Røde SmartLav+ review: Wireless audio on a shoestring

Røde SmartLav+ review: Wireless audio on a shoestring


While a wireless lav system like the Sennheiser EW100 is a wonderful piece of kit, the price may be a little steep for someone just starting starting out, especially if you need to mic multiple talents. In comes the Røde SmartLav+: an affordable lavalier microphone that plugs in to any smartphone. In combination with the Røde Rec app, you have a portable lavalier setup, that even syncs to Dropbox after recording. What's it like, and how does it compare to the Sennheiser wireless system?

Is it a coincidence that two of the most innovative audiovisual companies in recent years, BlackMagic Design and Røde, are Australian? We're not sure, but like BlackMagic, Røde have come up with some pretty awesome solutions to common problems. They added a +10 dB switch to their already popular videomic, and this way eliminated the hiss you get on DSLRs once you push the internal audio circuit, and they created the first XY-mic that clicks onto your iPhone. They also have a good feel for names that stick: The Dead Kitten, the Blimp, the Reporter, just to name a few. It's no surprise then that this company should come up with a solution to another common problem, affordable wireless audio, with a just as sticky name: the SmartLav.

I'll be reviewing the SmartLav+, the updated version of the original Smartlav. What's the difference? According to Røde, the noise floor has been lowered in the new version, and it has a new(better?) plug. Judging by this video, the new version is worth the few extra euros.


The Smartlav comes in a little box containing a tiny pouch and a miniscule microphone. Which is good: the smaller the microphone, the easier it is to hide under clothing or behind curtains. The package also contains a small wind protector and some Røde-branded velcro to keep the 115 cm cable organised.

The Røde Rec app

The Smartlav works in conjunction with the Røde Rec app or any other audio recording app on your phone. I would advice using the Røde Rec app though, because it is designed specifically for the audio characteristics of the Smartlav. What makes the app and the workflow specifically smooth, is that you can record and edit the audio on your phone, and save the recording to your DropBox for immediate use in your video project. Other sharing options include SoundCloud , Filesharing, Email and FTP, if that floats your boat. Other nice touches are the optional inclusion of a bumper audio file, location data and you can even add compression, low- or high pass filters, attack, etc. during or directly after recording. Everything seems to be aimed at making the post-processing trajectory as smooth as possible. Really nice.

Røde SmartLav+ vs Sennheiser EW100 wireless lav

So, what does it sound like? For this test I connected the SmartLav to my iPhone running the Røde Rec app on default settings, and connected the Sennheiser EW100 system to the Canon C100. Before I had the time to insert my SD-card into the computer, I already received a DropBox notification that the recorded audio was now it my DropBox. That's fast!

In my initial tests I was rather dissapointed with the sound of the SmartLav: very thin sounding and needing lots of equalisation. After further investigation it seemed that this was being caused by iOS processing of the input signal. After turning that off in the Røde Rec app, the results were much better.

Check out the comparison video below:

If you listen to the video closely, the Sennheiser sounds richer, slightly more pleasing, while the SmartLav sounds a little more nasal, and less present. But if you close your eyes and don't look at which lav is which, the differences are very subtle, and both can easily be intercut in an interview. The Sennheiser seems to have more of a 'hiss' to it, where the Smartlav has more low rumble (especially in the part where I raise the noise floor). A little EQ on the SmartLav should go a long way.

Though the Sennheiser sounds richer by default, what's interesting is that from my testing it seems the SmartLav has a slightly lower noise floor than the Sennheiser. This could be due to a number of other factors (overall levels, different preamps) and this is by no means a scientific test, but would be a nice thing to investigate further.

Conclusion

Though the Sennheiser sounds slightly richer than the SmartLav, the differences are minor, making the SmartLav a great and affordable solution in many situations. And compared to the internal mic on any camera, it's a no-brainer. I for one won't hesitate to use it as second mic next to the Sennheiser, or as a reliable backup when wireless signals are disturbed. For 55 euros, you've got a mic that will easily save many shots.

What are your thoughts on how the two compare? Any suggestions for EQ on the SmartLav better match them up? Let me know in the comments!




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