The D90 is a nice camera, but unfortunately it doesn’t have a microphone input. You could mount your Rode mic to the shoe of your camera, but you’re going to have to plug the mic’s cable into a portable digital audio recorder and record the sound separately from the video. You could get a small recorder like the Zoom H1 (which has the 3.5mm mic input that you need) and stick it in your shirt pocket, or mount the recorder to the camera.

  9. Good comparison! Due to your review I bought the MKE-400.
    Thank you for your test, Sam
    Pascal, Switzerland

  10. Sam, thank you!
    I appreciate your tests of plug n play mics for the GH2.
    …sometimes run n gun IS all you can do & your stamp of approval means a lot to many of us.
    Thanks again,
    bubba

  11. Hi Sam, great reviews,

    I recently bought a Canon 60D and my budget is limited and I want to get the best possible audio for location. I’ve looked at dozens of shout outs. I noticed some guys prefer to record audio into Zooms and also grab a backup into the camera.

    Is there much quality difference between a dedicated unit like a Zoom compared to recording into the camera?

    I’ve had my eye on getting a Rode VMP but in your studio test I liked the MKE 400 better even though the VMP does have more bass. The MKE 400 seems to reject room noise a little better.

    After seeing your wind test though all these little shotguns fall short.

    Going for pro field gear is out of my range at the moment so some creative thinking is needed. I like simple and straight into the camera would be ideal but if adding a zoom h4 will give better audio it might be worth the extra dollars.

    What do you think?

  12. Hi Paul,

    You can get better sounding audio with a portable digital recorder (like the Zoom H4n) than you can with a DSLR camera because you can set the recorder to create a higher-resolution file. I always set my recorders to make 48kHz 24-bit WAV files, and it works out nicely. But, you have to keep in mind that the most important thing is how you use this equipment. If you record into a Zoom H4n and you don’t have the levels adjusted properly, then you’ll end up with sub-par audio.

    I too like the simplicity of just recording directly into the camera. Even though a high-rez audio file from a portable digital recorder sounds better than what you get into the camera, that doesn’t mean that the camera audio won’t sound good. You can get really decent quality sound going directly into your camera, you just have to be a little more careful when you’re working.

    I like that your instinct is to go with some “creative thinking” to get good sound on a limited budget. Creative thinking and active concern for your sound as you shoot will get the job done. I don’t think you need to rush out and buy a portable digital recorder first. Get the shotgun you like the most (check out the new On-Camera Mic Shootout post I recently published to help you decide), and buy a boompole and an extension cable for the mic. Getting the mic as close as possible to the person speaking is of utmost importance.

    A very important thing that you need to do when you’re recording directly into your camera is to play back a shot in your camera immediately after you shoot it to verify that the mic was connected properly. DSLR cameras don’t have headphone output jacks. It’s not ideal, but by playing back a clip and turning your camera’s built-in speaker all the way up, you can at very least determine that the sound is present. I’ve had problems in the past where I shot something, and it turned out that the mic wasn’t properly connected. I could see the on-screen audio meters on my camera, and they looked fine during shooting, but later I discovered that the recorded sound what just a bunch of noise. You can’t rely on audio meters for everything. You have to give it a listen.

    Thanks for reading my blog!

    Sam

  13. Hi Sam,

    I’ve got a pair of questions. Having not seen these mics personally yet, I was wondering which you thought to be better for the style of shooting I do. I often shoot concerts, which means I’m at the front of the stage with LOTS of sound coming at me, but sometimes i’m in a photo pit and sometimes I’m in a moshpit.
    Will either of these mics have problems with too much sound? (or which can deal with more?)

    I currently shoot with a Sennheiser MKE300 and have been happy with it (for comparison: it’s longer then either of these, and there is no stabilization system). Lately I’ve been getting more & more (cell phone?) interference on my audio tracks. Do you think this has something to do with the Microphone itself? (damaged wire or receiver???) or on my camera’s end? (Nikon D7000)

    Thanks a lot!

  14. Hello Sam! Thank you very much for this information! I am a French student in film. I just graduated, and am going to China to shoot a documentary film. I have the canon 60D, and I just bought the rode video mic pro….. but think of changing it for the Sennheiser MKE400….. I need something that will allow me to shoot both interviews, and concerts, shows, as I will follow a group of artists making shows there. I really don’t know which mic is better for that, which one will have less saturation for loud shows, and what you would advise me, as I have no experience. I did tests today, but have no sound at all, as I didnt put the battery in! Isn’t it a more common battery the AAA in the sennheiser? (and a bit cheaper?)…. Which mic would you advise me, for something at the same time quite professional and able to be used in a wider range of situations?

    I am looking forward to hearing from you, you would really help me a lot!

    Best regards,
    Eliana

  15. Sam – really good article, video. the fact that you don’t sound like philip bloom (good as he is), is great. You focus on things that matter and look at the audio process in a practical way that is all your own. I read your stuff not to figure out who has the better spec., but to expose myself to the way you think. How many blogs offer that? Keep it up. Thanks.

  16. Great article, I remember reading the US Army had ordered Canon 5D MKII kits – like 5000 x cameras + 5000 x MKE400 mics, for deployment in iraq/afgan.
    They chose the Senn over the original Rode Video Mic (the “Pro”) version wasn’t out at the time.
    I also know Getty here in the UK use the Senn too, with most of their kids, they’re a pretty low tec stock shop, most of the video on their site is 5dmk2/3.
    PersonallyI I preferred the Rode Videomic Pro but they’re both okay.

  17. Hello there, You’ve done an incredible job. I’ll certainly digg it and
    in my view suggest to my friends. I’m sure they’ll
    be benefited from this site.

  18. Hi, Sam. Thanks for the information about these two mics. I’ve seen in one of your replies above which states that one can attach the mic on a boompole. Does it really matter that much on the audio (Are there significant differences between camera mounted and boom mounted?) I’m still a student and I like filming so I’m trying to get the best price for an external shotgun mic. At first I’ve been considering the rode videomic, because it’s cheaper than videmic pro. I want to know if the videomic pro and mke 400 have really significant difference on quality than the videomic or not. If yes, then I will have to reconsider my choise over and over again. Regards

  19. Hi Bob. The big improvement you get when you put a shotgun on a boompole is that you can physically position the microphone closer to the sound source. This is one of the most important basic rules in audio-for-video. If the mic is more than 3 feet away, you footage will likely sound amateur. The differences between the VideoMic, VideoMic Pro and MKE 400 are minimal. Get the one that you get the best price on, and put the extra money into a boompole and an extension cable.

  20. Undeniably believe that which you stated. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the internet
    the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely
    get irked while people consider worries that they just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  21. I like to use the zoom h2n,the problem I see is that when your are handling the camera the mic gets all this sounds, so even using shock mount :/

  22. Hey Sam, thanks for the information. If I may, I have a question that I have been needing to ask that is way overdue. It’s a huge concern for me but I am unable to acquire any answers on this.

    I am pretty positive I am doing everything right in terms of hooking up the mics. On my D300S I had a microphone, transmitter and receiver which I used for over a year. It was a good system but it always had a constant distortion in the background, no matter what was going on outside of the camera. It was almost like it was an inherent quality of the mic. So in the end, there was never ever a ‘silent’ decibel because of this reverberation. This distortion was still apparent when using the MKE 400.

    Now, I just purchased a D800. I tested the MKE 400 thinking this constant sound would go away and give me that cinematic sound I was expecting. Sadly, it is still there!

    Would you happen to know of any ideas as to fix this? Is it a firmware issue?

    Thank you, Sam.

    Joe

  23. I am also deciding between both mics.
    At the moment I lean to the smaller mics (Sennheiser).
    If a piece of equipment is to big or to heavy, then I leave it at home :-)

    Thanks again for sharing!

  24. I have the seinnheiser mke 400 and i’st attached to a rebel t4i and for some reason i just have a lot of noise overall, i have tried all the options but still get the hissing noise. If you have any tips to reduce the hissing sound from the mke 400 I would greatly appreciate it.

  25. Sam, a few years have gone by since you did this test. They say hindsight is 20/20; I’m wondering if you have gained additional clarity on these mics since. Over time, does the Rode videomic pro’s +20dB gain and its alleged ability to pick up less peripheral and camera noise than the Senn justify its larger bulk and size? (i’m shoot with a 5Dmii for a little while longer and so can make use of the Rode’s dB gain.)

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