This is a quick test of the RØDE lavalier mic which comes with the RØDELink Filmmaker Kit versus a Sennheiser MKE 2 Gold lavalier mic. Both were recorded wirelessly on a Canon C300 Mark II via the RØDELink Kit’s transmitter and receiver.
Please note: this is not scientific. It’s just me sitting on a stool testing each lav mic about 9″ below my chin. I recorded it in a carpeted area of my studio though my studio is somewhat echo-y. I make no claims to being an audio expert. If I had my druthers every project would have a sound person on set. But we all know that that’s often not the way things work out and audio, especially on smaller scale projects, inevitably falls in our laps.
Why do this? Why put a $390 microphone on a $399 wireless audio kit which comes with its own lav mic?
The short answer is to get better audio quality. The long answer is too make up for the primary shortfall of the RØDE RØDELink Filmmaker Kit.
I have had the RØDELink Filmmaker Kit since spring of 2016. Overall I really like it. It’s simple, it works, and I have yet to have signal interference issues with it. The transmitter and receiver are on the large side, which some see as a negative, but with internal antennas and long lasting power from ubiquitous AA batteries (each set is good for ~10 hours of constant use) there is a lot to like in the Rodelink kit for one-man band and small footprint productions.
The price point at $399 doesn’t hurt either as other kits from other manufacturers often cost a good deal more.
The RØDELink kit though does have a few weaknesses. The primary one being the lavalier microphone which comes with the kit. It’s okay but it’s not great. It tends to sound a bit harsh, somewhat tinny, to overemphasize vocal pops, and its cable can transfer noise if it gets jostled or rubbed. In practice I found that while its audio is usable I would rarely opt to use it over my shotgun mic in double-audio setups and I never had good luck hiding the lav mic from view. I was always getting clothing sounds. So, when I used the RØDELink lav it was almost always seen on camera.
In searching for a better wireless solution the options are to add a new mic to the RØDELink kit or to jump to another system. I have used other systems in the past, Sony and Sennheiser analog kits like the G3, and they can be prone to signal interference issues. So, I didn’t want to go that route. They, too, often need better lav mics added after the fact, raising their cost.
Sennheiser does have a newer compact wireless audio kit available, the *AVX. Like the RØDELink, it is digital and it is just as simple to use. Compared to the RØDELink it has a smaller but beefier build with some metal parts where the RØDELink is all plastic. But the *AVX does have a slight latency issue (among other issues, see notes below added in 2019). It’s the equivalent of about a half a frame, 19mS. On its own it’s not an issue but if you mix it with other audio sources you’ll want to correct the *AVX’s feed in post. The *AVX also uses proprietary rechargeable batteries.
Not wanting the expense of going into a whole new kit or creating a workflow where I might have to rejigger the audio feed in post I continued looking at lav mic options which would work with the RØDELink. Fortunately, I came across the Sennheiser MKE 2 Gold lavalier mic. It’s not cheap at $390 but it offers excellent quality, similar to the industry standard Sanken COS-11D, and I was able to get confirmation from my friends over at Gear Dads that the MKE 2 Gold does indeed work with the RØDELink kit.
I had looked at the COS-11D, too, but there are conflicting accounts as to whether it works with the RØDELink.
So, I dove in, got the MKE 2, and have to say that I’m very happy with it. I have used it on numerous jobs and put it through about 30 hours of use. It has a rounder, more natural sound than the RØDE lav, it doesn’t overamplify vocal pops, it has a sturdier build, and I have successfully hidden it on subjects with no clothing noise issues.
The MKE 2 Gold’s cable is about double the thickness of the RØDE but its mic is less than half the length. This makes it a bit easier to hide. It also fits in RØDE’s InvisiLavs if you like using those to conceal your mics.
Getting back to the test up top, odds are you’ll hear the difference between the mics better with headphones.
In terms of the clothing noise test here are the waveforms for each mic:
It should be noted that Sennheiser’s *AVX is now sold with the MKE 2 Gold lav as an option for $899. Factor in another $100 for an extra set of *AVX proprietary batteries and it’s running $999. If you were to buy the RØDELink Filmmaker’s Kit and then the MKE 2 Gold on top of it you will spend $789.
So, it’s close enough in cost that you should consider the *AVX if it fits your needs better (see the 2019 notes below, I do not recommend the AVX). But if you already have a RØDELink, are happy with it, and you want to improve its audio quality the MKE 2 Gold lav mic is a great way to go.
Two quick notes:
- Sennheiser offers an in-line preamplifier and power supply for the MKE 2 Gold giving you the option of also using the MKE 2 Gold mic wired via XLR. Shout out again to GearDads.com for this info!
- If your audio from the RØDELink Filmmaker Kit is going into a cinema camera or mixer with XLR ports RØDE makes an adapter you’ll need, the VXLR. It provides an unbalanced signal. It works fine but it’s a bit of kludge to add the adapter on top of the kit’s receiver cable. Another option is to get an all-in-one cable like this one from Cable Techniques. It has the locking TRS connector and it eliminates a potential point of failure between RØDE’s supplied cable and its VXLR.
*Notes added March, 2019: Since I wrote the blog post above (January, 2018), I have used the Sennheiser AVX system a half-dozen times. Every single time there were issues with it maintaining a clear signal. So, I cannot personally recommend it.
On those projects the AVX kits were either provided by or rented at a producer’s request. Each time we ended up using my RØDELink kits instead.
The microphone, the Sennheiser MKE 2 Gold, continues to be a wonderful lav microphone. I now own two of them and couldn’t be happier with their performance.