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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?

On the other hand, I also have a Sennheiser on-camera shotgun that takes a similar button cell and it blinks its LED to indicate the strength of the battery. If you turn it on and there's no blink, there's no power. A very handy way to debug problems in the field. It would be nice if Audio-Technica would consider this. I'd pay a few more bucks for that feature alone.

The mic head is not too big, but it's also not too small. I have other mics with smaller and larger heads. The clip is a very lightweight affair and it also has the biggest difference from the hardware provided with the more expensive Sony (Figure 4, below). The Audio-Technica mic clip has smooth metal on one side and little "jagged" edge on the other side. Unfortunately, there's still very little hold with the clip. There's not enough pressure and, unless you want teeth that will rip fabric, they are not very effective.

Figure 4. The AT clip is on the left, the Sony clip on the right. Click the image to see it at full size.

Sony's clip, on the other hand, makes use of a silicone cover over the "toothy" part of the clamp and this little bit of silicone makes all the difference. It does not slide across the fabric. But there's no worry of damaging the fabric either. Again, it'd be nice to see something like that on the Audio-Technica, or I could buy some small diameter silicone tubing and make my own.

The clip can be easily flipped left or right for whichever side you want to use it. The foam windscreen is a basic affair. I doubt it would hold up against a windy day or someone who speaks with forceful Ps and Ts. Again, you get a pretty decent bit of kit for less than $20, but it can't all be awesome for that price. You don't get a custom-molded case like I have with the Sony (Figure 5, below), but as I was planning on cramming this in my already pretty tightly packed camera kit, a handheld microphone bag, or even a kid's pencil case would suffice.

Figure 5. The Sony in its custom-molded case. Click the image to see it at full size.

The plug is a 3.5mm "stereo" jack but the specifications for the mic say "dual mono." This means that both of the hot leads are in phase and there's no noise cancellation. Balanced audio, like out of the Sony XLR jack, feed two hot signals 180° out of phase with each other. When you plug it into a mixer, the mixer flips the phase of one and then combines the two signals. The audio from the mic gets louder, any noise picked up by the cable along the way is cancelled out. It's a real spiffy bit of engineering magic.

The output of the Audio-Technica is not balanced. But if you plug it directly into a camera, the audio will be in phase on both channels. Both the left and right side will sound correct and the same. This is actually what you do want if you have a short run of cable and can feed it directly to the camera. If you fed a balanced signal to a camera the same way, the left and right sides would be out of phase with each other and, when you listened, you'd hear a weird spot in the middle where both sides cancel each other out. You don't want to record balanced audio like that, so I understand and agree with Audio-Technica's choice here.

When I use my little mixer with the output of a Samson wireless mic that has a balanced 3.5mm output, I have to add a jack that strips away half of the output, essentially making it mono. Otherwise it doesn't work. The Audio-Technica doesn't have that problem.

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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.