Thanks to some series work that I’ve landed in Knoxville, I’ve recently made an upgrade to my mic locker. My workhorse mic, a Sennheiser ME66/k6 combo, is a very good mic… for the price. They can be bought new for around $500. But it’s long been on my list of things that I’d like to improve, if ever I could afford it.
For critical applications, I have a MKH415T that I love. It’s a beautiful old mic, once used by the ORTF (the French equivalent of PBS). But there are some considerations that prevent me using this mic as much as I’d like. Mainly, it’s the fact that 415’s don’t like humidity, and begin to develop self-noise in damp air. Once things dry out, they return to normal, but the unpredictable nature of the mic means that it stays in the box 95% of the time. (According to Sennheiser, the 416 was a later development and uses improved circuitry to eliminate fluctuations in performance from humidity.)
The other soundperson on the series, Raleigh mixer Neal Gettinger, loaned me his 416T to use for the shoot, and it sounds markedly better than the mic I normally use. Thanks to some sales of used gear at Trew, I had a balance that I applied to a brand-new Sennheiser MKH416p48.
It doesn’t seem like much until you plug it in. Physically, it’s a bit smaller and slightly heavier than the 66, so I had to get new mounting clips for my Rycote suspension. Soundwise, though, there’s a big difference in the two. It’s hard to describe in words, but the 416 has a smoother overall quality… the top end is more defined, and the low end seems extended. These differences really show up when you compare the mics side-by-side and switch between them. But almost as important is the familiarity factor… most people know the 416, and it’s been a common player in movie production…. so much so that years ago, when the 416 was discontinued for a model with improved specs, the resulting uproar from the location sound community caused them to put it back into production.
I hate to do it, but I’ll probably sell my 415T to help pay for the new mic. I’ll most likely need to sell the ME66 as well, but I haven’t quite decided yet. The fact that the 66 can be battery powered gives it a slight advantage, since this mic can be plugged directly into any camera without the need of a mixer. Like many true condenser mics, The 416 needs 48 volts phantom power to operate properly, and some cameras (and even mixers… older Shures are reported to deliver only 18 volts) can’t provide enough voltage.