Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Shotgun Shoot-Out

Recently I took the plunge and upgraded my nocmig microphone to a Sennheiser MKE600. It cost a lot more than the trusty Depusheng A2, which set me back a princely 25 quid back in April 2020. Out of curiosity I've been running the old and new mics side by side for a bit, plugging each into one of the stereo channel inputs on my Zoom H4n Pro recorder. Hopefully this is a fairly objective way to compare their performance. I thought the results might be interesting to fellow sufferers, hence this post...

Until recently, this was my kit:

£25 bought me the mic, which came with two mounts (ie. clips to hold it) - which incidentally are both broken now - and the cable. The fluffy windshield was extra (via eBay).


As you can imagine, the Sennheiser is in a different league, but before we get into that I just want to make an important point. It might be cheap, but the Depusheng A2 has done a fantastic job getting me started in nocmig. Last June it was good enough to nail a Night Heron, and here is a compilation of another three of my 2020 favourites: Stone-curlew, Nightjar and Quail...


So yes, the Depusheng is not just some useless toy.

How exactly do the two mics compare? The Sennheiser is a lot shorter, and annoyingly is only 20mm in diameter (compared to the Depusheng's super-handy 22mm) so won't fit snugly into my Heath-Robinson mic mount made from plumbing pipe clips. A massive downer which almost made me send it back, of course.

The Sennheiser MKE600 comes with a mount and a foam windshield only, so you still need to shell out for a cable and a furry windshield.

Right, to the nitty-gritty...

I simply plugged both mics into my recorder, using cables with standard XLR (3-pin) mic connectors. Mostly the Sennheiser went into channel 1 (left) and the the Depusheng into channel 2 (right), though I did swap them over once or twice.The Depusheng is switched to 'normal'.

Results
In a nutshell, the Sennheiser is far more sensitive, and has less background hiss. The upside of that is its ability to pick up sounds which the Depusheng misses. However, the obvious corollary is an increased tendency to be affected by unwanted, non-birdy noises, and by wind. Even so, bird sounds were always discernible - quite obvious on a sonogram, and perfectly audible too. Here are few direct comparisons of specific bird sounds recorded by both mics over the last couple of weeks...


And a spectrovid comparison of the loudest calls (the two double-pillars on the right) - MKE600 first...


So, that's an example of something loud and obvious. In reality the Depusheng was just fine really. Obviously I would certainly have noticed those calls while reviewing the sonogram on Audacity. That Moorhen was nailed, whichever mic I was using.

How about something not quite as loud, like the lovely Golden Plover vocals from a couple of nights back?

Golden Plover. The scale and 'noise' in all these sonograms is exactly as it would appear on my laptop when reviewing a night's recording.
Detailed comparison of the loudest Golden Plover phrase (the third set in the image above)

The Sennheiser's sensitivity is beginning to tell now. Interestingly there is still some nice detail in the Depusheng sonogram, despite its reduced volume. This is what the two sound like...


Now for some much trickier ones. Redwing, Common Scoter and Wigeon follow. Rather than discuss each individually, I shall let the images and spectrovids do the talking. However, it will be pretty obvious that in each case I would have struggled with the Depusheng mic alone. I would have missed a whole flock of Wigeon, the Scoter, and probably two or three out of the seven Redwings.




 

Needless to say, this comparison has been a bit of an eye-opener for me. I was especially surprised at the Wigeon. They are basically invisible on the Depusheng sonogram, and inaudible on the video, but easily detectable (and identifiable) on the Sennheiser recording. Very telling I thought. It makes me wonder what I've missed over the last 12 months. That said, considering the quality birds I didn't miss, I'm certainly not complaining. And that cheap mic is a fine way to dip a toe in the nocmig water without breaking the bank.

PS. Apologies for the dreadful hiss on some of the vids. In order to make them louder I turned up the gain a bit too much I think!

PPS. On the videos you will notice a regular clicking sound on the Depusheng recordings. I don't know what is causing it, but it's just a nuisance rather than a major problem. Certainly the Depusheng has been perfectly okay up until now, and I'm happy to keep it as a reserve mic.

Hope that's been helpful to at least one or two readers.

13 comments:

  1. Love this Gavin - though the Depusheng has served me well since last March, like you thinking of upgrade. That said I'm thinking of giving a self made parabolic a go to see if that does any better...
    Hard in London given how much background noise there is, especially out of lockdown. All quality stuff!

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    1. Thanks Arjun. I'll bet a parabolic is much better than a a shotgun at cutting out - or at least reducing - background noise, so probably a wise move. Be interested to know how you get on.

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  2. Hi Gavin, very interesting, does the Sennheiser use mains power or batteries, if batteries how long do they last. Thanks Paul

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    1. Hi Paul. Up until now I've been using it on battery power in order to match the Depusheng (which only runs on battery power) as closely as possible. A single AA lasts approximately 150 hrs according to the user's manual. Handily, via a warning light it does let you know when the battery is running low. However, it also operates on 'phantom' power provided by the recorder, which is what I am using now that my side-by-side testing is finished. And the recorder is plugged in to the mains.

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  3. I don't nocmig apart from by ear from time to time (would be deafened by bloody corncrakes and sheep noise, you know how it is...) but even so I found this a really useful post. Eye/ear opening to see the side by side Wigeon flock! Looking forward to seeing how your new bit of kit performs this season. Any particular species you're hoping for?

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    1. Ortolan aside, obviously ;)

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    2. Last year, fellow nocmiggers kept getting birds that made me envious. Stone-curlew, Nightjar and Quail in particular. Amazingly, in each case it wasn't long before I'd recorded them too! So this year I don't have any specific wants at the moment. Being Dorset-based though, obviously Ortolan is required at some point. 😉
      My secret lust is Golden Oriole in the dawn chorus. I shall be checking!

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  4. Well that's a bit of a downer from a fellow £25 mic owner! Drat, as they say....

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    1. On the upside, at least it's done us proud for 12 months. Except for the missed Ortolans... 😄

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  5. It's like going from binoculars to a scope and well worth the money. I look forward to the next revelation.

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  6. Gavin, really useful post. I've bought some kit to try nocmig, I probably didn't do enough research, but also I've bought stuff that will work for my video project as well. So a Sennheiser MKE 200 and a Tascam O70x recorder. I'm hoping these will work for nocmig too, not tried yet as the weather has been grim. However, the problem here is too much night noise, especially in spring, similar to Gibster. There's a rookery next door, and they snore, all night, apart from anything else they do. There are about 100 Jackdaw roosting with them currently, noisy wee sods. Also the Curlew, Oystercatchers, Greylags etc etc. Shouldn't complain as all of this is truly lovely on a fine evening when I venture out, however I might struggle with the nocmig, giving it a go first non-hooley dryish night I get.

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    1. Most of the extraneous nighttime noises I get are made by humans in some way - vehicles mainly - and aren't really a bother. Dawn chorus is a big distraction on the sonogram, but once the Herring Gulls get going it's basically audio white-out! So, with your background corvids, waders and geese, I wish you all the best! I'm sure you'll still manage to get some nice surprises. 😊

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