You’ve just been assigned to mix sound on an upcoming indie film. The problem? You’ve never done it before.

And why not? There could be dozens of reasons. Maybe you’ve always been a one-man guerrilla-style film crew that captured audio directly to the camera. Perhaps you spend the previous term at film school working grip and you’re bewildered about how to start mixing sound. Or, maybe your budget has increased and you’re looking for options to improve the film soundtrack.

Never fear. Today’s post explores a quick-start list of microphones you can choose to record the best production sound on a budget.

image of filmmakers huddled in front of camera about to start scene
“The onboard mic should sound fine.. right guys?”

 

A Production Sound Microphone Quick-Start Kit

As you can imagine, if you have enough money, you can buy any microphone to capture dialogue on set.

That’s the problem, though. Often budgets are tight, especially for new filmmakers. That doesn’t mean you will be stuck with poor sound.

So, today’s post focuses specifically on choosing a kit of budget microphones to get you up and running and capturing improved audio as quickly as possible.

A Typical Sound Kit

What kind of microphones are part of a typical sound kit?

Of course, as we mentioned before, pro production mixers will have a massive locker of microphone types for every situation. Budget and indie film may not have this luxury. So, what microphones are best to include in a beginner’s kit?

Let’s look at each category.

Shotgun Microphones

Shotgun microphones are used to record a narrow “beam” of audio. This slim focus ensures just one specific subject – the actor speaking – is recorded, and all other sounds outside or off-axis to the “beam” are diminished.

These microphones are most commonly mounted on a boom pole that tracks the actor’s dialogue. They’re sometimes mounted on the camera itself, though this is not ideal.

They are a staple in any production mixer’s kit. What options do new filmmakers have?

Note: each microphone has its own characteristics and purpose. So, not every option is interchangeable with another, and it is important to choose the proper tool for each task. This list is intended to give filmmakers ideas and options to choose from.

 

Low Budget Shotgun Microphones (Under $500)

image of Soundsnap's recommended Sennheiser ME66 and K6 capsule

 

  • Audio Technica AT897 (line gradient, $249). The AT897 is known as an indie film favourite for delivering decent sound at an affordable price. Some notice the noise floor is a bit high and the rejection not as powerful as other options, but worth it for the rock-bottom price.
  • Rode NTG-2 (supercardiod, $269). Strong and durable. Good, pleasing sound for the price. Often the first step for filmmakers who are considering improving audio in their productions.
  • Sennheiser ME66 (supercardiod, $459). A highly sensitive, low-noise option from microphone heavyweight manufacturer Sennheiser. Very clear and pleasant sound. Requires the K6 powering module.
  • Sennheiser ME64 (cardiod, $408). The cardiod pattern of this shorter-length microphone makes it an option for recording dialogue indoors. Also requires the K6 powering module.
  • Sennheiser MKE 600 (supercardiod, $329). Respected for capturing clear and crisp sound with warm presence that avoids substantial noise floor. A longer microphone option with very directional pick-up wrapped in a robust form factor.

 

Mid-Ranged Budget Shotgun Microphones ($500 – $1,000)

image of Soundsnap's recommended Rode NTG-3 shotgun microphone

 

  • Audio Technica AT4053b (hypercardioid, $599). This low-profile microphone is typically used for recording dialogue inside. Known as a good mid-range option to capture crisp recordings.
  • Rode NTG-3 (supercardioid, $699). This microphone has earned a reputation as a more economical challenger to the popular MKH 416, below. It is respected for its rich tones with scant background noise. The lightweight aluminum construction is a plus.
  • Sennheiser MKH 416 (hypercardioid + lobar, $999). This microphone has been the industry standard shotgun microphone for decades (since the 70s). And with good reason, too. It is sensitive, highly directional, and has an impressive pick-up range.
  • Shure VP89S (hypercardioid, $699). This microphone features interchangeable long, medium, and short capsules. The short capsule is known as a useful option for capturing dialogue outdoors with respectable off-axis rejection.

Lavalier Wireless Systems

Lavalier microphones are small lapel microphones. They are typically hidden underneath an actor’s clothing and connected to a wireless pack that transmits the signal to an audio recorder. While they lack the rich sound of shotgun microphones, their flexibility and diminutive size can get production sound mixers out of challenging spots.

It’s possible to buy transmitters, receivers, and lav microphones separately. To keep things simple, let’s look at all-in-one solutions that include all three in one package.

Low Budget Wireless Lavalier Systems (Under $500)

image of Soundsnap's recommended Rode Link wireless lavalier kit

 

  • Audio-Technica PRO 88W-30 ($189). This entry-level kit is known for its ease of use and wallet-friendly price. Works best when kept clear of electronics to avoid interference.
  • Polsen CAM-2W ($139). Possibly the least expensive way to get up and running recording wireless audio. It shines when used with more prominent audio at a shorter range.
  • Rode RodeLink ($399). Packed into a substantial housing, the RodeLink is respected for its strong, clear signal and resistance to interference. Often seen as a competitor to the Sennheiser G3 series (below).

Mid-Ranged Budget Wireless Lavalier Systems ($500 – $1,000)

image of Soundsnap's recommended Sennheiser G3 wireless lavalier kit

 

  • Sony UWP-D11 ($599). The first entry in the $500+ price bracket, the UWP series have a reputation for a clear, stable signal across a long range. The big display and metal form factor are also seen as highlights.
  • Sennheiser ew 122-p G3 ($629). The G3 series is often the last stop before sound pros splurge for upper-tier wireless systems priced in the thousands. Because of this, the G3 occupies a sweet spot: it provides the best audio quality, range, and resistance to interference for under $1,000.

 

What’s next? Learn how to upgrade your audio by purchasing the best indie film audio recorders under $1,000.

What is your go-to microphone? Do you know of a valuable addition to this list? Share your thoughts on our social media post.

 

If you’re working on a project and are in need of professional sound effects, but don’t have the budget or time to record your own, consider trying out Soundsnap. You could have unlimited download access to over 250,000 professionally recorded sound effects for less than 54 cents a day. You can even search and browse around first to see what’s available before you pay anything. Give it a try!