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Since the pandemic hit, the increase in content creators as well as online conferencing attendants also meant an increase in the need for better cameras and microphones. Sennheiser's updated MKE 400 microphone release is a perfectly timed addition for those who are looking to improve their sound set up, either for video recording or for teleconferencing.

How does the new updated design fare in real life? We went hands-on to find out.


Pickup Whatever Sound You Point At

Being a shotgun microphone, the MKE 400 picks up sound by being pointed in the direction of the sound source. Compared with wireless microphone setups, this has the advantage of switching between different sound sources by a simple turn of the wrist.

In our testing, the MKE 400 can comfortably pick up speech from 10 feet away as if the person is speaking right next to a typical cardioid microphone. This range can be boosted even further by increasing the gain setting on the side.

When you combine the ability to pick up sound from a distance together with a 5X optical zoom on a modern phone like the OPPO Find X3 Pro, you end up with a powerful long range video camera set up with professional sound quality. It can be used for streaming, online conferences of multiple speakers, or even capturing animal closeups for some homemade nature discovery.


Shock mount on the Inside

The previous generation of MKE 400 which saw the microphone mounted on rubber feet above the cold shoe, similar to other camera mounted shotgun mics like the RODE's VideoMic Go that sits on large rubber cradles. At first glance, the new MKE 400 mic seems to be missing the shock proof element, however the shockproof structure turns out to be built internally, protected by the outer case of the microphone. This new construction ensures the delicate shock mount is well protected from accidental damage

The unseen shock mount, though not as elaborate looking as other shotgun mics in the market, is very effective in real use. It fully prevents the sound of handling the camera or phone from being picked up by the microphone.


Double Layered Wind Protection

Other than the shock proof cradle, the whole transducer is also wrapped in a cylindrical case and a dense mesh for wind protection. In fact the mesh is so dense, the transducer actually cannot be seen even with a strong light shining against it. The result - the MKE 400 is excellent when it comes to wind and popping protection, providing a consistent recording.

However if the built-in case and mesh is still not enough, the MKE 400 also includes the MZH 400 furry windshield which will keep the sound clean even in windier environments. Since the windshield is custom made for the MKE 400, it fits like a glove, and will stand up to rough handling.


Live Monitoring for Best Set Up

Since the latest shotgun mic from Sennheiser is equipped with a low-cut filter and a 3-step gain sensitivity switch, you're also able to adjust them to get the best sound possible on the fly, by monitoring real-time through the built-in headphone jack. Low rumbles or hums can be tuned out with the low-cut filter, accentuating the vocal frequencies, and the gain adjustment will let you find the best sensitivity according to the environment and distance.


Battery Efficient with AAAs

It actually came to me as a surprise that the MKE 400 came with two AAA batteries, as personally I'm quite used to having an internal rechargeable lithium battery in my gear. So I initially had concern about the battery life and how that can affect the workflow.

However, after more than 30 hour-long recording sessions, the low battery indicator that would come on 3 hours before running flat has not shown any signs of coming on yet. According to Sennheiser, the two AAA's will last more than 100 hours - which will cover plenty of recording and streaming sessions.

One reason why the batteries last is how well the power is managed in the MKE 400. Though the battery indicator doubles as a power switch, I have almost never used it as the microphone automatically powers on when the cable is connected, and powers off when disconnected. This prevents any accidental power drain during transportation.


Mobile Kit is a Great Deal

With just an additional $30 on top purchasing the MKE 400 microphone, you can get the MKE 400 mobile kit, which includes an additional Manfrotto PIXI mini tripod and Sennheiser's own aluminum smartphone clamp. Both these accessories are very solidly built, and the thoughtful design that went into them has me becoming quite fond of them.


The Manfrotto PIXI provides a quick-to-deploy tripod for static shots, and has a ball-and-socket swivel that allows fast but secure adjustments, especially with the one-button release/locking system. I found that the miniature tripod to be especially useful for Zoom conferences, as it props the phone up on the desk at a good height for video calls. By collapsing the three legs, it quickly becomes a handheld stick for moving or selfie shots. The rubberized surface provides a secure grip, as well as a professional aesthetic.


The Sennheiser smartphone clamp with cold shoe mount is equally reliable. Being machined out of blocks of aluminum and stainless steel, it's a compact but reliable piece of hardware. The clamp can hold the phone in portrait or landscape orientation, and can be mounted to 1/4" or 3/8" fixtures on the base.


The clamp was made with versatility in mind, and can be a central rig to add other accessories like stabilizing grips and lights. There are four 1/4" holes on the back for adding accessories to the rig, and the cold shoe, though made for the MKE 400 microphone can also be used for a flash, or a wireless mic receiver - anything a content maker would need to turn their smartphone into a powerful video camera.


Final Verdict

Whether you're using a DSLR or a mobile as your main video camera, the MKE 400 will provide professional sound recording to your point-and-shoot set up, all in a simple to use and effective package.

The new internal shock mount means the microphone is made more rugged for portability, together with the MKE 400 mobile kits' smartphone clamp and tripod, you get one of the most reliable microphone setups for being on the road in the market.


For it's updated reliable build, fantastic sound pickup range and quality, we're awarding the MKE 400 Mobile Kit as a IBTimes Recommended portable microphone solution.

David is a tech enthusiast/writer who is often on the move, but since the lock-down is on a mission to explore gadgets to improve his 'home work'. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Home Productivity.