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Wired Lavaliere Head-to-Head: Can a $20 Audio Technica ATR-3350 Compete with a $200 Sony ECM-44B?

This article and accompanying (hear it for yourself) video will compare the results of capturing audio with a $20 Audio-Technica wired lavaliere mic and a $200 professional mic from Sony directly into a DSLR. Is the $200 Sony really worth the 10x cost?

Too often, "budget" video means whatever camera is available. But it fails to address the other half of the "AV" you are creating: good audio. In an effort to step up your game, whether you’re using a webcam, a point-and-shoot camera, DSLR, or pro camcorder getting a microphone on the person speaking can make all the difference. But how much do you have to spend?

Here, I will compare a $20 Audio-Technica lavaliere to a $200 Sony lavaliere. In the video at the end of page 3, I let you compare the actual audio from the two microphones recorded directly into my DSLR. No fancy audio mixer, no expensive dedicated audio recorder. Just two microphones going "head to head," as it were.

Hardware

I've used my Sony lavs (I have five of them) for more than a decade and they have served me quite well. I keep them in their cases, never leave the battery in them, and they have always delivered good audio. So why would I bother to check out a small Lav mic that could be had for less than $20 online? Because it's small and cheap. There are situations when I would rather not use my more expensive mics yet I still want to get decent sound.

I've heard about the Audio-Technica ATR-3350 (Figure 1, below) in various online websites but never really gave it much consideration. How good could a $20 mic possibly be? But I was prepping for a warehouse shoot and considered that I'd rather not get my good mics dirty, or have the cord run over, and so on. So I wanted to check out the very inexpensive Audio-Technica alternative.

Figure 1. The $20 Audio-Technica ATR3350. Click the image to see it at full size.

I watched a couple video clips online and was impressed with what I heard, but I wondered if the audio could have been processed, run through a mixer and EQ'd, so the video posted was better than what the microphone actually delivered.

So I bought one to find out for myself. It comes in a small box that you'd expect to be hanging on a wall rack at your local video supply shop. Except there aren't any local video supply shops, so it was actually quite curious to see it made that way. The flimsy plastic packaging nestles the various hardware bits and hides more than 20 feet of cable behind it. That's a good length to run from a person seated for an interview directly into the camera.

The small power module for the microphone features a belt clip in the middle (not the end which would be better for it to hang down) and it holds a tiny button cell. This 1.5v battery is the same as the 1.5v battery in my Sony, but the Sony's AA will last considerably longer than the Audio-Technica's little button cell (Figure 2, below).


Figure 2. Here's the 1.5v battery in the ATR3350. Click the image to see it at full size.

Thankfully there's a little power switch on the power unit of the Audio-Technica and you can turn the unit off and save the battery (Figure 3, below). Ironically, on my Sony, there's no power switch, so I end up having to disassemble the unit to insert and then again to remove the battery every time I use the microphone. It would be nice for the Audio-Technica to have a little LED show me, with green/red color, the condition of the battery, but given the small size of the button cell, adding an LED might make a considerable difference in runtime.

Related Articles
External audio mixers make it easy to adapt XLR mic and line-level sources to the audio inputs on DSLRs. The juicedLink Riggy Assist series of audio mixers are intended to adapt various microphones to be used with DSLRs. They can also provide additional features like phantom power and metering. The Riggy Assist does all this and more.