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Old February 23rd, 2007, 02:44 PM   #1
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Lav Mics Compared

While there is a ton of good info about different shotguns and hypers, I've found very little concerning different lav mics. More and more often these days, I find myself in situations where I'm not just the camera op, but also the sound guy. And while I could go on ALL DAY about what a bad idea it is to make the cam op also the sound mixer, the fact of the matter is a lot of us have to do it. SO, that said...

This noon I walked up to Professional Sound Services in NYC to listen to some lav mics. Pro sound is a great small audio shop that does a ton of rentals as well as sales. Most of their employess also mix when not in the shop, so they know their stuff from field experience, not sales literature.

On the show I'm currently shooting, we're using Sennheiser G2 kits with the stock mics, and Senn 416 shotguns. Because of the nature of the show, a lot of times the shotgun is impractical due to a lack of boom-ops, so we rely on the lavs. I haven't been very impressed with the sound of the mic itself, though I find the Sennehiser wireless packs to be very good. So the obvious uprgade is the mic.

I compared 4 mics literally side by side on both my own voice and the salesman's. All the mics were in their "flat" configuration - most can be ordered or capped with different responses from shelved to peaked. They were:

Tram TR-50
Countryman EMW
Countryman B6
Sanken Cos-11

First off, ALL of these mics sounded great. While I didn't get a chance to compare them to the ME2 stock mic, I could tell instantly that they were a cut above. First the Tram- it's the standard, and around these parts it's the "kit" mic you get when you rent a Lectro system. It's great, very versatile and durable. In all mic positions it sounds very good, and the output is fairly padded for use in super-sensitive wireless systems. It responds well both on and off axis.

The countryman, while VERY similar in look to the TR-50 sounds completely different. It's a lot less "open." It sounded best when close to the mouth, but that's fairly impractical when mic'ing talent who moves his/her head when speaking. It is more sensitive to changes in the axis of the speaker's voice. But this can also be a good thing. When placed at the sternum, it sounds full, and rejects a TON of background noise. Certainly the best of the bunch for loud surroundings. It is also slightly smaller than the TR-50, so it's easy to hide.

The sanken Cos-11 is a favorite of a lot of people. I have no doubt that it matches a shotgun quite well...but I didn't get a chance to compare it so. To my ear, it sounded...neutral. That's a good thing. Price-wise, it's almost exactly the same as the B6...which factors in... It's fairly small and thin, so it hides well. It's sensitive to speaking axis, but doesn't reject BG noise as well as the EMW.

And then the Countryman B6. It's awesome. I came in looking at it as a novelty. I wanted to see it, but not necessarily hear it. For those who don't know, the B6 is TINY. The mic is smaller than the cable on the TR-50, and its cable is about 1/3 the size of any of the others'. It's also extremely water/sweat/cola resistant. This all factors into the circus-act side of the mic, which is well known. Users and advertisers tout the size and durability of it any time its mentioned. What's lesser-known is how it sounds. In a word, "wow!" Incredibly detailed and natural, good rejection of bg noise, and fairly insensitive to speaking axis changes. I had to keep taking the cans on and off to see if I was listening to a mic at all. It sounded like a very expensive and well-aimed shotgun. Balanced and detailed, not too much bass from the chest cavity and certainly not lacking. Also, it comes with different caps that can alter the response of the mic from flat to peaked and shelved...all in the same mic! It comes with minimal accessories, especially when compared to the TR-50's grab-bag of goodies, but most of the same style acc's are available. And they do in fact make a "vampire clip" for it, just like the TR-50. It's called a "viper clip" when used on the coutryman, for those in the market.

When I finished my listen, the owner came over to ask what I thought. I explained my surprise at how good the B6 sounded, and he asked the salesman if he had cheated and let me in on the secret. The salesman reassured him that I had "found out" on my own, and we talked about our mutual and complete amazement by the mic.

What's the upshot? Well, with the clips and wind muffs, etc... the B6 will run just a little over $300 wired. Thats about the same as the Cos-11, sometimes less depending on where you're buying. Between the two, it's a personal preference. Both mics are very good. My preference, as well as that of the owners and employees of the store was that the B6 was flat-out the best lav.

There are a ton of people trying to get a system that's better than the Senn G2 package, but perhaps less expensive than the Lectro 400's or 200's. After a lot of discussion and testing, it's clear that the wireless set being used is only a small part of the equation... and its growing smaller as technology improves. Within the G2's range, it can sound 99% as good as a Lectro. I'm not talking hits or distance here, just sound quality. So for those willing to spend $900-$1000 on a single-channel wireless system, it is my personal opinion that the Sennheiser 100 G2 with a countryman B6 mic is absolutely outstanding. There are a ton of factors that go into capturing clean sound, but speaking strictly about equipment and not technique - the B6 is stunning, a HUGE step up from the ME2 mic, and even the industry-standard TR-50.
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 03:43 PM   #2
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Great timing

Jaron,

Your "review" could not have come at a better time. I'm about to be on my second set of Sennheiser mics (first set was *gulp stolen). I have replaced the default lav's each time. I currently have in my shopping cart a two unit kit w/ an additional 2xTrams.

Now I'm going to go back and poke around for the Countryman B6. I am, and it seems forever will be, the cameraman and the sound guy. And I usually wind up interviewing w/ lavs as well. I've seen the Countryman's before but wrote them off for several reasons, one being the size - yes, the size. Anything that small's gotta suck. Hehe. So - you've helped me out here - I think - now it's gonna cost me more...

Thanks for writing...
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 04:44 PM   #3
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Hahah, I hear that (no pun intended). I dismissed the B6 completely for the same reason - anything that small must have compromised something. Anything that liquid-resistant must have compromised something. Alas, it's really is THAT good. And I spent the extra hundred bucks. Luckily, production's renting my kit so in the end I'll pay it off pretty quickly. Didn't want to spend so much for the lav, but it just sounded way too good. Good luck to you Jeffrey, and anyone else in the same boat.
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 05:12 PM   #4
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Too many choices!

So, is this the one that fits those Sennheiser packs?

Countryman B6 - Miniature Moisture Resistant Lavalier Microphone for Sennheiser Wireless Transmitter with 3.5mm Connector (Black) ?

And is 1/8" the same as 3.5mm!?
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 05:26 PM   #5
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We did some mic comparisons at a conference last year and had several different lavs represented. There are some stereo A/B comparisons. The results are online at http://10squaredcorp.com/microphones/microphones.html
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 07:09 PM   #6
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Jaron,
Did you test any of this mics in simulated wind conditions? The Sanken windscreen is useless ( IMHO. The Tram is great but too big. I don't have much experience with the Countryman.
For a forty year old design the Tram has held up well but the competition has caught up to if not passed in all cases. But being better in some instances may not be enough. Cost does matter when you are buying multiple mics and supplementing them with rentals as well. Try keeping track of several different mics clips, windscreens etc and you will see why the rental companies and soundmen tend to pick a favorite mic and buy multiples of the same. For instance how many rental companies rent the Countryman with a radio mic if you need an extra one? If you have a mic which lasts longer before breaking but doesn't sound quite as good it might be a better buy. Some other sound shops in NY have switched over to the VT (Voice Technology) Lav from the Tram in rental because they think it is more durable.
The guys at Prosound NY do know their stuff and I have bought many thousands of dollars of gear from them but they sell all the mics they showed you and more for a reason. It is up to the purchaser to weigh the benefits and trade offs for the kind of production they are trying to do.
Thanks for the info
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 10:14 PM   #7
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Senn G2 and Countryman

Hi Jaron and friends,

Thanks for the thoughtful review - a very nice writeup. Now and then I respond to this type of post with some of adhoc "taste" tests of my gear (please forgive the plosives and silibance, the day was marching on and the test was intended to illustrate propogation characteristics with various Senn units, frequencies, and some of my mics).

Anyway, apparently you're my "straight man" on this one since you're touting much of the same gear in my tests! While my tests were with the E6 instead of the B6, I've also used the E6 with good results by attached clip on the respondent's sternum when doing an interview (just be certain the respondent doesn't bump the shaft of E6 mic). Also, it was indeed a windy when I was outside doing some of the tests at 200+ yards from the receiver (the point of the test was to illustrate with a moderate line of sight the Senn G2 works well at loooooong distances). If it hadn't gotten dark, I would have put on the Countryman foam windsock and done a with/without test - maybe someday I'll get around to it and compare that in the wind against my Octava MK012A and a Rycote BBG with a windjammer. Anyway, here's the link:

http://www.bridgehands.com/audio

BTW, you didn't mention the Sennheiser ME4 mic which comes with some units (you'll find it infinitely richer than the poor ME2). And note the last MP3 was given to me from one of our colleagues on the forums, which includes a brief test with the Tram TR50, Senn MK416, etc.

If anyone cares to send me (or give me the URL) of useful comparative tests, I'll get 'em posted.

Regards, Michael
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 10:53 PM   #8
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I'm glad this is starting a good discussion. I voiced my opinions in hopes that others would do the same for the mutual benefit of anyone reading. Thanks for keeping this up! Jim and Michael - great to know there's some real info online, thanks for the links.

As for wind noise, I didn't get a chance to test it yet, but I have yet to see a LAV that does really well with the stock "wind screen." I've been lucky not to have to have an exposed lav in windy conditions, but I bought some "Baby Koala Max" wind muffs. Ugly as sin and huge, but in do or die situations, I think an ugly mic is preferable to no audio.

And Daniel's absolutely right - there's no definitive answer to the "what should I buy" question. It's a series of trade-offs in every instance, visual or sound. Most rental houses will stock gear that stands up to rental environments, not necessarily the best sounding stuff. And yeah...not exactly universal. Countryman's become a better known brand now, but a few years ago when I first heard of their gear, NOBODY knew what it was. And hey, there's always the ME2 as backup!
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 11:09 PM   #9
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Righto Jared - when it comes to the choice between a pretty lav on the respondent and good sound, I'll get out the whole fracking roll of gaffers tape to cup a quiet protected area for my poor little lav mic from that nasty ol' wind - LOL
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Old February 24th, 2007, 08:14 AM   #10
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Wind and Lavs are to be honest dependent on what the subject is wearing as much as anything and how good the person fitting them really was at the job therefore it would be difficult to ever comment on how effective one is verses another really,it's real world situations and uses that people would need to comment on and not a back to back test,it isn't that simple or scientific.

The reason by the way for what they wear being an issue for me is due to using mics exclusively for film/TV and having them hidden at all times is #1 but it does teach you that 99% of the time that a mic need not be seen and in fact can be of use to not have it seen even if it is acceptable that it is, most people with what they wear actually have built in wind screens so it makes sense to use it.

Real world example of how well a certain mic works in wind would be a scene we filmed this year 4 actors, 40mph in a boat in a heavy chop into a head wind, ALL was usable for the final production, the mic in question was the Tram TR50 with it's standard wind screen neatly tucked away on clothing varying from suits to heavy knit jumpers (sweaters).

The TR50 lends itself to this use more than any other mic although I am currently testing the dpa 4071 as it has some very nice mounting solutions available.
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Old February 24th, 2007, 09:51 AM   #11
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I'm suprised nobody mentioned the Sennheiser MKE-2. A little bigger than the countryman, but a great sounding mic. I've been using them for many many years and have always been happy with them.
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Old February 24th, 2007, 11:59 AM   #12
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MKE-2 - I totally forgot to listen to it, but I've heard it's really a nice mic. When my B6 arrives, I'll try and get one to compare.
Ian, good point. So here's a question that may show my ignorance of mic placement -

The other day I interviewed a kid outdoors. All I was sent with was the ME2 lav without any sort of wind muff (just the metal screen), and some gaff tape. No shotgun, no boom op... Normally, that works fine and I can find a spot to hide the mic that eliminates russle and wind. BUT this kid was wearing a fairly tight Northface jacket, a synthetic fabric I've never seen before. It was cold enough that he couldn't unzip it or take it off, and he didn't have another choice. I tried taping the mic EVERYWHERE inside, but even when I immobilized the jacket and mic, there was still an AWFUL sound from the fabric. I even tried taping the mic to the jacket collar, where it couldn't possibly come into contact with another section of the jacket, and it STILL sounded like someone was sanding a chalkboard. Definitely the loudest fabric I've ever come across. In the end, I taped the mic to the inside of his t-shirt and tried to create some space in front of it inside the jacket. It lost a lot of the high-end but managed to capture the vocals moderately well. The jacket still made horrible noises every time he made the slightest movement. So here's my question - in that situation, what could I have done? I'm usually pretty resourceful, never been truly stumped before, but any time I got the mic even close to that jacket (and him), it was ridiculous. Thoughts????
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Old February 24th, 2007, 02:06 PM   #13
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To be honest it sounds like you did very well to capture what you did so well done to start with, personally position wise with the limited gear you had to work with I'd have taped it centrally on him but actually on his chest and not his T Shirt, I'd have used the gaffer tape to push the mic away from the chest a little so it wasn't too flat then made a small u shaped area over the mic body with gaffer to keep the T shirt from rubbing on the mic, then see how low down you can take the jackets zip before wind is an issue whilst trying to keep the mic from being totally sealed in, that really would have been my first idea BUT as you have learnt there is no hard and fast rule, depends how big his chin was, what his voice was like and quite how bad the jacket was noise wise, sometimes a certain material is just plain not going to work, always think of other ideas though, I mean was his jacket central to the piece or could you have swapped jackets with him ?

The enemy is always material and can even come down to the washing powder used on clothes, the amount of starch wardrobe put into clothing, if the garment creates static and then which mic you are using as they react different to all the above problems. I think my worst garment of the year was a particular tie that was used more than once in a drama, I had a right battle with it some days.
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Old February 24th, 2007, 03:44 PM   #14
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wow, Ian, so simple and brilliant. Switch coats! for once, the guy was my size, and my down jacket was silent. too bad i didnt have you there reminding me of the obvious. thanks for the suggestion! argggggggg
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Old February 24th, 2007, 08:08 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Bellotte
I'm suprised nobody mentioned the Sennheiser MKE-2. A little bigger than the countryman, but a great sounding mic. I've been using them for many many years and have always been happy with them.
Me too, come to think of it. I thought they were great mics. I have to replace them as they were stolen, but I'm willing to consider the Countryman B6.
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