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.
- Sony ECM 77B
- Sony UWP-V1 (which is discontinued, but compares closely to the Sony UWP-D11)
- Giant Squid Lav
- $1 Chinese Lav (may not be the exact one, but something like this)
- Rode smartLAv (there is a newer version than the one in the video)
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.