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Recently, a whole world of video and filmmaking opportunities has opened up to photographers, thanks to the fact that nearly every DSLR camera is capable of shooting surprisingly good High Definition, or sometimes even 4K, video. However, there is one area in which the DSLR lags behind greatly, and that is in sound. You may not realize it at first, but good sound is really just as important to a final video as is good cinematography.
While an experienced photographer might have a head start composing good shots, they are probably ill prepared to record good audio. It also does not help that the built-in microphones in most DSLR or prosumer level video cameras are not of the highest quality, nor does it help that the world of pro audio has a vocabulary that may seem like a foreign language to some. When you're looking for a good microphone, do you know what pickup pattern you want—cardioid? supercardioid? omnidirectional? Do you need Stereo or is Mono OK? Do you need a low-pass filter? What about phantom power? If trying to purchase a microphone feels confusing, and what you really want is just a high-quality microphone that records with clean precision, then the Mitra 3D Mic Pro might be what you want.
The Mitra 3D Mic Pro is a high-quality stereo microphone with a very unique design. Unlike most other stereo setups that comprise semi-directional microphones pointed in different directions, the Mitra 3D Mic Pro's stereo mics are placed about as far apart as human ears, which along with the microphone's built-in SHEM audio processing engine helps emulate the psychoacoustic manner in which our ears hear sound. One of the main ways the brain determines the direction from which a sound travels is by comparing the delay between the perception of that sound from one ear to the other. Since sound travels at a "paltry" 343 meters per second, the difference is noticeable. It is hard to replicate that sound delay without spacing the microphones the same distance apart as our ears, and the main concept of the Mitra 3D Mic Pro's design is to emulate human ears; it even has little earlobe-like nubs on each side.
The Mitra 3D Mic Pro also differs from many other high-end stereo microphones in the way it is marketed. Unlike most microphones in the Mitra 3D Mic Pro's price bracket, Mitra does not highlight technical specs, such as the mic's polar pattern, frequency range, maximum SPL, or other audio-specific specs. Instead, Mitra highlights the manner in which the 3D Mic mimics the way our ears perceive sound in the natural world, to create 3D quality through its proprietary audio processing and unique microphone design. The microphone is not aimed at people who know how to mix their own 5.1-channel surround sound; it’s for people who want to get high-quality, natural stereo sound straight out of the microphone, without needing a dedicated sound guy.
I had the opportunity to test the Mitra 3D Mic Pro, and the first thing I noticed when I took it out of the box was its size. It is a rather large microphone, much larger than my a7S or Tascam sound recorder. It is powered by two 9V batteries, and the only control the microphone has is an Off/On switch. There is no filter or padding switch, or any other controls or settings on the mic. Output-wise, the mic has a stereo mini-jack, along with two 3-pin XLR outputs. The generation of the 3D Mic Pro I tested was version 3, which does have mic-level output on the stereo mini jack, meaning it needs no attenuator cable to use with the mic-level inputs commonly found on DSLR cameras. For those who don't need balanced audio outputs, there is an essentially identical version with just the stereo mini-jack output, called the 3D Mic Indie. The mic definitely looks unique, and since it sounds great I don't think I have a problem with the design, though it might pose a little challenge of balance when mounted on a DSLR's hot shoe.
To test the mic, I tried to use it in environments with a lot of sound coming from different directions. In the first test, I took the Mitra Mic out to Fort Tilden, near Breezy Point, here in New York City. The old military base is now a public park dotted with buildings that have very leaky roofs, and the melting snow dripping through the many holes seemed an ideal spot to test the 3D Mic. To see how the mic handles when plugged directly into a camera, I connected the 3D Mic Pro directly into the a7S via the stereo mini-jack output. For the second test, I connected the 3D Mic Pro to a Tascam DR 60D Mark II recorder and went underground to a busy Brooklyn subway station to see how well the mic could capture the many sounds, coming from all directions. Both tests should be available for listening, below. There is no corresponding video for the subway test because I was just using the recorder.
While I was just given the bare microphone to play with, Mitra has a number of accessories available for the microphone, to expand its capabilities. A is available, made to accommodate the 3D Mic Pro's unique shape, as well as a Mitra five-section boompole and Grey Fox Windshield to combat wind noise. I wish I had the windshield when I was recording near the beach, but I didn't notice any wind noise anywhere else, even though there was quite a breeze from approaching trains underground in the subway station.
Before listening to the recordings, I made sure to equalize the audio based on Mitra's recommended equalizer settings, which were attached to the microphone (and are also available on Mitra's website). The microphone captures very high and very low frequencies, which is a good thing for a microphone to do, but Mitra recommends turning the high-pitched frequencies down for a more natural sound when played back. The audio will sound a bit top-heavy if you don't.
After adjusting the equalizer, I listened to the two samples to see how real they sounded. In the dripping water test , I definitely could tell there was something more unusual recording sound than a standard stereo microphone. To me, it really does sometimes sound like there is water coming from all directions. I found the subway test to sound a bit less that way, probably due to the fact that subway stations behave like echo chambers. Other than the 3D parts of the 3D Mic Pro, I also found the mic to be a good performer in the sound-quality department, as well. It captures a great deal of detail in the highs and lows, and I didn't notice any distortion—even in the loud subway environment.
The Mitra 3D Mic Pro is not a directional microphone. It is no replacement for a shotgun microphone when it comes to recording dialogue. It is designed to capture the atmospheric audio of a scene or B-roll and background audio—and it does this in a more natural-world manner, thanks to the way the microphone’s design and processing engine emulate the human auditory experience. It is also designed to be easy to set up (the lack of any settings helps), and hard to mess up. Experienced sound professionals who want fine control over mixing might not like the absence of controls on the 3D Mic Pro, but people who don't want to have to carefully mix audio to get a more surround-sound quality will be drawn to this microphone. The Mitra 3D Mic Pro does a good job at what it is intended to do—the audio does have an immersive feel in some situations, but mostly it is a truly good-sounding microphone.