Can You Hear The Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Mics?

Sennheiser recently sent me six different microphones from $49 up to $999. Does spending more money really get you better audio quality? You be the judge.

1. Sennheiser XS Lav Mobile: $49

This mic comes with a 1/8 headphone jack or USB-C. It's a quick, cheap, wired lav that could be used with a smartphone, computer, or directly into a camera. 

2. Sennheiser XSW-D LAVALIER: $379

This is a wireless lav system that is incredibly easy to operate. Instead of complicated menus and channels, you simply turn the receiver and transmitter on, and they automatically start working. 

3. Sennheiser Pro Audio MKE200: $99

This little microphone can be paired with a smartphone or camera. It doesn't have any buttons or an internal battery. Simply plug it in, and it will work. 

4. Sennhesier Professional MKE 400: $199

The MKE 400 is a shotgun mic made to mount on top of a camera. It has a built-in battery, high-pass filter, gain switch, and headphone output for monitoring. 

5. Sennheiser MKE 600: $350

The MKE 600 is similar to the 400 in that it has an internal battery, but it also has an XLR jack on the back, giving you the option to use it on top of a camera with its own battery or plugged in with phantom power. 

6. Sennheiser MKH 416: $999

The 416 is one of the most well-known shotgun mics in the world. It has no fancy features. You simply plug it in with an XLR cable to capture world-class audio. 

Conclusion

Watch the video above to listen to each microphone side by side, but here is my opinion: The XS Lav mobile sounded really bad, especially when you compare it to the wireless lav. The XSW lav system sounded really nice, with a pleasing flat profile. The MKE sounds brighter than the lavs but sounds noticeably worse than the MKE 400. To my ears, the 400 and 600 sounded almost identical. Surprisingly, when I compared the 400 and 600 to the MKH 416 in my boomy, concrete room, I preferred the cheaper mics. Keeping price in mind, the clear winner of this test for me was the $199 MKE 400

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6 Comments
Mark English's picture

Good test. I'm a fan of the Sennheiser product in general. Mics 4,5 and 6 are defo good enough for anything i do and I'd be delighted with any of them but budget constraints will have me going for the 400 though to my ear 5 and 6 just had the edge...

Ivor Rackham's picture

Interesting article, Lee. It persuaded me what I should buy next.

Deleted Account's picture

Conclusion, Sennheiser are awesome:)

I use a pair of HD250bt for teams calls and casual music listening, they are like a cheap wireless version of the seminal HD-25 DJ headphone (which i also own, and have the same pair for 11 years)... the sound quality is great and they connect with ease.

John Meade's picture

You're absolutely spot on about the bass on the 416 mic. It's one of the two go-to mics for people who do voiceover work. The other is the Neumann TLM 103. The Sennheiser can be worked super close for a really rich sound. It's best to use it in a quiet studio or booth. But for open space audio, it's probably in someone's financial interest to go for one of the lesser expensive models.

Ausias March's picture

Lee, I think you made a mistake in the video (either in the labeling or choosing the audio clips).

When you compare the MKE 400 vs MKE 600 on 4:10, you play audio clips 5 & 6. But before and after, MKE 400 is clip 4, and MKE 600 is clip 5, so it seems you are comparing the wrong audio clips.

Personally, I liked 2, 4 & 5 in the blind test.