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Dialogue microphones for indoors and outdoors recording
  • I'm looking to upgrade my current mic selection for recording an actor's dialogue on location. What mics and patterns do you folks use and are you happy with the results? I use a Sennheiser-ME66 Super-Cardioid Shotgun Microphone for most of my audio - especially sound effects and Foley. However, I'd prefer to find something better suited for recording actors dialogue. Any tips?

  • 33 Replies sorted by
  • I've been using the MKH416 for everything and just ordered some cardioid pattern mics as the shotguns will pick up a lot of reverb indoors that is then very difficult to remove in post. I have ordered a pair of Oktava MK-012 which are quite popular for recording dialogue indoors in the indie world.

  • Spacewig, thanks for the info! I'm going to check those out.

  • A good Sony ECM 55b lapel mic and zoom H2 set to mono. It's near impossible to not get good dialogue with industry standard sony mics. I am usually only ever recording one person at a time, but for more actors put one on each of your actors and mix in post. These mics are bomb proof and can be had for really cheap on ebay

  • AT 4073a on a boom. Relatively high output so some preamps may need a pad with them (e.g they were too hot for my old DAP1 DAT recorder). If on-cam to a GH2 / camcorder, Rode videomic. If hiring and have to rent, whatever the sound person is most comfortable and experienced with, hopefully Schoeps! I avoid lav mics unless no other choice- just personally don't like the sound. In the end placement, boom op, and room matter more than the mic.

  • If you want a super natural sound, with just a hint of warmth, I like the Sennheiser MKH 40. Very light, very quiet, very good. If you want reach, plus a very clear sound, I like the Schoeps MK41, and that's what a lot of ppl use.

    The new Zoom H2N is the king of the budget mics, with lots of very good mics, lightweight, etc, etc. Plus, it has ms, which if you have a really good software decoder allows you to really fine tune the pickup pattern. Do not underestimate the power of ms--you can move the mic without moving it, in post. I mean, everyone should own one of these even if you do not use it.

    If you want a rich, chocolatey sound, there are any number of ribbon mics, but these generally don't have a lot of output, they are great if you are close to the source. I like the Coles 4040, but there are a bunch of budget ones that sound OK, like the Stellar models that imitate the old B&O designs. Everyone has their favorite ribbon, and they all claim they sound just as good as mics that they don't sound just as good as.

    I used to always reach for the MK41s first for dialogue, but now I use the MKH 40s first--they are just a touch warmer, and when I hear dialogue recorded, it is always too dry and clinical for my tastes, even by the top production houses. Just sort of an undertone of kitty litter on everything. Ugh.

    The Oktava MK-012s that spacewig mentioned are fine. The cardioid is better sounding than the hyper for just about anything--half of them are wired the wrong way, so you have to mark the polarity on the outside of each mic or rewire them.

  • One thing I forgot to mention is that a low-noise preamp is essential as you'll normally have to apply compression and gain in post which means amplifying your microphone and preamp's self noise.

  • @drdave Is the wiring still an issue with the new Oktava's?

  • @spacewig which set of MK-012 you ordered? There's all kinds of sets MSP2, MSP4 and MSP6... Which set you recommend for me? I have already SD MixPre so I don't need preamp stuff.

  • @solarwnz are you shure it's a MK-66 and not a ME-66? you are using? I own the ME-66 too and I am very happy about it and I am also looking for a better mic for indoor interviews and general sound recording. I was thinking about the me-64 which would match to the K6 capsule I already own. Any experience about the ME-64?

  • @tonalt I ordered the set with all 3 capsules but that's because I will probably be using them for purposes other than dialogue. According to drdave's post above it would appear that the cardioid version sounds the best but I cannot offer an opinon as I haven't received mine yet.

    Another option might be the Superlux S241. I have the S502 ORTF mic for ambient recordings which sounds great and costs around 125€. The S241 is under 90€. I also ordered the HD669 closed headphone for monitoring since they are supposed to be flat and sell for ~ 30€ which is ridiculously inexpensive for good cans.

  • The Oktava small diaphragm omni capsule is a very good capsule, and has enough bass extension to record for example certain sound effects like a large bus or a musical instrument (double bass, organ) with low frequencies. The cardioid is presumably where they put their design effort, it has enough rejection to make it useful, while retaining a slightly warm, almost tube like sound. They hyper I tried sounded like a cardioid with more sound insulation, so a bit more cramped in the sound but OK. The Schoeps MK 41 is way, way better than the Oktava hypercardioid.

    Compared to the Sennheiser MKH 40, the Oktava sounds a bit smaller, with less presence and seems a bit "flat", like flat hair, but it is a fine mic. The Sennheiser is basically dead silent with high output, so that is very cool.

    Everyone looks for the magic budget mic that will sound as good as an expensive mic, but there really isn't one. The Elaton (Elation) mics come pretty close but they are hard to find and overpriced. The Zoom H2N comes pretty close, as does the Studio Projects B1. The B1 is too heavy to boom--a lot of these cheap mics come in big, heavy cases that not only are a pain to work with but add an unpleasant ring to the sound--you have to add electrical grade silicon to dampen the case. Then there is the Oktava--decent, but not brilliant.

    @spacewig most of the newer one are wired backwards, but despite what people tell you, you have to check each one. I have tested a bunch of these, because you can mod the electronics, and of the forty or so I have looked at half are one way and half are the other way. The newer ones have the pins clearly miked on the circuit board, so just take a look, or plug two mics in and see if they cancel. If you take a backwards one and use it with a normally wired mic, the sounds will cancel each other out, but with a modern DAW you can flip the phase in post. I would bet that many people who own these mics have random problems that are phase related. You can just rewire them or simply carefully mark the backwards ones with a label.

  • I'm using the Octava MK012 and it sounds great. I used the MK012 in HyperCardioid mode recording to an H4n on a Gitso boom to film our 30 minute feature Ghost Girl. For the most part I was very happy with the combination. Great sound. I would have liked a little more selectivity, focus whatever since I found myself getting the mic into frame too often -- especially indoors. If I strayed too far out of frame I'd start picking up all of the micro-ambiance of voices reflecting off of walls. Incredibly sensitive outdoors and often had to wait for planes, trains and children to pass by before we shot. One time there were two people having an animated conversation on the price of some pizza and it took me a minute to find out it was a block away. Amazing.

  • Thanks for all the responses and info guys! Especially DrDave and Spacewig! I really appreciate the descriptions of each mic's audio fidelity. That really helps!

    @peaceonearth - Yeah, I think that was a typo on my part. Fixed. I don't have the 64. I find that using the ME-66 shotgun for interior dialogue is, as Spacewig articulated, problematic because of the reverb. This is why I want a pattern that allows for a more focused cone while reducing pickup of reverb and reflections.

    Of course there really is no microphone that is perfect for every situation. You really need to do tests in the area you plan on recording in and control your sound environment as much as possible with re-positioning your talent, microphone placement, acoustic shields (thick blankets hung behind a camera or off camera on the side of your actors help a lot but can really get in the way of lights) and using a good mixer too.

    Here are most of the suggested mics listed in this thread (I hope I'm not breaking any rules by posting store links. If so I will remove them. I just thought it would give a general idea of price and specs):

    1: Sennheiser MKH-416 - Short Shotgun Interference Tube Mic - $999.00

    2: Sennheiser MKH 40 Microphone - $1200.00

    3: Oktava MK-012-01 Film Edition Condenser Microphone with Hypercardioid Capsule - $355.00

    4: Audio-Technica AT4073A - Line/Gradient Shotgun Condenser Capacitor Microphone - $800.00 - $1000.00

    5: Superlux S241/U Over head Condenser SM81 - $125.00

    6: Zoom H2n Handy Recorder Portable Digital Audio Recorder - $179.00

    I would love to buy Sennheiser MKH 40 Microphone! But my budget doesn't allow for it at the moment. The Oktava MK-012 appears to be a reasonable alternative. I'm going to see if I can get my hands on one and test it.

    I'm curious about any recording anecdotes or lessons you guys have. When recording actors in various environments what has worked for you in terms of set up and gear and what hasn't? If you have a story or tip to share, please do!

  • MKH 40 can generate a lot of handling noise as does the MKH50 especially if you are beginning your journey of swinging a boom - the MKH60 is a lot more forgiving - all great mics - in my pole swinging days I preferred these over the 416 - quieter and less interference prone, but like anything, its down to personal choice - hire them and have a listen they're only a few $ a day.

  • @DrDave Thanks for the heads up regarding the Okatava. I'll post an update when I Receive them.

    For the purposes of this discussion, I believe the OP is enquiring about mics to record production dialogue so I'm not sure I would recommend ribbons, large diaphragms or other 'studio' mics. Also, it goes without saying that the Schoeps mk41, a $2000 mic that's at the top of its class, is probably going to sound better than a $175 microphone. The point is that for the price the Oktava apparently offers very good/usable results - good enough for Ric Viers to recommend it in his book The Location Recording Bible.

  • I know I prefer one minus bumps, clunks, wind-noise and RF interference in the mix - but that also comes down to the operator equally as much as the mic. Getting the thing close enough without having to ask for flags or light readjustment every scene is a bit of an art - a £2000 mic 5 feet away will perfectly capture most of the room and none of the dials, whereas a good operator with a $99 mic trumps the above if he can get a foot away.I'm just glad the OP hasn't just plumped for the dreaded personal mic route for "ease of use" - least he's trying to get a mic on it :)

  • I think the Oktava is OK, it is really OK. I gutted out the caps on the board and so on, and it was a bit better. I replaced the capsule with one I tweaked out of mylar myself, and it sounds even better, but you know, I never use this mic. I'm not saying it is bad, it isn't, it just is a bit flat, or colorless. Sometimes that is a good thing. Imagine you had a lens, like a Rokkor 35/2.8, that was good. Good color, well built, but kinda soft wide open and not great contrast. Kinda "meh". Well you could take some great video with that lens. But I bet you would trade it after a while.

    I personally wouldn't go by what is in books for audio, I don't know any good engineers who have written books. I'm not saying this book is or isn't something, it is just that the "book" on how do do something is kind of an antiquated concept. It can't ever compare to the internet.

    But if it says in the book, watch out, a lot (really a lot) of these Oktavas are fakes and even some of the non fakes are wired backwards, well, at least he (or she) looked inside the mic :) That's more than most people do. If it doesn't say that, well, makes you wonder.

    Just about everything anyone would want to know about audio is in discussion groups. Just takes some digging.

    Yes, the Schoeps are expensive (I guess I paid $600 per mic ummmm how old am I) but they last forever, and the factory will reskin them perfect after 20 years if you need it. If you look around, you can get an MKH 40 for $1100, and, ruh roh, there are some fakes of these as well. That is a total steal for a really world class mic. I never noticed handling noise on mine, but I have pretty good shock mounts. Would not surprise me if it picked up some sound from handling, owing to its sensitivity. Before you buy a high end mic, try it out. Otherwise, you may be stuck.

    So why do I often use cardioids instead of supers or hypers? The tail. Hypers have a tail that picks up reflections, and even if this is slight it adds some harshness to the sound. In a really big hall or venue, if the back end is pointed into space, hey, sounds great, and they have more reach. In a smaller studio, they are still good, but the tail is always there in the sound. This can be good if there are no reflections--sound very real and not "closed off".

  • Sorry for the delay in responding. I've been working a lot lately.

    @Spacewig, You nailed it! I'm looking for good mics for production dialogue. Not studio recording as of now.

    @soundgh2, "I'm just glad the OP hasn't just plumped for the dreaded personal mic route for "ease of use" - least he's trying to get a mic on it". I'm not sure what you mean here. Are you saying that I am avoiding a Lav mic setup? If so, you're right! I much prefer a boomed mic situation.

    @DrDave, Again, very helpful information - especially your description about the hyper's tail reflections! Occasionally I'll see sound guys using cardioid dynamic mics for booming to reduce the ambient noise capture. I was looking for something like that. But your recommendations are intriguing to me. My next move is to rent and test them.

    I also want to add that I agree with you about discussion groups vs. specialty how-to books. There is so much more dynamism with an actual discussion. You can't have a dialogue with a how-to book. Though they do contain good info from time to time. But if you have a follow up question you're totally out of luck. This is why I love these types of forums! Thanks again everyone!

  • BTW $355 is a bit steep for an Oktava cardioid. You can hunt around for one on eBay, but you have to learn how to spot fakes, not too hard, or you can buy a modded one, with premium electronics from Joly for $299 and up

    And here is a new one shipped for ~$230

    I have had Joly mod two mics for me, his work is excellent, the other company I have not purchased from. The mod gives you a very slight improvement in the sound, and maybe a little more bass extension. Subtle, but good. Main thing is, you have better parts inside the mic and he will clean up any soldering that looks iffy.

  • A hypercardiod will reject more offf-axis noise and ambience - As a mixer I prefer a tight clean dialogue track to work with as it offers more scope in post for rather than the room sound - the mixer will add and control that in the dub generally. Room tone, if required, can be recorded seperately to add the ambience of the actual location (if your 1st AD is in a good mood!) and the dialogue editor will chop the dials hard and fill the gaps with clean ambience for a controlled dialogue track for the mix.

  • Indoors: Scheops CMC641 (also heard good things about Sennheiser MKH50) Outdoors: Sanken CS3e (and there are plenty of other options too)

  • @soundgh2 yuppers, good nulls on some of those hypers, but most of the dialogue I hear in TV and movies, even the most expensive productions, sounds boxy and processed to me. I just don't think they do a good job-there is no silk in the sound. But you know, that's taste.

    Here's a documentary I did with cardioids and some subcardioids way in the back. It was an experiment to see if I could position the imaginary listener a little father back, so that the listener felt part of the room. So there is more stereo imaging than is usual for dialog, and there is no proximity effect. The sound of the voices has a complex color, but of course you don't have the precise control like you do when it is close miked. No compression was used, so you could really amp it up if you wanted to, but then you lose some of the natural color. You could add some ambience to it, of course, but this unprocessed audio will give you a good idea of what MKH 40s sound like on dialog. Mics were 3-4 feet away, and level with the speakers.

    What I'm looking for in this experiment, is the greatest range of emotional clarity, combined with the effect that moving the mics far away has on the people talking, that is, they aren't self conscious as they might be with a lot of gear up close. Next time I might add a center mic just to see if it is more seamless.

    Here is a pro interview with Al Gore

    So to me the "pro" interview sounds compressed, so there is no emotional range to what is an emotional topic, and the audio sounds harsh and artificial.

    Here is a show (Charlie Rose) that just does interviews. I figure this was done using hypers and compression, etc, etc, notice that the range of the voices is compressed and the colors are monochromatic. They do a good job of isolating the voice, but the color disappears.

    Of course youtube is not renowned for their sound.......

  • Hi all, This is definitely an important and interesting topic. A friend of mine has asked me to recommend to him a boomed audio kit for around £1200 ($2000) for one short and one low-budget feature film that he wants to go out and shoot (it's a psychological thriller), and I'm probably the last person fit to provide him with sufficient audio advice. So I'm posting here in hopes that you could correct my recommendations or add your own recommendations:

    • Mic for external dialogues: Rode NTG2 (or Sennheiser MKH416 if he can stretch his budget)

    • Mic for internal dialogues, ADR and Foley: Oktava MK-012 with Joly mod (although I have no clue which particular model of MK-012 would be best for such purposes). Alternatively, an Elation KM201

    • Recorder: Roland R-26 (one of the reasons I would like these even for myself is because they have level wheels, thus replacing the need for a mixer)

    • Rode Blimp and Boom pole.

    • Headphones: Sony MDR 7506

    • Mixer/preamp: I still don't know what to recommend. Would he even need one for such a setup?

  • Cheap lav into a Zoom H1 works for me outdoors. Shot last weekend. If there's anything missing over 2kHz forgive me, my hearing cuts out at 2.2kHz, good for ignoring the missus tho. Camera was GH1 @720p60 and 720p30 LPowell settings.

  • And of course after all that effort on set we replace it with ADR In 99% of films lol

    @Rambo lol wish I had that filter sometimes with mine too :)