MAMMOTH AUDIO POST! Shotgun mic comparison including the new Rode NTG4 and 4+ and a look at the new Rode Video Mic Pro

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Last few days to get your entry in! Closes end of May!!

This post is in 3 chunks; overview, XLR shotgun comparison, and a look at the new improved Video Mic Pro.

Ethics statement: RØDE Microphones are good friends of mine, and I have done a number of workshops for them. I am also one of their sponsored shooters, so I get products from them from time to time, like the mics of theirs I am talking about. That’s why I cannot call this a proper review as such, although I am not being paid to do this.

It’s important to declare any potentially compromising arrangements when doing things like this, even if you make the review or post 100% objective. I have included other mics I own, as I wanted to show that there are other great mics out there too. I became involved with RØDE as they saw how much I used their products and we started working together. All my relationships with companies like this are from genuine love of the product. I would never promote anything I didn’t believe in.

There are affiliate links on this page and site which adhere to that. Any purchases made through them cost you nothing more but help keep this site going.

You can see individual links to the products within the page. There is also a specific page on the B&H website with all these products put together to make things easier!

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CLICK HERE FOR “B&H PHOTO VIDEO” PAGE FOR PRODUCTS WITHIN THIS POST

Thank you!

Very early in my career, sound recordist for Sky News here in Moscow with cameraman Roland Sullivan. That's a Sennheiser 416 in that blimp
Very early in my career, sound recordist for Sky News here in Moscow with cameraman Roland Sullivan. That’s a Sennheiser 416 in that blimp

Audio is one of those things that too many underestimate and put as a secondary consideration. That should never be the case. Good audio is more important than good pictures most of the time. Bad audio can never be tolerated – we turn it off fast – but we can forgive bad images if the audio is good and the content is solid.

Too many people rely on internal mics on DSLRs, which are generally the worst mics I have ever heard. Putting a top mic on your camera like the RØDE Video Mic Pro that I feature in this post is essential for getting decent b-roll sound, good reference for dual system, and sometimes A sound when it’s all you have at the time.PB_deluts_ban1

Directional microphones are my favourite for on camera but I also do use stereo mics on cameras for b-roll sound if I know there will be a chance of catching anyone speaking, as I love the XY separation of sound. If you try to use a stereo mic for dialogue, you are not going to get good results. The fall off from the mic is extreme. These mics are great very close up, but their polar pattern is not designed for anything at a distance. If you don’t understand polar patterns then I recommend doing a bit of reading up on them. I don’t want to go into too many basics of the different type of microphones as that’s a big subject….plus I am no expert. I record sound as a one-man band frequently but try to get a professional sound recordist whenever I can. Someone who knows their stuff. That’s why you use specialists! 🙂

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Polar pattern of video mic pro. Notice the bias of pick up towards the front
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Polar pattern of a RODE Lav mic. The polar pattern is 360 degree so pics up everything but the fall off is harsh. Has to be used very close up

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Polar pattern of the Rode Stereo Video Mic Pro, Notice how much is picked up from the sides…not good for dialogue but lovely for atmos

When recording interviews as a one-man band, I generally just used a wired lav mic or a wireless one if the cable will be in shot or if the person is moving around. These are placed very close and are almost always hidden using Rycote undercover as I hate seeing a mic in shot.

If possible, I like to record sit down interviews on a shotgun overhead too, in case of clothes noise, but also to maybe mix together for the sound quality I am after. This is harder to do one-man band of course.

A shotgun mic is designed to be used at a distance and therefore out of shot. A good shotgun mic, in the right acoustics of a room or outside, should sound good from a distance of a few feet. With much more distance you lose a lot, the low end disappears, and you pick up all the background noise around them. You want to get a shotgun in as close as possible, hence you often see them creep into shots as the boom operator/ sound recordist is always pushing to be as close as possible. Andrew, one of the soundos I use often curses the unconventional framing I sometimes use and hates it when I shoot the shot wide! Much harder for him and for the shotgun!

The proximity effect is always something you need to mindful of. The farther away the mic, the less low end you will get. I like a mic to sound nice and warm with as little background noise as possible. This clip below from 6 years ago was shot in a Russian Church crypt. The soundo had a lav mic on the actor, one above him and one in the far corner of the room to catch all the echo from the chamber. It sounds great mixed together although I have no idea which mics he used!

Echoing Words: Canon 5dmkII from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

RODE NTG-3
RODE NTG-3

That brings us onto the main part of the this post. A look at the new RØDE NTG4 and 4+ and comparing their audio against mics I already own. The NTG-3 above has been my favourite mic since I bought it many years ago, although it comes close to the Sennheiser 416 that I used for all my career at Sky.

Before you ask why I haven’t covered a mic you love or one you are curious in, the reason is simple; these are mics I own, so that’s all I can compare. This isn’t supposed to be an all-encompassing comparison of every mic, as the point was to hear what the new NTG4/4+sound like compared to what I already have.

I did a few different clips and mini tests. They are all audio only and embedded from Soundcloud. You can download them to hear them at your own leisure…although they are all my voice so sorry about that!

The RØDE NTG 4/4+

This mic came out a few weeks ago. Don’t be misled by the name, this is below the NTG-3 in the product line. The NTG-3 is still their flagship short directional microphone. The NTG-4 is designed to go above the NTG-2 in the line up with better features and audio quality than the NTG-1 and NTG-2.

Key features of the NTG-4 and 4+ are electronic buttons for a high pass filter for reducing low end rumble, a high frequency boost for when it’s inside a blimp and losing some of the top end of the audio.

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RODE NTG-4 showing the high frequency boost at the top, the high pass filter below and the -10db pad below. The blue light indicated it’s working and getting +48v phantom power from the camera/ recorder
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The RODE NTG-4+ which is longer than the 4 as it has the lithium ion battery in it. There is a power symbol next to the blue light. This is because the mic can be powered on or off and used without phantom power, then the bottom light is green, when phantom power is used it is blue as above.
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NTG-4+ with the internal li-ion battery powering the mic, the light is green to show this.

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There is a really good reason why you would want a mic that has its own power source: mainly any camera you are plugging it into that cannot supply 48v of power to make it work (Blackmagic cinema cameras, for example, or REDs) or using external recorders where using the phantom power mode drains these small recorder batteries fast!

The internal battery of the NTG-4+ lasts a good 150 hours, which is around 6 days of 24-7 use. It’s charged up with a micro usb socket next to the XLR pins, which means it cannot be charged whilst using. It should be very simple to keep charged though, and with that battery life…I have a few iPhone battery packs I use to boost my phones up, you can easily use the same here. On a shoot, like everything else, just make sure it’s all charged up before use. It only takes 2 hours to charge it from empty to max. Just make sure you turn it off at the end of the day, especially if you aren’t going to be using it again for a few days as it will be flat in 6 days! 🙂 In that situation, and if you don’t have 10 minutes to give it a quick boost on a battery pack, simply send 48v into it and it will be working a treat.

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The USB input the NTG-4+ for charging

Make sure you register the mic when you get it for the 10 year RODE warranty. Any issues with the battery and they will sort it for you.

Have a listen to my comparison audios for my thoughts on what it sounds like, and also so you can hear it yourself. It’s different technology in this mic to the other mics in this test.

Spec wise, other than the things mentioned above, they are quite similar to the NTG-2. I did find the NTG-2 had slightly more low-end response but it could just be me.

RODE NTG-4 SPECS
RODE NTG-4 SPECS
RODE NTG-2 specs
RODE NTG-2 specs

Peter Reynolds holding the NTG-4 and recording into the Zoom H5 for the interview for mini doc "The Cigar Connoisseur"

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Peter Reynolds holding the NTG-4 and recording into the Zoom H5 for the interview for mini doc “The Cigar Connoisseur”

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I used the NTG-4+ as main audio recently for a mini doc I shot on the A7s. Normally I would, as mentioned above, use a lav mic. For some reason my wireless transmitter was on the fritz. I had no wired lav mic with me, so I used the NTG-4+ on a pistol grip into a Zoom H5. For B-roll sound on the camera I used the new model Video Mic Pro (more on that later)

Normally I use the Sony XLR module but I left it in the hotel! Whoops!

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The Cigar Connoisseur from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

I have isolated the audio from the RØDE NTG-4 (the interview) and uploaded it Soundcloud below. You can download it from their site too.

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NTG-2. NTG4+ and NTG-1
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Zoom H5, Rode NTG-1, NTG-2, NTG-3 and Rycote shotgun handle

 

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Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? But how does it sound compared to the other Rode shotguns and the other two I own?

COMPARING THE RODE NTG-1, 2 & 4/4+

The first little audio comparison I did was in Dubai out on the beach. Although I only had the NTG-1, 2 and 4+ with me, it’s still worth a listen to hear these mics combined in an outside real world situation.It would have been especially nice to have had the NTG-3 with me. I do compare all these mics and more later on in this blog post.

I used the above three mics, RODE foam for wind protection and a Rycote shotgun mic holder alongside my funky XLR cable (can’t remember where I got that from) and recording into my Zoom H5 audio recorder. All mics were set to flat, no high pass filter. The NTG4+ was also set to 0db and no high frequency boost. Audio was recorder as .wav 24bit 48khz.

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Theta 360 pic of recording audio on Jumeriah Beach with the RODE NTG4+

Capturing audio with the RODE NTG4+ – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

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From left:
From left:RODE NTG-1, NTG-2, NTG-3. NTG-4, NTG 4+, Sennheiser 416, Sanken CS1e

A BIGGER TEST: COMPARING THE RODE NTG-1, 2, 3, 4,Sennheiser 416 and Sanken CS1e

So last week I did some more tests, this time using not just the 3 mics in Dubai but Rode’s top of the line NTG-3, as well as the Sennheiser 416 and Sanken CS1e.

I set up in my kitchen which is acoustically challenging. I could have set up in a perfect sound proof room…if I owned one…but I actually wanted to try these out in less than ideal conditions. The test was actually performed twice. The first time I did it I wasn’t super happy that I was keeping exactly the same distance away from the mic each time. The second time I measured it to make sure.

The mics were put on a mic stand with no foam, totally naked, plugged into the Tascam 70D, and I spoke into the mic at distances of 2 feet, 12 inches and 2 inches away.

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Why the Tascam 70D this time? No real reason. I haven’t had it long and wanted to use it. It’s very nice, 4 XLR inputs which is nice to have. I know the 60D well and it’s pretty good, but I prefer the lower profile style of this and the additional XLR inputs. How does it compare to the Zoom H6 which also has 4 XLR inputs? I have no idea side by side, as I have not done any comparisons.

We recorded most of the audio on “The Wonder List” on either the Zoom H6 or the Tascam 60D. It all sounded great. The new Zooms are light years better than the old H4N which has weak pre-amps and many other flaws. The new ones with the physical pots, stronger pre-amps are a joy to use. I don’t use the add on mics you can get for them, as I rarely use them to record dual system audio, so there is always an external mic plugged in. I have tried them though, and as long as you take your hands off the device to avoid handling noise they sound pretty good.

The kitchen’s acoustics aren’t great, and it’s also noisy. I have a cat water fountain, fridge, freezer and other bits and pieces. One of the separate little audio tests I did (all are available from sound cloud for download) had me speaking 12 inches from each mic and a gentle running tap from my kitchen sink, with the water going into a full mug in the sink. This is 6 foot directly behind each mic. Interesting to hear how much pic up there is from the rear.

The main 17 minute audio file is me going through each mic one by one and taking about them. I also did a separate test of me simply moving from the 2 foot to the 12 inches to the 2 inches on each mic.

 

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I am sorry if the test isn’t scientific enough for you, I know it isn’t. I wanted to do a test that felt more real world, as much as I could do. Listening to the results my favourite are probably the RODE NTG-3 and the good old Sennheiser 416 which sounds as good as ever. I find it hard to choose between those two as they both sound good, to my ears I don’t have a preference. They both have a great pick up from the distance comparison test with a nice low end, the Sennheiser seems to be tiny bit stronger coming into the recorder, so I had to turn the levels down a smidge. The price difference at B&H is $300 between them. That’s quite a lot. The construction of the NTG-3 feels as good as the 416, plus it comes in sliver (not that you can see that with a softie on it!) My 416 is 26 years old. My NTG-3 is 6 years old. Do I feel it could last as long as the Sennheiser? Absolutely. It just shows how audio gear is worth spending money on as its timeless. Which video camera from 26 years ago is anyone still using for work??

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Screenshot 2015-05-26 18.38.48I love the Sanken for its size/ audio performance but it’s more than the NTG-3 and to my ears doesn’t sound as warm and rich.

It all comes down to your budget and how you are going to use the mics / how they will be recorded. The RODE NTG-3 lives on my main video cameras, those are the Sony F55, FS7 and the Canon C100. All provide +48v phantom power to bring this gorgeous mic to life without effecting the battery life of the cameras. The NTG4+ is my new “all-purpose” shotgun mic, replacing my NTG-2. It’s to go on my video cameras if need be, but also to be used with external recorders because of that excellent li-ion battery. There is no concern from me whatsoever about the rechargeable battery. Keeping it topped up is not exactly challenging, and its life of 150 hours is crazy long. After all, when I tried to run an NTG-3 off of my old Zoom H4n the brand new Duracells lasted about 30-40 minutes!

I don’t know the exact battery life of the NTG-2 AA battery. Not having an indicator of whether it’s working or not is a bit of a pain, you just have to plug it in and see if it works. If it doesn’t, then switch out the battery! Sound wise, I most definitely prefer the NTG4/ 4+ and with the battery option of the 4+ it’s a no-brainer to switch from the NTG-2 to that.

If you can only choose one and on a budget? If using an audio recorder was a possibility as well as video cameras then again, the NTG4+…but that’s just my opinion and based on only my experience with the mics I own!

THE NEW VIDEO MIC PRO

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GH2 and Video Mic Pro: Movember Gala Party from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

The RODE Video Mic Pro is still my number one DSLR top mic of choice for a number of reasons. Performance/ Price/ Size. One of the key things that make the VMP essential for the DSLRs is the +20db gain switch on the back. DSLRs have notoriously poor pre-amps, so sending a nice strong signal into your camera with the +20db switch on, you set your camera levels a lot lower meaning there is much less hiss.

The above video was shot in November 2010 with the GH2 and then not-yet-released Video Mic Pro (hence the mic was blurred out in the photo!)

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After the musical montage at the beginning there are a lots of interviews in a very noisy club all done using this mic. I was of course very close up to be able to sound this good, but it shows you that you can use it for A-sound sometimes. I wanted to really test out that possibility when I used it here and was pleasantly surprised with the new mic!

One thing I never liked about it was the suspension housing for it, and I have always been utterly frank with the guys at Rode about that.  I never liked the one for the standard video mic and the same with the Video Mic Pro. From almost day one (just after shooting this video) with the VMP I removed the mic from the standard housing and put it in the Rycote Invsion Video Shock mount.

The original suspension unit for the VMP.
The original suspension unit for the VMP.
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VMP in the Rycote invision video shock mount

I actually did the same with the original video mic, although it only worked if you put the mic upside down in it. Here it was a case of removing the rubber bands and slotting it in.

The great news RODE have replaced the only thing I didn’t like about the mic with Rycote suspensions similar to what I did myself. They have actually already done the same thing with the original video mic and the Video Mic GO came with the Rycote Lyre suspension from day one!

It truly is a huge improvement. You can bend the mount as much as you want, force it back on itself and it just pops back into position without a hint of any damage. It wonderful!

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The new VMP with Rycote and the standard Video Mic with the bold Red implementation of the Lyre housing.

DSC01732 Below is a pic of me filming in New Zealand using a Canon 5D3 with the VMP in the Rycote.

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The mic itself hasn’t changed physically or acoustically. It sounds as good as it ever did. It’s not as good as the XLR shoguns, but for top mics for DSLRs they are easily my favourite.

The foam is thicker on the new VMP too as you can see in the image below. If you already have a VMP you can do what I have been doing for years and get the Rycote InVision shock mount separately.

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Bert is surprised how much thicker the foam is on the new VMP

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For my money, Rycote make the best audio accessories in the world, from their under and over covers for hiding lav mics to the suspension mounts. Recently I started using their new super softie systems. Terrific wind proofing with little audio loss on the top end. Funny looking, but they work a treat, I used them on camera for The Wonder List.

I have been using their stuff for 26 years now, that should say something…oh and they are English too…not that much from England these days gear wise so nice to wave the flag here! 🙂

My Sony F55 with the $5k OLED EVF
Rycote Super Softie over NTG-3 on F55

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New VMP on Sony A7s with Small HD 502 on top

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One thing I have never gotten around to talking about on my blog, but have on social media, is the fabulous RODE Stereo Video Mic X. I couldn’t talk about my favourite mics without mentioning this.

It can be used with a 3.5mm jack for DSLRs or XLR cables. Like the normal Video Mic Pro, for me, this isn’t for dialogue but it’s easily my favourite atmos mic out there. It’s just gorgeous. Rycote suspension (which the standard Stereo Video Mic Pro doesn’t have yet), fabulous quality XY condenser capsules, lovely strong signals, gorgeous metal body and construction. The quality of the sound is the thing…I used it a fair bit during “The Wonder List.” The video thumbnail is a pic of me (courtesy of Mac Stone) using it in Florida out at sea on a Kayak with the Movi M5 and A7s. Make sure you put some headphones on!

Rode Stereo Video Mic X on a Sony A7s/ Movi M5…on a kayak…on the ocean! from Philip Bloom extras on Vimeo.
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Well that’s it for this mammoth blog post! Yes, it’s a lot of Rode, but they are the mics I use for the most part and they are exceptional. I still use other brands as mentioned earlier and I love my Sanken Cos 11 wired lav mics to bits.

I wanted to talk about the new Rode Link wireless mics but I haven’t used them properly yet to really say much. They look very interesting and I will get back to you soon with thoughts. 

Let me leave you with this bit of advice that will help you so much….never use built-in camera mic! 😉

 

 

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