Although you can capture high-quality images, DSLRs and compact mirrorless cameras were never designed to capture high-quality sound. Their built-in microphones are pretty useless except for capturing scratch audio for dual-system sound. Also, the cameras lack XLR inputs for use with professional mics and their preamps are pretty rudimentary. Since the majority of DSLR shooting is without the services of a professional sound mixer or boom operator, DSLR shooters often shoot with inexpensive on-camera mics that plug into the camera’s 3.5mm mic input. This won’t get the job done for professional work.
For several years now, RØDE Microphones has been one of the pioneers in releasing affordable on-camera microphones like the directional VideoMic Pro and the Stereo VideoMic Pro. Based on the success of those two mics, RØDE released the Stereo VideoMic X—their flagship mic for single-system audio that features acoustically matched true-condenser capsules for true stereo capture.
RØDE sent over a review SVMX unit that I tested on a Canon DSLR. Compared to other on-camera mics, when taking it out of the box, I was super-impressed by its unique design and solid aluminum construction—it sort of reminded me of the excellent iXY Stereo Microphone for the iPhone. The SVMX also has a well-designed thermo-plastic shock mount (codeveloped with Rycote) that reduces handling noise.
Since it’s not a directional microphone, the SVMX is best used to capture B-roll or ambient sound, not for interviews or dialogue scenes. What separates the SVMX from other on-camera mics is the amount of manual control you have. The back panel contains a three-stage, high-pass filter (0/75/150 Hz), three-stage level control (-10/0/+20 dB) and frequency boost, which can single out voices or other high-frequency sounds when using the included heavy-duty windscreen. Instead of manual switches, as on the VideoMic Pro, the SVMX’s settings are changed via press-button digital switching, which prevents settings from changing accidentally during transport. Also, your settings are automatically saved when the mic is turned off.
Since the preamps in DSLRs fall way short, I found it better to use the preamps on the SVMX. To improve my signal-to-noise ratio when connecting the mic directly to my 5D Mark III’s 3.5mm mic input, the SVMX worked best when I was recording with my camera’s recording level a few notches above zero with the SVMX at +20 dB. Depending on the environment, I made recording adjustments through the camera’s menu. The sound quality was great, with a much lower noise floor than the VideoMic GO I was previously using. The singing of birds, honking horns in traffic and raindrops hitting my roof had a much fuller sound.
By the way, if you’re using a camcorder with built-in XLR inputs, the SVMX can output a balanced signal via XLR male to mini-XLR female cables. (I wasn’t able to test this feature.)
Included with the SVMX is an SC2 TRS cable, pop shield and windshield. The standard foam pop shield (shaped like a round black honeycomb) is the de facto mic cover you should use on the SVMX for most situations. The furry windshield should be used in loud or windy environments. Both screens are easy to take on and off. The 3.5mm cable is removable in case you’re mounting the mic in a different position than the camera’s shoe mount and need a longer cable. This comes in handy if you’re mounting your mic on your camera cage or a handheld boom.
I usually carry my DSLR when visiting a new nature spot or city environment, and I often wish I had good sound that matched my picture. The SVMX is the best all-purpose sound tool I’ve used when I’m shooting on my own. And, although the Stereo VideoMic X is a little pricey at $799, it delivers stellar sound that’s extremely hard to find in this category. It’s a great buy for the single shooter.
To learn more about RØDE products, visit the website at www.rode.com.