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Behold: The Great (ENG Wireless Mic) Shootout of 2012!

11.13.12 @ 8:00AM Tags : , , , ,

Good location audio will make your film shine. The less you have to redo in post the better, as nat sound will bring a level of realism to any project. There are many tools available to help you achieve better sound, from a bevvy of tried and tested field recorders to some crucial on-camera mics like the ever-popular Rode, but what about those hard-to-reach areas away from the camera? Clearly wireless mics are the solution, but which mid-range system is the best? Thanks to Dave Dugdale of Learning DSLR Video, we have our answer. Check out the wireless mic battle of the ages after the jump.

Here is Dave Dugdale with The Great ENG Wireless Mic Shootout!:

There were four wireless systems involved in Dave’s Shootout. They were:


The biggest section I want to point out is the Output Level and Noise Test. Dave says:

The Shure wins here by a lot. The Sennheiser and the Sony are tied and they Azden does absolutely terrible.

Long story short on the Azden — don’t. I mean, if it’s between that and two cups with some string between them, okay but… just don’t. They’ve got a long way to come before being in league with the wireless greats. If you’ve used them, you know what I’m talking about.

I’m surprised that the Shure stood out so far in this test, but if you watch the video, it all really does make sense.

I’m not at all surprised by the Distance Test. Sony and Sennheiser both have solid field reputations, and this simply solidifies that. I think Shure is usually going to be more of a studio company, and that is okay, they play to their strengths (though arguably Sennheiser still takes the title there, too).

Before watching/reading Dave’s Shootout, I have to admit my bias for the Sony UWP system. I’ve used it in my kit for many years, since way back in the day of the Z1U, and it’s never failed me. I’ve frequently hooked up the cube transmitter from the UWP-V6 system to a boom mic as well. The Sony system is built like a tank and has taken many a fall from a clumsy actor’s fiddling. However, I can’t ignore his case for the Sennheiser, and that shouldn’t surprise me at all. Sennheiser is a company with an outstanding reputation, but when I think “field audio,” my mind just goes to Sony, and for “dialog” my mind goes to Shure. I’m probably also biased because of my Sony MDR-7506s, which I’ve had for as long as I’ve been filming.

One of the opinions Dave mentions earlier on is that he’s not into dual system sync sound. I happen to be on the other side of that coin. Yeah, it can be a pain to sync in post if you don’t have the right tools, but that’s why you get the right tools, like Plural Eyes, which makes syncing a breeze on Final Cut Pro/Premiere/AVID Media Composter. Dual system forces you to slate everything, which is good for everyone on-set, and it helps with the flow. It also allows the mixer and boom op to simply run off and do their audio thing, which is less hassle for the cam op.

Another small deviance I’d like to make: Dave makes the point more than a few times on the blog as well as YouTube comments that these mics may be out of his core audience’s price range. We have a lot of DIY/indie readers ourselves, and my advice is a little more forward than his — PONY UP AND GET A GOOD WIRELESS SYSTEM. Yes, I know that f/1.4 50mm would go lovely with your Canon 5D Mark II. So will that f/1.4 20mm on your Panasonic GH2 (hard for me to deny that one!). But if you’re not invested in a good audio system, with all the flexibility it brings for great on-set sound, and you’re simply relying on post audio for all your principle dialog while still working on a budget… my friend, your production is going to sound iffy. Making your film look iffy. Making this kitten cry.

Ultimately in the film world, you get what you pay for. What mics are go-to’s in your world? Has anyone had any awesome and/or horror stories with any of the systems listed above?

Link: Sennheiser G3 Sony UWP Shure FP Azden 330 Wireless Mic Shootout — Learning DSLR Video

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  • Andreas Kopriva on 11.13.12 @ 8:39AM

    Thank you for posting this. I was looking for good wireless lavalier systems and this comparison is quite useful.
    You’re absolutely spot-on in terms of audio quality. Been burnt quite a few times because it was usually neglected in the productions we undertook. Additional advice would be to not just rely on gear but ensure that you have one person exclusively handling the audio.
    Saves you a lot of time in post as well. We had filmed a conversational piece a few months back where we tried to do everything -i.e. oscillating between DP and boom mic – which caused the audio to be quite poor which as a result led to me spending an inordinate amount of time in audition cleaning up each bit of audio in an effort to make it bearable. Never again :)

  • I’ve been around the block with wireless systems, from Sennheiser G3′s to Lectrosonics to Sony UWP. In the end, I’ve found second-system audio to work the best for my one-man run-and-gun documentary shooting because I don’t have to deal with RF interference or keeping track of too many different sets of batteries. Plus, I can run as many of these mics as I want without worrying about running out of audio channels on my camera. I use the Sony ICD-SX712u recorder with an omni lav mic for most stuff, and I even use a MemoQ clip-on voice recorder for some stuff. Details at my blog: rungunshoot.com/field-audio/

  • Sennheiser. I have a couple of the Audiotechnica wired lav’s and they work OK but Senn has more or less a lock on field mics as well as headphones. The Sony has essentially it’s own undefeatable AGC (automatic gain control i.e. compressor/limiter) and that renders it useless to me just as AGC on the old DSLRs did. The Shure sounded awful and the Azden noisy.

    This may have been Dave’s best video btw, I was suprised how much he understood about audio given his focus on video.

  • Benjamin, thanks for posting my video here. I enjoyed reading your comments. Yes you are totally right, people should save up for a good wireless system instead of buying a cheap one and then have to buy an better one after the cheap one fails to often.

  • This is great and all, but I think it also makes a huge difference what capsule you use. I love my Senn G3 with my Sanken capsule…but with the Senn capsule it came with, it’s only OK.

    • You are right, the Sennheiser mic that comes with the G3 is pretty terrible. Usually people replace them with an MKE-2 or ME 102 capsule. The G3 transmitters though are just fine, you really don’t need more expensive ones.

  • Definitely need to cover those lavs with aftermarket shag, e.g., The Windcutter. I’d like the Sennheiser SKP2000 for its 100mW output, apparently trying to catch up to Lectrosonics. But 100mW systems are super pricey, more than a good DSLR body with lens. Sennheiser G3 is a decent compromise for a 30mW rig with diversity receiver. Nevertheless, frequency availability in urban areas could be precarious; there’s a lot of company. http://www.sennheiserusa.com/findfrequency/

  • don’t waste your time… the tests are so flawed, starting with recording in the camera. also left out the AT 1800 series… and no lectro / zaxcom. 1/2 the test results are just from the supplied lab vs using a single mic which would of given a FAR more accurate result.

    • Steve, I really admire your work and the videos you have shared on color grading, but I’m sorry you thought my video I shared with everyone was a waste of time and flawed. I’ll try to do better next time.

  • I am a one-person operation in a school where I do a lot of event and run and gun shooting. I have two G3s and I have to say they have been bullet proof. I have a Sony EX3 and I just record one to each channel with great results. I also mix one G3 with an on camera Rode NT2 for an alternative set up. I also recently bought a Nikon D7000 so I can do photography as well as short video clips. I again use the G3 straight into the camera for great results. The trick as he points out is to be very careful with your input to the camera levels.

  • The g3 can provide good results under the right settings but due to the low output and fixed antenna it just cant handle certain situations. For fast paced run and gun, media scrums and harsher environments i’ve found it to be a lot more prone to taking hits (dropouts, interference etc) and the nature of film making is it always happens at the exact wrong moment! If sound recording is your thing and delivering consistent results is what pays your bills then it really is worth copping the steep price jump and going lectrosonics or zaxcom. If you spend a bit of time looking you can pick up lectro 200 series sets for under the grand and they’ll see you through every type of shoot you can imagine.
    The Shure, Sony and Sennheiser gear still delivers great results though as long as you spend a bit of time learning their shortcomings. For wireless recording on a budget I highly recommend putting the stock lav’s in your spare kit and ordering some Oscar Sound Tech lavs; excellent quality and awesome price

  • I’ve had a great experience with the Sony UWP-V6 system. Worth every penny compared. I wish I could compare others, but this unit has supplied a solid connection between camera and talent. Couldn’t ask for more.

  • Although these are all decent options, you are forgetting the mother of them all: Lectrosonics Diversity Wireless, which make the rest of these units look like toys. Just saying…

    • That’s true, the Lectrosonics is the pro standard, but… it’s kind of in an entirely different price bracket.

      • You do know that the Sennheiser G3 is their very low budget product, do you?
        They make a lot more professional (and more expensive) wireless receivers and transmitters like the SK-50 and SK 250.
        These SK series are standard in higher budget productions here in Germany – the G3s are only considered toys in these environments. Lectrosonics aren’t that big here, but I guess that is because Sennheiser is a German company and they were big here since the existence of tv.

        Doesn’t really matter – I just wanted to say you can’t compare Sennheiser’s lowest budget wireless set to some high class Lectrosonics.

  • Dave I think these tests are perfect for the DSLR consumer / shooter. Dont get down on the prevoius comments of being flawed. The Wireless featured for this niche of field work are appropriate. As stated by one Person , The Lectrosonics systems cost as much as the camera itself. I think we must read this info with a mind for the ”DSLR specific shooter ‘ I think the frustration comes from the pro sound mixer that only uses lectro or zaxcom. We know that these are the best for field production….. So using the words ‘the best ‘ we must all realize the what is the best within our world. As these are usually camera people using these wireless units in most cases not field sound people. I have been doing field sound for 22 years and only use Lectrosonics. I’m sure we all endorse our favorite tools of the trade but the bottom line is that these are not feesable options of wireless for most but are definitely worth the mention when speaking of what is considered best.

    • I know quite some eng cameramen and they all have a “back-up” sound kit of their own for the smaller jobs when there’s no sound guy.
      Guess what all these cameramen have? A Sennheiser G3 with MKE-2 capsule. Because it sounds right for a good price. When you need better audio, you hire a sound guy.
      But for relatively good sound on a budget, the G3 aren’t that bad as long as you put a better lav capsule on them.

  • I got tired of losing last minute corporate jobs because a client ONLY wanted to use wireless mics even for talking head set-ups (in their mind, more *professional* than a Sanken or Sennheiser on a wire) and found a set of Sony UWPs used at B&H. After receiving them, I tested and found no reason to return (or buy new, they were immaculate). I also bought a Tram TR50 wired for them (also used). I love the distance they work at, I like that the power can be turned down on them indoors, and I especially like that they have headphone monitors, something missing from the G3 set-up. Running a pair of Sony’s through my little Mix-Pre solves virtually every problem with gain control for me so far. The clients know the name Sony when they see it and smile, they don’t know anything about the name Sennheiser (I primarily do marketing communication shoots with a smattering of indie film shorts and doc work now and then).

    Eventually I’ll probably want to acquire Lectrasonics (although I’ve read complaints about switch problems) but I’m saving my money for better wired mics (Schoeps) and better mixer/recorders rather than additional wireless gear. Everyone I read swears by cabled mics if you can use them.

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