An unhealthy obsession
with fake Sennheiser MKH416 microphones
UPDATE: 7/18/2017: REFUND RECEIVED!!! In recent weeks, at least 2 more sellers of fake 416’s have popped up on ebay, all from China. That makes at least 4 ebay sellers to date.
UPDATE: 7/10/2017 An Ebay return claim was filed based on counterfeit goods, and the fake 416 is on its way back to China. They fronted the return cost of shipping (US$54), and say they will refund the purchase price upon receipt of the mic. They have been very cordial in the transaction.
Last month I knowingly purchased a fake MKH416 so I could compare it with a real MKH416. It just arrived today, with case, in a padded envelope.
OK, we’ll get right to the good stuff first. If you are here looking for an competently made, uncompressed audio comparison between a real 416 and a fake 416, its just below.
Listen/Download the Real vs Fake MKH416 Comparison Audio File Here
After listening to the file, and maybe reading the below saga, bookmark this page, as I will be documenting my efforts in refunding the $490 spent on this mic from ebay. In the process, I’m developing somewhat of a relationship with the seller, and hope to get an interview.
The file is a 24bit, 48k stereo wav file, with the fake mic on one channel, and the real on the other. See if you can determine which is which. The file is 45MB, about 2:00 minutes. Recorded interior and exterior at different distances, on and off-axis. Use your favorite playback utility that allows you to solo A/B either channel into both ears. Or split the stereo track into two mono files and solo them. Can you identify the real 416? Left or Right?
The two mics were recorded using a Sound Devices Mix-Pre D into Audacity running on a Macbook Air. The mics were plugged straight into the side of the Mix-Pre D, setting them about an inch apart.
Which mic is which? Is the fake Mic 1 on the Left, or Mic 2 on the right? Any mixers out there confident enough to take a chance on being wrong? Leave a comment.
Fake MKH416’s have been in the marketplace for at least 3 years. They were/are sold primarily through ebay. Prices were initially very low, about US$300. When users discovered that the market was tainted by fake 416s, the sellers responded by raising the price of the mics on ebay, to make them seem more like their genuine counterparts. Sennheiser eventually took action and managed to respond with various cloak and dagger stuff on which they don’t wish to expound. They expanded their website to respond to counterfeit inquires, and added holographic labels to the boxes, stuff like that. At least with the 416, their efforts seem to cut down much of the distribution of fakes.
However, there are sellers on ebay peddling fake 416’s. Who knows if there are hundreds stored in some Shenzhen warehouse?
I have a sideline business that upgrades the older 416 T-power mics to 48 volt phantom at www.416Tupgrade.com. Resultingly, I’ve been particularly interested in the daily street value of the 416 microphone, as I have ended up with a pile of them from R&D efforts. I’m interested in how the sale of counterfeits and other marketplace factors effects the mic’s value. So I’ve been following the sellers of fake 416s on ebay for a couple of years. And my fascination with the affair led to me buying my own counterfeit 416, just to get my hands on one, and test it, compare it, and follow the seller’s trail through an ebay purchase. Down the rabbit hole I go!
A quick review of everything we know about spotting a fake Sennheiser MKH416:
They are typically sold on ebay from sellers in China. The box is the old-style blue striped Sennheiser Box. The plastic case often has the blue “Sennheiser” painted poorly. The label on the box may have the “U3” inverted to “3U” The foam windscreen is squarely cut and looks cheap. See photos below.
Here’s some internal construction photos of a fake 416 (top) and a real 416(below)
The fakes have none of the RF suppression properties of the real thing. They will noise-up around plug-on transmitters and walkie-talkies. The output is about 3db lower than the genuine. (compensated for in the above sound file.) The painted lettering on the mic’s side is uneven and the letters are taller than the originals. The “Made in Germany” insignia is roughly stamped, unlike the authentic mic.
Oh, and they sound very similar, if not almost just like the real thing. Did I mention that its very difficult to to tell the two apart by ear? Well, it is. Anyone purchasing one of these fakes who didn’t know any better (like a student, amateur docmentartian or a wedding photographer) would be very happy with it.
The fake sounds miles better than the noisy 416 wannabe Aputure DIety. Those guys could learn a thing or two from our counterfeit friends. Much simpler design, too. See Rastop’s cool teardown video of a fake below. (He’s Gotham Sound’s repair technician). We immediately see that the build quality of the circuit board is pretty nasty. The FET and 1 gigohm resistor indicate a passive electret capsule is mounted above the circuit board.
I see no need to replicate Rastop’s efforts. I’ll soon be making my ebay refund request, and I want to keep the sellers from making a damage claim. And if ebay’s policies follow through, or the seller responds negatively, I may be able to keep the mic anyway, like a war trophy.
Some details on the counterfeiters:
The ebay auctions will always describe the 416 as “99% new”, or even “90% new”, as they feel this exempts them from having to respond to counterfeit claims.
The current (June 2017) ebay seller’s ID is vpower.hk8 or emma2012g.
They also have an alternate ID of w3vpower.hk
The seller seems to be a Chinese company that makes parts/batteries for electric bicycles.
that audio file is very difficult to tell apart.
they both sound good, in that neither is crappy, and similar in tone, although one sounds a little fuller in the low mids, the other sounds punchier, but I can’t say one is better than the other.
I had the good fortune to find a $700 second hand 416 through a friend and tested it before buying it and though it sounded good so must be the real deal. I used it a bit on my next gig, but found it a bit noisey in low volume situations and the directionalty of it felt ‘difficult’.
Then I saw the recent articles on the fakes, and it had a silver screw, not a black one, then the S and E were to close together and a bit blocky, then opened it up and the insides were nothing like a real one.
The thing is, it’s not a bad sounding mic. If they’d just manufactured and released it under their own name for it’s real worth. it’s a $200-600 dollar short shotgun, maybe.
Thanks for your comments. Indeed it is not a bad sounding mic, but it has none of the RF interference protections from plug-on transmitters, nearby walkie-talikes, etc. And its much quieter than the highly touted Aputure Diety shotgun, which is another attempt at knocking off the 416.
yes, I was lucky enough to have my friend refund the money and take the mic back. Obviously he’s not happy it’s a fake but it works ok for his needs and he has a rf filter cable.
Thanks for your comments. In day-to-day location sound application, I would have not been able to tell the difference, based purely on sound quality
Great blog post Peter… and fun game! I’ll play. I think the fake is L channel and the Sennheiser is the R. There seemed to be just a slight bit more bass response and hump in the R channel…. but VERY similar sound across the board. If you don’t want to spoil the game, please email me the correct answer. Thanks!
They are really very similar. I feel that the mic 1 has a little bit of saturation and mic 2 has a better axis in the external at the end of the file. I will go, not very convinced, with mic 2.
Thanks for the article and review. I’ve been curious about the 416 fakes on eBay for sometime and though there is some info out on the web about it, this is a very comprehensive look at the products.
Looking forward to what happens when you follow up with Seller.
Thanks. So far the seller is playing it by the book. He is says he will paypal me the $54 to ship the mic back to Hong Kong, then he will refund the full purchase price. Hopefully he won’t claim loss or damage. But I will insure the package. He probably knows that if he plays nice, ebay won’t shut him down. $54 is a small price to pay to continue making large profits on fake junky 416 copies.
At least on my setup, with JBL LSR4328Ps, the differences between the two mics were not as great as I would have expected.
The mic in the Left channel, seemed to have a subtle degree of greater off axis rejection, frequency dependent of coarse, perhaps what one might expect from a cardioid rather than a medium shotgun, with the Left mic sounding almost “muddy,” at least as compared to the mic in the Right channel.
The mic in the Right channel was subjectively brighter in the upper portion of the spectrum, at least to me, actually what I would expect from the Sennheiser 416 with its characteristic high end “presense” , though neither mic sounded particularly linear in the upper half of the spectrum.
Also, the Left mic seemed to have less of a “tail” in the polar response than the mic on the Right, again, more like what I would expect from a cardioid or supercarioid rather than a medium shotgun.
It would be real interesting to hear the difference in performance of these two mics if they were exposed to really high SPLs or even better, super high humidity!
Okay, so I’m sticking my neck out… I am guessing that, at least on my set-up, that the right channel is the genuine Sennheiser, since it seems to have more high end “presense,” and a more noticeable back end “tail” in the polar response.
Over all, I was really surprised that the genuine and counterfeit mics sounded as similar as they did, which is interesting, because it may be an indication that the mic enclosure and ports might have a greater effect on response non-linearities than the capsule itself.
Thanks for your observations, you are correct! The Right is the genuine article. Indeed high humidity and SPL would be good tests, although with my rudimentary tools, I will have to get creative to create a pure enough waveform at a high enough SPL to observe any distortion in a recording. Worth a try.
They really sound very similar, great post Peter. I’d *guess* that ch1 (left) is the original.
They are impossible to tell apart, a least without going to extremes. the Right is the genuine article.