The more production work I do, the more I encounter default or singular usage of shotgun mics. These are fantastic tools for video production, but not always the best choice. Sometimes they might even be a terrible choice. Here are insights on when not to use a shotgun mic.

Shotgun mics are favored because they use interference tubes to create a narrow polar pattern. That helps reduced sounds off-axis, which in turn makes on-axis sounds seem more prominent. Interference tubes operate by using phase cancellation to reduce sound from the sides, and most of the time they work great…. except indoors, especially in small rooms with lots of reverb. Read more details about how shotgun mics work from this article. It explains how reverb, particularly early reflections, can negatively effect shotgun mics. Early reflections can make a shotgun mic sound unnatural because of problems in the interference tube’s phase cancellation.

shotgun-vs-hypercardioid

If shotgun mics aren’t the best choice for small rooms, what should be used in a small space with lots of reverb? Hyper-cardioid pencil mics are considered the best choice for small indoor spaces. The have better rear axis rejection. They are smaller profile on the boom pole, which make them more mobile and able to maneuver into tighter spaces. Best of all… they sound better in small reflective rooms because they don’t use interference tubes. It’s a common fact that most location sound mixers and boom ops know. There are even standard favorites for indoor booming. If the Sennheiser MKH416 is “the standard” shotgun mic, the Schoeps CMC6-MK41 is the granddaddy for interior booming.

That said… Shotgun mics are a solid choice for large rooms, spaces with balanced acoustics, or outdoors. There are studio uses for shotgun mics too. Voice-over artists sound GREAT when recorded with shotgun mics. When the shotgun mic is placed close to the mouth, it gives a big booming VO. There are a few uses for music tracking too. I’ve read interviews with legendary engineers who have used shotguns on voices like Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, or over the drummers shoulder pointed downward at the snare drum.

So… bottom line… Shotgun mics are great tools but don’t “default use” them when a better tool is available.


soundslikejoe

Joseph Miller is a polymath working in music and sound mediums. He contracts with companies from around the world, on projects big and small, from a studio filled with sound making devices and acoustic musical instruments.

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