Recording location dialogue with an old Sony ECM-MS957 stereo microphone

Audio production is one of my personal interests and now that I've returned to doing more video production projects lately, I've been able to rekindle the interest and put to use some the skills and equipment that have been shelved for almost 10 years.  I would go so far as to say that I have a passion for sound or audio.

The trusty Sony ECM-MS-957 is a perfect match (despite it's slightly bulky size) for the Sony A7 series of cameras.

Clean audio or die trying

In the context of audio for video production, capturing clean and clear audio (dialogue or ambience) is in many ways more important than the look or quality of the image that goes with it.  It's well known that audiences also subconsciously judge the quality of a production primarily by the sound so it really can't be overlooked.  

Many professionals regard audio a tougher skill to master than the operation of video camera.  It's usually a dead giveaway as to the experience or professionalism of a videographer if their productions have poor audio.  Getting to know how to manage recording levels, maintain a low noise floor and proper gain structure, selecting the right microphone/s to match the subject and circumstances and honestly, knowing when to outsource the location recording to a dedicated sound recordist.

 

The 957 in action

This is a sample audio clip taken from a corporate production I am working on that may be a useful example of the capability of the old Sony ECM-MS957 Mid-side stereo microphone (also known as the ECM-957PRO). With its 3.5mm TRS consumer-style connector, it's ideal for connection to DSLRs offering the 3.5mm stereo connector (with or without plug-in power) for microphones.

This clip is recorded directly into the Sony A7R mirrorless camera with the microphone shock-mounted atop the camera's cold shoe as per the picture. In the scene, two female Police officers are describing features of Blackwater, a small town in Queensland Australia.

I believe this shows the versatility of the microphone as both an ambience and dialogue mic. In a pinch, it could be used on a pole as a relatively directional cardioid in place of a shotgun. Very handy if you're travelling light.

As true with any microphone, choosing the mounting options and wind protection also help a great deal.  I purchased the Rycote windjammer for the 957 from B&H.

 

M-S stereo is versatile

The cold shoe shock mount (sourced from eBay) with white neoprene spacer (just a sacrificed mouse pad trimmed to size) and a Rycote windjammer covering the original foam pop filter.

Using a mid-side stereo microphone or M-S pair technique allows for later adjustment of the width of the stereo field.  An M-S microphone consists of two elements.  The MID: a cardioid, hypercardioid, shotgun (lobar) or generally directional capsule forming the center of the sound field, and the SIDE:  a specialised figure-8 capsule that is capable of capturing sound from both sides of the capsule's diaphragm.  The '8' refers to the shape of the polar pattern with the diaphragm at the central intersection of the 8 and the lobes showing the sound pickup from both sides.  When working with an M-S signal pair, the signal from both the mid and side capsules are mixed together (known as matrixing) into the stereo signal with the width of the stereo image being adjustable depending on the ratio of mid to side on the mixer.

Consumer microphones such as the 957 do the processing of the mid and side capsules onboard for you and output a conventional stereo signal. The 957 offers a 90 or 120 degree selection. This recording is at the 120 degree setting. In the second pass of the clip, it's mixed down to mono to demonstrate the mono-compatibility of the M-S technique.

The Sony ECM-MS957's capsules.  Side capsule at the top (or end), and the cardioid mid capsule lower down shown rotated to almost 90 degrees.  Normally, it would face up, on-axis with the mic body.

 

Why the 957 when there are so many other choices?

Firstly, because I already had it.  It's a mic that I bought it on eBay years ago because I intended to record ambience tracks to go with photo slideshows - a project that never eventuated.  These days, I would probably use the Tascam DR-40 for that particular tasks, but when it comes to getting decent audio direct to the camera, I like the 957.   It's very solidly built totally from metal.  Mine has survived a hiding with only light scratches to show.  The grille is still intact and as you can hear, is sonically still pretty good.  It lasts for ages on a commonly available AA battery (not a 9v - I'm looking at you, Rode!) and it has a hidden feature of being able to convert the 5-pin XLR output into a fully balanced twin XLR for professional cameras or recorders.  Why they never offered the twin XLR option at the time of sale, I'll never know.

I did a teardown some years ago and I show the pinouts and pictures of the innards.