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comparing microphones

Qbrick VERSUS: Microphones

Let's compare smartphones internal mics to professional microphones. Which one is better?

Comparing smartphones internal mics to professional microphones

At Qbrick we believe that creating video content should be simple and fun. Today anyone can be a content creator using smartphone cameras for recording with little to no effort. Not only is the camera quality getting better and better with each new iteration, but the microphone has become sufficiently versatile.

Being versatile doesn’t mean that it is the best for any situation though. What happens when you want to up the production values using alternative recording equipment?

We decided to put a modern smartphone to the test going face to face with other consumer level alternatives.

The premise was simple:

We recorded a short documentary style video using an iPhone, while simultaneously recording the audio with both a smartphone lav-mic (placed only on our leading man Jesper) and a shotgun boom microphone. This way we now had three different sound recordings synced with the same footage, allowing us to pin-point the pros and cons of each version.

 

Now let’s review the results!

1:

Built-in iPhone Microphone

iphone mic

Pros

– Easy, low effort usage.

– Captures the audio fairly well when camera is close.

Cons

– Captures all the misc sounds in a room.

– Works poorly at longer distances.

– Unable to focus the audio (without having to turn the camera).

Should you use it for your productions?

The built-in microphone does an adequate job of capturing the audio in all the takes.

In the opening and closing scenes the mic gets closer to Jesper (our main character), increasing the audio quality to decent levels.

However, when having two people in the same frame the phone mic starts to show its limits.

Not only are the audio levels significantly lower compared to the tighter scenes with only Jesper, but it also becomes apparent how much of the surrounding miscellaneous audio it is picking up as well.

Everything from the A/C to the printer and people moving in the background is recorded at an equal level to the people talking in the scene. This makes it muffled and hard to hear in the process.

In conclusion: the built in mic works well in an improvised on-the-go situation where you need to shoot something quick. It has its limitations as you can’t be too far away from your subject and you’ll need to be mindful of your surroundings to avoid having to much distracting elements – potentially compromising the location of a certain shot.

2:

Lav Microphone

lav mic

Pros

– Well focused, distinct audio from the wearer. Picks up less of the surroundings.

– Affordable and easy way of bumping up the production value.

Cons

– Doesn’t work as well with more than one person in the scene.

– Wired mics might cause compromises.

Should you use it for your productions?

The lav mic offers a big jump in audio quality for Jesper. Since the microphone is placed so close to his mouth you can always hear his voice focused and clear without picking up too much of the surrounding noise throughout the video. (It might even pick up some things too well, as you’ll notice when he sips his coffee 28 s in.)

Ironically, the strengths of the lav mic are also its biggest weaknesses. Seeing how it is solely focused on Jesper, in the scene where two people are talking, the other person’s voice will end up much lower in the recording.

This could be a distraction in a longer video where two or more people have a lengthier conversation.

Another potential drawback is the cords. When it comes to affordable lav mics, most of them are still wired. This can cause an issue as the default cords aren’t very long, leaving your filming vision at the mercy of their length.

All in all, lav mics are great tools in order to enhance one’s voice recording. Even the most affordable options bump up the audio quality significantly compared to the default option.

They work best when the scenes involve a single person with a lot of dialogue. Consequently, the usefulness somewhat falter when more than one person is in the scene, and you might have to plan ahead if this is the case.

For example, if shooting an interview, make sure to put the lav on the interviewee as the audio quality of the answer is more crucial than hearing the question.

3:

Boom Microphone

Pros

– The ability to move it between different points of interest.

– Great for scenes with multiple people.

– Can be used both portable and static.

Cons

– Not easy to use.

– Might need dedicated software and/or hardware.

– Pricier, quality differ more than with lav mics.

Should you use it for your productions?

The shotgun boom is the most sophisticated of the three recording methods we tried. The microphone did a great job when aimed at one person at a time but worked almost just as well when placed in between two people (as long as it was pointed in their general direction).

This is helpful when you don’t have the luxury of a dedicated boom operator as you instead can put the mic on a static, well-directed, tripod.

As for the negatives: the shotgun boom mic obviously requires more effort than both the previous entries.

In our set-up the microphone was wired to an external audio recorder, but it could also be plugged in directly to an audio software on a computer.

Whatever the case, it needs a more hands-on approach from the creator as you will have to make sure everything is connected properly while potentially having to adjust audio levels manually. This is a far cry from the ease of just tapping rec with a lav mic connected.

However when it is all set up properly the shotgun set-up offers superior audio and versatility – you just have to decide if it is worth it.

Compared to lav mics shotguns are a little pricier and it can be a little trickier to find something that gives good bang for your buck. Some versions are good with focused audio while others favor picking up a wider space.

If trying out different versions isn’t an option try to learn the strengths of the one you get in order to maximize its performance.

Overall the shotgun microphones are a good option for most situations. Though it is hard to match the perfect focus of a lav mic, the shotgun prevails in its versatility, mobility and adaptability to most situations.

Summary

What differences did you realize watching the different videos? Which one sounded the best, and which set-up would you go for in your next production?

Try shooting your content with different set-ups to determine what suits your needs best!

If you want to learn more about audio recording and how to improve it, check out our How-To series.

Author

Andreas Bard

Andreas Bard

Andreas Bard is a Video Editor and Content Creator at Qbrick

Editor

Kaisa Berg

Kaisa Berg

Kaisa Berg is the Art- and Communications Director at Qbrick

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