Have you ever wondered what microphone sounds best with your voice? At Podcast Movement 2017 in Anaheim, California, I was invited to work at the Podcast Engineering School booth where we set up 10 different microphones, all in a row, so people could sit down and try each one.
We recorded the mic test and then emailed the mp3 file to each person so they could listen to the recording later in a quieter environment. I did the test multiple times myself and was pleasantly surprised how some of the lower priced mics sounded. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a decent microphone, especially if you’re just getting started and may not have the budget for a really high-end mic. Here’s a list of all the mics we tried:
Behringer XM1800s $39 (3-Pack) Yes, there are 3 mics in a handy carrying case.
AKG c1000s $199 Condenser microphone which requires Phantom power or two AA batteries.
Audio-Technica ATR 2100 $64.59 This mic is popular with podcasters and is both USB and XLR compatible.
Sennheiser E835 $99.95
Audio-Technica BP40 $349
Blue Yeti Pro $249 This mic is also USB and XLR compatible.
Blue Spark $199
Electro-Voice RE320 $299
Electro-Voice RE20 $449 Has traditionally been used as a radio DJ mic.
Shure SM7B $399 This vocal mic was preferred by Michael Jackson and he used it on the Thriller album.
Heil PR40 $308 Another popular mic in the podcasting community.
I personally had never tried the Audio-Technica ATR 2100 and was always curious. It’s a decent entry level mic and people like that it is USB. Even the Behringer XM1800s mics weren’t bad and you get a 3-pack and a carrying case! So which mic is the best? Well, like choosing a wine, you just have to decide for yourself, which one you like. Every voice is unique and what works for one person doesn’t always work for someone else. None of these mics were terrible but there were differences. I listened to over a hundred people try these mics and one size does not fit all. Before you purchase a microphone, try it first and make sure you like how it sounds. If you can, try multiple mics so you have a comparison. Most music equipment stores have a mic booth where you can try before you buy. Happy recording!
Choosing the right headphones for location sound recording is very important. You want a flat frequency response from your headphones so no frequencies are boosted or cut unnecessarily. When recording, you want to trust that the sound your hearing is the sound that’s actually being recorded. That’s why headphones designed for listening to music are not the best choice. Many brands boost the low frequencies for more bass response and are great when listening to music but not so much when you’re trying to record accurate location sound. I’ve used a variety of headphones over the years primarily of the studio variety like the Sennheiser HD280 Pros, Sony MDR 7506 and AKG K 240s.
I recently picked up a pair of Sennheiser HD-25 PLUS headphones for doing location recording. The first thing you notice is the split headband. I don’t know how many times I’ve been on set and bent down to pick something up or looked up at something and my headphones started to slide off my head. The HD-25s are designed to be opened up so they fit securely on your head and won’t fall off.
The next feature is the flip away ear cup that can be moved off your ear when you need to listen to someone next to you or other sounds in the environment. Of course, you want to have ear cups that cover your ear to block out ambient sounds and these do just that. The PLUS version comes with an additional set of soft velour ear pads that can be easily switched out with the vinyl ones that come attached.
The PLUS version of the HD-25 headphones include a 10 foot coiled cable and a 5 foot straight cable. If you’ve ever been on location recording and gotten your coiled headphone cable tangled up in a mic cable or other accessories, you’ll appreciate the 5 foot straight cable that eliminates that problem. I switched to the straight cable and velour ear pads when I started using mine.
Sennheiser HD-25 PLUS headphones are lightweight and can be worn for extended periods of time without ear fatigue. They include some handy options like the additional straight cable, extra earpads, 1/8” to ¼” adaptor and carry bag. But ultimately, how do they sound? With a frequency response of 16 Hz to 22kHz, and from my experience using them, these headphones give an accurate reproduction and sound great!
As a location sound recordist, it’s extremely helpful to know what kind of space you will be recording in before the production starts. Sometimes you’re included in that decision process and sometimes you’re not. Many times, you will show up on-location and you’ll have to figure it out then. When you walk into a room you have to determine how reverberant it is. People sometimes call it echo but it’s actually reverb, which is sound reflecting off the walls, floors and ceilings. Flat surfaces like tile and wood floors and high vaulted ceilings cause the sound to bounce around the space. If you clap your hands, you can hear the sound bounce around and trail off. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to remove the reverb after you record so you want to reduce it as much as possible on-location before filming begins.
In come the sound blankets! To help absorb the sound reflections and reduce the reverb in the room, hang up sound blankets around the set and put them on the floor around your actors. You can also use packing or moving blankets, which vary in thickness. The thicker the better. You probably won’t be able to remove all the reverb in the space but it will definitely help control it and make it less noticeable. If it’s a nice hard wood floor, it’s good to put down a blanket anyway to protect the surface from scratches as you set up the gear. Use a c-stand with a grip head and arm to hang sound blankets just off camera to create sound absorption around your actors.
Of course, every situation is different and you’ll have to adjust as needed especially if the camera is changing positions, you don’t want to see the blankets on-camera. It’s always good to put a lav mic on the talent AND use a boom mic to capture the actor’s dialog and then choose the best sounding options in post. Remember to get the boom mic as close to the actor’s mouth without being seen on-camera to help with reducing the reverb the mic picks up. The further the boom mic is away from the talent, the more room sound you will hear. It’s always good to have at least 4 or 5 sound blankets available on every shoot to control the sound and to protect flooring and furniture. Happy recording!