With the increased popularity of small form-factor interchangeable-lens cameras comes the need for better audio. The internal mic’s on mirrorless cameras and DSLR’s are typically only good enough for audio sync. That said, most using those cameras don’t have the capacity for a recordist or a boom operator.
The Azden SMX-30 is a video microphone with both mono and stereo capabilities, offering two separate capsules for switchable function. Have some dialogue to capture? Put it in mono mode and you will have a camera-mounted, super-cardioid shotgun mic. Need to capture the atmosphere for your scene to come alive? Switch it to stereo mode and you’ll record a stereo image with 120 degrees of coverage via two cardioid mics working in tandem.
The SMX-30 is really two mics in one. Switching between stereo and mono operation is done by flipping a switch on the back. Also on the back is a level adjustment for +20db, 0db and a pad of -10db. For our tests, we set the level adjustment to +20 and decreased the gain on the camera as low as it would go to ensure we were hearing what the mic had to offer rather than the preamp in the camera. There are two more switches on the back: the on/off switch and a 120hz low-cut filter.
The SMX-30 is really two mics in one. Switching between stereo and mono operation is done by flipping a switch on the back.
The overall build quality of this mic is nice; it’s made from hard plastic and doesn't feel cheap. Based on the look and feel, it appears that it could last a good amount of time. With that assumption, Azden does back the mic with a 10 year warranty, so it seems they are confident about its construction as well.
The Testing Process
For testing, we wanted to contrast the Azden with other mics on the market. Being that it’s both stereo and mono, we compared it to two different products. For the stereo tests we put it up against the Rode Stereo Videomic X, and for the mono tests we used the Rode Videomic Pro.
One big thing to keep in mind for the comparison is that the Stereo Videomic X’s MSRP is $800 and the SMX-30 is just $250, so take this comparison with a grain of salt. A more fair heads up is with the Videomic Pro at $230, where the cost difference between them is only $20.
For our tests, we also felt it important to test both stereo and mono options and contrast them against what the camera could do with its internal mic. For all shooting we used the Panasonic Lumix GH4.
For mono tests, we did the same set up in two different environments. The subject was 5 feet away, directly in front of the camera, speaking to the camera. The first of the two locations was an office with loud air conditioning and a small amount of chatter in a large open space. The other was in a controlled studio with no other outside noises.
As expected, the camera’s built-in mic’s sound was not captured from a focused area, but rather from everywhere; the mic captured anything making sound. In the office, it picked up conversations but not enough to know what was being said, and it caught the A/C humming loudly. Only because of proximity could you hear the subject speaking. In the studio, we had the same experience, but because there were no other sound sources, you could hear the reflections of the room — hardly ideal.
On the other hand, when using the Azden SMX-30 in mono mode, the sound was now coming from a distinct direction: forward. The A/C could be heard, and the hubbub of the room was still present, but far less so. It sounded good, thoughsubtly different from the Videomic. We felt the Rode had a bit more presence, but still suffered from the uncontrolled space. The same result came when in the controlled studio, but with even more subtle differences between the Azden and the Rode. Deciding which is better is too subjective for us to rule on, so we encourage you to watch our video review and judge for yourself.
For stereo tests, we went in expecting the Videomic X to outperform the Azden. It has larger mic capsules in a different configuration. However, it gave us a great baseline for evaluating how much value you get from the far more affordable SMX-30. The two stereo situations we tested were the inside of a noisy and busy cafeteria and outside in the center square during lunch time at a local university.
The camera built-in mic’s performance inside was muddy and without focus. In this situation, the built-in mic would be a viable option because it did get the feel of the room. It was just not as pleasing as the results from Azden or Rode. The Azden had a nice stereo image, but the two channels felt very separate from each other. There was more of a left, right and center experience from the sound, whereas audio from the Stereo Videomic X felt far more natural and had great clarity, providing a more immersive experience and even capturing the high-frequency hum of an ice maker — the other two mics didn't even pick that up.
Outside, there was a booth set up playing big band versions of 90’s grunge music along with people having conversations. However, it was in a big square where very few reflections could be heard. Overall, we had the same experience as when we recorded inside, but the differences between all three were harder to distinguish.
Again, we must stress the extreme cost difference here. The two Rode mics have a combined price of $1,030 while the Azden is only $250.
Things to Consider
It’s key to choose the right product when making any equipment purchase. However it’s also key that you operate whatever tool you have to its and your own best ability. A lower quality mic properly placed almost always records better audio than a better mic that is poorly placed. Sure, you could get lucky, but it’s best to use your ears to find the best place from which to capture the sound so you have the highest fidelity. That being said, these mics are all designed to be placed on the shoe of your camera and have a short cord. Because of this, you’re limited to that location. Keep this in mind because your expectations for what these products can do could be more related to their placement rather than the actual products themselves.
Compared to both of the other products, the Azden performs well and it’s a good value. For $20 more than the Videomic Pro, the Azden SMX-30 adds a stereo mic option. Although the stereo performance didn’t keep up with the $800 Videomic X, it did a fine job for its price. Because it’s nicely built with smart options, we feel it would be a good investment for anyone looking to add an external mic to their production setup.
- Robust build quality
- Mono/Stereo Switching
- Stereo image wasn't fluid
- Corporate Videographers
- Independent Filmmakers
- Event Videographers
- Jack of All Trades
The Azden SMX-30 is a mono/stereo switchable video mic which has a robust build and performs well for its price.
Form Factor: Shotgun & Stereo Mic
Pickup Pattern: Mono: Super-Cardioid, Stereo: Cardioid (120º)
Powered: 48V phantom, 44V-52V
Connection type: 3.5mm Stereo mini plug
Battery type: (2) AA
Mute switch: Yes
Frequency Response: 40Hz - 20kHz
Sensitivity: -36dB @ 1kHz
Chris Monlux plays the guitar, piano, drums and bass. He is also Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.