Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lavalier microphone comparison: Audio-Technica ATR-3350 vs Sony ECM-55B

My first youtube videos were made with my camera's on-board stereo microphone. The camera is a Lumix GH1, and the mics are fairly good as far as prosumer video DSLR cameras go. One problem is that the camera's automatic gain control cannot be turned off, and having unexpected gain changes during an audio recording is not preferable. Another problem is that the audio preamplifiers in the camera are somewhat noisy, and lead to a lot of hiss (high noise floor) in the recording. Finally, it's impossible to get good sound when the microphone is positioned far away from the sound source when room tone and echoes are present. The solution to all of these problems is to make use of a lavalier or lapel microphone and use a low-noise dedicated recording device. I use a Zoom Handy H4 recorder. The H4's on-board mics are really nice, but it is still preferable to have a microphone very close to the subject's mouth to capture detailed, high-quality sound.

I started using an Audio Technica ATR-3350, which is only $20 or $30 new, and the mic is OK, but has very little high-frequency response. This can be corrected with equalizer settings in post-production fairly well. I recently upgraded to a Sony ECM-55B, which sounds better, but I am not sure it was worth the expense. I was really expecting the mic to have a much higher output level than the ATR-3350, thus allowing me to turn down the gain on my recorder and have a much lower noise floor. As it happens, the mic requires even more gain than the ATR-3350. Overall, I am pretty satisfied with my sound recording setup -- the only addition I might make is a low-noise preamp to try boosting the lavalier mic signal while adding less noise than the H4 adds during the high pre-amp gain stage.


11 comments:

  1. Hi Ben - great video. I too am using the Audio Technica ATR-3350. However, I seem to be getting a lot of noise from it.

    I have it simply running from my subject through a mono>stereo converter and straight into the camera. I don't really have good editing software and wonder if this is the problem - should I be using the editing software to remove the noise post production or am I doing something wrong during filming with my set up?

    Many thanks
    Charlotte

    ReplyDelete
  2. Charlotte, if the noise in your recording is a "hiss", it is probably coming from your camera's audio preamplifier. The ATR-3350 has very low output (the output electrical signal is small compared to the sound level going in), which requires the camera to increase the gain in the preamplifier, making the hiss sound louder. You can solve the problem by using a dedicated audio recorder with less inherent "hiss", such as the Zoom Handy H4, among many others. Or, you can try to find a microphone with a higher output level -- you may still prefer to record with a dedicated audio recorder if you are interested in high audio quality. Trying to remove the hiss in post-production will often produce other nasty-sounding audio artifacts (sounds like a low bitrate MP3), so sometimes just leaving it alone is the best solution.

    If your noise is not a "hiss", but a "hum" or something else, you are probably picking up interference from another piece of electrical equipment. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks so much for the advice. I have just bought the Zoom H4n and will let you know how I get on!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am using the ATR3350 and all was working fine. Yesterday I plugged it in and I found very low audio gain. I swapped batteries but nothing changed. Right now it is unusable. Any suggestions.

    Marc Miller
    Marc@MyCareer4MyLife.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Marc, it's possible the mic itself failed, however try buying another set of batteries from a different manufacturer or store. You may have gotten a bad batch that were dead out of the package.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ben,

    I just found this and have just gotten the audio-technica mic. i plugged into my computer and have very low sound even though i have turned the volume and boost all the way up on the mic. i then proceeded to go buy a sound blaster card for the computer, though the computer is to be game ready, Gateway FX series with i-7 and so on. I have tried it on my laptop as well and same thing. Any suggestions? This is brand new. Do you think a low battery would cause it to put out such low volume?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ben,

    Never mind. I found the problem. I used the Mic/Line in on the new sound card which is a sound blaster x-fi titanium. the issue is there is a line in/mic port in one jack and you have to change from line in to mic in the flexijack section of the software.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I just bought 2 new audio-technica Atr3350 and was having the same problem with both of them! My other mics work fine so I couldn't understand why the audio was so weak with these. It could only just be heard. After Ben wrote that the problem might be with the batteries that came with the package, I took them out, wiped them clean, put them back and - YES they worked!! Problem solved. Thanks Ben for putting me on the right track.

    ReplyDelete
  9. hello Ben, i bought a 3350 last week to go with my panasonic hdc tm700 camcorder. terrible hiss/wind blowing - sound . I also tried it on my laptop to record from the webcam and the hiss is there aswell. any ideas? thanks , Micheál

    ReplyDelete
  10. The output level from the 3350 is very low, so if your camera has an auto-gain adjustment, it may have cranked the gain all the way up, and is recording noise from the preamplifier. The solution would be to use a high-end mic preamplifier, or a mic with more output.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Just bought three 3350s and initially had the same issue of low output level. I discovered the reason for this was that it's giving out the same signal on both the ring and the tip of the mini-jack. This means that if you plug it into any piece of audio equipment which is expecting a balanced signal in, the signal is actually cancelled out by the balanced input's differential amp and you get almost nothing useable at all.

    To solve this, there are several options, but it's basically a matter of turning the stereo signal from the 3350s into a mono signal. I wanted to plug two of the 3350s into the XLR/Jack combi inputs of a Zoom H4N. If you just use a stereo mini to large jack adapter, you get no apparent input. I made up a couple of mini-jack to XLR connectors, connecting the tip of the mini-jack to Pin 2 and the sleeve of the mini-jack to Pins 1 and 3. The 3350s now sound great - nice strong signal and well worth the money and effort.

    Wiring for unbalanced jack to XLR connector:
    http://training.tcelectronic.tc/Files/Training/TCSI/images/answers/130/XLRTC2290.gif

    ReplyDelete