added 26 February 2004
Comparative Demonstration of the Sennheiser ME66 and MKH416
Shotgun Microphones by Ken Tanaka
Many, if not most, of us focus our attention exclusively towards imaging when we begin exploring videography. Audio quality is often an afterthought for beginners. As we become more serious with our work, and after a few aurally painful experiences, we recognize the need to devote more attention and expense to the audio portion of our productions.
During the past few years the Sennheiser ME66 shotgun microphone has become one of the most common “first good microphones” for videographers. Although not inexpensive at a list price of $565 US (street price: $465 US) the ME66 with its required K6 power module is within reasonable, or at least plausible, reach of many budgets and produces very good results.
Ultimately the same quest for improvement may drive some ME66 owners to investigate the next level of pro microphones. Within the Sennheiser brand the next logical step would be the MHK416 shotgun microphone. With a list price of $1,275 US (street price: $1,000 US) the MKH416 may seem to be quite a tall “logical step”. But a survey quickly reveals that this is a fair and common cost of entry to the next level of shotgun microphone quality among comparable manufacturers’ products.
So What Does $1,000 Buy Me?
It’s a natural consumer trait, particularly in technical gear, to scrutinize quantitative differences when considering an upgrade. Is the upgrade bigger, smaller, faster, brighter, etc.? But when it comes to microphones, specifications tell only a small portion of the story. Your ears tell the rest. So although I provide comparative manufacturer’s specifications at the end of this article this is not a tech spec shoot-out. Indeed, not being an audio technician I would not be qualified to write such a piece. This article is presented mainly as an opportunity for you to just listen to each microphone do its job side-by-side in identical settings.
I made every effort to create the following demonstration clips to represent the true performance of each microphone in identical settings. To record each set of clips I mounted the mics to a floor-standing boom, positioning them at approximately the same distance and and in a similar attitude that a boom operator would apply to record a single voice subject.
Each mic was directly cabled to a Panasonic AG-DVX100A camera via identical 6′ lengths of XLR cabling, each mic connecting to a separate audio channel of that camera. Due to the relatively close range to subject I turned each audio channel of the camera down 1-tic below their midpoints. Both of these mics are exquisitely sensitive.
Both mics used 48v phantom power supplied by the camera. (Note that the MKH416 can only use phantom power. The ME66 can use either phantom or battery power through the K6 module.)
Each clip is approximately 29 secs. in length and is presented as an uncompressed 48kHz Quicktime file. The clips were extracted directly from the DVX100A’s tape with absolutely no manipulations applied to them.
The “Noisy” Clips
These were recorded in a large, carpeted room. An aquarium is situated approximately 12 feet directly behind the microphones and you will be able to hear the soft whirring of its pumps. The microphones were positioned approximately 4′ 6″ (straight-line distance) from the subject and were pointed downward at approximately 45 degrees. These are Apple QuickTime .MOV files.
The “Quiet” Clips
These were recorded in a smaller carpeted room featuring much upholstered furnishings, thus deadening the room’s resonance. In these recordings the mics were positioned approximately 4′ (straight-line distance) from the subject and were also pointed downward at 45-50 degrees. There was no mechanical equipment operating in this room. Again, these are Apple QuickTime .MOV files.
Is A $1,000 Mic Worth It?
This question is the heart of the issue, isn’t it? To this end I will leave it to you to formulate your own value assessment.
The Sennheiser ME66 and MKH416 are both very good shotgun microphones. In fairness, the MKH416 actually has a field pattern more similar to the ME67. After using an ME66 and ME67 for quite some time I had become very accustomed to their characteristics. The MKH416 was a very different instrument in ways not apparent from the demonstration clips. As you may be able to tell from the clips it produced a richer and more natural sound than the ME66. But, to coin a phrase used by fellow DVInfo member Jacques Mersereau, the MKH416 acts like a “tractor beam” for voices. I can also say that the MKH416 seemed completely unfazed by atmospheric variations. While using it outdoors over a one month period, for example, mine was subjected to heat, high humidity and cold windy conditions. Its performance was completely consistent (with the same cast’s voices) over that period.
Whether or not the significant expense of a Sennheiser MKH416, or a similar higher-end mic, is “worth it” to you is a question only you can answer. Certainly it depends to a great degree on the type of work that you do and on your budget. If you live in an urban area and have access to equipment rentals you may find it easy to rent such mics as needed for particular projects rather than purchasing them outright. But I hope that this demonstration has at least provided you with an accurate indication of the aural differences between the Sennheiser ME66 and the MKH416.
Enjoy your exploration!
Please direct questions to the DV Info Net Community Forums.