Review: Zoom M3 Mictrak Stereo Shotgun Microphone

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Review: Zoom M3 Mictrak Stereo Shotgun Microphone

Words by Rob Gee

Dynamic Music | RRP: $399

We’ve seen some great innovations in portable digital recording from Zoom over the years, as they continue to prove that location and size are no real restriction to quality audio recording. Now, with the release of the M3 MicTrak, Zoom have again stepped up their game in a new area of digital audio recording – DSLR camera use. This M3 MicTrak takes a hot shoe mounted shotgun microphone and combines it with an on-board digital audio recorder, all of which can be powered by batteries. But they’ve gone one step further, with the addition of 32-bit Float recording. This is going to change the way you look at quality camera audio forever.

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It’s always been a bit of a tough one, getting good quality audio recording on a DSLR. That is, without having to carry a backpack full of gear, a car battery and an inverter. Well, Zoom has changed all that. The M3 MicTrak is the device I wish we had ten years ago, and it will probably still be a device I will want to have in ten years’ time. Fair warning, I am going to go on and on about how good this thing is. For what it’s worth, the M3 MicTrak deserves it.

There are plenty of great camera mountable shotgun microphones on the market. I have used many of them and have found a few favourites for different situations. However, with the release of the M3 MicTrak, you could just about do away with the rest and just work with the one. This stereo condenser microphone combines several focal points, with a 90 and 120 degree stereo span, as well as a mono option for extreme direct recording of a single source. This allows you to really hone in on a presenter when you don’t want environmental noise coming into the picture. It comes complete with its own suspension mount and wind sock, so you can properly isolate the camera from operating noise, handling noise and environmental noise. The mount is quite a neat little design, with four rubber arms on all sides of the battery casing, where the most weight is, to evenly suspend the microphone and isolate it from the camera. This can be secured to your camera with a hot shoe mount, or adapted for a microphone desk or boom stand for use in the studio, or recording podcasts/YouTube videos.

Similarly to just about every shotgun microphone for DSLRs, there is a connecting cable to run the audio into your camera and record directly to the video in place of the camera’s built-in microphone. That is great, and does offer an incredible improvement over the camera’s audio, but you’re still stifled by the camera’s audio recording limitations. So, Zoom took matters into their own hands and included an onboard recording system in the housing of the microphone. I mean, with all their experience in portable digital recorders, it just makes sense that they would deliver in both quality and compact design. And with that, Zoom has gone above and beyond what you might expect from a camera mounted audio recorder with 32-bit float recording on board.

What you get is an incredible audio recording that requires no adjustment of the gain settings at the recording stage without any digital clipping. This may seem odd, but one way of looking at it is that 32-bit float recording is capturing audio well above the ceiling that has previously been a limitation on digital audio – the cut-off point that causes clipping. You can record with amazing dynamic range and capture just about everything. From the quietest nuance to the loudest crash, the audio is captured clearly and without distortion, so that it can then be adjusted in post-production. It’s like having an almost infinite dynamic range, where a huge amount of audio is captured for every second, but only at the expense of about 1/3 extra recording space. With limited dynamic range, you end up clipping if a signal goes too high, and you don’t hear a lot of the quieter sounds if you adjust the gain to counteract loud signal sources. So, the result is you end up missing something. 32-bit float recording ensures it’s all there and can be recalled as you require with gain adjustments in your editing software. 

This all gets recorded onto the hardware at the base of the microphone above the camera mount for transfer later into your DAW. You can also record with the connected cable into the camera simultaneously, for an additional audio capture as a guide, backup or alternative. As mentioned, all of this is achieved with just two AA batteries, further keeping the unit’s size and weight to a minimum, whilst allowing up to 12 hours’ recording time. Your camera battery will be long dead before the M3 MicTrak is, so you’ll be able to hear the camera guy swearing on the audio recording when he has to change batteries at a critical moment.

All that said, this is not just a location recorder. You can bring the M3 MicTrak into the studio, office or living room and use it as a direct recorder into your DAW. So, for those of you who want to record YouTube videos at home, as well as on the go, you can use the same microphone on your camera or directly into your computer. It acts as a direct audio interface for recording in this manner, and also integrates with your computer after a location recording for seamless transfer of audio. The included M# Edit and Play software makes transfer and adjustment of audio as simple as it should be.

Zoom has got it right on all levels with this device. It really is going to change the way so many video and content producers are going to think about their audio recording. Just because you need your equipment to be compact and lightweight, does not mean you have to suffer a reduced audio quality. You can now bring your video content to life with the best audio recording you are going to hear from something of this size.

For more information, check out Zoom’s product page. For domestic enquiries, get in touch with Dynamic Music.