Even the best video production is flawed without good audio. And professional sounding audio to accompany your videos can substantially improve its value. Thankfully boosting the sound and upgrading your production it’s not as expensive as once thought. And lavalier microphones are a straightforward, cost-effective solution to skyrocket your creations.
Lavalier microphones, also known as lapel mics, are small, discreet, and incredibly powerful. And they are a go-to solution for many sound engineers and working videographers wanting utmost quality with a hands-free solution. But, a solution that doesn’t compromise on quality. Once positioned, they deliver unrivaled sound so you can focus on the action and not the recording process and technical nuances. And your team is also free from wrestling with a boom mic and having a dedicated operator.
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Sure, you can use the integrated microphone on your video camera or smartphone. But, a dedicated microphone provides unrivaled sound quality. And they’re a must for aspiring creators looking to improve the quality of their work. They’re also the de facto standard for TV reporting, broadcasting, presenting, and the unsung heroes of most productions.
But, finding the best lavalier microphone isn’t easy. There’s a wide range of potential options, with varying connections, features, frequency ranges, and much more. So getting the perfect one for your next project will require some research. But, to aid in that pursuit, we’ve compiled a detailed guide outline some tips, best practices, and the factors to consider. And we’ll also cover the best lavalier microphones on the present market.
Audio-Technica’s ATR3350XiS is the consumer-oriented lavalier in the ATR family. This wired omnidirectional condenser microphone offers full coverage, a wide frequency range, and a low-profile design engineered with accurate voice reproduction in mind. And it’s optimized as a newscaster-style microphone with an in-line battery pack for convenient power control.
This lavalier uses a 3.5mm TRS dual-mono connector for interfacing with DSLRs, handheld recorders, and camcorders. And doing so, send stereo audio to both the left and right channels. But, Audio-Technica also includes a smartphone adapter with a bundled headphone output, transforming the connector to a TRRS plug to interface with smartphones and tablets. And there, you can also monitor the recorded audio to prevent faulty recordings. In either case, the microphone works with simple plug-and-play functionality. And Audio-Technica also includes a tie clip, a foam windscreen, and an LR44 battery that last up to a month of demanding usage.
Overall, Audio-Technica’s ATR3350XiS follows suit as a reliable product from a trusted brand in the industry. And it delivers the quality Audio-Technica has built a reputation on. Yet, it remains economical and full-featured, with superior versatility for both DSLR and smartphones.
Shure MOTIV MVL
Shure is a well-known brand in the professional sound market. And the MOTIV MVL continues its line of quality microphones. This wired omnidirectional condenser microphone is aimed at smartphone users wanting superior audio quality. And it boasts a best-in-class signal-to-noise ratio, excellent dynamic range, maximum SPL, and headroom. It also has a wide frequency response range, optimized for the human voice.
The lavalier connects using a 3.5mm TRRS plug for a seamless connection to a smartphone or tablet. But you can convert the plug to a TRS connection via an adapter for use with recorders or DSLR cameras. However, connecting the microphone to a phone is entirely plug-and-play and hassle-free. The lavalier also features a sleek, compact design for discreet mounting on the talent. And it even supports Shure’s MOTIV app, which offers intuitive editing, real-time adjustments, and sharing via email or text. Thus, it removes any need for loading the recordings onto a computer beforehand. Shure also includes a windscreen, a tie clip, and a carrying pouch. And the microphone also has RF/GSM interference protection to block external interferences from reducing the audio quality.
Overall, the Shure MVL is a powerful take on a smartphone lavalier. And as a member of the MOTIV line, it obtains much of the class-leading functionality without an earth-shattering price. And it does so with a slightly longer cable and class-leading sound quality.
Movo’s WMIC50 is the cheaper and younger brother in the family. But a powerful and capable wireless microphone system that’s ideal for beginners and content creators. This omnidirectional microphone offers good fidelity and little static. And it does so with plug-and-play simplicity for easy setup.
It connects using a 2.4 GHz signal with an outstanding operating range of up to 164 ft (50m). And the device is battery-operated via two AAA batteries, providing 3-4 hours of continuous runtime. The receiver itself uses a standard 3.5mm connector, making it compatible with camcorders, DSLRs, and many other devices. And the included lavalier has a foam windscreen. But Movo also includes a body clip, a belt clip, a tripod mount, and a camera shoe. Plus, there are even two headphone outputs to monitor the sound on either the receiver or transmitter, which is quite convenient and prevents faulty recordings.
Overall, Movo’s WMIC50 is a powerful option for those wanting a wireless lavalier system with the flexibility to move freely without any hassle. But a system that’s not too pricey to make it out of reach for new creatives. And it’s one of the best budget systems available given its power.
Sennheiser ME 2-II
Sennheiser’s ME 2-II is their mid-range lavalier designed for reliable performance with wireless systems. This omnidirectional condenser lavalier has a speech-focused frequency range and a circular pickup pattern that virtually eliminates background or feedback noise. Doing so provides incredible clarity in the recorded sound and excellent fidelity while removing muddy lows. And this device is a standard in the TV industry, particularly amongst talk shows, broadcasts, and news applications.
It connects using a locking 3.5mm mini connector wired for various Sennheiser wireless transmitters, like the G3 or G4. But, you can convert the plug with an adapter and use the device with other digital recorders that supply 7.5V power. The microphone also comes with a built-in windscreen and a body clip.
Overall, Sennheiser’s ME 2-II continues the brand’s strong reputation and is no exception in the quality they provide. It delivers a noticeable bump in quality over other entry-level microphones and is a powerful complement to Sennheiser’s wireless systems.
Rode’s SmartLav+ is convenient but serves as a professional-grade solution and solid refinement over its predecessor. This wired omnidirectional condenser microphone delivers signal fidelity that matches commercial film, TV, and broadcast lavaliers. But, unlike most, Rode’s designed this product with mobile devices in mind. As such, it’s 100% plug and play without using sophisticated adapters.
It connects using a TRRS plug to devices with 3.5mm headphone jacks and pairs with the RODE recording app. In the app, you can enable a range of EQ settings to optimize the recording for various situations. But, it also provides editing functionality and direct publishing to Dropbox and SoundCloud. The microphone also comes with a built-in pop shield, carry pouch, a clip, and a reinforced kevlar cable to add durability or resist moisture.
Overall, Rode’s smartLav+ is the best lavalier microphone for smartphones. But, it’s also doubly powerful for DSLRs and audio recorders by using a TRRS to TRS adapter. And it’s one of the few products at this price with an excellent balance of sound and build quality.
What is a lavalier microphone:
A lavalier microphone, also known as a lapel, personal, clip, or lav mic, is a type of dynamic microphone that’s versatile and well-suited for general purpose recordings. And most lav microphones are omnidirectional, capturing sound in front of them and helping isolate the recorded subject.
Historically the term Lavalier represents a pendant or small piece of jewelry around the neck. And it’s a term used to describe a microphone that’s small enough to attach to a buttonhole.
Lavaliers are small, discreet, and clip onto clothing or to the subject for hassle-free recordings. As such, they offer unrivaled convenience and discretion compared to other microphone styles. And they’re used whenever a microphone needs to be hidden from the viewer.
Lavs come in both wired and wireless formats. But, either way, they’re discrete, versatile, and mostly plug-and-play. And they’re a go-to tool for many videographers, given their hands-free nature and outstanding quality.
Why buy a lavalier microphone:
The main reason to buy a lavalier microphone is its convenience, quality, and discretion.
These microphones are small and easily clip-on to your subjects. And their size allows for strategic placement close to the subject’s mouth without being immediately noticeable to your viewers. In this position, they also record high-quality audio without picking up unnecessary background noise.
Lavalier’s are also inherently hands-free and make the subject feel more comfortable since they have a greater range of motion. And they deliver high-quality audio without needing a large boom microphone hanging overhead and causing challenges to the workflow. As such, they’re an excellent suit for interviews and the go-to for TV, broadcast, and documentary filmmaking.
Tips on How to Place a Lavalier Microphone
Where you position a lavalier microphone causes a dramatic effect on the audio quality, frequency response, and pick-up. And in general, mounting to the chest is slightly more muffled than someone’s hairline or tie. And a key to getting the most out of a lavalier, regardless of its price, is proper placement.
When recording the human voice, the lavalier should be between 6 and 8 inches from the subject’s mouth, close to the collar, or at chest level. But there are several techniques on how to mount the lavalier at this distance.
Most microphones employ standard tie clips for clean but visible mounting. And this is the most popular option for securing the microphone to the presenter. However, it does require an edge of the clothing and makes it visible to your audience. Some lavaliers also use the broadcast loop, which loops the cable so that only the microphone itself, the clip, and the cable loop are visible. But ideally, you want to conceal the lavalier beneath the clothing using tape to secure it to the shirt’s inside. And this particular technique thoroughly hides the microphone placement.
Once you’ve mounted the lavalier, you have to check if it’s placed correctly and recording clearly. At this position, check the Lavalier signal to ensure you’re getting the sound that you want without distractions. And have the subject speak at an average volume while you listen on headphones. If you can hear the rustling of the subject clothes rubbing against the microphone, reposition it until you cannot hear any more noise. Also, pointing the microphone upside down inside the clip reduces plosives and distortion. And it provides an exact and natural sound reproduction while doing so.
Can I use a lavalier microphone with a DSLR or mirrorless camera?
Yes. Most lavaliers use one of two outputs to connect to other devices: professional-grade XLR inputs or 1/8th inch minijacks. To connect the lav directly to a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you’ll have to purchase an adapter that converts 1/8th to 3.5mm. Here you can attach the lav directly to the camera’s microphone port and use it accordingly.
How to choose the best lavalier microphone
When choosing the best lavalier microphone, there are quite a few factors to consider beforehand. Below you’ll find a complete list of these factors and some insight into which will be most important.
There are several types of lavalier microphones. And they vary based on how they capture sound, known as the pickup pattern. But, in general, there are two most common types. The first is omnidirectional microphones. The second is unidirectional, including cardioid or super-cardioid. Let’s cover these in-depth below.
- Omnidirectional microphones capture sound from any direction. As such, you can attach these microphones anywhere close to the subject’s mouth, like the shirt, hair, or on an accessory, and still capture clear audio. Their distance to the subject’s mouth is most important with these microphones—next, their angle. As long as you place them relatively close to the mouth, the audio quality will be excellent. And they’re not susceptible to handling noise and work well for moving subjects.
- Cardioid and supercardioid microphones, on the other hand, are directional microphones that capture sound in the direction they face. These microphones isolate the audio you need. And they’re commonly used in studio applications. However, they’re highly susceptible to wind and handling noise. As such, their best for slower moving subjects and recording indoors. Otherwise, add a windscreen to help.
In general, omnidirectional Lavalier microphones are superior to cardioid microphones. The reason is that they’re more compact and discrete due to the design of the diagram. These microphones also provide more consistent sound pickup, particularly as the subject turns their head off-axis. In those cases, directional microphones would pick up less sound, causing fluctuations in the audio. And this is not an issue an omnidirectional microphone suffers from since it has greater sensitivity from all directions. As such, they’re a better option for most applications with superior flexibility in how the microphone is positioned on the subject.
Wired or Wireless
The next area you want to consider is whether you want a wired or wireless microphone lavalier system. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. So choose the best that’s ideal for your workflow.
Most wired lavaliers are 2m in length. And these are best suited for recording still subjects who remain relatively close to the capture device. So they’re limited in this way since you can’t move freely. And accidentally disconnecting the lavalier can terminate recordings. Even so, wired systems are highly adaptable and easy to interface with multiple devices or recorders. And they’re also the most cost-effective solution with slightly better sound quality due to dynamic range. You also don’t have to worry about frequency selection, interference, or battery life.
Wireless microphones, on the other hand, have radio transmitters and receivers. The receiver connects to the camera, and the transmitter connects to the lavalier. With this configuration, you have an always-on connection to the talent without the limitation of distance. As such, it’s great for moving subjects, performers, or presenters. And they provide superior flexibility and freedom to move around. Thus, these are the industry standard for speaking, stage work, presenters, and many YouTubers.
Wireless leveler systems do have drawbacks, however. Namely, they cost considerably more than equivalent wired systems. And the radio signal connections can be interrupted by other devices or powerlines, causing interference and reducing reliability. You also have to contend with recharging, longevity, and the device’s battery life. And it’s essential to ensure the device is charged to prevent a loss of recordings.
Even the most feature-rich microphone it’s unnecessary if it doesn’t produce better audio quality than a built-in microphone. And if the microphone doesn’t step up your production value, then it has little use. Thankfully, most lavaliers will provide better sound by the sheer virtue of being close to the source.
There are differences between budget options and the flagship lavaliers that cost hundreds, however. And the differences lie in their noise-floor and internal noise. But, these differences are slight. And the average videographer won’t immediately hear a difference—only sound engineers. Nevertheless, understand that higher-end options do provide better audio quality. So if you want the absolute best, they’re a good investment. Additionally, professional lavaliers do have superior build qualities, better clips, and discrete designs. And those reasons make them more attractive to professionals. But otherwise, most mid-range microphones will serve the purpose.
Microphone head size
The microphone head size could be another area to consider depending on your assignment’s nature. And the head size is a key separator between budget and professional level microphones.
Most budget microphones tend to have heads that are large and about the size of a dime. Comparatively, professional-level lavaliers for film are small enough to hide inside of a buttonhole. As such, they’re easier to hide and less likely to become a distraction during your production. And their smaller profiles make them more discrete and noticeable.
If you’re filming professionally and want utmost discretion, a low-profile lavalier with a small head is best. Otherwise, save the money.
Dynamic range is the measurement of the softest and loudest signals in your recordings, and it matters. A wide dynamic range is preferable. But, understand this style of microphone doesn’t come close to matching other vocal microphones. Even so, the closer the microphone approaches a dynamic range of 120 dB, the better. However, this is not always a listed specification on the manufactures page. But, use it as a guide to separate two similar options. If it’s not listed, likely it’s lower than the competition at its price.
The range is a critical consideration for wireless lavalier systems. The operating transmission range varies between systems. But, most wireless lavalier systems have an operating range of 30 ft.
For this, consider how far your subject is from the recording device. If you’re recording large format events such as performances or weddings, look for 150 ft or greater connectivity ranges. And even working in the specified range can be tricky due to interference and signal loss from obstacles. Otherwise, if you’re recording small controlled environments, the operating range may not be as important.
Battery life is critical if you opt for a wireless system, and it’ll be a key determiner in how long you can capture consistent recordings. Ideally, aim for the lavalier system to last between 3-4 hours on a single charge. And look for designs with rechargeable batteries. At this rate, you can record full HD quality sound and quickly recharge as needed.
Connections, Interface, and Compatibility
What’s your audio source? Are you using a portable recorder, smartphone, camera, or mixer? You’ll want to know the interface and recording device prior so you can ensure the lavalier will connect to it. And ideally, you also want a product that offers compatibility with multiple devices so it provides long-term value.
Most clip-on lavalier’s offer direct connections via 3.5mm jacks, making it easy to connect to compatible devices. But if you want to connect the lavalier to professional interfaces, those will likely use XLR connections. So be on the lookout for lavaliers with XLR plugs so that you can bypass adapters.
But if you’re going to connect it to a smartphone, you’ll want a microphone with a TRRS plug (4 rings) rather than a TRS plug (3 rings). You can find lavaliers with both of these connections, so it’s important to understand they’re different. TRS connections are what you use for DSLR cameras, handy cams, and camcorders. In contrast, TRRS plugs are used for smartphones to convert a headphone output into a microphone input. TRRS plugs are a bit longer and have 4 rings. So, if you’re comparing two similarly specified lavaliers, use that as your identifying point. And choose the option that already includes a TRRS plug to bypass adapters if you want to use your smartphone.
Humidity & Temperature Resistant
Getting a waterproof and temperature-resistant lavalier is a wise investment. While many of your initial recording environments will be indoors, where it’s warm and dry. That may not always be the case. And you can often find yourself outdoors in adverse conditions where your talent is getting sweaty or faced with a sudden downpour. As such, waterproof construction is a wise option if you plan on recording outdoors whatsoever.
Last Updated on September 22, 2023 by Photography PX Published March 10, 2021