Tag Archives: microphone

RØDE smartLav+

The  RØDE smartLav+ is a huge improvement over the original.

I got the original RØDE smartLav earlier on this year and was so disappointed with it. As I’ve already commented on that in an earlier blog I won’t go on about it here. However recently I got hold of their updated model, the smartLav+, and am suitably impressed with it especially considering its price. I still might question their claim of “broadcast-grade” but if you want a general purpose lavalier microphone, then this is now worth considering.

I’ve tried it across various different smart phones and operating systems (iPhone, Android, Windows, BlackBerry) and all have worked well. A clear sound with none of the problems of the earlier model. Using RØDE’s own SC3 adaptor lead it also worked really well into my Zoom H1 recorder.

What did surprise me was how well it coped with being out in windy conditions. I firstly tried it under three layers of clothing (under a t-shirt which was under a hoodie which was under my coat). As might be expected they acted as a wind shield while the speech sounded a little muffled, but was still perfectly workable. I then tried it clipped to the outside of my jacket, yet despite being out in quite windy conditions it gave surprisingly good audio with no real wind interference.

This really does provide a cheap alternative for those wanting to record their audio separate from their video stream. No need for fancy expensive recorders, each person has one of these smartLav+ mics and uses their own phone as a recorder. Yes, work will have to be done in post to equalise and balance out levels, but when you’re on a tight (or no!) budget then you have to adapt. Even if you do have all the nice equipment, then something like this as a backup in case of problems with the main system (what, did you say ‘save’, I thought you said ‘erase’…)

Rode smartLav

sadly disappointed with my Rode smartLav mic.

I had always associated Rode with quality, I’ve used their products before and always been very happy with them. However I find myself sadly disappointed with the quality of my recently purchased  Rode SmartLav lavalier microphone. They advertise it as “a professional-grade wearable microphone” but I found it far from that.

The first thing I noticed was a physical problem, the foam cover / windshield was not properly attached to its frame. That got sorted by fully removing the cover and then the application of some superglue to re-attach it.

The microphone did come with a tie-clip which does quite a good job of holding the device and keeping the cable secure. The microphone itself is quite small, somewhat thicker than a toothpick, a lot thinner than a pencil. Assuming you could route the cable out of sight then it could go totally unnoticed if attached to the side of a monitor or to one side of a desk. Its omnidirectional pick-up pattern means it does not have to be pointing at the speaker in order to pick up speech.

The device is advertised as a smartphone device, I did try plugging it into my Zoom H1 recorder and also my video camera but (as expected) it didn’t work with either. I’ve tried it with three different phones. Using a Nokia Lumia 520 it gave an audio file that sounded a bit wooly with a loss of upper end frequencies. Using a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 gave a very tinny sound with loss at both the lower and upper frequencies. My iPhone gave the best overall sound in terms of frequency response however I still class it as ‘poor’ and far from the ‘professional-grade’ that Rode claim. There was also a noticeable background hiss all the way through and an intermittent crackle just to add to the distraction.

The one area where it did perform better than other microphones I’ve used is outside in that it picked up less wind noise than most. This does not, however, compensate for its overall poor quality of performance.

Sorry Rode, the phrase “could do better” springs to mind.

Link to my YouTube test of it.

Rode Videomic Pro

I’ve had my Rode Videomic Pro now for around the last two and a half years.

It was bought to give my Panasonic GH2 an improved sound quality when I was out and about videoing. My previous video device, a Canon HF100 has a non-standard hot shoe / accessory slot, so for that I had to get the Canon microphone especially for that camera, which of course was incompatible with my GH2. However I must give Canon their due, it’s a great microphone and did everything that I asked or expected from it.

This Videomic Pro has also been a great device. Although I don’t use it that often it has still suffered a fair amount of misuse and abuse, lived in holdalls and generally travelled around with me, but has always done the business when needed. It has been a bit of an irritation in that the rubber strips which provide the sound and vibration isolation between the microphone itself and its frame often detach themselves from their mounting positions, but I can live with that. As a video camera microphone I like it and I also often put it onto a small tripod and use it as a desktop mic. In this set-up sometimes feeding it directly into my camera, sometimes feeding it into my Zoom H1 and use the Zoom to record the audio.

Its one failure has been out in windy conditions. My Canon mic with its dead cat windshield handled windy conditions really well. I got the Rode made windshield for this Videomic Pro assuming that getting the proper branded item would give me good performance, however I’ve been very disappointed with its abilities to reduce wind noise. Where the microphone was money well spent, this Rode dead cat windshield was a total waste. A shame as Rode usually produce good products. I’ll just have to look elsewhere for a windshield.

Belkin LiveAction Microphone

Last Christmas I was given a present of a Belkin LiveAction microphone, so I thought I’d give it the once over.

On the box it stated that it was for iPhone / iPad type devices, however it uses the standard jack plug that’s common across most devices. It worked without any problems on the two different Samsung phones I have.

It’s about 12 cm / 4.75 inches long, so not that large, but is quite big compared to the size of a phone. If plugged into the phone and you’re using the camera that facing the way the microphone is pointing, then end of the mic may come into view. (Just something to be aware of.)

Once plugged in, there is a small knob to turn that helps to secure the device to the phone. On the side there is a three position switch. Off, close-up directional, long distance ‘super-directional’. It uses a standard AAA size battery.

Over the years, phone manufacturers have spent a lot of time, money and effort in improving their internal microphones. Under standard indoor conditions I didn’t find any huge advantage to using the Belkin. Where it really did come into play was outside. Using its standard directional setting it picked up my voice quite nicely while cutting out (or at least reducing to an acceptable level) most of the other background sounds. At one time I was standing beside a busy road where the level of traffic noise was such that if I was talking to somebody standing beside me I’d have had to shout, however the Belkin picked up my speech nicely. I can see this having some potential in a gig or live event type situation where you want the sound from the stage while minimising the noise from the crowd beside you.

Using it switched to its super-directional mode it did pick up speech from quite a few metres / yards away. The quality of sound was not particularly good, however I’d rather have some sound that may be poor but I can work with that no sound at all! I can’t see myself using it in this mode very much, though I guess it’s handy to have there.

Overall I rather like it. With phone video quality improving more and more people are using this function when out and about, and under difficult conditions this Belkin does do a better job than the phone’s internal microphone. It does however still pick up wind noise, I must look out for a windshield / dead cat screen for it.



Camera Accessories

Three of my favourite camera accessories,

the sort of things that if they went missing or broke I’d be down the shops the same day to get replacements.

For video work (even though I only do basic YouTube type stuff) I really do like using a proper Rode external microphone. The ones built into your usual video camera are at best ‘adequate’, the ones in your video capable dSLRs are usually terrible. Getting the sound nicely sorted can make such a difference; to be able to clearly hear the story being told or to enjoy the music without having to struggle is more important that having a perfectly crisp image.

If being used outside, then going with the microphone is its windshield, a usually grey coloured furry cover, often known as a ‘dead cat’. This things really can cut out the wind noise, that loud ‘woosh’ sort of sound that can so overpower the sound you want to be recording.

My Manfrotto MP3-D01 fold flat mini tripod adds an extra dimension to slow shutter speed photography. It’s small enough and light enough to be left attached to the bottom of my camera and provides basic tripod support where ever I am. It’s three rather stubby legs can be adjusted to provide a stable platform on almost any surface. Great for night shots or where you want to prop your camera up at a slightly odd angle. It means you can also take ground level pictures but without putting your camera directly onto what could be a rather wet or dirty surface. Small, light, it’s one of those ‘fit and forget’ type devices.

Not that often used, but when videoing in low light situations (I do like to get out to castles and that sort of thing) my battery powered LED lighting brick (F&V Z-Flash) is so useful. Attaches to my camera with a hot-shoe adapter, it means that whenever I go into a relatively dark room I have enough light for my camera not to have a fit ramping up ISO setting or doing weird thing with aperture or shutter speeds.

It runs for hours off its (rechargeable) battery pack so I don’t need to worry about constantly having to switch it on and off. It’s also useful for still photography as a fill-in light and helps to take the edge of the harshness you can get from flash. (Also a great source of light at home in the event of a power cut!!!)

Projects and EeePC

Getting stopped far more in the corridors of work now by the students all wanting help with their projects. There is a problem with some who have come in from a culture where they are used to having everything done for them, and therefore expect you (i.e. me) who is only a ‘mere technician’ (servant) to basically do everything for them such that all they need to do is to press a couple of buttons and get all their results. As far as I’m concerned, they can just FUCK OFF. It’s their project, they are required to research and develop it. I’ll do my bit to help, to talk about and to show alternative ways of doing things, to make suggestions and say how, if it was my project, I might go about doing it. But if they expect me to run around and do their work for them just because they are too up their own arses to get the work done, tough.

It’s nearly the end of November. In the city centre on Saturday and the place mobbed. Managed to get into my usual Starbucks for a coffee. While there some school kids came in and ended up sharing my table. I was using my EeePC 901, and that immediately got conversation going, especially as I was on YouTube. An unusually nice crowd of guys, so often the school kids that go in there are so immature and silly that it gets really annoying, it’s nice to meet a bit more of a switched-on group. Turned out that some of the people I follow on YouTube they follow too, so had a thoroughly nice 45 minutes of chat and running around on YouTube.

Sorted out the microphone problem I was having with my EeePC by downloading a slightly older (and simpler – no fancy 3-D pseudo-Dolby effects) set of drivers.