If you’re not familiar with Sanken Microphones, you can be forgiven—in a world of Sennheiser and Audio-Technica, Sanken isn’t a household name. Sanken has been around since 1925, so they must be doing some things very well to survive 93 years on the market. Sanken microphones have robust construction, an excellent reputation for clear and detailed sound quality, and, unlike with some of their European competition, most find the value equation for Sanken microphones to be quite good, with performance that matches the best brands in the business at a price that is substantially lower than the top-of-the-line competition.
Years ago, I reviewed the Sanken CS-3e when the microphone was first introduced to the market. Since then, the CS-3e has gone on to great industry acclaim, often regarded as one of the best-sounding microphones on the market at a price that ranges from a few hundred dollars to almost a $1,000 less than its competitors.
Sanken Debuts the CS-M1 Supercardioid
Introduced just a few months ago at NAB 2018, the Sanken CS-M1 is the latest addition to the Sanken microphone range and elevates what kind of quality is possible for a short shotgun mic. Sanken has obviously seen that DSLR and Mirrorless cameras have grown to become significant players in the lower end to mid-level production environment, where a full-sized shotgun is inconvenient to mount or use with 4K-capable mirrorless camera like Panasonic’s diminutive Lumix GH5 and Fujifilm’s X-H1.
The CS-M1 is only 4” in length and weighs less than 2 oz., a perfect fit for travel kits and use with smaller, lighter but technologically capable 4K mirrorless cameras. Unlike many short shotguns, the CS-M1 is capable of quite good off-axis rejection with low self-noise. Another famous microphone that shall remain nameless, but sounds outstanding and is a favorite with sound mixers worldwide, doesn’t work well in jungle-like or high-humidity environments. The CS-M1 was engineered to perform consistently in such challenging situations. The CS-M1 is well suited to shoots where tight pickup patterns and recording high-quality pro-level sound is the end goal. The CS-M1 can be camera mounted or used on a boom pole, perfect for reducing weight at the end of the boom without sacrificing detail and smoothness at a reasonable, affordable cost.
- Small size and light weight are perfect for booming on narrative or documentary shoots.
- Ideal for mounting on cameras with a compact lens.
- Industry standard 19 mm diameter CS-M1 has advanced RFI rejection.
- Wide 100Hz – 18kHz frequency range.
- Rugged and dependable design.
- Unique Sanken lightweight design.
- Sharp directivity with good rear and off-axis rejection.
There are several short-length Hyper and Super cardioid microphones on the market. One of my favorites is the Audio-Technica AT875R short shotgun. It punches way above its weight class and can be bought for as little as $175. How does a $900 short shotgun perform in the real world in comparison? While the CS-M1 isn’t shipping until a little later this month, as of press time, I was able to spend a bit of time with a pre-production model, and I was able to compare it. I’ve used the AT875 for years as it’s a great and versatile travel microphone. It’s inexpensive enough that if something happened to it, I wouldn’t mourn its demise too long, I’d just buy another to replace it.
How Does It Compare To The Competition?
The Sanken CS-M1 is not an inexpensive microphone, at a street price of $899. I wasn’t able to assemble a full test group of competing microphones in time as my access to the CS-M1 was limited to a few minutes of listening and handling impressions. Based upon first impressions, here’s how the CS-M1 seemed to stack up against the most likely competition. Most of the competing short shotguns and cardioid variants sell for less than the CS-M1 with the exception of the Sennheiser MKH 8060 short shotgun, which streets for $1,249.
Short Shotgun/Supercardioid Variants Price Range
Audio-Technica AT875R Line + Gradient Condenser Microphone $169.
Audix SCX1HC Studio Condenser Hypercardioid Polar Pattern $499.
Sanken CS-M1 Supercardioid Short Shotgun Microphone $899.
Sennheiser MKH 8060 Short Shotgun Microphone $1,249.
Short Shotgun/Supercardioid Variants Pluses
Audio-Technica AT875R Line + Gradient Condenser Microphone
This microphone has been one of my favorites because of the tremendous bang for the buck. This microphone sounds comparable to many microphones four to six times its cost.
Audix SCX1HC Studio Condenser Hypercardioid Polar Pattern
Often referred to as the “Poor Man’s Schoeps,” the SCX1HC has a devoted following and, for all intents, it can fool many experienced ears. It doesn’t have the luxury goods appeal of the Schoeps CMC641, but at about a quarter of the cost, the sound resemblance is remarkable as the Schoeps sounds outstanding and so does the Audix. It takes a very accomplished set of ears to hear that much difference.
Sanken CS-M1 Supercardioid Short Shotgun Microphone
First impressions are that the Sanken is short at 4” long and super lightweight at 2 oz. How does it sound? In a nutshell, I found the sound detailed and pleasant, similar to the CS-3e but a bit less bass-biased and clear, but just a tiny bit. It doesn’t strike me as being as smooth the Sennheiser MKH 8060, but the Sanken has very good rejection of handling noise, and low microphonics too.
Sennheiser MKH 8060 Short Shotgun Microphone
As the owner of a Sennheiser MKH 50, the older, more expensive big brother to the MKH 8060, I have always liked the overall detailed, clear sound of the MKH-8060. To me, it sounds more “realistic” than the MKH 50, which adds a bit of bass boost that, while pleasant, isn’t as accurate as the 8060.
This is far from scientific testing; this is more my general impressions of what promises to be an exciting alternative at a price point significantly lower than the top-of-the-line Sennheiser and Schoeps microphones. Sanken mics are distributed in the United States by www.plus24.com. We have a request in to obtain a review copy of the CS-M1 and will report back on how the microphone responds under more real-world shooting situations.
The Aputure A.lav
At the other end of the cost spectrum, we’re taking a look at the Aputure A.lav. The A.lav is a lavalier microphone—isn’t Aputure better known for lighting? Well, yes, I own four Aputure LED Light Panels; they are good, solid lights that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and put out a great deal of quality light. But what about audio? Apparently, having semi-conquered the lower-end LED lighting worlds, Aputure is now taking aim at the audio for video/digital cinema market. The A.lav is its first lavalier microphone, and there are some nice features and interesting ideas with it. The first is cost. While professional sound mixers would be aghast at a lavalier that costs so little (street price seems to be about $35 to $39), they use lavaliers like DPM and Sankens that cost about 10 to 15 times the cost. There is a large market out there utilizing their smartphones and standalone digital audio recorders and, of course, there are always DSLR and mirrorless camera users who also need a way to inject some decent-quality sound into their productions without spending $500 on a lavalier.
The A.lav comes with Unique Multi-Indicator that’s different than what the usual lavalier microphone has—it’s sort of an all-in-one compact design, with a multi-functional indicator light that keeps you informed of the unit’s power status. Under normal conditions, a green light is on; under charging status, a red light is on, and it goes off when fully charged, ensuring that you’ll always have a visual indicator that is legible from a distance so you know when your lavalier may run out of power.
The A.lav comes in a nifty little hard case that is handy for throwing the A.lav into your gear bag without damaging it. The A.lav isn’t really trying to be a replacement for the Trams, Countryman and DPM lavaliers of the world; it’s best to think of it as a handy spare lavalier (you do carry spares of your essential gear, don’t you?) that pulls double duty as a mic for your phone, Zoom or Tascam audio recorder or your small camcorder or mirrorless camera. It only features a 3.5mm TRRS (tip ring ring sleeve) connector, although I had decent sound using the same 3.5mm to XLR male adapter that came with my Røde Video Wireless microphone into several XLR input-only pro cameras, so it could help you out in a pinch as a spare lav.
The sound of the A.lav was pretty good—really good if you consider the ridiculously low cost of entry to buy one or two. The secret to recording quality audio has much more to do with physics than with how high quality your microphone is. An inexpensive microphone placed close to the talent’s mount will always sound superior to a better mic placed farther away from the talent. I didn’t detect the smoothness and detail that I find with my Tram lavs or my Countryman B3 or B6, but for well under $50.00, the A.lav is worth a try if you need an inexpensive lavalier. It’s well constructed, doesn’t seem as if it will fall apart as most sub $50.00 mics do, and sounds decent when used correctly.
The durable 10-ft anti-winding wire is made of OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) and covered with silicone jacket, and the A.lav even comes with the windscreen and windshield as well as a built-in Lithium-Ion battery that Aputure claims will run the mic for 200 hours. Plug the mic into the power supply, it turns on. Unplug the mic, the power supply turns off. Pretty slick and simple. At this price, you really cannot go wrong. The A.lav is well worth its meager cost and more.