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Complete DSLR Audio Kit for Less Than $450?

A reader asked:

I'm putting together a D7000 rig for video shooting and I was wondering what the best approach to audio equipment would be?
My budget is about $450 and I am going to travel to Indonesia to shoot a pilot for a TV travel show.  I was thinking a Zoom recorder (not sure which was is the best), but also a wireless lavalier system so I can be mobile.
I was hoping to record the video with the Zoom for ambient sound while having the lavalier for subject audio.

On first glance, $450 for a complete DSLR audio kit seems too low. I mean, you can easily spend that much on a single professional microphone.

Then I started working through what you'd really need. It turned out that you could put together an pretty decent audio kit for $450.

Here's what I found.

First, I'd recommend going the other way around – use the camera to record ambient and the digital audio recorder for your subject. The D7000 audio quality is much lower and offers much less control than the digital audio recorder.

I recommend the Zoom H1 for the recorder. It's great quality, low cost and very portable.

For the lavalier I recommend NOT going wireless.

You can plug the lavalier directly into the H1,  set levels, lock it and drop it into your talent's pocket. Let it run for the whole session and edit it post.

It cost less, is one less device to carry along with fewer batteries, fewer possibilities for interference, and wires are more reliable.

An added benefit of this approach is that you'll capture audio even if you're not shooting video. You never know when something great will be happen. With the audio captured you can put together enough cover shots to make it work.

I like the Audio-Technica ATR-35S and at a price of less than $50USD you might even want two of them.

Budget so far – about $150 USD

I also recommend picking up an inexpensive shotgun mic.  You can mount it on the camera and improve the ambient recording quality significantly.

Also, I like to double mic talent with a lav and a shotgun then choose the best sound in post. This also create a backup track in case you have a problem with either mic or recorder.

I also recommend picking up a small Joby GP1 Gorillapod for a mic stand. It will let you put the mic much closer to the subject, costs very little, weighs a few ounces and can be attached to all kinds of objects.

 

If you want to do this you'll need a 12ft 3.5MM EXTENSION CABLE so you can position the shotgun closer to the subject.

I like the Rode VideoMic for $149 USD. You could also go with the Sennheiser MKE 400 Shotgun Microphone for about $200 USD. Either way make sure you buy a "dead cat" Wind Muff so you can use the shotgun outside or anywhere there's a breeze. Even the lightest wind will make a shotgun so noisy you can't use it.

Budget so far – about $370 USD

I'd also highly recommend a decent set of headphones or earbuds. You want to check the sound every time before you start shooting. Sometimes a small change in mic placement or closing a window to a noisy street will produce a much better result and save hours in post trying to fix a bad audio track.

Ear buds are easier to carry and you can get great sound from them. For instance, the Etymotic Research MC5 are great as they block most of the ambient sound and, for $80 USD, offer dependable audio quality.

So here's the full kit:

Click here to see the whole list on Amazon.com

I would also recommend picking up a "Y" cable so you can plug both mics into one device, sending each mic to a separate channel. With this in your kit you can record the lav and Rode VideoMic to the H1 and use the D7000 for capturing ambient.

Or you could feed the lav and Rode to the D7000 and use the H1 to close mic a second speaker. If the H1 dies you can still feed the D7000 with both mics and create a backup track in one pass.

If you're out in the field, I recommend carrying at least two of every cable, charger and adapter. That will push your budget over the top but you don't want to be shut down because a cable broke.

If you want to be safe, consider picking up two of the lavs. As a backup for a dead mic or to mic two subjects you will get a lot for the extra $50 USD.

Good luck, let me know how it goes. I look forward to seeing your video on the web!
-a-

{ 21 comments… add one }

  • George Darroch January 13, 2011, 5:35 am

    Very nice!

  • Anonymous January 17, 2011, 9:45 pm

    Very helpful for audio on a budget. Even if I don’t get all the items I may get a couple of things to help round out my kit.
    I’ve already forwarded the amazon links for you to a couple of people so maybe some pennies will roll in for your thoughts…

    • adriel January 17, 2011, 7:42 pm

      Thanks for the links, I’m looking into revising this post to include the new Rode mic.
      -a-

  • Kojack May 11, 2011, 5:13 am

    wow, $450 is a lot of money. Do you have any ideas about how to make high quality DIY microphone for HDSLR?

  • Anonymous August 26, 2011, 1:13 am

    i do some video at concerts and stuff, i have a d7000 and i love the video but the audio is teriable for what i do , becuase of the pretty insane sound levals on stage in post all i get is cliped mess.    What would you sujest for live and LOUD audio.   Could a zoom handle something like that ?

    • Adriel Brunson August 28, 2011, 7:03 pm

      Yes, a Zoom can handle very high sound levels. Also, it has indicators showing when it’s clipping so you can reduce the input volume. The new Zoom H2n has a compressor/limiter that should come in handy for your circumstances.

       -a-

  • Liviu Fratila February 23, 2014, 9:45 am

    Very helpful article!

    Questions:

    1.  If you have two active subjects for an interview (you and the main speaker), must to buy two Zoom recorders and two lavs? I think is tricky to use one audio recorder and long cables for each lav microphone.  And I don't think that H1 support multiple channel recording. So, for multiple subjects,  is better to buy a Zoom H4/Tascam DR40 or two H1 recorders?

    2. there is any kind of accessory to attach the recorder to the belt of the speaker? If I let the recorder free on the back, it is risky to damage the internal mics by mistake, especially if the speaker is very agitated.

    Thanks, 

     

     

    • Adriel Brunson February 23, 2014, 12:16 pm

      If you have two active subjects you would not want to tether them to a single recorder. They each need a mic and a recorder so they can move around freely. Some people use this with a bride and groom for a wedding video and capture the audio around them for most of the day. They can shoot anything and have decent sound to go with it. The H1 is cheap enough to make this work but you can use most any recorder. The H1 is very light so the person can forget they have it and be very natural. Search on Google for “Zoom H1 belt clip” and you find several solutions.Thanks for stopping by!

  • John Johnson August 13, 2014, 6:49 am

    Thank you for the awesome article and also the Amazon links! I have a quick question. How do you sync your audio to your video in post?

    • Adriel Brunson August 13, 2014, 8:50 pm

      I used to use PluralEyes (from Red Giant). Now I use Adobe Premier – it has a pretty good synchronize function.

      Thanks for stopping by, let me know if I can be of further help.

       -a-

      • John Johnson August 25, 2014, 8:52 pm

        Thanks for the article. I bought the Zoom H1s and the updated Audio-Technica lavs. Very nice lav, I must say. I was very impressed with it. Used a clapboard for sync. I use Premier CS6–wish I had CC since it has better sync features, but no complaints :)

        • Adriel Brunson August 30, 2014, 3:02 pm

          Thanks for letting me know, glad the gear is working for you. I’m working on a ten-part video series and I’m using Premier CC to sync all the audio. Works great so far.

           -a-

  • Deepak September 4, 2014, 7:01 am

    Thanks for your wonderful post, its much practical. I am planning to do a rig similar to this one. I am using rode videomic go version mounted on hot shoe top of Nikon D5100(:P) and ordered the giantsquidaudiolab's lavalier and  zoom H4n. Will this be sufficient enough for a professional audio output or do I need to bring in XLR into the rig. If so , what would you recommend? My requirements are mostly indoors, shooting interviews.

    • Adriel Brunson September 5, 2014, 9:33 am

      There’s no way to know if your lav and recorder will do the job for you without giving it a try. The good news is that the Zoom H4n will improve the quality a lot, over the sound from the Nikon. The biggest improvement that an XLR mic brings is that it means the output is balanced. You can Google for info about what “balanced” means for audio. But the short story is that balanced microphones are less susceptible to electronic interference. And they allow longer cable runs than unbalanced microphones. But you’re not likely to notice much difference if you keep your mic cables more than 12″ from power cables, don’t run them parallel to power cables, and keep their length to no more than 20′. Otherwise, the quality of the microphone itself will make more difference than the type of output is has.

      Good luck with the system and let me know how it goes.

       -a-

      • Deepak September 5, 2014, 10:37 am

        Thanks for your response. Thats makes much sense. I will give it a shot and will let you know the results. Thanks once again for sharing your expereicens on this wonderful website. I haven't read it completely but seems like you shared a rich set of insights. 

        • Adriel Brunson September 7, 2014, 11:09 am

          Thanks for stopping by! Let me know if I can be of further service.

           -a-

  • Liviu September 7, 2014, 8:02 pm

    How about the dual channel wireless systems, like Azden 330 / Audio Technica 1821 ? Seems to be more expensive but you can record from two lavs simultaneously. If you have only one speaker in the movie is "simple", but if you have two speakers and one audio input in the camera (Pany Gh4) a dual channel wireless system seems to be more effective.

    • Adriel Brunson September 9, 2014, 4:56 pm

      I haven’t used either of these so I can’t offer my personal experience of their sound quality or reliability. The reviews on various sites where you can buy them are mixed but generally positive. The Audio Technica seems to be higher rated but it costs considerably more. That’s almost always the case in audio gear. 

      My experience tends to rely more on discrete components. If I need more than one microphone for a live recording, I use a mixer feeding a digital recorder, distributed to camera for sync. But dual systems are seductive and they may be a great solution.  I know there are lots of people shooting run-n-gun productions who love having dual channel wireless rigs. I always recommend trying equipment out for yourself to see if it meets your needs.

      Thanks for the suggestion, let me know how it goes for you.

      -a-

      • Liviu September 9, 2014, 7:51 pm

        Thanks for opinions! Do you think that is a big problem if two signals (lavs) will be converted by the dual channel reciver in one signal that goes out to the gh4 audio in ?

        • Adriel Brunson September 10, 2014, 4:51 pm

          I believe both of these units output two distinct signals, not a mono mix of the two channels. That’s why they are dual channel systems. They come with a dual XLR cable to feed two channels of audio to a recorder and the mini-jack is stereo with the channels split. The only issue would be if the camera input is not stereo and sums the stereo input to mono. If that’s the case I’d recommend using a digital recorder with XLR inputs so you can keep the dual channels split.

           -a-

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