Equipment Versus Technique: How to Make Low-Cost Mics Sound Better Than Their Pro-Level Counterparts

Capturing good sound for your videos doesn’t have to be difficult, and it certainly doesn’t require the most expensive mics. What do you need? Solid technique.

If you’ve been wanting to learn what types of microphones work best in different locations and how to position them correctly, this primer from DPReview has you covered.

Another interesting part to this video compares expensive microphones that have been badly placed or misused for the situation to lower-priced options that are in prime placement. In short, it proves that the best equipment in the world can’t save the user from bad technique. The $1,450 Sanken CS–3e Mono Shotgun Microphone can have worse results than the $59 Rode VideoMicro if the care of placement is thrown out the window. Likewise, if a lav mic is pinned to the talent incorrectly, a $34.99 Aputure A.Lav has better sound quality than a $379 Sanken COS–11d. If you were winging it before because you figured the pro gear would pick up the slack, this could be a little eye-opening.

What are your own tips for using shotgun and lav mics? Have you had good results using cheaper audio gear? Leave a comment below.

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16 Comments

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Versatility is what makes a microphone for professional use and it's expensive.
A cheap mic may be working in 10% of the possible setup.
An expensive one, will save my ass when I absolutely need it..

Oh my.

"We're going to put the expensive microphone in totally the wrong place ... and then we're going to put the crappy, cheap microphone in the right place ... THEN we're going to show you how the crappy mic sounds better than the expensive mic.

Really helpful stuff ... stick to camera reviews.

Anonymous's picture

I'm a production sound mixer for more than 30 years. Don't listen to camera people (photographers, DOPs, videographers) when it comes to sound. They'll always try to tell you how unimportant sound is and that you can capture Hollywood-class sound using a $10 mic from the flea market.

They just don't get it. And they never will.

Lee Christiansen's picture

No they get it... Don't generalise.

And my background as a time served DoP for 20+ years working with other talented DoP's, directors, recordists etc would back that up.

Ryan Mense's picture

I’ll stick to listening to the people that don’t sound so smug, thanks.

Uh, the guy they worked with was a professional sound guy. Should I not listen to him as well?

Sound advice!!!

Lee Christiansen's picture

Bad technique will make anything look / sound bad... no news there.

But cheap / poor audio kit will never deliver the best, even when used properly.

Next - a review on how a Ferrari isn't as quick as a roller skate if you forget how to drive.

I think in this case, a lot of people don't know "how to drive" (aka how to use sound) beyond stick a mic on the camera and go. I thought it was a useful overview for a beginner to intermediate audience.

Alexandra Giamanco's picture

Ok; but how do I get good sound shooting from the birds eye in a high school auditorium, being far from the chorus group, and not having access to the sound board? Any suggestions for this scenario? The ambient noise of rude parents bringing babies into the auditorium and those who can't hold a door and let it slam behind them makes recording the sound terribly challenging. Help!

Lee Christiansen's picture

Simple answer to that scenario is... you can't.

Laws of physics come into play and you get what you get. Good sound is good technique and good kit, but there is no magic wand.

Alexandra Giamanco's picture

Well, I get that...Next step is to record the sound separate from the video & edit in Premiere, so there could be "magic', just not SOOC "magic".

Patrick Hall's picture

You don't necessarily need access to a sound board but you do need mics that are positioned close to your performers. If you can wireless record a set of mics for stereo imagining, you can easily remain up in the birds eye section of the auditorium while having your mics placed in a more ideal location.

Audio follows the same inverse square law that lighting follows. If you can get your microphone(s) close to your subject, you can drowned out the ambient noise much like you can make a pure white background black by placing your strobes closer to your subject.

Alexandra Giamanco's picture

I will propose this idea, and see if we can get a few wireless ones. There is no access to be around the stage due to the way the seats are positioned. I think aside from recording the sound on it's own, having wireless mic's is the next best option for that circumstance. Thank you.

This is the perfect example of why I quit reading fstopper. A bad article with a click bait title about a video made by someone else that give misleading advices.

The last time I checked the site a few months ago it was a review of monitoring speaker, in two words the article was saying : although I know nothing about sound nor do I have any experience or comparison I strongly believe those are the best. Please use the affiliate link.

Ryan Mense's picture

And yet here you are.