There’s a host of choices for wired lavalier microphones. As prices for these items falls, sometimes quality and usefulness fall with them. In a marketplace where the ability to record great audio on your phone is most coveted among independent creatives, are there any good choices for wired lavs that check the boxes of affordable, great quality and flexibility? This review will see if the new Deity V.Lav wired lavalier can do just that.
First, let’s start with what no one wants to hear: recording on your phone is a bad idea. Unless you have an application which will record with uncompressed audio, it doesn’t matter how good your microphone is, your audio will suck. And if your audio doesn’t suck outright, the fact that you’ve recorded with compression artifacts burned into your recording will make editing that sound suck. We’ve shown examples of this numerous times in the Cinema Sound Education where time and again the spectral view of a compression audio file reveals horrible artifacts and audible differences compared to uncompressed audio. DO NOT record in a compressed format if you want professional results. This means for all of you iPhone users, DO NOT use the built in “Voice Memos” to record your audio – even if you have a good lightning port microphone. You’ll be sorry. Use an application which can record at a high bit rate and with uncompressed audio like the Røde Rec App.
That warning out of the way, let’s talk wired lavs. Why the heck would you want a wired lav instead of a wireless one? Let’s see the Prose:
- Better sound quality
- Way more affordable
- Way easier to use
- No Chance of RF hits or other artifacts
- Easy integration into a phone
- Direct USB connection to computers in some cases
What are the Khans to these Prose?
- Distance to subject limited to length of cable
- Easy to get a short in the cable and ruined microphone
- Cable is almost always unshielded and can easily intercept RF interference
- Many times the microphone is cheaply or badly made
- Rarely professional termination (like XLR)
- Rarely professional power solutions (like phantom power)
For us at Cinema Sound, even as convenient and easy to use as wired lavs are, we rarely use them, because we find recording on a phone more difficult to manage than direct connect to a professional recording device. Moreover, even with a good wired-to-phone microphone the Analog to Digital Converters (ADCs) which are really doing the heavy lifting of turning an analog signal into a digital one, frankly, suck. Plus, our wireless solutions with Saramonic are usually a far better value in both money and sound quality than most wired lavalier solutions.
This said, we were contacted by the good folks at Diety to review their V.Lav wired lavalier system. Like the in-kind Saramonic and Røde systems, it’s predominantly geared toward phone/consumer camera recording. And while nearly every lavalier sounds better than the built in camera/phone microphones, we put this mic to the test in Mark’s iPhone 7+ and what we later discovered could be done: direct plug-in to a Macbook Pro.
“How did you get a 3.5mm jack into an iPhone 7+?” you ask? Fortunately, the 3.5mm to lightning port adapter which comes with the iPhone is sufficient to make appropriate connections. However, please note, although it’s a sexy and convenient little thing, as mentioned before, the ADCs in it SUCK. So whatever microphone one plugs into that little thing, you’ve already lost 15-20% of its sonic integrity off the top. You good people with Androids don’t suffer this – but your ADCs built into your phones SUCK only slightly less.
The V.Lav has an in-cable set of micro batteries which assist with the power requirements of the microphone even in what could be a zero power environment. The battery compartment seems snug and may be water resistant. And while having built in power for the mic is super useful – especially with so many consumer devices not possessing plugin in power – the idea that we’d have to have these specialized batteries on hand if we were to use the V.Lav extensively was a little off-putting. However, we discovered the true value of those batteries after this article was initially published, and Diety corrected us.
The unit comes with a generous amount of add-ons including extra and larger wind-screens, a lovely and sturdy carrying case, clip, and a front-and-back manual which was easy to understand. It even comes with a “Faux Fur Windscreen” which we overlooked on first glance. Be sure to check deep inside the pocket of the case. It’s really a cool mini-dead cat for the mic.
As expected the microphone polar pattern is omni-directional and the frequency response has a nominal high frequency boost to get over any chin shadow.
The microphone comes with a 1 year warranty.
We can talk facts and specs all day, but it’s the sound which matters most. What’s the situation there? As to the printed spec of 50-20kHz, there’s little truth to it. We observed, as shown on the RX spectrograph, the microphone goes happily down to 35 Hz, and goes up to 21.5kHz with ease. Like many wired lavs, it also sports a low self-noise. Nice.
We also notice that the basic windscreen does a reasonable job of killing wind noise, although a lav should never be used for dialog within a foot of the direct mouth of talent.
In terms of the actual sound, we found it, in a word: Fine. Just fine, in fact. That may not sound overwhelmingly positive, but for $49.99 we were expecting to use words like “awful,” “noisy,” “dark,” “shrill” or other negative words used to describe inexpensive entry-level microphones. And while it is certainly no Sennheiser MKE, it’s also not $360.
To be more specific, it sounds very much like a Røde Smartlav+ – without the gross shredding noise that happens when things get loud, and without the high frequency loss. In fact, although we have bought a Smartlav+, we’ve been quite disappointed with it, and have never been able to use it anywhere – and the SmartLav+ is $8 more – and no case or power or extra windscreen.
As to comparison with our sponsor mics, we like the sound of the Saramonic Lav Micro better, but the noise floor of the V.Lav is superior. We also really like the sound of the SR-ULM5 USB microphone (which may actually be the same microphone mechanism – just adding an ADC in the mix), but its use is obviously limited to computer implementation.
We checked the V.Lav on axis to dialog where it showed up strongly as a solid omnidirectional microphone generally skewed for dialog recording. It would be a good choice if you were doing loop groups – for those of you doing them as we show you in the Cinema Sound education. We also did extensive testing with dialog at the “lapel” position with soft, sibilant and loud dialog, where it showed up nominally with a reasonable transduction. If we could make a suggestion to Diety it would be to add a stronger high frequency boost/matrix to the microphone. Lavaliers always suffer from chin shadow and other idiosyncrasies of lav placement. Having more high frequency response is never a bad thing – and would really help the “fine” frequency plot of the V.Lav.
It’s a sea of “mobile lavs” out there right now, and the decisive value winner is going to be that microphone which has the addition of on-board power and potentially intelligence to know what it’s plugged in to. The V.Lav has this power in the form of the two LR41 (or AG3) mini batteries which can be purchased on Amazon easily.
The most unique function of this product is the “battery case” itself. Although none of the product material says this, it contains a microprocessor which is able to discern the nature of the output it’s connected to. In the words of Diety,
This lav actually adapts the connector to be dual mono for DSLRs, Pin 4 becomes the hot pin when plugged into cell phones, and if you plug it into a macbook pro’s headphone Jack it can be used as an external microphone.Andrew Jones ~Diety
We tested this, and we were surprised to discover that indeed plugging the microphone into the headphone jack of our 2013 Macbook Pro rendered a superior frequency response to the iPhone connection. We were also able to record at 96kHz finding even higher harmonics that the microphone transduces. You’ll forgive us if this works on a lot of other microphones, since we don’t usually trust Apple ADCs – ever. But in this case, the noise floor was low, and the microphone sounded better than we expected through what is usually horrifically noisy and grainy Apple ADCs. Certainly integration was plug and play, however do note that the mic does not show up under the “Audio/MIDI” app, and only shows up under System Preferences. You’ll also not find it in the DAW inputs, and you’ll have to select “internal microphone” there, while in System Preference you’ll select “external microphone.” A bit wonky, but a symptom of MacOs instead of the microphone, sure. The ability to send a dual-mono signal down a “stereo” (tip, ring, sleeve) cable instead of just getting things on one side is another help to a usual hassle with these kinds of connections, and certainly saves a couple of dollars in adapters.
Its main flaw, as with most inexpensive cabled lavs, is the 5m cable itself: it is unshielded and prone to kinking/shorts. Not to mention the in-line battery compartment adds two more opportunities for connection problems. But, with a 1 year warranty, and a $49.99 price tag, it might be a risk worth taking if you needed something to grab and have handy in your bag – especially if you’re working in a pro-sumer situation where 3.5mm is the flavor of the day.
Perhaps the biggest asset to Diety’s lineup of products isn’t its products at all – but it’s growing video education. Really well-done entry-level instruction that is easy to watch, taught by Millenials for Millenials and entertaining. Not to mention they pull excerpts from just about every movie every made in the last 25 years to help give examples to learning. It’s a great place to find a quick and clear answer to some of the most basic questions of recording, sound effects creation and audio post.
V.Lav at a glance:
- Good Value
- Built in power
- Good sound
- Multiple wind screens
- 1 Year Warranty
- MicroProcessor support and intelligent connections for all manner of outputs to the 3.5mm jack
- strange batteries you’re not going to have on hand to replace them – add $8 to the price for a set…which places V.Lav at the price point of a lot of other good microphones.
- flimsy cable
- somewhat lackluster high frequency
We were very glad to have been given the opportunity to review the V.Lav wired microphone and we look forward to other products to emerge from Diety. The V.Lav receives a 100 CS rating due to its good sound, favorable value, but somewhat delicate manufacture and battery choice.
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