Sennheiser MKE 400 and XS Lav review: My new go-to for run-and-gun [Video]

Growing their product offerings for mobile creators, Sennheiser is out with a new lineup including the XS Lav Mobile and 400 MKE compact shotgun microphone. Great for VOs and capturing on-camera audio, there are some nice options that go up against some stiff competition from the likes of Rode. Be sure to hit the video below to see and hear all the details, and how they stack up against some industry norms from Rode. 

The lineup

Sennheiser’s new mobile audio recording devices range from their omnidirectional lavalier microphones with various connections to two different shotgun mics. The lav mics are great for quick audio; just clip it onto a shirt, set your level, and start rolling. 

For on-camera audio, a few different features like battery power set the MKE 200 and MKE 400 apart. The 400 is much larger and requires two AAA batteries, which are included while the MKE 200 doesn’t require any extra power. This gives the MKE 400 more gain options as well as a headphone output for direct monitoring of the audio. 

If you want a super-simple plug-and-play option, then the $100 MKE 200 is definitely worth a look. It features a similar design as the MKE 400 with a front mount cable, enclosed shock mount, and included cables. But for the full-featured experience, the MKE 400 has a ton to offer for the $200 price point. 

MKE 400 out of the box

I opted to try out the MKE 400. Included in the box with the mic are the two required AAA batteries, a furry windshield, a simple pouch, a TRS to TRS cable, and a TRS to TRRS cable for various devices. 

And I have to say, I really like the looks of the Sennheiser MKE 400. Now I know that might be silly to say that a microphone looks good, but the hard mesh grill with a built-in windscreen that covers the microphone looks solid. And while there isn’t an external shock mount, there is one built into that hard housing.

Another design feature I really love about the MKE 400 is the removable cable. Not only is this great for using with the swappable TRRS or TRS cables, but you can also use your own. So in my situation, I can mount the mic like a shotgun mic for my studio videos and use a much longer 3.5mm cable to reach the camera.

MKE 400 and XS Lav mic: video

Another thing I love is that it appears the Sennheiser MKE 400 has an auto-power feature. Just by powering on my camera with the mic plugged in, the green power light will come on, and then when I turn off the camera the power turns off after a little bit. For me, that’s a huge feature. There have been many times where I’ve forgotten to turn off the power on my VideoMic Pro, and having a microphone do that itself is a huge headache saver that should make the 100-hour battery life actually live up to that lifespan. 

Additionally, Sennheiser also offers a mobile kit for the MKE 400. For $30 over the entry price of the microphone, this kit also includes a smartphone clamp and a Manfrotto PIXI mini tripod. This makes it a simple all-in-one package for getting great audio with the convenience of an included tripod. 

How does it sound? 

So far I’ve been very impressed by the sound coming out of the Sennheiser MKE 400. Recording in my studio and testing the microphone outside both yielded great-sounding results. In my studio, I compared it directly to the Razer Seiren Emote that I’ve been using for most of my videos, and I might actually start using the MKE 400 for all of my video recordings. The super-cardioid polar pattern worked well to combat the echoey nature of my room while my voice sounded fuller and less harsh than the Seiren Emote. 

When testing the microphone outside compared to the Rode VideoMic Pro, the Sennheiser MKE 400 seemed to knock out background noise in my yard better than the VideoMic Pro. Road noise and bird chirps were both less noticeable, which gave my voice some more presence. The EQ also seemed to highlight vocal ranges better than the more flat sound from the Rode VideoMic Pro. Be sure to check out the video to hear these comparisons for yourself. 

While both mics have shock mounts, the Rode Videomic Pro seemed to take out more of the lower-impact noises than the MKE 400. But in my time using the MKE 400 in a run-and-gun filming situation, I really didn’t notice the shock mount being an issue under normal use. 

XS LAV Mobile out of the box

Sennheiser’s XS LAV is pretty simple in nature but has a few features and options that make it great for present-day creators. For mobile devices, the $60 USB-C connection might be the perfect fit. But for a more traditional connection, the XS LAV can also sport a TRRS connector that still connects to smart devices for $50. 

Once again, my main comparison was with the Rode SmarLav that also features a TRRS connection. I then used a TRRS to TRS adapter to connect them directly to my Sony a7S iii. 

A few things set the XS LAV apart from the wildly popular Rode. First off, it is a bit bigger overall. This is especially evident when the windscreens are removed. This might be a no-go for some, but doesn’t really bother me. 

Sennheiser XS Lav on the left and Rode SmartLav Plus on the right

Another noticeable difference is that the cable is quite a bit longer on the XS LAV at 80 inches compared to 48 inches on the Rode. For creators, this can be very beneficial as it allows more freedom when tethered to a camera. Of course, you can always provide your own TRRS extension cable if needed, but for an all-in-one option, I prefer the longer cable. 

As far as sound quality, straight out of the camera the sound from the Sennheiser XS LAV sounded more lively for my voice while the SmartLav sounded a little flatter. This might be good or bad depending on your process, but for me, I enjoy the sound from the Sennheiser. It sounds more ready to go right out of the camera without additional tweaks in post.

Final thoughts

For the last few years, Rode has kind of been my go-to when it comes to camera audio. And they do make great products. But after testing out the MKE 400, I will be switching to the Sennheiser for most of my audio. I think I’m even going to give it a run for my studio reviews. 

While mounted on my a7S iii, the Sennheiser MKE 400 has many features that make it feel like an upgrade over previous on-camera microphones that I’ve used. The cable placement stays out of the way better than rear-mount cables like the simple Joby Wavo mic I sometimes use. The removable cable means that I can use my own and get more creative with mic placement in situations like recording in my studio. The auto on/off is a huge convenience that saves battery life for me. And when it comes down to it, I like the sound of the MKE 400 and its super-cardioid pattern. 

There are some situations where I’ll want the small form factor of the SmartLav, but overall I like the longer cable and the sound coming out of the Sennheiser XS LAV more than other lavalier mics I’ve used. 

Buy Sennheiser MKE 400

Buy Sennheiser XS LAV

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