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Lavalier Showdown
  • I was looking for an upgrade to the kit ME-2 that came with my G3, and fine folks at Toronto TREW audio were kind enough to spend a few hours with me testing the most common lavs on the market -- tram tr50, sanken cos11, and the two latest offerings from RODE. I know these tests are all over the internet, but I always had a problem with them because the cos11 and sometimes the tram were usually run through lectronics while the me-2 and RODEs were often run through G3s. Needless to say, if you are a dslr shooting, you're probably not going to shell out 2-4k for a lectrosonics transmitter and receiver. Luckily, the trew techs were kind enough to modify the tram and sanken for g3 receivers.

    I thought I'd share the results as a good lavalier is essential for any solo dslr shooter and produces much better quality than an onboard shotgun and it's really hard to tell what's better from youtube tests given their crappy compressed audio.

    First, a general note -- the RODEs, tram and saken all completely spanked the me-2, which should not be a surprise, though it was surprising just how much better they sounded. The ME-2 was just soo thin sounding. So, knowing I was going to walk out of there with a new lav of some sort, I started comparing them, side by side, in different sound environments for the next two hours (all tests were done with a sound devices mixer and sony studio headphones). Here are the results:

    BEST SOUND QUALITY

    Sanken COS11 -- no suprise, it's the most expensive as well. There's a reason it is used by high end documentaries and most television and film. But is it good for a solo DSLR shooter? If time and money are no issue, then yes, but if they are, here are a few drawbacks:

    • Higher Handling Noise. It takes careful mounting to conceal this lav and tape down the wire since both the microphone and the wire are very sensitive to handling noise. If you got the time, or you are mainly doing sit-down interviews, you'll be rewarded, but if you need a lav (as I mainly do) for filming moving subjects solo, it may not be the best choice.

    • Costly aftermarket adaptors. Okay, not that costly, but you're looking at $30 - $50 to modify it for use with a g3, and another $140 if you want to then plug that into an xlr for sit-down interviews.

    INTERESTING, BUT NOT PERFECT

    RODE Pin Mic -- recently released from RODE this mic is meant to be hidden in plain sight (the capsule pins through clothing. I could see this being very useful for event shooters and live broadcast, particularly if you didn't want to spend a lot of time mounting it. But the sound quality, while better than the me-2, felt a little lacking at the low end, and the fact that the mic faces out (even though it's an omni) did seem to mean a little more of the room was picked up. If you do a lot of weddings and other events though, you might want to consider it. About $250.

    AN OLD STANDBY

    Which led to the TRAM TR50, the flat, small lav that many of you will recognize from your sound recordists bag if you haven't already used (or owned) yourself. Easy to conceal and sounded much better than the pin mic. Far less handing noise than the COS11, and cheaper too ($250) although requires the same modifications and adaptors to use with G3 as the COS11. The downside was it came in pretty quiet -- even at 0b from the transmitter you still had to crank up the mixer more than 3/4 of the way to get have the audio peak in the the 0 - +6 db range and that added a small but noticeable bit of noise. So you could record it lower and let post deal with it if you need to crank it later, but that's a little complicated. Which led to:

    THE EVENTUAL WINNER

    (For me at least) The RODE lavalier. Also $250. Rich, full sound -- not quite as good as the COS11, but about the same size (which is to say quite small) and far more impervious to handling noise -- put it on my undershirt and moved around a bit and even without moleskin had no noise off the overshirt (which was soft cotton, granted, but still, not bad for a very quick and dirty mounting job). Best of all, only required a $30 G3 adaptor and a $50 XLR adaptor, so ended up saving me $150 over the tram and nearly $300 over the COS11. And bizarrely for a lav at least, comes with a five year warranty.

    So there you have it. As always, I'd encourage you to try to test out these options in person and pick the combination that is right for how you use it most (and realize that ultimately, many people have at least two different kinds of lavs in their bag because there is no perfect choice). But if you, like me, were frustrated by the lack of controls (eg different receivers) and compression found on most internet tests, hopefully this feedback helps in narrowing down your decision. Sorry, no audio to post -- I really should have recorded it all -- but I will post a me-2 v. RODE comparison when I get a moment to pull it off.

  • 41 Replies sorted by
  • I can attest to the supreme quality of the RØDE lav mic. I use it myself and can say that I’m a very satisfied customer. (The 5-year warranty is definitely a pleasant surprise.) Their MiCon connectors are a great idea, too.

  • I bought a B6 Countryman a couple years ago, but have only used once or twice. Was that tested?

  • Wanted to but unfortunately was not in stock at the time I went there. What are your impressions of it?

  • @JDN honestly I bought it for a project and then never used it except for once last year. And that occasion wasn't that great of a test. So...I'll let you know as soon as I give a good test. ;)

    Where do you live? I'd definitely loan it out if somebody wants to do a comparison.

  • I use a Countryman B6 with a Sennheiser G3 system. I think it sounds great, although for most interview setups, I tend to end up using the hypercardioid or shotgun track instead of the Lav (when I'm able to use both for a locked down interview). That said, I think that the B6 sounds great for a lav.

    I used the B6 and COS-11s mixed on a recent shoot. The sound recordist said he much preferred the Sanken for its "presence" but to me the difference was minimal. (Around the same difference as the price!) I don't notice much handling noise on the B6.

    Outside of sound issues, the B6 has kevlar fibers in the wire which really make them stand up to bad handling. (On camera talent ripping them off or walking away when the transmitter is taped to the back of their chair.) I don't know about the Sankens. Also, the fact that the B6 is ridiculously small is a real plus. You really can hide them in plain site. I feel like it leads to better mic placement, which offsets some sound shortcomings. And being able to hide them so quickly is a boon to me when I'm shooting by myself or with too small a crew.

    I'm contemplating buying more lavs and all things considered would like to match up the set. But I'm on the fence about whether to go with Sanken or Countryman. B6s wired for Senn G3s go for about $290, so it's a fair value.

  • Came across this actually in case people want some countryman v. rode comparison. RODE seems to do quite as well as the B6 when placed below the sternum on the first test but sounds much better with that placement on the second test.... bit strange.

    http://www.photography-forums.com/rode-lav-versus-b6-and-emw-t223914.html

    Agreed though that the countryman sounds great... emw, not so much, but I had similar thoughts about the tram as well. How does the countryman hold up when mounted under clothing in terms of noise? Or do you find it so small you usually just hide it in plain sight (which is my preferred method, but starting work on a feature doc so that's not really possible as its not possible to hide much in plain site with a 75' screen.

  • I need to try some of these. A year ago I picked up an h1 and a few Audio Technica $20 wired lavs. Used them on a few occasions and did the job.

    Would definitely like to try a wireless setup.

  • RIP the boom - more and more radio mic only with no hint of an attempt to boom v simple stuff makes my ears cry :)

    Not aimed at you sir just an observation of stuff that pops scrapes and squeaks its way into timelines lately. Bit bored of buying CEDARs for multiple systems to clean up the muck, rather buy lenses lol

    Sanken also make a nice rubber mount for the Cos 11 - helps lots in isolating it from rustle, I found Trams a little thin, but easy to hide.

  • @JDN - I hear great things about the RODE lavs, I just haven't used them. (My shotgun and hyper are both RODEs; to my ears they beat everything else in that price point.) But with the lavs, it sounds like they're only about 15-20% cheaper than the B6, so I'll most likely stick with the Countryman.

    I'll do the B6 buttonhole trick sometimes -- the mic is so small that you can literally slide it through a buttonhole and hide it behind a button. They're also easy to hide in hair or fit simply in a necktie knot, which rarely generates much noise. If I'm hiding the B6 behind clothes, I use the high attenuation cap designed for this. (The B6 comes with 3 attenuation caps to help model the sound depending on how they're being used.)

    For my feature films, I've always had a sound team--I only place the lavs on my smallest projects that are just me or maybe one other person--so I don't know about hiding them on that scale. Though I've never seen one show up in the dailies.

  • @soundgh2 - I hear ya. I would frankly rather just use the boom, but I need the lavs for insurance. Also, on corporate-type shoots, the interviewees often geek out a little about how remarkably teensy the B6 mic is and that earns me a couple of confidence points from them when I need them most--right before we shoot. I don't reveal that the big boom mic pointing at their face is what I'll actually use for sound.

    I use those clear plastic lav holsters for my B6s as well. They're great--all rustle eliminated. I rankle a bit at dropping a dollar for each round adhesive sticker but it's worth it in time savings.

    Have you tried the B6? I'd be interested in your opinion.

  • @DouglasHorn @soundgh2 thanks for your observations -- will definitely have to give the countryman a whirl too. And yes, agreed, no substitute for a boom. I do a lot of work in reflective environments w/uncontrollable bg noise and have been very happy with my NT3 for that -- would never want to hold the bugger, too damn heavy, but so much better than a shotgun in those situations. And a lav for that matter.

  • Here comes some more reviews:

  • i've been using the rode lavalier, not the pin mic, and considering it was about $200 including an xlr connector it's been a pretty decent performer. as they say in one of the videos above, the pattern is a bit,... dunno if wider is the word,... it picks up more ambience,... but in a nice balanced natural way, meaning you might not need an extra channel for ambience as the talent wont sound too artificially isolated, yet if your levels are appropriate and your placement decent it'll give you adequately clean audio.

    and it is hot as hell,... had to turn down my preamp's to 0 and engage a -15db pad.

  • Don't forget the DPA 4060/4061... these are tiny and have a great sound. Sure they're not cheap but well worth the money. They're also used as boundary mics and instrument mics which makes them usable for many situation. I also use them for recording ambiences as a stereo pair. http://www.gearslutz.com/board/remote-possibilities-acoustic-music-location-recording/487237-sanken-cos-11-vs-dpa-4060-a.html

  • Funny you should mention that mirror man. Actually just about to pick up a dpa and keep the rode as my second lav.

  • 7 ways to Hide Lavaliere

  • I have 2 Rode Lavs, and they're fantastic. they have a good warm tone that I love. I love the MiCon connector system... being able to swap out the types of connections it uses, or the cable should it get damaged is really a great selling point.

  • Echoing everything @bmorgan83 said, here's another vote for the Røde lavs. Great tone, and the interchangeable cables / connectors are such a good idea that I never feel quite safe when I wire someone up with a Sanken or Countryman that doesn't have a connector system.

    And they really match the tone of the Rode NTG series shotgun mics perfectly, which is another major strength.

  • I've been using a couple of Rode Lavs with a pair of Sennheiser G3's for the past three years. I recently added two channels of Lectrosonics wireless and two Sanken COS11's. While I never felt there was an issue with the Rodes comparing them against the Sankens through the Lectros did reveal more of a difference than I expected. The Rodes sounded quite thick and a little muddy compared to the Sankens. I know the Sankens have a high end boost which helps when concealed under clothing, but the Sankens are definitely my go to lavs now. I purchased a couple of Micon /Lectro adapters and was wondering if the Rodes are biased correctly. The Sankens require a mod which involves installing some resistors inside the Lectro connector. Not sure whether the Rode needs a similar mod?

  • @pundit old thread but I thought I'd cap it off — agree with you. Recently went to COS-11s and would never go back. The Rode is around as a backup, but the COS-11s are so crips and clear I could never imagine using anything else. I think the flaw in my initial methodology was testing lavs externally mounted instead of through clothing. Its there the cos-11s really shine.