If you’re like us, you go through a LOT of AA batteries in a year. After seeing several “the best AA battery” videos testing duration or best overall value, we thought we’d create a best AA battery article ourselves – and ultimately a showdown – between all the AA battery choices on Amazon and skew the results specifically for we independent media creators with respect to Wireless Transmitter and Receiver use. We were reasonably sure we knew what the results would be, but what we discovered shocked us – and has totally changed how our battery purchases will go for the foreseeable future. Read on.
At Cinema Sound – and at many of the studios we work with – the Duracell ProCell batteries are the de-facto standard. Believed to be the “longest lasting” and “best value” AA battery, we’ve been buying them by the hundreds for years. We decided to test them against as many brands as we could find which:
- Were available on Amazon.com for retail purchase (and didn’t have to wait a month to ship from China)
- Were AA size
- Could be purchased in packs larger than 8
- Were either Alkaline, Lithium, or Zinc derivatives
- Were not rechargeable
We chose these parameters because:
- Amazon typically will have the best retail price, and shipping is usually free. If shipping was not free, we added that price to the recorded price for the battery.
- Since nearly all professional-grade wireless TX/RX devices use AAs, we chose to stay with that size.
- A battery is generally more expensive if purchased in small packs (sometimes more than 300% more expensive) than in larger packs.
- Although there are many kinds of batteries, several are potentially harmful to equipment, and only the three above are readily available for retail.
- And lastly, we HATE rechargeable batteries, because they are always more expensive, always have less of a charge, require a secondary expensive purchase of a charger, and lose charge with each recharge – not to mention the time and lost value of having to recharge them.
With these parameters, we chose the following brands and types:
We used the ProCell batteries as our standard 1X ratio from which every other battery would be measured, since it’s the battery we’ve been using for years.
While we’re certainly not a laboratory-level testing facility, we decided to try our best to narrow the standard deviation of the trials as much as possible – while still making the tests reasonable. In other words, we didn’t want to spend 2 months and have our wireless transmitters tied up to do this test – while making it as accurate as possible. Little did we know how narrow the results would be in the final analysis – yet how important it would be to be as rigorous as possible to garner detailed results.
We created a series of tests to quantify a standard deviation (SD) with the wireless transmitters we used (the Saramonic UWmic9 Transmitters), then take that data and apply it to the general testing mechanism: 14 personal cooling fans. The UWmic9s were set to medium power transmission and the accompanying lavalier microphones were plugged in and activated (increasing the battery load). We also tested the multiplier between transmitter and fan current draw which came to the fan battery life being on average 4.24 X shorter than the UWmic9s, which was favorable, since it more accurately simulated a “high transmitter wattage” setting which the UWmic9s possess as an option as do the Sony UWP systems and several others. It also dramatically shortened our testing period and allowed us to test many more batteries at a go.
We recorded all tests on our Canon C100 and logged timings to the second.
We used the Duracell ProCell batteries to test the SD of the Saramonic Transmitters and established a 4.2% SD between them after 12 trials. Trials were performed at both 58ºF and 68ºF. From there, we tested the fans similarly but discovered a 25% deviation – mainly from two fans being clearly defective. Once we removed those fans from the data, we had a 15.7% deviation in fan workings – which was, sadly, pretty high. We tested each battery on a single fan (where possible) three times. If we needed to change fans during a test, that battery received an additional test on that second fan. All fans were tested with Radioshack batteries and the mean was taken of fan/battery duration (leaving the most accurate fan tests to be for Radioshack and Duracell ProCell). Once we established the winners from the fan tests, we retested the batteries on the UWmic9 transmitters to weigh them against the original ProCell studies, and produced the winners below.
To sum up all that gobbly-gook, the top three finalists have a 4.2% SD of error as opposed to the others which have a 17% SD. But as you’ll see below, the longest and shortest lasting batteries and worst value battery results far exceed this Standard Deviation. We just needed to drill down further with the finalists to insure our results worked in the real world and to be able to best place the winners.
As said earlier, generally, the more batteries in a purchasable pack, the better the value. Duh. As a result, we factored in the cheapest per-battery-price available at Amazon.com which was nearly always the highest battery count package. If there were shipping fees, we added those to the per-battery price.
As you can see, the Saft battery is far more expensive than any of the others, and we didn’t realize it is a high-current capacitor-like battery for very specific purposes. It strongly skews our chart results in the final analysis, because it’s the shortest life battery and the most expensive, so we omit its off-the-chart-results from messing up charts wherever they might. It’s interesting to watch the battery function, because its insides seem to “liquify” while working. Moreover, the battery is a 3.6 volt battery which is more than double the 1.5 norm for AAs. It spun our fans at least twice as fast, and on the video you could watch the batteries’ bodies change color in time-lapse. To sum up the Saft entry, DO NOT put these in any audio equipment ever. And although they skew some of our graphs, it’s fun to see how a really wrong-for-the-job battery shows up. And, therefore, if there WERE a “normal” battery which gets close to its results (and there is), one should never consider buying such a battery for anything.
We’re happy to report that none of the batteries leaked or oozed anything even when drained to zero – in some cases more than once. These are all safe from damaging equipment in that way. However, we never advise you leave batteries in any professional device for more than a week.
Lithium, Alkaline, Zinc
We tested mainly the Alkaline variety of battery, but we included several Lithium and Zinc varieties as well. We were certain that Alkaline would be the best value while Lithium would certainly dominate the overall length of duration. We’d never used Zinc batteries, so we were excited to try them out. Several of our compatriots use Lithium batteries exclusively, because they believe their long life more than exceeds the cost of them in terms of value. Some of the Zinc variety have specific power profiles which are better suited to flash photography (Kodak Heavy Duty, Panasonic Zinc Carbon), but the results of our testing with Zinc batteries varied wildly by manufacturer and chemical alloy. For example, the Zinc Chloride batteries had a far better result than the Zinc Carbon variety. Our testing shows that Zinc batteries are both better and far worse than Alkaline for wireless use, and the results demonstrate that they show no significant advantage (except specifically in the case of the Panasonic Zinc and Kodak Heavy Duty – for flash use) over Alkaline batteries. As for true value between Alkaline and Lithium, the results shocked us, and they revealed several angering truths about how battery manufacturers prey on our stupidity.
Live Long and Prosper
The chart above shows battery life as tested on the fans in hours for two AA batteries (since it takes two batteries to run the fans). Longer bars are better. Green bars denote winners in a particular category. The PKCell Xtra Heavy Duty wins for Zinc, Energizer Max narrowly edges out AllMax for Alkaline and the Lithium batteries easily outpace all others with the Energizer Ultimate Lithium the Godzilla Giant winner by far.
The feeling of anger in our chests started building when we returned the results of the battery life test. We were stunned to discover that by no means are Duracell ProCell batteries “the best” alkaline battery. In fact, they’re sort of in the bottom of the average. Worse, it was clear that regular Duracell batteries lasted longer by over 31%! And while our SD (4.2% for ProCell and 15.6% for Duracell) would still allow for a 11.2% superior life for the Duracell, that’s still pretty ridiculous considering the “ProCell” name infers a “better” battery. Nope. Not in terms of battery life. We were mad.
Rayovac also has a similar, but less pronounced marketing issue whereas the Rayovac Ultra Pro perform little better than the normal Rayovac.
The most brutal example, and much less emotional for us since we’ve never used these batteries, is Energizer. The “Industrial” batteries perform far worse than the normal “Max” batteries.
Here’s another one: take a look at the Energizer Advanced Lithium and the AMVolt Alkaline. It sort of kills the idea that Lithium is always better – just as surely as the PKCell Zinc Chloride battery kills the idea that Alkaline are always the better value.
With the exception of the Saft, the shortest life battery we tested was the Fuji Enviro Max. Moreover, it’s the only battery which we’d tell you to avoid in all cases. The Fuji batteries tout that they are “environmentally friendly”, but we’re not sure how that could be, since even if they were made out of biodegradable cardboard, you’d have to buy 3 times as many of them as the other “green” battery we tested in the form of the PKCell Zinc Carbon. Also, you’d be throwing a lot of your gear in the landfill and replacing it regularly thanks to these batteries, because we witnessed a very erratic voltage throughout testing. You could hear the fan speed going up and down throughout the battery’s short life. Our advice? Throw these out if you have them.
We were rolling our eyes at the results of the Rayovac Fusion batteries which boast “The Longest Lasting Alkaline Batteries.” I’m not sure how they can get away with such blatant false advertising, but our results clearly demonstrate this claim is false.
The only result in this test which didn’t surprise us was the winner of the longest life battery in the form of the Energizer Ultra Lithium. We’ve known for some time this baby was packed with power, and lasts forever. If you need a battery that you just don’t have to change very often, these are the ones. We do want to note, however, that for the last 1/4 of the life of the battery, the performance is poor.
Other notable results include the Amazon Basics battery has EXTREMELY good performance all the way up to the last 1/100th of its duration. The fans spun strongly till the last. In fact, when we tested them in the transmitters, the “low battery” red light was only on for about 90 seconds before it died. Rayovac Pro also exhibited strong performance. To be clear, in a transmitter, having such a short red-light-warning is far too risky for us.
Several batteries demonstrated a strange – but perhaps useful – phenomenon: when they were completely drained and left alone for several hours, powering them on again returned additional power which was significant. While nearly every battery “recharges” itself a little bit when fully drained, all of the Polaroid Extreme batteries ran another 10-14 minutes after being drained. Two of the Fuji Max batteries did this for an average of 30 minutes. One of the Energizer Max batteries did this for 22 minutes. Rayovac Fusion batteries did this for about 7 minutes or so.
Value and Vivification
While being the longest lasting battery is nice, who cares? We don’t. We want to know what has the best value. We’ve rated this test in US dollars per hour, per battery (battery cost X 2 / fan running time). Thus, if you have a battery which costs $1, and it takes 2 to run a fan 3 hours before it dies, the per hour cost is $.67. Again, our results shocked us.
The results for the Per Hour Cost (PHC) test had several Zinc varieties be losers. We weren’t surprised after their poor fan duration test showing: the Panasonic Zinc Carbon and Kodak Extra Heavy Duty. For Lithium, the loser is Enegitech Ion Lithium. For Alkaline, the Fuji Enviro Max. The Winners were PKCell Xtra Heavy Duty for Zinc, Polaroid Extreme for Alkaline and the Energizer Ultimate Lithium for Lithium.
Our prior rage at being conned into buying “pro” batteries was vivified when we realized what made “pro” batteries professional wasn’t the length of time they lasted, but how cheaply they could be purchased. Although the ProCell batteries didn’t last as long as normal Duracells, they were easily a better value, because they could be purchased in a larger bulk fashion – which reduced the price by nearly half the PHC of Duracell “Normals.” It was the same with the Rayovac Pro vs. Rayovac, but definitely NOT so with the Energizer Max vs. the Industrial. We can’t figure out for the life of us why anyone would buy “industrial” Energizers. We were also pleased to discover that the ProCell batteries fared well in the final value analysis being in the top 10 finishers for PHC.
With the exception of the Saft, the worst valued batteries were the Kodak Extra Heavy Duty and Panasonic Zinc Carbon batteries at $2.41 & $2.38 PHC respectively. This is no surprise since they are generally suited for specific purposes where quick recharging (flashes) are the best use. And while the technical worst value battery was the Kodak, both were well within their own SD and far away from the next worst in the form of the Fuji Enviro Max at $1.09 PHC. But since we’ve already strongly cautioned you from buying the Fuji batteries, the race gets very close for 3rd worst. The batteries here are well within the SD of each other and include PKCell Ultra Alkaline, and Duracell Quantum. These should all be considered just as much a loser overall as the Fuji.
The best value winner is the PKCell Heavy Duty at $.21 PHC, and it is the biggest surprise. It isn’t an Alkaline battery at all, and boasts an environmentally friendly makeup of Zinc Chloride. Next is a surprising tie between Polaroid Extreme and Radioshack both at $.23 – with the Radioshack batteries being only a fraction of a penny more. But really, the 15% SD has all the top 7 rankings within striking distance of each other for all around winner. Thus, all of those batteries (and a few others just to make sure things were still accurate on the mid-level batteries in the transmitters) were tested 3 times in the transmitters.
The Last Lap
We ran the these batteries through all three transmitters which completely removes the 15% SD around the fans, and we compensated for the Cinema Sound studio temperature whether tested at night or during the day. We insured that the three battery tests had two days and one night, or two nights and one day. The SD on these tests were 4.2%.
We were happy to see that on the whole the fan testing gave us a reasonably good representation of how the batteries performed in the transmitters (except for two listed below). We tested some mid-to-bad value batteries just to be sure, but it appears that the lower voltage draw didn’t affect batter performance significantly.
ACDelco are the clear winner of the PHC transmitter test overall and the best Alkaline, No Zinc variety battery placed in the top ten, nor did even the Lithium winner with the Energizer Ultimate Lithium. The loser of the transmitter tests (which doesn’t make it the loser overall, just in the transmitter tests) is the Enegitech Ion Lithium with a PHC of $.397 and Duracell Quantum with a PHC of $.212 – both of which are so bad, we couldn’t fit them on the chart.
For the purpose of value-based results, if a PHC is shared between two batteries (like Energizer Max and Amazon Basics), the longer lasting battery gets the better ranking (Energizer Max being nearly double the duration).
What are we taking away from this? Well first, how expensive it is to test batteries like this (well over $400) and how many weeks it takes. But our results have been well worth it and will probably save us $100 a year. Also, any of the top 10 batteries in this list are going to serve you well except where noted below. We’re really splitting hairs with these results whereas the difference in PHC between the top 10 is no more than 2.2 cents or 4.4 cents in a transmitter (2 AAs). Doesn’t sound like much until you factor this number is 44 cents per ten hour day, $2.64 in a 6-day-week, $126.72 in a 48 week year. To say nothing for those of you who have been using Duracell Quantum ($478.08). Eek. As you can see, we needed to split some hair. That said, here’s what we want you to take away:
The Energizer Ultimate Lithium is an amazing product. If you need a battery that you don’t want to replace often, this is the thing. But while not having to change your batteries in your wireless system for a day on set is nice, the PHC doesn’t justify it for us. We won’t be buying these for our wireless systems, although we will have them for more mission critical systems like home fire alarms etc. To be fair, they are the clear winners of the Lithiums we tested and the longest lasting batteries in all tests. What should be noted about the Energizer Advanced Lithiums is that you’ll have about a 4 minute red-light-warning on the transmitter before it goes dead…which is quite risky…but only if you’re going to try to have your shooting day last for 17.5 hours.
If you have Fuji Enviro Max batteries, dispose of them. Immediately.
We were happy to see that the Rayovac Fusion batteries did much better under a smaller load and made it into the top ten (tenth), but still – even considering the SD – cannot be called the “longest lasting Alkaline battery.” Quite frankly, that’s false advertising.
We were certain after the fan tests that the PKCell Heavy Duty would take the transmitter tests, but we discovered that the duration of the PKCell Heavy Dutys are only a small amount longer for the transmitter tests. Given the average of a 4.2 X multiplier from fans to transmitters overall, having a .21 X multiplier in contrast is a striking difference and takes the PKCell batteries completely out of the running for transmitters – even though it’s the clear winner for the fans. Our only explanation for this is the Zinc Chloride nature of the battery. It’s possible that the battery performs well at higher current draws and far less well at lower current draws.
We, further, were certain that the lithiums would far outpace any other battery in terms of duration – although we doubted low PHC. But the Enegitechs, like the PKCells, completely fell off the pace of the winners at this current draw. In fact, the most frightening thing about the Enegitechs is they keep their voltage output fully – all the way to the bitter end. Which, is actually a really GREAT thing for most applications – but TERRIBLE for professional microphone transmitter use, since there was no red light indicating the batteries were on their last legs. Further research revealed that the Enegitechs are Ion Lithium batteries, and one of the main benefits of these batteries is a strong current output to the end. Perhaps if these batteries had lasted anywhere near as long as even the Alkalines did, we might be able to recommend them. But they must not be used for the purpose of on-set transmitters/receivers. There’s just too must risk of losing a take – besides they’re the loser in regards to PHC with a score so bad we couldn’t fit it on the chart ($.397).
We could have never guessed that a battery we never heard of would win the overall best value in the form of the ACDelco battery. My paternal grandfather worked for AC/Delco back in the 50s, so this may be one of the oldest battery making companies. Congratulations to ACDelco!
However, is saving 1-2 pennies an hour worth a shorter battery life? 8.6 hours is pretty long, but it doesn’t cover a whole 10 hour day on set. And the risk of losing a take from dead batteries is too high for us. Of course, there’s breaks on set (hopefully at least a lunch), but more often than not, transmitters or receiver batteries are not replaced, and you’re stuck hoping your batteries will last the day – and the ACDelcos will not. For professional wireless use, even though it wins the PHC contest, it’s a non-starter for us. But if you have days which are under 8 hours, ACDelcos are going to be a great choice.
For us, and specifically for the purpose of this test – which is best value battery for a transmitter/receiver wireless system – the Radioshack batteries win. First, they score very high in duration with a 9.75 fan time (longer than ProCell batteries). Second, their PHC is in the top 3. But most importantly, they come in a manageable ordering size. The maximum battery package available for Radioshack batteries is a 36 pack. If you want the value listed for the other batteries above, you’ll have to buy them in 100 packs or thereabouts. If you buy them in 48 packs or less, the higher price of the batteries has Radioshack PHC be #1. Even if you didn’t mind buying batteries by the hundred, the Radioshack value is less than a penny-per-hour different than the ACDelcos – which won’t last the day. Radioshack batteries have the second longest transmitter and fanduration of the top placing batteries, and when purchased at similar pack-sizes, have far better value. Lastly, on a ten hour day, on the low power settings of the UWMic 9s, would easily last the entire 10 hour day.
It’ll be Radioshack as the best AA battery for us for our transmitters (as long as Radioshack batteries are made anyway). But we encourage you to make up your own mind about what you find most valuable in a battery: PHC, length of power, or ease of purchase. Do your own battery test!
We hope this battery test sheds as much light on battery purchase for your wireless (and perhaps otherwise) systems as it has for us. Let us know if you’ve got other findings or experiences here.
You can watch Mark talking about this study on camera here on our Youtube Channel:
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