Gear & Now: All Ears: Lavaliere and Shotgun Mics
Posted Dec 1, 2004

When's the last time you watched a silent video? Unless it was produced for a very specific reason, chances are, never. Audio is crucial to video production, but it's often treated as an afterthought.

Professional event videographers, whether in close proximity or shooting from a distance, need sound solutions to get the best audio possible.

Let's start up close.

The term "lavaliere" refers to small mics worn around a person's neck (or clipped to a lapel). As such, they are used to emphasize voices and reduce background sounds. Available in different colors, lavs are available to blend in with almost any shooting scenario or wardrobe.

In situations where mounting a mic close to or right on a subject isn't feasible, audio recording from a longer distance is still supported by the so-called shotgun mic, providing good pickup at distances of 10 or 20 feet from the source. At the same time, shotguns tend to reject sound from other directions. They are often mounted on the camera itself, or supported on a boom pole or other such device.

It's also worth noting that mics are either dynamic or condenser, referring to the audio pickup used. Dynamic mics are generally less expensive, more rugged, but may not be best for audio fidelity. Condensers are usually smaller and more sensitive, but can be affected by weather conditions and RF interference. A mic's pick-up pattern also should be considered. Many lavs are omnidirectional, meaning they will pick up sounds from all directions. Unidirectionals reject unwanted sounds from all but one direction; shotgun cardioids or supercardioids are very unidirectional, picking up sounds at a greater distance in front of the mic, while rejecting those sounds from behind.

Clip-Ons
Lavs can be matched to almost any sound recording system, whether wired or wireless, bringing different audio qualities, response characteristics, and price considerations into play.

For example, the miniature Countryman lavalieres can be used as system or standalone mics. Designed for a bright, crisp, natural response to dialogue, they are easily hidden due to their small size and range of color options, including flesh tones.

Countryman EMW mics, priced around $195, include clip, tie tac, tie bar, and foam windscreen, but not power supply. With a broad 20-20,000Hz response range and full omni pickup pattern, they also feature response presets for flat, normal, or peak recording environments. Interestingly, a protective cap for the B6 series not only protects the mic from damage, but also caps the frequency response to provide brighter highs or fuller lows.

The KAT66 is a mini-electret lav from Katamount, similar in style and performance to the popular Tram. It comes with windshield, clips, and optional audio connectors for easy mounting. Its frequency response is a little flatter at the high end, rated from 20-15,000Hz. The Katamount KAT66 has a list price of $247, with lower street and package pricing available.

Speaking of easy concealment, the new Pin-Mic from Ricsonix looks like jewelry. Using a patented system, the mic is pinned to a backplate to which the audio cable is attached and easily concealed, the company describes. The Pin-Mic is an omnidirectional unit that has a flat frequency response to 16,000Hz.

The Tram TR-50 is one of the most popular omnidirectional lavs around. Its small size and design allow a variety of fastening options, making it ideal for unobtrusive appearance and hidden mic use. Depending on configuration and specifications, it is priced around $300. Sony's ECM lavs (the general purpose 44, with its moderate background noise rejection characteristics, or the broader-frequency 55b) are also well-known and very popular; they are priced from $200 to around $350.

The Sanken COS-11s omnidirectional lav offers full response (its 20-20,000Hz frequency response is adjusted for the human voice), and built-in windscreens to diminish popping and sibilance. It has some nice physical improvements over its predecessors, too. A 2.1mm cable with a 0.5mm cable jacket—twice as thick as previous models—brings greater moisture and snag protection, but is still very easy to conceal. The mic comes in three colors, with several add-on covers available, and lists at $399.

As a system purchase, mics should be matched with the characteristics of transmitter and receivers used. Priced and described as "entry-level" ($450), the Azden 100LT system (receiver, transmitter, mic) offers a frequency response of 50-15,000Hz (human hearing ranges from about 20-20,000Hz), meaning there is some low-end roll-off and high-end capping.

The transmitter comes with Azden's EX-503 omnidirectional lapel microphone, but the unit can be used with just about any mic plugged into the 3.5mm input jack. Other complete lav kits include Samson's wireless solutions for videography. Its Micro 32 entry-level system for DV shooters includes an M32 Receiver, T32 Transmitter, and Samson QL1 Microphone, at a package price around $495. The system has a frequency response range of 50-15,000Hz.

Looking at discrete components, the Lectrosonics 100 Series may seem pricey (more than $1,000 without the mic), but it is well worth it. Designed for corporate and event videography, its compact, single-antenna receiver ($575) and standard belt pack transmitter ($810) are made of machined aluminum for durability. The receiver has a response of 50-18,000Hz, output can be switched from mic to line level, and a low-level roll-off filter helps further control audio fidelity.

Sony offers a very robust and reliable wireless system via its UWP Series. All components are available separately. The UTX-B1C Body-Back Transmitter with omnidirectional lavaliere microphone is $450. The camera- mountable URX-P1 Portable Diversity Receiver is $495, as is the half-rack fixed Diversity Receiver. A package like the UWPC1/6264 includes the lavaliere, body pack transmitter, and portable receiver with mounting accessories, for $699.

Sennheiser's Evolution Wireless 100 ENG series is well-suited to DV production. A package consisting of the omnidirectional ME-2 microphone, body pack transmitter, plug-on transmitter, and body pack receiver is priced around $1,000. The plug-on transmitter lets you use your own microphone with the system.

Shure's UPC14/93 premium wireless system (around $1,750) comes with a lot. The WL93 subminiature omnidirectional condenser lavaliere, with its 50-20,000Hz response rating, is a full spectrum mic, great for close interview settings. The body pack transmitter features a convenient five-segment battery fuel gauge.

Pricier still—at nearly $3,500—are systems from Micron, including its new Explorer Series. This 32-channel transmitter and receiver package, including antennae, output/ power cable. and choice of microphone, is designed to handle very high input levels, something event videographers can run into at the most inopportune moments. The pocket transmitter (with external and internal power options), offers a 80-20,000Hz response with both roll-off and fixed cut controls. Its fast-response limiter and soft clipping curve handles peak audio very well.

Shotgun Weddings (and Other Events)
Shotgun mics from Audio-Technica, Azden, Sennheiser, Shure, and many others are well-known in event video, as much for audio performance as for shape. Using a long slender isolation tube with a highly directional pattern optimized for distant pickup, these mics are often wrapped in cloth, fur, or other protective devices to further reduce wind noise and vibration.

Although some shotguns look rather silly sticking way out in front of small, handheld MiniDV camcorders, there are smaller solutions. Ambient, for example, makes a "Tiny Mic" shotgun with a wide frequency range and good directionality. It can easily affix to a camera shoe, mic stand, or to popular DV cameras like the Sony PD-150.

Popular shotguns in the low cost range include the Audio-Technica AT 835b, the Azden SGM-X2, and the Sennheiser K6/ME-66. All boast a fairly typical 40-20,000Hz frequency response.

The AT 835 condenser, at less than $240, has really good sound for the price, with excellent rejection at the back and sides. Azden's SGM-2X (less than $250) offers good, rich vocal response characteristics, but may be a bit noisy for some purposes. The SGM-2X is actually a microphone system, with different capsules for directional shotgun or cardioid-type pick-up.

The Sennheiser K-6/ME-66/ME-67 system also offers extra capsules for long or short-throw shotgun applications. The mic itself is very clean-sounding, and very quiet. The system is priced around $400.

Sony Electronics recently unveiled its newest shotgun mic, the highly directional ECM-678. The ECM-678 is added to Sony's comprehensive lineup of lavaliere and shotgun mics for wired or wireless event video applications. Its UWP wireless lav systems are well-known in event videography.

The new wired, camera-mounted ECM-678 is a compact mic, about 9.9 inches long. It's said to feature a newly developed sound capsule, and a built-in two-position low-cut switch, to help reduce pop and wind noises—while preserving vocal integrity—in noisy shooting environments. Its 40-20,000Hz reponse is good. The microphone should be available now (scheduled for availability in December) at an MSRP of $750. It comes with a windscreen, holder, spacer, and carrying case.

There are, of course, higher-end shotgun mics (such as Sennheiser's MKH70, Neumann's KM 82, or Sanken's CS5 among others, priced closer to a couple thousand than a couple hundred dollars) that can be more expensive than the camera they are mounted on. That's when you know you really value the audio part of video production.

Please See Next Page for Suggested Resources

Suggested Resources

Audio-Technica, www.audiotechnica.com
Azden Corporation, www.azden.com
Countryman Associates, Inc., www.countryman.com
Georg Neumann GmbH, www.neumann.com
Katamount Enterprises, Inc., www.katamount.com
Lectrosonics, Inc., www.lectrosonics.com
Ricsonix, www.ricsonix.com
Samson Technologies, www.samsontech.com
Sanken Microphone Co. Ltd., www.sanken-mic.com/english
Sennheiser Weltweit, www.sennheiser.com
Shure Inc., www.shure.com
Sony Electronics, www.sonyelectronics.com