Can You Hear Me Now? a Microphone Buyer’s Guide

As a videographer you can have sound shooting principles and incredible editing skills but if the audio stinks so will the video. There are lots of things to consider when shopping for a mic. Will the shoot take place outside with noisy traffic or children playing in the background, or in a busy mall or quiet studio? Whatever the environment capturing good clean audio depends on the tools you choose.

As you may know, nearly all video cameras have attached or embedded microphones. But these mics may not give you the results you’re looking for. They are limited in their ability to channel captured sound while cutting out unwanted sounds nearby. That’s why an external microphone is your best choice if you hope to capture great sound.

What Does Your Project Call For?

Your project will dictate the type of external mic you’ll need. If you’re shooting talent you might want to use a wireless lavaliere or handheld microphone. Wireless mics give your talent the opportunity to move without being tethered by a cable. Wireless microphones transmit UHF or VHF or FM or AM radio waves to a receiver attached to your camera. This allows the wireless transmitter in the mic to talk directly to the receiver on the camera.

Here’s where the challenge comes in. Your frequencies can pick up external radio waves causing an unwanted hiss or noise in your video. To reduce the chance of interference, consider investing in UHF or VHF wireless mics, because they usually give you more channels to choose from and a clearer signal compared to AM or FM mics.

Let’s Get Wired Up!

Wired mics connect directly to the camera with a cable. These reduce the possibility of outside interference tremendously because of the direct connection. But they can also limit your talent’s mobility and cause tripping concerns. When wireless mics become a noisy frequency problem it’s good to get wired up.

The XLR Factor

There are two types of external microphones to consider, balanced and unbalanced. Balanced microphones are designed to reduce unwanted noise. Balanced mics are usually attached to professional or prosumer video cameras with a cable or wireless receiver. These have what are called XLR outputs and inputs. XLR connectors are pretty easy to recognize. They have three pronged plugs and sockets. This multi-wire design allows these cables to carry a cleaner signal over much longer distances than unbalanced cables can achieve. They can do this because unwanted electromagnetic noise will have equal voltage in both wires which amplifiers can recognize and reject leaving you with a clear audio signal. In addition, if the two wires in the cable use opposite polarities, balanced cables can also eliminate much of the crosstalk from nearby cables.

Unbalanced Microphones

Unbalanced microphones can get the job done but are limited in their ability. They’re often consumer type mics that can be connected to cameras using a 1/8-inch plug. Trying to get clean audio using an unbalanced mic is sometimes tricky. You may have the challenge of hearing an unwanted hum or hiss in your video. Keep in mind that most consumer camcorders only accept unbalanced microphones. However, they can still be effective if used properly and you monitor your sound with headphones.

More Things to Consider…

There are five major microphone groups; Condenser, dynamic, electret-condenser, ribbon and PMZ mics. Each of these microphone groups are powered by battery, phantom power charge, sound waves or a combination.

Condenser and Electret Microphones

Condenser microphones are great for vocals and voice-overs. They offer a rich professional sound to the human voice. However, condenser microphones need either batteries or a phantom power source to work. Because these mics need an external boost, prepare to spend a little extra cash for power source accessories.

ADK’s A6 Condenser Microphone was created specifically for vocals or acoustic instruments. This mic can also be used in the studio or during live performances. Whatever your condenser needs are, there is a wide field of options to choose from.

Electret condenser microphones are similar to condenser microphones. The difference is they do not need batteries or a power supply. These microphones are usually less expensive and complicated than a condenser mic system.

One of Sony’s stereo electret microphones is the ECM-DS70P. Sony says their small mic has the ability to record on digital media such as MiniDisc, DAT and NT recorders. At $75 this mic should fit any tight budget.

Costs: Condenser and Electret mics range in price from a couple of hundred dollars to more than a thousand dollars. It all depends on your needs and budget.

Dynamic Mics

Dynamic microphones have similar attributes as their condenser cousins but without the help of batteries or phantom voltage. Dynamic mics capture sound wave vibrations to create their own power for sound output. They can also be much more cost effective compared to Condenser or Electret Microphones.

Audio-Technica’s AE4100 cardioid dynamic handheld microphone is an example of a mic that can also be used on stage during live performances. Audio-Technica claims its rugged construction can also stand up to the rigors of the busy videographer on the go. The AE4100 costs about $189.

Costs: The price ranges for dynamic mics are all over the board. Some are as low as $20 and as high as a few hundred dollars.

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon microphones have been around since before the golden age of radio in the 1940s. They do not require batteries or a phantom boost. They create their own power when sound waves go through the mesh screen and the ribbon type material inside vibrates. They are frequently used in studios for singing or voice-overs or on stage for live performances.

Shure makes a ribbon microphone model called the KSM313. Shure describes it as one of their premium microphone products. Costing around $1,295 you may have to set aside a few extra pennies for this one but it may be worth it depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Costs: Most ribbon microphones vary in price from a couple of hundred to close to $2,000.


PZMs or pressure zone microphones are also condenser type mics. They’re flat and perform best on a flat surface such as a table. They could be perfect for recording a meeting in a conference room.

Costs: PZMs vary in price from around 70 bucks to more than one thousand dollars.

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