We've relaunched as a full community! Get the scoop:

July 1, 2014

Sound Quality on a Budget: $1 Lavalier Microphone vs. Professional Lavs

When it comes to sound gear (like many things), you tend to get what you pay for. Quality microphones and recorders tend to be a little more costly, though there is certainly a price/cost ratio the higher you go. It's usually a pretty good decision to pick something that the pros use, but how much quality can you get away with on the low-end? DJ Clark with the World Press Photo Academy compared a number of microphone solutions, including lavs, and even compared a $1 mic from China to the professional equipment.

Here is the video, followed by a list of the lavs from the test (thanks to planet5D):

In this video D J Clark tests a series of microphones on his roof top in Beijing. Against a backdrop of traffic and other city sounds he puts tie clip mics, shotgun mics and sound recorders through their paces to see how the different equipment sounds in different conditions. The conclusion - proximity matters much more than expensive kit.

While the tests conducted above were relatively basic so you could hear the difference, there are a few things you can do to record better audio, like getting the mic closer to the subject, using a better preamp (like a mixer) before going into your camera as was done in the video above, and recording levels as high as possible without peaking so that you don't need to bring them up in post (which also brings up the noise in the background).

It's interesting how well the $1 lav actually performed compared to the pro solutions. There is definitely a point of diminishing returns with this kind of gear after you've spent a certain amount of money, but using a good preamp in a mixer like the juicedLink can help tremendously, even if you're recording to something like a Zoom. You don't always need the most expensive gear, but knowing how to record better sound can greatly improve your results no matter what you're using.

Link: World Press Photo Academy -- Connected Learning -- YouTube Channel

[via planet5D]

Your Comment

29 Comments

Great review and I particularly liked the Nursery Rhymes.

July 1, 2014

0
Reply
Rob

yeah, I hear pretty well the one dollar microphone but I think my headphones are not good enough to compare the sound between professional and cheapest mics, so I ask, what kind of monitoring is used for the test? I mean, if you hear this audio in a professional mixing room or not. Is just a question, I want to know because as I said, for this comparison I cant trust on headphones I'm using now (sony-mdrZx100).

And sorry if is difficult to understand what I'm saying, this is not my native language, hablo español.

July 1, 2014

0
Reply
Marcelo

His point was about having the microphone close to the mouth. The $1.00 mic made the point! Here's another video talking about proximity of the microphone: [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0w7ydc4NKE ]

July 1, 2014

0
Reply
Geno

Uh except I wouldn't classify any of Those as professional lavs

Sanken COS 11 or Countryman B - vs $1 - now that would interesting.

So in other words - get the $1 - they are just as good as any of these prosumer lavs

July 1, 2014

0
Reply
Tim Whitcomb

yes tim I agree you have to way into the upper end for the prosumer sound gear but post can certainly mix sound to be fantastic So I am all for the cheaper end until itproves me wrong

July 2, 2014

1
Reply
randall

The combination of lav and shotgun is a no-no. What you get is a ton of combfiltering that changes when you move. Really bad sounding and it sounds bad even in this rather static situation too. The reason to record both lav and shotgun are 1) you can choose the better sounding one (which will depend on situation) 2) you have a backup when something goes wrong with one of them (when someone jumps in the water with you lav on for ex ;) ).

The $1 mic sounds tiny and noisy. I wouldn't mind if someone jumped in the water with it though ;).

July 1, 2014

-2
Reply
matucha

Comb filtering happens when you're recording a single sound source at varying distances, but it's not an absolute - as anyone who's ever mic'd a drum kit can attest. Since a lav mic is actually picking up most of it's sound from the chest and a boom is getting most of it's sound from the mouth, it's very rare that comb filtering would occur. In those instances where it does, adding a few ms of delay to the boom removes it (adjust the amount until you find the sweet spot). That's why a 2 mic system is an interview standard.

Now, if you start moving around with a lav on, then sure - you'll hit pockets of comb filtering because you're changing the relationship between the mics. But it's still not particularly pronounced, and can usually be cured with some delicate EQ.

July 2, 2014

-2
Reply
Colin

Audio is forgiving, if it sounds good, it is good. Do tests like he did with your own equipment and pick the easiest to setup with the best quality.

For documentary style shooting my budget setup works like this:
Quick Interview (No setup time): Rode Shotgun, directly into dslr, held just out of frame, as close to the speaker as possible.

Full Setup: 2 pro xlr lavs (Sony and AT, both around $30 at a used music gear shop) into an old zoom recorder (basically acting as a preamp). The line out from the zoom is run straight into the camera with the audio input level set one notch above 0. You can substitute any cheap mixer or preamp for the zoom and weigh the portability/cost options for yourself.

Even Quicker Setup: Super cheap 1/8" lav run straight into the camera. This is good for our small EOSM camera, its very freeing knowing that I can get a decent looking/sounding interview with only equipment that will fit in a coat pocket.

July 1, 2014

-1
Reply

I am not very happy with the preamp on the Zoom H4n. I have heard audio from my rode Ntg2 on another camera/preamp and then again on this test and it seems to have more life than when I hear the recording from just my zoom alone. Does anyone have any suggestions for making the audio sound better. I noticed he was using the juiced micro box- would this be a good option to run inline with the h4n?

July 1, 2014

1
Reply
Ken

Hello Ken, i am jusing a rode ntg-2 with my H4n the levels are realy quit low so i had to turn the recording level to max witch leads to noise. I had than bought a Fethead. This is a lttle preamp wich is conected to the mic. This brings the levels up 20 dB and it sounds very good. The downside is that this litle thing needs phantom power and it wont let the pp trough to the mis so you have to juse a batterie in your Rode. (The Fethead is about 79€)

July 1, 2014

0
Reply
Rainer

Thanks Rainer I will look into this

July 1, 2014

0
Reply
Ken

I use an AT 838b with the Fethead and phantom power for the Zoom H4n although I always have a battery in the mic so I've never tried the pass through mode. However having powered the mic from the Zoom on occasion I would imagine the Zoom's batteries (Eneloops in my case) wouldn't last more than about 40 minutes to an hour, if that.

July 4, 2014

1
Reply
Filthy Punt

The NTG2 and the H4n are a known "problem." If you do a google search you will quickly learn these two pieces or kit do not mate well together. The pre-amps on the H4n are not great to begin with, but they pair particularly poor with the NTG2. You will need a different mic or preamp/recorder for best results.

Someone mentioned a Fethead preamp below. I have a couple of the models that are powered with 48v phantom but that are intended for dynamic mics. I use them with my EV RE27s for VO and podcast recording. I have been very pleased with them but have never tried the phantom "pass thru" model as would be needed with the NTG2. Might be worth trying.

July 2, 2014

0
Reply
Matt

Cheapest and best way to improve the quality of a Zoom H4n (or similar cheap recorder) is to use a FetHead (http://tritonaudio.com/index.php?Itemid=33) it's a phantom powered super high quality preamp that gives fixed 20db of gain with XLR connections and only slightly bigger than a standard Neutrik XLR.

They cost about £70 ($100) so the third of the price of a Jucedlink and significantly better quality. Downsides are lack of control and it eats the batteries in the Zoom but I use a V Mount so run it off that.

The improvement in sound is nothing short of miraculous and I'm genuinely surprised more people don't know about them.

July 2, 2014

0
Reply
Filthy Punt

I'm new to audio and I just bought an H6...

So it's best to apply preamps even to the H6?

Please explain.

July 1, 2014

0
Reply
Jorge

No, the H6 will act as your preamp. I would argue that pretty much any modern preamp in a zoom recorder is good enough to get good audio with. If you are noticing a hiss or noise from your H6, I think I would first look at moving the mic closer to the source and turning the gain down.

July 1, 2014

0
Reply

Sending a cleaner signal from a MixPre or single channel pre amp to a mid grade pre amp will always better than not doing that. Juice is ok...but noticebly different than SD, Wendt , Zaxcom

July 1, 2014

0
Reply
WP

To get the most out of your H4n of h6, split the incoming signal into two channels using a Y splitter. Set one of the channels as high as possible even letting it clip now and then . The other channel should be used as a backup (ex. 6db less than the other channel) to be used when the first channel clips.

July 1, 2014

0
Reply
Ryan Sauve

Or record 24/48 and set your levels to somewhere between -12 and -6. Those extra 8 bits will more than cover your gain issues.

July 2, 2014

-1
Reply
Colin

Sounds like he's muffled with the Rode. Definitely not a pro mic with that little of range. I wonder how a woman would sound.

July 1, 2014

1
Reply
WP

Another nice microphone comparison between lav/shotgun/headworn-over-ear-mini/standard microphones. In this one proximity is key too.

http://vimeo.com/11451198

July 1, 2014

0
Reply
Geno

Interesting comparison, thank you for posting this.

July 2, 2014

-1
Reply
Marco

An important consideration if you are doing fast moving doc or newsgathering is "chance of failure"
I'm consistently super-paranoid and like to have as many backup batteries as possible and a plan B and a plan C for a mic setup if something goes wrong.
For this reason I pick wired over wireless any day and like to keep a cheaper mic or two in my bag as backup, but would never rely on them solely as my main tool.

July 2, 2014

1
Reply
Alex

I liked the 1 dollar ebay mic most except the noise. wow

July 3, 2014

-1
Reply
IGIGIWA BIRD

diamond plate bed rail caps

July 9, 2014

-1
Reply

ace diet pills wholesale

July 11, 2014

1
Reply

ebay alli

July 11, 2014

1
Reply

Hi!
Is the $1 microphone can be connected to an mp4 player or a phone or just directly to the camera. As I saw it has jack connection so I don't see any reason it can't be... I just want to be sure, because on my Nikon d3100 there is no jack connection. Thanks!

July 19, 2014

2
Reply

I wouldn't call any of those professional...rather cheap vs mid level. They stand up fine in this basic test but in the real world environements you'd struggle with wireless range, sound quality when Lav's are hidden, mic rejection and so on...
Look at Lectrosonics, Zaxcom, Wisycom into sound devices or Zaxcom pre amps for good sound. Or Schoeps, Sanken shotguns.

August 23, 2014

-2
Reply