Every serious shooter needs a good shotgun microphone in the arsenal. When handhelds, lapels and even wireless won’t work, shotgun mics come to the rescue with their tight patterns and distance pickup. What’s that? You don’t own a shotgun mic? If you’re in the market, you should consider the AT897 from Audio-Technica.
The AT897 falls into the short shotgun category with its eleven-inch length and less than one-inch diameter. It’s also a featherweight at just over five ounces. It’s finish is a nice matte charcoal gray and the mic comes in a padded vinyl case, complete with foam windscreen, battery and stand adapter. Audio connection is made with a standard XLR connector. The user manual is a simple sheet of paper outlining the specifications and pickup pattern, but you won’t need any more instruction for use. Just plug it in and go.
If your mixer or camera supplies phantom power, the AT897 can use it. If not, a single AA battery will operate the mic for up to 1200 hours. That’s handy because there is no on/off switch. If you want to completely power down, you’ll have to remove the battery. The low-cut switch is recessed and impossible to flip accidentally. The low-cut frequency is around 80Hz with a steep slope, removing the rumble you don’t want and leaving your important audio intact. All shotgun microphones are not created equal. Several design methods can create a directional pattern, but the AT897 uses the line+gradient technique. I’ll spare you the physics lesson as long as you understand that this method focuses a lot of sound energy on the mic element and rejects a great deal of background noise.
All those facts and figures look nice, but how does it sound? We tested the AT897 both in the studio and in the field. In the studio, we connected to our mixer and recorded an interview and a voice over. In the interview, we simply held the microphone and pointed it back and forth between interviewer and interviewee. This revealed some high-pitched handling noise – almost a ping – when fingers fumbled the handle. This was only a minor annoyance. Audio was clean, clear and free of the ambient noise from the room. Next, we put the AT897 in a shock mount stand and recorded a voice over. Working the mic this close emphasized the lows and highs which made the mids sound a little thin. We stepped back a few inches and the sound began to focus. Obviously, shotgun mics are most advantageous for distance pickup but it was interesting to hear the effect up close.
Outside, we plugged into an HDV camcorder for another interview and recorded some sound effects. The interview was very conventional with the mic on a boom pole over the talent’s head. The foam windscreen did an admirable job of eliminating a light breeze but it was less effective on wind gusts. As with all shotguns, if you shoot outdoors on a regular basis, invest in a fur-covered zeppelin. Outdoor audio was excellent – as clean and natural as we’ve ever heard from a microphone in this price range. The slight boost in the high frequencies helps overcome some of the effects of distance miking and gave our interview audio a crisp, full sound. For sound effects, we recorded a small waterfall and some random critter noises in the woods. The waterfall was very well defined but a touch brittle. Nothing you couldn’t fix with an EQ tweak in post. Even though recorded in mono, wilderness noises showed powerful dimension. It was surprisingly easy to identify individual creatures and their distance from the recording position. I’m saving this recording for my sound effects library.
It’s a Keeper
At $250, the Audio-Technica AT897 is a bargain, with excellent sound quality and a sturdy build. Sonically, it holds its own against higher priced mics. The weight is perfect for camera mounting and its shorter length keeps it out of the shot. While I might call the sound extra-crispy, others would say it’s well defined. Regardless, it worked well in all our tests and bettered a couple of other mics we tested. If you could only buy one mic for your video rig, the Audio-Technica AT897 should be a contender.
With a modest price and excellent quality, it’s no wonder the Audio-Technica AT897 has become a favorite with videographers.
Element: fixed-charge back plate, permanently polarized condenser
Polar Pattern: line + gradient
Frequency Response: 20-20,000 Hz
Low Frequency Roll-off: 80Hz, 12 dB/octave
Open Circuit Sensitivity: phantom: -40 dB (10.0 mV) re 1V at 1 Pa; w/battery: -41 dB (8.9 mV) re 1V at 1 Pa
Impedance: phantom: 200 ohms; battery: 300 ohms
Maximum Sound Level: phantom: 129 dB SPL, 1 kHz at 1% T.H.D.; w/battery: 115 dB SPL, 1 kHz at 1% T.H.D.
Dynamic Range (typical): phantom: 112 dB, 1 kHz at Max SPL; w/battery: 98 dB, 1 kHz at Max SPL
Signal-to-noise Ratio: 77 dB, 1 kHz at 1 Pa
Phantom Power Requirements: 11-52V DC, 2 mA typical
Battery Type: 1.5V AA/UM3
Battery Current / Life: 0 4 mA / 1200 hours typical (alkaline)
Switch: flat, roll-off (recessed)
Weight: 5.1 oz (145 g)
Dimensions: 10.98″(279.0 mm) long, 0.83″ (21.0 mm) diameter
Output Connector: integral 3-pin XLRM-type
Accessories Furnished: AT8405a stand clamp for 5/8″-27 threaded stands; AT8134 windscreen; battery; 5/8″- 7 to 3/8″-16 threaded adapter; protective carrying case
Audio-Technica Case Style: SG2
- Highly directional
- Very low self-noise
- Professional sound quality
Contributing Editor Hal Robertson is a digital media producer and technology consultant.
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