- The Home Cinema Experience
MXL, a division of Marshall Electronics, has been in the professional AV space for nearly 30 years. While the Marshal brand spans both audio and video, MXL’s focus is entirely audio, specifically the capture and recording of audio be it in the studio or out in the field. The subject of this review is MXL’s FR-310 Hot Shoe Shotgun Microphone.
Retailing for $129.95, the FR-310 is aimed at the enthusiast or professional looking to acquire higher quality sound recordings from their DSLR rigs regardless of the situation or environment. The FR-310 therefore is rather small, lightweight and mounts directly to your DSLR’s hot shoe mount, though it does not draw power from your camera but rather from its own internal battery compartment that holds a single AAA battery (good for up to 500 hours). The FR-310 has an attached 3.5mm mini stereo connector, which for most cameras should be sufficient though adapters may be required for others (not included).
Being that the FR-310 is a shotgun microphone, it’s highly directional; meaning subjects or sounds located directly in its “line of sight” are going to be captured best. This is great for capturing dialog on the go, or music within a live venue. The FR-310 comes equipped with an integrated foam windscreen to further dampen the audible effects caused by outside of ambient elements. A three-way gain switch located along the side of the FR-310 ‘s base features settings for Low, Medium and High. The three gain settings make it possible to “tailor” the FR-310′s sensitivity and resulting sound as it pertains to capture depending on your surroundings and/or needs. For example, if you’re a fair distance from your subject you may want to set the gain to “High” in order to make the subject’s voice sound more immediate or close to camera. Conversely if you’re in a quiet space and are able to get up close and personal with your subject you may want to set the FR-310′s gain to “Low” so as not to boost other elements such as room tone etc. There is also a master on/off as well as Roll-off switch (all in one), with the latter (roll-off) effectively cutting the bass via a high-pass filter.
As I mentioned earlier the FR-310 is aimed at the DSLR market, therefore it is very small and lightweight. The FR-310 measures a mere 2.5 inches tall from the base of its hot shoe mount to the top of the microphone itself and comes in at just over 5 inches in total length. The FR-310 doesn’t add a great deal of weight to any DSLR rig at only 4.8 total ounces. The microphone itself is of the monaural Electret Condenser variety (10mm) with a reported frequency response of 40Hz to 20kHz, and an output impedance of 250 Ohms. The low frequency roll-off feature utilizes a -6dB/octave filter at 150Hz. As for the FR-310′s three gain settings they are as follows; -5dB (Low), 0dB (Medium) and +5dB (High). As I stated earlier the FR-310 utilizes a single AAA battery for power, which is good for up to 500 hours according to MXL. Connecting the FR-310 to your DSLR camera comes courtesy of an attached eighth inch stereo mini jack.
I recently began filming a YouTube video series entitled The Home Cinema Experience. I film each weekly episode via my Panasonic Lumix GH2 DSLR camera which I love, though admittedly the on board microphone leaves a lot to be desired. I reached out to MXL and requested the FR-310 specifically to see if it could bring a bit of audible production value to my series without breaking the bank. I had been researching a number of hot shoe mountable recording solutions and kept coming back to the FR-310 for I liked its form factor, reported ease of use and price.
Upon receiving the FR-310 for review I was immediately struck by MXL’s attention to detail just in the FR-310′s handling and construction. The FR-310 comes in its own silver metal case complete with molded foam inserts. This was a nice touch and wholly unexpected given the FR-310′s price point. I deal with a lot of AV products day in and day out and can count on one hand the number of which are shipped and treated with the same “respect” as the FR-310 is by its manufacturer MXL. Mounting the FR-310 to my GH2′s hot shoe mount was simple and straight forward though the attached cable did not fit my GH2′s external audio input, thus requiring me to buy an adapter. Thankfully my local Radio Shack had such an adapter in stock and for about $4.00 I was back in business.
Upon turning the power on for the first time I noticed a red light flash on then off. This was a bit confusing at first as I expected a light to perhaps come on, but not necessarily turn almost immediately off again. For a brief second I thought that maybe I had done something wrong and the microphone had entered a sort of “protection mode,” but a look at my GH2′s on board sound meters showed me otherwise. The on board battery light flashes to indicate that the unit is on and being powered then turns off so as not to become a distraction -another nice touch.
Depending upon where I filmed I found the gain settings to be very beneficial as I recorded each show using various settings to determine which was best for me and my situation. When I used to film in my living room, which is part of a more open concept living space, I found the “High” setting to be more beneficial as it gave my voice a greater sense of immediacy by mitigating the sheer volume of the space itself. However, when I moved my production upstairs to my studio, which is in a far more confined and controlled space, the “Low” and “Medium” settings proved more useful not to mention natural. If left on “High” in the studio, the resulting sound was a bit too “live” and possessed a noise floor that could be, at times, a bit unruly. If the FR-310 had but one setting this would be an issue but since you can “dial in” its level of gain to suit your situation or environment it’s far more universal than some microphones I had researched. That and the FR-310 proved, regardless of its setting(s), to be a welcomed improvement in every sense over my GH2′s on board microphone.
As for the FR-310′s Roll-off feature, I actually chose to leave it off for long term use as I found it somewhat altered the natural timbre of my voice just a bit. It should be noted that my voice naturally falls a bit on the low side. In certain situations however I can see how such a feature could be useful, however in my tests and usage it was pretty much left off.
What I Would Change
There’s not a whole lot that I don’t like about the MXL FR-310. For what it is I consider it to be a phenomenal performer. It’s effectiveness also did not go unnoticed as several of my fans commented that certain episodes of my series “sounded better” than previous ones. They were of course referring to the episodes where I started using the MXL FR-310 versus the ones where I had not.
All that being said about the only thing I believe I would ask for -at this juncture -with regards to the FR-310 itself would be for MXL to include the appropriate adapters to go from the unit’s 3.5mm jack to a 2.5mm jack, as not all DSLRs have 3.5mm inputs. My only other complaint, if you could call it that, would be that the two switches that select gain and/or turn the power on/off as well as engage the Roll-off feature are a bit “touchy”. They’re so small that selecting the right setting straight away can be a bit difficult, but not impossible. Other than that, given the FR-310′s price point, there really isn’t much to complain about in terms of its ease of use and ultimate performance.
I set out seeking an affordable solution to improve the sound quality of my ongoing YouTube series and I believe that is exactly what I got with the MXL FR-310. Superior to my Panasonic Lumix GH2′s on board microphone in every imaginable way, the FR-310 not only elevates my show’s perceived production value, it helps ensure that the information communicated within is conveyed naturally and clearly. Therefore I found the FR-310′s recorded results to be nothing if not fantastic, and its day-to-day ease of use and ruggedness, despite its plastic construction, to be terrific. For $129.95 retail, the FR-310 is, in my opinion, a great addition to any budget, or on the go DSLR shooter’s kit.