What’s basic but decent?

The question I am asked the most is something like “I have $2,000 and I need a sound kit.  What can I get?” The answer is of course, nothing.  But for just under $6,000 you could get a barely adequate package

  1. a shotgun mic
  2. an interior mic
  3. a boom
  4. a mixer
  5. a recorder
  6. a wireless kit


You can’t compromise very much on mics.  No matter how expensive your mixer or recorder is or how well you know how to use it, if your mic sucks, your audio sucks.  Period.  Also, you MUST have two mics, one shotgun for almost everything and one hyper or super cardiod for the spaces that a shotgun will not work.  Basically the rule of thumb is shotguns for exteriors and a small diaphragm condenser with a hyper cardiod polar pattern for interiors.  Really, do not compromise here because you will regret it.  Microphones for audio recording systems are analogous to lenses for cameras.  They will last forever, never lose their values and are the pointy end of the spear.  They have to be good.

What I own and totally recommend:

a. Shotgun: a Sennheiser 416 (about $1,000).  THE Hollywood classic that everything is compared to.  Better yet,  Sennheiser MKH-60 (about $1,500)
b. Small diaphragm condenser:  Schoeps CMC641 with a CUT1 (about $2,500)

Lower end:

a. Shotgun: Rode NTG 3 ($700)
b. Small diaphragm condenser: AT 4053b ($600)

If you are serious about audio, please do not compromise here.  Buy the good stuff.  This is not where you want to save money because it effects everything in the audio chain.


Your boompole can be your best friend.  It can make you a better audio person and get you nice and close to the talent.  It can also ruin the shot by being in it, make unwanted cable noises and destroy your back,   You should get a lightweight yet strong carbon fiber pole with collars that hold firm but are easy to twist and that makes minimal handling noise.  This is a place most people save some money though.  You need at least a 9 foot pole, The K-Tek Avalons are decent, about $225 for a 9-footer.


Mixers are a must.  They are the control center of your audio chain  Mixers allow you to combine multiple diverse inputs (mics, wireless receivers other mixers), send phantom power to mics that require it, set an appropriate gain structure for these inputs, send them to appropriate channels on multiple outputs (multiple cameras, IFB, other mixers, recorders) at the appropriate levels and mix and monitor levels properly.  The preamps, high pass filter and peak limiter capabilities on professional mixers are lifesavers at times. A mixer is a must-have piece of gear and a lot of people skip it until they realize they will never get hired without one.  Sound Devices is an industry standard.  The SD 302 mixer can handle three channels of input (there is a way to get an extra channel) and has multiple output possibilities.  They cost around $1,300.


Recorders are often the least important piece of gear in your audio chain on many shoots.  Many shoots record direct to camera and don’t use recorders, although it is always a good practice to have a redundant backup, which is what a lot of recorders are used for.  It is useful to have separate tracks on your recorder for each input device you have so you can have a track of each actor recorded individually for post work.  If you are shooting to a DSLR, you have to have a second system recorder but you don’t have to worry about a time code recorder.  If you are not using time code, I think a great recorder is the Tascam DR-680 because you get six tracks for about $630.


The RF world requires pro quality so I would recommend getting into the cheapest Lectrosonics 400 series kit available.  That would be the LMa transmitter and the UCR401a receiver.  Again, don;t compromise on mics, buy a Sanken COS-11D lav mic.

So the bad news is a very minimal kit would be:

Basic Sound Kit
Shotgun 700 Rode NTG-3 (I really recommend the 416)
Interior Mic 600 AT 4053b (ditto on the Schoeps)
Boom 225 K-Tek Avalon 1100
Mixer 1300 Sound Devices 302
Recorder 630 Tascam DR-680
Wireless 1909 Lectrosonics LMa transmitter, UCR401a Receiver
379 Sanken COS11D lav
Total: 5743

You still need a bag, cables and a battery system for powering everything but this is definitely a start.

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