An Affordable Lavalier?

by Adriel Brunson

A reader asked:

I am looking for a fair affordable lavalier for personal work before I start into commercial work. What is a sweet spot for good quality product for a good price? I am planning on buying the Zoom H2 and would just like your opinion and a few options from a Pro such as yourself. Thank. Samuel W.

Audio Technica 3350 Omnidirectional Lavalier
My answer:

First, here’s a link to a post I wrote about a low cost audio kit for DSLR video – Complete DSLR Audio Kit for Less Than $450?

As I mention in the post, the price kicks up a lot if you need to go wireless.

Instead of $50 for the ATR-35s you’ll spend at least $150 for a VHF wireless. But VHF wireless units have very low usable range, pick up lots of static and can be pretty noisy (lots of hiss). A decent UHF wireless starts around $400. Professional systems start around $800 and go up. That’s why I recommend going straight to a small recorder with a lav if you want the best sound for the lowest budget.

Also, the ATR-35s seems to be discontinued. It’s been replaced by the Audio Technica ATR-3350 Omnidirectional Lavalier. The price is about the same and, though I haven’t tested it to make sure, it seems to be as good as the previous version. This is a wired omnidirectional mic that will plug directly into a DSLR or a Zoom recorder.

For a wired cardioid option at about the same price I recommend the Audio Technica Pro Series Cardioid Condenser Lavalier. The output is an XLR connector so you’ll need an XLR to mini adapter if you want to plug it into a DSLR or a Zoom recorder.

Whatever you go with I suggest having both omnidirectional and cardioid lavalier microphones.

Omnidirectional are the standard mic in almost all lav systems and they’re great for when you want to pick up everything around – like the bride, groom and minister at a wedding from one mic. But they are deadly in noisy environments when all you want is to pick up a single voice. That’s when you’ll want a cardioid or even a hyper-cardioid lav to cut the background sound.

Cardioids and hyper-cardioids are more difficult to use because you have to have them pointed at the sound source where an omni will work no matter which way it’s pointing. But it’s worth it to get the sound right on the recording.

I’m working on a real world test of omni and cardioid lavs and will post it soon.

-a-

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Brock R August 7, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Hi,
I’m a filmmaker who will be going into production on a full length micro-budget film. I already have access to a shotgun mic but do not have lavs. I’m wondering if you can give me an idea of what the LEAST expensive lav (I need two) setup would cost. Again, this is micro budget so it may well be out of my price range. Just curious. It’s also narrative so the lavs will need to be wireless (which makes it more expensive). Any advice, suggestions? I pretty much need perfect sound for this film.
thanks.

Reply

adriel August 7, 2012 at 11:17 pm

Brock,
Your last statement tells the tale here…
“I pretty much need perfect sound for this film.”

We can tolerate “interesting” camera shots but nobody will tolerate bad sound. So you’ll need to make a decision about how important this is in your budget. The good news is that good equipment keeps paying you back every time you use it, for years.

There are two flavors of wireless lavs – UHF and VHF. UHF is much cheaper, more liable to pick up interference, best used within 25′. VHF costs more, is quieter and is good up to 100′ in almost any circumstance.

Most UHF units have an 1/8″ output. Most VHF units have an XLR output.

Most UHF units are made of light weight plastic. Most VHF units have sturdier cases, mostly metal.

Still, you can buy two decent UHF units for less than one good VHF system and that’s the rub.

I suggest trying something like the Audio Technica PRO88W-R35 (around $135 on Amazon) to see if you can get by with a UHF rig. It has multiple channels so you can switch if you get interference. They’ve been around for a while and most people like them. You can use them with lots of lavalier mics so pick up a couple of extra mics as those are the parts that get broken easiest.

If that won’t work for you then you’ll need to move up to a VHF rig. The bargain-basement Samson UM1 is about $200 at B&H – it’s not a high end device and you’ll likely need to replace the mic as it’s big and clunky. But it is UHF and has an XLR output which means it will match a pro mixer or recorder.

After that you’re looking at something like the Sennheiser EW112P G3. AT $630 on Amazon or B&H your budget is taking a big hit. But the quality is remarkable – I’ve owned a G2 for years and would not have anything else. Not only is it sturdy, reliable and immune to interference, the sound quality is almost as good as a mic with a cable direct to the recorder. Cheaper units always seem to have a lot of hiss and they lose the top and bottom of the audio coming from the mic.

An alternative is to rent the Sennheiser. I’ve seen prices of around $175 for a 30 day rental. I’d gladly pay that for the Sennheiser rather than take a chance on the Audio Technica or the Samson. But that’s me and I don’t know what your production schedule looks like.

But, back to your last statement, if you want great audio use great gear. Besides, the cost and time of ADR in a studio to fix bad audio will make buying a couple of G3′s look like the best bargain around. When you get to post and have great, full range, clean audio to work with you’re going to be glad you put the money into good mics.

Let me know how it goes,
-a-

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Michael Konowitz March 20, 2013 at 2:46 am

Hi,

A company I’m working with is setting up to do short weekly videos for it’s website-white background, studio-type set-ups (but not in a real studio) with 2 wireless lav mics. The man in charge found these Hisonic UHF ones ( http://www.amazon.com/Hisonic-Wireless-Headset-Microphone-HSU302L/dp/B000K7IPW8/ref=sr_1_10?s=musical-instruments&ie=UTF8&qid=1363735624&sr=1-10&keywords=wireless+lavalier+microphone ) but it seems like they’re specifically for MC-Public Address type work, not broadcast. Will they provide quality sound when recorded to a Zoom and layed into Final Cut? If not, why not, and how do I sift out the right kind?

Reply

Adriel Brunson March 21, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Michael,
Thanks for stopping by!

I have no experience with the Hisonic microphone you’re looking at. And there were no reviews on Amazon (or anywhere else that I could find). I did find reviews for a more expensive system from Hisonic – http://www.amazon.com/Hisonic-HSU482L-48-Channel-Wireless-Microphone/dp/B000NPIA40. The reviews were mixed and those giving the system the best reviews were not using it in a professional system – they likely do not have much experience with wireless mics.

If the more expensive Hisonic system ($229 vs $139) got such mixed reviews I’d doubt that the lower cost system is any better. I would not place much faith in the quality of this system. After all, it’s got two mics, two transmitters and a dual receiver for less than the cost of a decent professional lavalier mic alone. You do get what you pay for in audio equipment.

The biggest issues with low cost wireless systems are 1) the extra noise added to the signal when the system is working well and 2) lots of interference when you get more than a few feet between the transmitter and receiver.

Unless your talent needs to move around (and that’s not likely with your white background studio setup) I’d recommend a pair of decent lavaliers with mic cables running to the recorder. You’ll get a lot less noise, virtually no interference and no dealing with batteries running out on belt packs.

I love the RODE lavalier. For the price, it’s got an amazing sound and is very durable. Audio Technica makes some decent mics for the money as well. Trust me, you’ll save enough in post production not having to clean up bad audio to pay for the quality in no time.

Let me know how it goes,
-a-

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Alisa Messeroff June 23, 2013 at 4:05 am

I am interested in purchasing 2 of the Seinnheiser G3 mic systems, I have done so much research and it seems if I need quality audio then they are the cheapest I can get for excellent quality. I will be conducting interviews with these 2 systems but I am a bit confused to how I set up 2 systems into one DSLR (I have a Canon T3i) camera. Is there some type of audio splitter I need to purchase that plugs into the camera? Also, is there a shoe mount that will let you mount two transmitters. I don't want to spend all this money and then get have one transmitter fall and break.

Thanks for you help!

Reply

Adriel Brunson June 23, 2013 at 11:19 am

Alisa,

Many people would agree with your choice of the Sennheiser G3 wireless systems – just be sure that you actually need to be wireless. You can get better quality for less cost with wired microphones. 

As for mounting two wireless systems, there are several cages that will give you many mounting locations. Here’s a link to a review I did for the one that I use

However, I would not recommend plugging the output of the G3′s directly into your T3i. There’s no way to monitor the audio in the T3i other than to see if the meter is bouncing.

If you’re going to the expense of a double G3 system you need to record the audio with a decent recorder. While Zoom recorders are the choice of many DSLR producers, I’ve been using the Tascam DR-40 lately and it’s an amazing recorder for the price. The G3′s will come with an XLR cable so you can plug them directly into the DR-40 and record each mic to its own track.

The Sescom LN2MIC-ZMH4-MON 3.5mm Line to Mic 25dB Attenuation Cable will split the headphone output of the DR-40 perfectly for monitoring and feeding the T3i.

Plug the male 1/8″ stereo connector into your T3i and plug your headphones into the female 1/8″ connector. Now you can monitor both mics while feeding clean signal to your camera for a backup track – and each mic will still be on its own track. Set the level on your T3i 6db below the level on the recorder and it will act as a safety track in case there’s a sudden extra loud peak from one of the G3′s.

So, the signal flow would be G3 > DR-40 > Sescom splitter > T3i. The end result will make the most of those beautiful G3′s and give you great tracks to work with in post production.

Hope this is helpful, let me know how it goes.

 -a-

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MARK July 18, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I know this is very late, but isnt Adriel's reply on Aug 7,2012 backwards… ie, UHF usually has the longer range and is used in higher quality systems, while VHF is more prone to interference, etc???  Sennheiser, too end Shures etc all use UHF.

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AC July 24, 2013 at 11:07 am

I'm recording motivational events with 3 camcorders (1 straight on, and 2 at different angles). I've been using the boom mic on one of them and using that track for audio in my editing program. The boom has been great but picks up airconditioner noise etc…

What I would like to do is use one wireless lapel mic, and 3 receivers. 1 for the venues mixing board, and 2 for camcorders (duplicates just in case).

Is this possible, and will using 3 receivers jeapordize sound quality?

Thanks

Reply

Adriel Brunson July 24, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I’m not sure you can feed one wireless transmitter to three receivers. They usually run in matched pairs – one transmitter to one receiver.

It might be possible to set up three receivers to pick up the one transmitter – they would all need to be on the same exact channel and frequency.

We normally do everything possible to keep multiple wireless systems from cross-talk so they don’t interfere with each other.

Interesting situation. 

I think I’d be more likely to run the output of a matched transmitter/receiver into a mixer and then into an audio distribution amp. Run cables from the DA to the house board and the cameras. I know that will work because I’ve done it many times.

You may need to talk to someone in tech support at Sennheiser or another pro wireless company to see if they know how to make this work.

Let me know how it goes.

 -a-

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Ethan Vanderbuilt August 25, 2013 at 2:42 pm

The Pearstone OLM-10 Lavalier Microphone is an excellent low cost mic for recording audio for your budget video productions. I made an unboxing and testing video about it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kN4Z9Mqa8SM

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