My Journey To Better Audio With The Sennheiser Lavalier Wireless Microphone
On March 19th, 2013, I decided to take a leap of faith and leave my 20+ year career in professional radio broadcasting. I set off to begin my own multimedia production company which by my own standards is thriving today, nearly two years later. When I began my business, I knew I needed to audit my arsenal of recording equipment to see if I could begin producing professional audio and video content on my own. I quickly realized that a wireless microphone system was a necessity. Being able to capture high quality audio was a must if I intended to create promotional videos and online marketing pieces, which was to be one of my main services. Most of the equipment I was used to using from my broadcast career was now unavailable. Constrained by my new business' limited equipment budget, I needed to find a professional lavalier microphone setup that was dependable and wouldn’t break the bank. There were many other pieces of equipment yet to buy that would be necessary to get things off the ground. I also needed a wireless lavalier system that would work well with my DSLR camera setup and would be easy to travel with. So my journey to find my perfect wireless lavalier system began.
Getting My Feet Wet First By Experimenting With Entry Level Gear
Before investing in a professional system, I opted for an inexpensive wired lavalier microphone to test the waters. I purchased the Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone and it was worth every penny. For only $29 on Amazon Prime you can’t go wrong. Even though it was a wired alternative it really raised the quality of my productions and helped me realize how important a lavalier system would be to my business. One of my favorite authors on the subject of audio recording, Bobby Owsinski, explained that having good quality video with poor audio quality is perceived by viewers as amateur. Conversely, when you have poor video quality with high quality audio, your production is perceived as creative by its viewers. I absolutely agree with him.
The ATR-3350 also allowed me for the first time to explore the different ways to use a lavalier microphone as you can see in my video production titled Jelani Gets His Ears Pierced where I used it exclusively for my subject Jelani's voice. The ATR-3350 was plugged directly into my iPad2, recorded on the Voice Recorder HD app by eapps.pro, and synced up in post production. The app developer even posted one of my videos singing their praises on their blog. I quickly learned The ATR-3350's strengths and weaknesses. Although the audio wasn't horrible after some processing in post, there were a few drawbacks. I was able to experience first hand the required extra setup time for a lavalier, the limitations of the ATR-3350's battery life and the embarrassment of tripping over the cable in front of my talent. There was an improvement in dialog clarity having a mic close to the source but I knew the audio fidelity could be better.
Once I felt I was ready to make the investment, I began researching professional wireless lavalier systems. I learned the pros and cons of UHF vs. VHF radio systems. I even considered some bluetooth alternatives and quickly wrote them off after being unimpressed due to channel limitations and the shorter distances that they are capable of. Luckily, I have a large group of friends in the broadcast industry in radio and television who could give me some insight. Many of the options that my broadcast media colleagues were familiar with as standard ENG equipment included the Lectronics 100 series and the Lectronics 400 series. They both offered the quality I was seeking but were way over my budget ($1116.90 to $3480.00). I researched less expensive options like the Azden WMS-PRO Wireless Microphone System which revealed itself to be less than sufficient. Finally, I zeroed in on the Sennheiser EW 112P G3-A omni-directional EW system and began to look deeper into why it was so popular among today's top news gatherers and content producers.
User Friendly Features Of The Sennheiser EW 112P G3-A Omni-Directional EW System
The ME2 clip-on microphone is nearly invisible. It's an omni-directional microphone which means it is capable of capturing sound from several different angles. The clip-on microphone is connected to a bodypack transmitter that your on-camera talent can easily cover up or tuck away by having it clip on to a belt, waist band, or even drop into a pants pocket. The bodypack transmitter includes a mute function. I can't tell you how many times I've heard stories about news reports or talent heading to the restroom during a break during which they forget to take off their lavalier microphones. Some sounds are better left unheard/unrecorded and personal. The system is portable, conveniently battery-powered by two AA batteries for each the transmitter bodypack and receiver (it also includes contacts that allows for recharging via BA 2015 accupack). The receiver and transmitter are both rugged, housed in metal, yet lightweight and easy to operate. Now for some of the more technical features.
Technical Features Of The Sennheiser EW 112P G3-A Omni-Directional EW System
The menu operation is pretty user friendly. The system offers an automatic frequency scan feature which searches for available frequencies. It operates on a 42 MHz bandwidth with 1680 tunable UHF frequencies which virtually guarantees you'll find a channel without interference. It includes a pilot tone squelch for eliminating RF interference when the transmitter is powered off. The transmitter and receiver both boast an illuminated graphic display. There's an Auto-Lock function that helps avoid accidental setting changes. The transmitter and receiver both feature battery indicators and the system includes a programmable mute function. These are just some of the characteristics that I believe make the ew 112-p G3 a great fit for content producers seeking both portability and great sound quality. Read more technical information >
How I Use The System
There are numerous ways to use the system depending on the type of project you are working on and the other gear you possess. I want to share with you my specific setup and experience. My goal here is to hopefully aid you in your purchase decision and maybe even help novices discover some techniques. I found it is most useful to me to use the output of the receiver plugged directly into my Canon 5D Mark III camera. I turn off the camera's Automatic Gain Control (AGC), turn the gain to the lowest setting and adjust the level from the Sennheiser for optimum sound. This is because generally the pre amplifier in the Sennheiser is better than that of most DSLR cameras. I set the camera's input gain to one step above the lowest level (thanks for the tip Dave Dugdale at LearningDSLRVideo.com).
Alternatively the output of the Sennheiser wireless system can be plugged directly into a Zoom H6 or other recording device like an iPhone (iRig Mic Pro) and synced up with your camera footage in post production. Just be sure you also capture on camera audio from your DSLR so you have something to sync to.
Processing Lavalier Microphone Audio Footage In Post Production
If your source material is flawed (or of low quality) to begin with, you're limiting the quality of your final product right out of the gate. With that said, there are many things you can do in post production to optimize your footage and I'd like to touch on some of those basic ideas here. I have often said that EQ (equalization) and compression are what separates the amateurs from the professionals. It's absolutely true. With the appropriate use of processing (EQ, limiting, and compression), you can bring your audio presentation to a whole new level.
Macprovideo.com, one of my favorite tutorial sites, features a tutorial that focuses on this subject. The tutorial is titled Audio Concepts 102: Audio Processing Basics. This course helps explain the complicated science of audio processing. It explains the concepts, terminology, and applications that all audio professionals need to know and have in their audio toolbox. You'll be educated on the subjects of levels, gain-staging, panning, EQ and all of the dynamics processors and how these audio forces come together in recording, mixing and mastering music. Once you're armed with this information, you'll be able to optimize your audio source material, no matter the microphone quality. This subject deserves much more in-depth detail and attention than I am able to give it here, but I'll save that for another article.
What I like About The Sennheiser EW 112P G3-A omni-directional EW system
I like that it is of a very durable build (metal not plastic) and it includes a hot shoe adapter on the receiver that mounts nicely on my DSLR camera. The batteries required to operate are AA and the battery life lasts several hours. After several years of moderate use they've never once let me down. I used the auto programmable feature to find the first strongest channel and have never needed to change it since. Others may have a different experience depending upon their geographic location, but with 1680 tunable UHF frequencies available, you're bound to find one that works for you. The system comes with an XLR adapter which allows it to be used with higher-end cameras or recording devices. Also, using a professional looking piece of equipment immediately helps to gain the respect of your clients.
What I Didn't Like About The Sennheiser EW 112P G3-A omni-directional EW System
To be honest, it was a hurdle for me to justify the cost. It's the one thing that made me hesitate before pulling the trigger to make the purchase. Now that I've had the chance to use the Sennheiser, I feel it's worth it. It's not inexpensive, but none of the cheaper alternatives available at the time could compare. If you are unfamiliar with the jargon, it may seem a little complicated to set up. The instructions are straight forward and clear, allowing you to get up and running quickly.
I did come across a few critical reviews that described problems with interference in some larger cities like New York or London if you go further than 50 feet.
See & Hear The Sennheiser EW 112P G3-A omni-directional EW System In Action
This production is one of the recent videos my company produced using the Sennheiser Lavalier microphone. The voice-over audio was recorded in very noisy surroundings. During the time I captured this footage at San Diego's Petco Park, the area was surrounded by construction noise, crowd conversation, and other ambient sounds associated with an urban area. I chose to share this production because it exemplifies a challenging real-life situation that news gatherers and content producers are often presented with.
References for more information
PRODUCTS REFERENCED IN THIS ARTICLE:
(Update) Additional product to consider.
Since my purchase of the Sennheiser EW 112P G3-A omni-directional EW System, Rhode has released the RodeLink FM Wireless Filmmaker System. It's a fully digital wireless system with most of the features of the Sennheiser kit for more than $200 cheaper. I have not tested the Rhode Filmmaker system up against the Sennheiser, but it may be an alternative to consider.