DIY “wireless” mic: lav mic + portable recorder + DIY belt clip holster

 

It ain't pretty, but it definitely works

If you want quality lav mic audio, the cheapest, easiest, and most worry-free solution is to plug a decent quality lav microphone into a portable recorder and have your talent wear the recorder.  You then sync it in post with Pluraleyes or FCP X’s synchronize function.  I have found this system reliable enough to use on all-day documentary shoots for MTV, sometimes running audio clips 3 hours in length.  The best part is that there’s no limit to the number of mics that can be run at once.

 

THE EQUIPMENT:

For a recorder, I use the Sony ICDSX712.  I choose this over the Zoom H1 because it starts up faster, uses battery VERY efficiently (each dual AAA battery set will last me at least two full days of recording), and has a more navigable menu system.  I record in wav mode 44kHz/16 bit and manually set the audio level to 22, which keeps a normal speaking voice at a usable level  In loud environments, I’ll dial down the volume to about 13.  I use an 8gb Micro SD card, which gives me 12 hours of continuous recording. At the end of each shoot day, I download the audio to my computer and format the card.

For a mic, I use the Sennheiser ME-2 lav mic because it came with my old Sennheiser G3 wireless system and sounds good.  I secure the microphone’s base connector to the recorder by first using gaffer’s tape to secure a hair tie to the base connector on the lav mic.  I then wrap the hair tie around the top of the recorder.  It isn’t pretty, but it keeps the mic from coming loose, even when people are running and jumping.  For added security on the cable, I make a loop in it near the base and duct tape it – this will protect the cable from excess tension.

cell phone case with belt clip

velcro on rear of recorder

There are no belt clip holsters for portable recorders like this, so I modified a cheapo Bytech cell phone case to fit the lav mic by adding a bit of velcro on the interior near the rear.  I then put velcro on the rear of the lav mic as well. This makes a very secure connection when the mic is seated in the case.  Note that the cell phone case has a belt clip and not a belt loop.  This is essential because your talent will not necessarily be wearing a belt.

I usually use a mic clip on the talent unless I need to hide the mic.  In those cases, I will sometimes gaff tape the mic to the interior of a T-shirt, or have it poke out the button hole of a button-down shirt, or tape it on the interior of a vest. For additional protection against clothing rustle, I recommend undercovers.  They’re basically sticky pads with a bit of felt that insulates your mic a bit from rubbing against skin or clothing.

RECORDING:

I always head-slate each audio take with the time, date, and what is being recorded (i.e. 12pm on April 17th, interview with Mike).  I then slide the “hold” button to activate it and let it run for hours at a time as I focus on the video side of things. I make a habit, however, of checking in on the recording: I ask the talent to show me the recorder, and I check the meters – only the left channel should be recording, otherwise I know the mic got unplugged.  If there is going to be a significant break in filming, I will stop, start, and re-slate the mics.

POST-PRODUCTION:

In post, I delete the right channel of the audio, drop it in the timeline with the video, and sync them either with Pluraleyes or the Sync feature in FCP X.  Pluraleyes is more reliable, but FCP X’s sync can be faster because it doesn’t require an XML export and re-import.  Note that if you are syncing multiple mics at once in post, you will experience a bit of drift and phasing between them.  This is because the clocks in audio recorders are not exactly time-synced unless they are locked to a time code generator of some kind.  Additionally, Pluraleyes and FCP only sync to the nearest frame, and audio is recorded in much smaller samples, so there’s a chance your mics will be slightly out-of-sync with each other. However, if you are using Sony Vegas, that program does do sub-frame positioning, which may alleviate the issue.  In any event, the way to fix this problem is to nudge the audio a bit manually whenever you hear phasing.  In Premiere, this is achieved by clicking on the upper-right-hand menu of the timeline and choosing “show audio time units”, then sliding the waveforms until the audio lines up.

You may hear a bit of hiss from the mics if you have to turn them up loud. This can be fixed with Adobe Premiere’s excellent Denoiser plugin or FCP X’s Noise Reduction function.

Happy recording!

 

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    Latest Comments
    1. Pronto

      The question is: How do you handle the sound when recording in loud environments such as a nightclub or festival?

      Do you need to change up your microphone or is it all taken care of in the recorder settings?

      The Sony recorder does have a noise reductions setting but in more chaotic environments additional steps are needed.

      • brandon

        If you’re already recording when you enter the venue, just unlock the “hold” button and adjust the volume on-the-fly while watching the meters. You want them to be hovering between -12 and -6. Then re-lock the recorder and leave it alone. Nightclubs are loud but tend to have a fairly even volume, so your audio will be fine. If you’re going to be in rapidly changing audio environments, just set the level to “medium” or “low” (it’s in the automatic modes).

        • Pronto

          Thanks!

    2. brandon

      Anytime.

    3. Ryan

      I used a rode lav with the H1 this past weekend in an inside coat pocket. The connector gave me all kinds of pops and disconnecting clicks. Do you experience any connection breaks with your set-up? Is that what the tape is for? Thanks!

      • brandon

        I usually use gaffer’s tape to connect an elastic hair tie to the mic cable, then I wrap the tie around the recorder and the cable several times to secure the connection. Otherwise you will be prone to disconnection problems.

        • frankie

          I was wondering if you have thought of using the lav mic with the iphone as the recorder? I know there are some cool apps that help with audio levels on the iphone. Is the iphone just not good enough quality as a recorder? I know I’ve read that it is more about the mic than the recorder re quality etc.

          • Brandon Li

            For very light usage I think that would be fine. The record quality is probably good enough for prosumer video. But for any long-duration, intense shoots, I would be concerned with the dual-use of the phone because of battery life issues, possible lack of a “hold” key (not sure – never used the app), and the fact that most people want regular access to their iphone for its other functionalities.

    4. Razzledazzle

      Nice tips. Thanks!
      Q: If you record at 44 khz, is your time line also set to 44 khz? My FCP timeline defaults to 48 khz so I always record the audio at 48 khz to avoid that nasty drift that requires me to resync the lips…
      -Razzle

      • Brandon Li

        I record mp3 at the default sample rate – probably 44.1khz. But then I convert to 48khz aiff before importing to FCP, simply because FCP X doesn’t like very long mp3 files and will freeze on import. As for drift, I’ve always believed that non-clock-synced audio drifts inevitably regardless of sample rate. Simply because different units record at slightly varying speeds. Although you’re probably on the right track by recording your audio at 48khz.

        • Matt James Smith

          Hi Brandon, once again …
          I’m just about to buy the Sony ICDSX1000 (updated 712 as far as I can tell) because I think the size will be better than the Zoom H1 for pocketing a wired lav (plus the reasons you mentioned above). I am concerned about it not having 48kHz though. Do you convert 44.1 to 48 (before import to NLE) even when you record WAV? I’d rather not buy the Zoom but it has 48kHz, so may make my workflow easier. Any suggestions? Are you still converting from 44k? Is it a pain at all? I use FCPX btw.
          Many thanks, in advance …

          • Brandon Li

            Matt, I apologize for such a delayed response. If I am recording wav, I just drag the file into FCP X as 44.1kHz. I haven’t found any noticeable improvement in audio drift by converting to 48kHz first. It’s not really a pain at all unless you’re recording mp3, in which case I convert via the app “Switch” to .aiff before import. This is because FCP X will freeze if you try to import too long of an mp3.

    5. Luke

      Brandon,
      Are you still using the Sony ICDSX712 as your on talent audio recorder? Are there cheeper/more updated options now? Most other online references I have found for this application mention the zoom H1 as the recorder of choice. I’m preparing for a month shooting in remote north east Siberia this summer and trying to get a good, cheep, bomb proof kit together. I just bought a sony rx100 as a back up camera after reading your and other’s reviews of it.

      My same question applies to the clip on Voice Recorder MR7X. I’m thinking of ordering on of those too.

      This blog is a great resource. Thank you for sharing.
      -Luke

      • Brandon Li

        Hi Luke, I’m still using the same audio gear. I don’t use the H1 because it takes longer to boot up, has a more confusing (for me) menu system with less customizability, poorer auto gain control, is bigger, and takes more battery. I have used the ICDSX712u in 20 degree to 100 degree F temps with no issues. It is not waterproof, however.

        The MR7x works great for its limited applications. It’s great to carry as a guerilla lav for people on the street or anyone you can’t mic any other way.

        More to come soon. Thanks for reading.

    6. Kit Laughlin

      Brandon, I am researching ‘wearable’ recorders now, and will share as I know more. The best ones I have seen so far look like USB sticks and only record in mp3, but at 192Kbps. FCP, as you have noted, does not like mp3s, so I convert (or do a sound-only render on the timeline); and either way is fast.

      I have a help ticket in with the penrecorderpro folk; the only thing I don’t know is where the mic hole is; I plan to use elastoplast (sticky, flesh coloured, and cloth backed) to stick the recorders to T-shirt collars, on the *inside*, where there should be little fabric noise and excellent sound.

      I have pro. recorders, but they are all too big for need, which is to be able to be on-camera exercise teaching and still be able to jump and roll—and wearing a recorder on your hip with a lav. in place will hurt if you land on it! The USB recorders, though, I believe can be worn. Very excited about this.

      • Brandon Li

        Good luck with this. I’m interested to know if you find a USB Stick/recorder that has sufficient audio fidelity and reliability. I would have concerns about using one of those for an extended period because there’s no display on the unit, so you wouldn’t know what your audio levels are, or even if you’re recording. Also, I’d expect the housing of the stick to pick up a lot of handling noise. But let me know if you are pleasantly surprised by one of these units. It would be invaluable to have a high-quality “lav” mic that doesn’t require running a cable under clothes.

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