In this article I’ll be reviewing the newest microphone in my collection – the Senal MC-24ES.
People primarily know me as a still photographer but over the years I’ve been creating a lot more videos for clients and that means I’ve been adding more and more gear to my bags for capturing spectacular video as well as great audio.
I own several audio recorders and microphones (along with several audio cables and accessories) and, before I began my career as a photographer, I worked as an audio and video engineer. My background in audio goes back to my high school days and has always been something I do my best to keep up to date with. My technical background in audio goes back decades and, while it wasn’t a part of my photography work, it is something I know extremely well.
Up until recently my microphone collection has been exclusively large diaphragm USB microphones or various unbalanced camera mounted microphones. These microphones have performed well for me over the years but as my client video work has ramped up I’ve been wanting to add a really high quality professional shotgun microphone (with balanced output) to my gear bag.
After a lot of research and trying several microphones, I settled on a shotgun microphone from Senal. I had a choice between the “short” MC-24ES and the “long” MC-24EL. Since the recording gear I use has 42 volt phantom power (and a few other reasons I’ll get in to later) I opted for the short version.
A blog article, since it lacks both video and audio, may not be the best place to review a microphone but it is a great place to learn the specifications as well as finding out my personal experiences. It’s also a great place to add in a little technical information about microphones and why I choose the ones I do.
Full Disclosure – the Senal MC-24ES I’ll be reviewing in this article was purchased by me (using my own money) without any discount or consideration from a store or the manufacturer. It’s used in my daily work and any opinions I share are my own. I’ve received no compensation for this article.
About Shotgun Microphones
One of the first things photographers learn when they start to dabble in video is how bad the built-in audio is in a still camera that captures video. The small microphones, poor audio circuitry and lack of controls in most still cameras just isn’t up to the task of capturing high quality audio. While this may work great for “home videos” or travel/landscape videos it often doesn’t work well when capturing speech. This is why most people who want to improve the quality of their audio will begin by adding a separate microphone (most will attach to a camera’s hot shoe). While this is a great first step it’s still a long way from what I’d call “professional audio quality”. This is especially apparent when capturing human voices.
The reason for this lack of quality (for vocal performances) has everything to do with the type of microphone used and the distance from the person speaking. If a microphone is mounted on the camera (or built in to the camera) and the camera is five (or more) feet from the person speaking there will be a distant sound to the recording that has plenty of echo and often a serious lack of volume and intelligibility. This is why you see lavaliere microphones clipped to clothes of talent on talk shows. When the microphone is close to the person speaking it does a much better job of capturing speech – and not the background noises. Long story short – microphones work better when they’re placed within three feet of the person speaking.
Another good solution for capturing speech is to use a microphone on a boom stand just outside of the video frame. A boomed shotgun microphone has several advantages over a typical lavaliere microphone. Here’s a look at my Senal MC-24ES mounted to a boom arm:
One of the biggest advantages is a lack of noise or rustling caused by any movement of the clothing. I also like the cleaner look of not having a lavalier microphone in the shot. Of course there are several more reasons to use a boomed shotgun microphone but the bottom line is this – different situations call for using different microphones. If you’d like to learn more about the subject of microphones and audio capture I highly recommend a great book by Ric Viers called “the Location Sound Bible” (available on Amazon here).
The MC-24ES SpecificationsThe Senal MC-24 shotgun microphone comes in two variations, a short (the ES model) and a long (the EL model). The biggest difference between the two, other than size, is the EL version can be battery powered. This means the EL version doesn’t require phantom power at the recorder (this means it the camera or recorder can last longer because the batteries don’t have to send power to the microphone). The specifications between the EL and the ES are slightly different, but not enough to make a substantial difference. I chose the ES version because I didn’t feel a need to power the microphone with a battery and the shorter overall length means I can really get the microphone close without the worry of it getting into my video frame. The main specifications for the Senal MC-24ES are:
- Transducer: Condenser
- Polar Pattern: Hypercardioid
- Frequency Response: 40 hz to 20 kHz
- Sensitivity: -35db ±3db (1db=1 V/Pa at 1kHz
- Output Impedance: 500Ω ±20% (at 1 kHz)
- Signal to Noise Ratio: 74db (1kHz at 1 Pa)
- Power Requirements: 48 V phantom power
- High Pass Filter: 180 Hz
- Output Connector: XLR Male
- Weight: 3.6 oz (103 g)
- Length 7.1″ (18 cm)
- Diameter: 0.8″ (2.1 cm)
In my experience the polar pattern of the MC-24ES is definitely hypercardioid (as specified) and that makes total sense for a shotgun style microphone. In use the microphone picks up just a little room resonance from the rear and is more narrowly focused to the front (due to the line-plus-gradiant acoustic principle) than I’d expect from a typical cardioid microphone. The supplied frequency response graph showed flat response from 10kHZ down to 30Hz (the specification states 40Hz) and then shows an impossible lack of response below that, probably due to the method used to create the response graph. Also, the frequency response looks to have a substantial drop above 10,000 HZ compared to microphones rated to capture up to 20 kHz. For capturing most vocals neither of these frequency response characteristics are particularly distressing.
In the Box
My MC-24ES came in a nice looking retail box. Inside the box was the microphone, a basic foam windscreen, a microphone holder, a protective case and the instruction manual:
Of course the real hero is the microphone which features a solid brass construction with a rubberized black matte finish. It feels especially sturdy and will definitely handle the rigors of any work environment. This is definitely a professional microphone. Here’s a look at the top of the microphone:
On the top you can see the low cut filter switch. This is used to roll off the lower frequencies at the microphone (a similar filter is available in to most recording equipment) and it can be extremely effective at eliminating low rumbling sounds like heating and cooling systems make. By using the low cut filter at the microphone (when you’re in a noisy environment) you can eliminate a step in your post processing to remove the noise.
One thing I noticed was the length of the MC-24ES is noticably smaller than it looks in every picture I’ve seen online. This could be caused by online retailers showing the EL (long) version on their websites. This turned out to be a good thing since it means being able to fit the microphone in places where a longer microphone could cause problems.
Here’s a look at the back side of the MC-24ES microphone:
On the back side of the microphone is the 3 pin male XLR connector that is common in professional microphones and audio equipment. The locking XLR connection allows a balanced connection when used with balanced audio cables and it offers an extra level of noise rejection (especially when used on longer runs). Using cables with the 3 pin balanced XLR connector is substantially better than the typical 1/8″ or 1/4″ unbalanced connection for reliability and sound quality.
The included foam windbreaker works effectively to lessen the sound of vocal plosives by protecting the microphones sensitive transducer and can be an effective way to lessen minor wind noise when used outside. For higher wind you’ll want to invest in a furry wind protector (sometimes called a dead cat). I use both the Auray WSW-CMS standard furry windbuster and the Auray WSS-2012 professional windshield and they’re extremely effective at dealing with high wind noises when outside. Here’s a look at the included foam windscreen on my MC-24ES (the microphone is shown on a tabletop tripod):
The included microphone holder is pretty basic and holds the microphone very solidly. It’s an effective microphone holder but will transmit vibrations and handling noise into the microphone that can easily be picked up by the recording system. Here’s a closer look at the included microphone holder:
Dealing with handling noises is best accomplished by using a suspension style microphone holder (also called a shock mount). I’ve been using one made by Smallrig and, for under $10, it’s an outstanding way to hold the MC-24ES and to isolate it from handling noises. Here’s a look at my Smallrig Universal Microphone Shock Mount:
In addition to being a great shock mount and being super affordable, the Smallrig Universal Microphone Shock Mount includes a cold shoe mount with a 3/8″ female thread. This means the Smallrig shock mount can mount to just about anything.
The Senal MC-24ES In Use
“the audio capabilities of this microphone are so good I had to re-address the acoustics of my room to get the most from my recordings”
When I first connected my new MC-24ES microphone to my Tascam DR-60 MKII recorder I experienced some serious issues. It turns out the inexpensive XLR cable I used had a pin one issue and a serious lack of shielding. Those problems turned my audio recording system into an FM radio receiver that was perfectly tuned to my local country music station. Luckily the fix was simple – use a high quality cable!
The cables I now use are made by Kopul and I absolutely love them. I’m using the 5000 series cables (Premiere Quad Pro) which feature their highest level of shielding, dual twisted pair conductors and Neutrix XX gold plated XLR connectors. The second I inserted the Kopul 5000 series cables into my system the country music was gone, the noise floor was completely inaudible and my voice never sounded better. I was reminded that an audio system is only as good as it’s weakest link and that means you shouldn’t cut corners on your cables.
Once I solved my cable induced noises I was able to settle in and begin making recordings. I’m thrilled to say that the addition of the shotgun microphone was one of the best investments I’ve made in my video production capabilities. The audio quality is crisp, accurate and does more to improve my sound quality than any post processing can achieve with a lesser microphone. In fact, the audio capabilities of this microphone are so good I had to re-address the acoustics of my room to get the most from my recordings.
My preferred way to use the Senal MC-24ES microphone is on a boom arm just outside my video frame. This allows me to keep the microphone about three feet from my mouth and it effectively captures my voice with a minimum of outside noises captured in my recordings. The high sensitivity of the microphone, combined with the hypercardioid polar pattern means I can keep my recording system’s gain set a little lower and that pretty much eliminates any hiss in the finished audio file.
The bottom line is this – the Senal MC-24ES is an outstanding professional shotgun microphone. For $199.95 it’s a real bargain that holds it’s own against several competing microphones that cost a whole lot more. The popular Rode NTG-1 shotgun microphone, for example, costs $50 more but boasts much wider and flatter frequency response. The Audio Technica AT897 is also $50 more and it’s another great choice for shotgun microphones. Jumping up to Senheiser or Aputure microphones (or higher end Rode microphones) will quickly exceed $300 and there are considerably more expensive options available.
The Senal microphone is easily the highest quality microphone I’ve ever used that can be bought for under $200. Best of all, when you save $50 on the price of the microphone (compared to it’s competitors) you can put that money right into an excellent cable that will seriously improve the audio quality of your system. In fact, I believe a really good microphone with a top quality cable offers better performance than a much more expensive microphone paired with a poor quality cable. Long story short – for under $250 you can have a truly professional shotgun microphone and cable that will last a lifetime and give your audio a serious boost in quality.
Note – if you want to hear how this microphone sounds I’ll be using it pretty exclusively for any videos I create after January 2018.
I bought my Senal MC24ES at B&H Photo for $199.95 here.
I bought my Kopul 5000 series XLR cables at B&H Photo (prices depend on length) here.
The Smallrig Universal Microphone shock mount is $7.99 on Amazon here.
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