In this first installment of our newest series “I Suck at Audio,” we compare five different mic/recorder combos in search of aural enlightenment: the RØDE NTG4+ shotgun, RØDElink Filmmaker Wireless Kit, audio-technica ATR33050iS powered wired lav (all attached to a TASCAM DR70-D audio recorder), a RØDE smartLav+ connected directly to an iPhone 6 using the RØDE Rec app, and the on-board mic of the Sony a6000.
Anyone here not know that relying on your DSLR or ILC on-board mic for recording (except as a reference track) is a bad idea?
Today’s question is: but do you have to spend $400 to get good sound?
Better answer: it depends.
Even better answer: it depends, but kinda’ yes.
Of course, you can spend a LOT more.
Bet you saw that coming.
The fact is, you can get great sound from a $20 mic IF you attach it to the right recorder under the right set of circumstances.
Will it sound as good as a $400 mic attached to the same recorder?
Watch and listen to our video and decide for yourself.
I suck at audio, but I keep trying
I had to do some voice-over work for our latest 3-axis gimbal comparo, so we took the opportunity to wire me up the ying-yang with lavs (RØDElink Wireless Filmmaker Kit, about $400 [B&H| Amazon], audio-technica ATR3350is, about $20 [B&H | Amazon], RØDE smartLav+, about $80 [B&H; Amazon]); and a shotgun mic (RØDE NTG4+, about $370 [B&H | Amazon]). All were connected to a TASCAM DR-70D audio recorder, about $250 [B&H | Amazon] either directly (in the case of the NTG4+ or via RØDE Mini-Jack to XLR adapter, about $10 [B&H | Amazon] for the others). As I mentioned above, the exceptions were the smartLav+, which is designed and wired to work with a smartphone (we hooked up the smartLav+ to an iPhone 6 running RØDE’s REC app) and the on-board mic of the Sony a6000 [B&H | Amazon].I suck at audio, but I keep trying. Which Mic is the best for video work? Click To Tweet
If you’re on a tight budget and you don’t already have an audio recorder, the audio-technica comes with an adapter/breakout box that allows it to be used directly with a smartphone and audio recording app of your choice (there’s a headphone jack so that you can monitor in real time – yay!). At these prices, so what if the freaking wires are annoying? But with this written, even powered with battery, the audio-technica isn’t as sensitive as the smartLav+ and therefore cannot drive volume levels as high. I LOVE this mic, but it’s not as good a fit for smartphones as the smartLav+.
If you plan on using two mics and don’t have a separate audio recorder – or can afford it as your only smartphone mic — the RØDE SmartLav+ with RØDE Rec app is the way to go. If you’re a one-man band doing interviews, the smartLav+ can also be bought as a two person interview kit with two lavs and a breakout box with two mic inputs which also allows you to monitor audio with headphones – or you can just buy the breakout box alone. The only caveat is that even with efforts in post (bass boost within FCPX worked better to my ear than loudness or voice enhance) a smartphone as audio recorder doesn’t sound as good as a dedicated recorder – unless, perhaps, you go to greater lengths with better tools than I was inclined to pursue. If someone out there wants to show how that can be done, we’d be happy to hear from you – please post your solution in the comments section below.
If you already have an audio recorder with good preamps, my favorite for the money is the Audio-technica ATR3350is. It’s really designed for this scenario, sounds fantastic, and still only costs $20 a pop. Crazy good. Add a second one and a couple of RØDE Mini-Jack to XLR adapters [B&H | Amazon] so you can connect them to the XLR inputs on the DR-70D, and you’ve got a killer combination for less than the price of a single SmartLav+, marred only by…the freaking wires. Just make sure to have a couple of extra button batteries with you at all times. Again: if anyone has a good solution for organizing those wires – or if anyone knows of an alternative in this price range where where the cord is detachable — please post in the comments section!
Can you use the smartLav+ on the TASCAM? Yes. Just like the audio-technica can be used on a smartphone, the smartLav+ can be used with an audio recorder with an adapter (it comes with a 3.5mm TRRS to TRS adaptor which lets you connect it to the 3.5mm external mic jack on the TASCAM). I don’t like this solution as much because the wire is not long enough to connect to the DR-70D (too big to be hidden inside a pocket like a smartphone), and I prefer the flexibility of XLR inputs.
You may feel differently.
If you have a bigger budget, I love the new RØDElink Wireless Filmmaker Kit. This may seem strange to read, but since I hold the ATR3350is in such high regard, to write that the RØDElinksounds every bit as good as the ATR3350is to my ear is high praise indeed – especially for wireless. Throw in the fact that there are NO FREAKING WIRES and none of the futzing I used to have to go through with the renowned Sennheiser EW100 series [B&H | Amazon], and it’s a no-brainer. By the way: to my eye, the mic capsule that comes with the RØDElink looks identical to the smartLav+ (though the RØDElink version has a screw-down lock and allows the jack to be replaced). I’m guessing the primary difference is how they’re wired.
The take-way thus far on these lavs? They’re ALL great, though one is better than another depending on circumstance. My overarching advice? To the extent that you can afford to, use the one designed specifically for the purpose you intend.
Where you require a shotgun and have the budget for a boom operator, I prefer the RØDE NTG4+ to its battery-less twin (the NTG4) and older brother (NTG2 [B&H| Amazon]) – and to any other shotgun mic I’ve gotten my mitts on. It’s true I’ve never met a RØDE mic I didn’t like. But with the built-in rechargeable battery of the NTG4+ (which I accidentally left on overnight, only to find it still powered the next morning), you get much more recording time with battery-powered audio recorders in the field which otherwise drain much faster when providing phantom power. And it sounds a LOT better than shotgun mics designed from the get-go to be shoe-mounted.
But What Did YOU Hear?
With all of this written, I’m really curious: what did YOU hear? And what did you hear it on (differences among the combos become less apparent, for example, when you're listening to this through the speaker of a smartphone rather than through real speakers)?
(cover photo credit: snap from the video)