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.
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.
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.
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.