The Holy Grail is this: wireless, reliable, low-latency, high-quality sound in a reasonably-priced, portable package with noise reduction that doesn’t rely on fancy software that the IT and security departments won’t like. Is it possible?
My one, guilty, I-have-so-many-of-these-things thing is: audio equipment. OK, and bags. I like expensive, strong, functional rucksacks. But I have SO many headphones and several microphones, and recently have been working out out what the best mic setup is for me. But it’s not easy…
My audio environment
My situation is that I rent a small office. And it’s a noisy office. Paper-thin walls you can almost hear conversations through. Single glazed windows with lorries passing by outside. A hissing 50-year-old (estimated) radiator that seems to make the perfect frequency for all microphones to pick up as strong background noise. Oh, and a mechanical keyboard. But that’s self-inflicted.
I have Zoom calls. Several most days.
I’m NOT an audiophile, but for some reason I strive for good audio, but without spending LOADS.
Recently, while listening to a playback of a meeting I was in, I realised how bad my audio was. Tinny. Echoey. Distant. I wanted it better.
And if I’m not in the office, my home office setup isn’t ideal. I sometimes have kids moving around behind me, a washing machine on not far away, the stuff of life happens around me.
What I’ve tried
I tried a Blue Yeti. It’s a USB condenser mic. It’s REALLY fricking sensitive. If I put it on a mic arm with a strong shock mount, turn the gain right down, and get really close, the sound is GREAT. But it’s not for my room. And it’s not portable.
I tried a Rode Podcaster. This is a great USB dynamic mic. But the gain is really low and so I need to get close. Not as close as the Yeti-with-the-gain-down. But it’s still a big, in-yer-face piece of equipment. I still have this for when I want to record decent audio. But I don’t want it in my face on calls and, again, it’s not portable.
I’ve tried my headphones. Many of my headphones have mics in. They are all crap.
I’ve got a Sennheiser headset. This is actually really good for sound. But it’s uncomfortable to wear for a long time and it’s clumsy and looks dorky.
I’ve got a mic built into my Macbook, but it’s too far away when docked to be useful.
I’ve got a mic built into my webcam (Logitech C920) and it’s the current solution. It kinda works good, but I want it to be better.
So I’ve tried condenser mics, dynamic mics, headsets, earbuds. The only things I’ve not really tried are:
- Highly directional shotgun mics. These are supposedly good. I could get one of these in front of me and mostly out of picture, but it would still be too in-the-way for calls. And most of the mics I can find are either twice as much as I want to pay, OR they’re hot-shoe, camera-mounted. Oh, and they’re not portable.
- A clip-on/lavalier mic. Why does no one talk about these for calls? Loads of YouTubers use them when out and about, but no one seems to suggest using them for calls. Why not? They use them for broadcast audio all the time, so they must be good quality. They’re not too expensive. They get the mic close without too much visual clutter. Hmm….
I was curious about lavalier mics and so set out to research.
I put a call out for help and got some really helpful feedback. But a lot of it didn’t quite fit with what I wanted:
- Use a big fancy mic with compression and gain. This would be either a) more equipment and not be portable; or b) need software that I’m not allowed to install.
- Use software that I’m not allowed to install due to corporate IT restrictions
- Use a miniature audio booth, like an Eyeball – this would look even worse on calls than what I have!
- Hide under a duvet – sounds fun, but…
I then went looking up lavalier mics. They vary in price and quality. A cheap wired one is a few pounds. Expensive wired ones are £40-60. A cheap wireless one is £40-100, and more expensive wireless kits can be £100-400.
Initially I bought a £40 wired mic to try the principle out. It worked a treat! Small, convenient, good sound, easy to use, portable, low noise. Great!
Then I walked away from my desk with it attached and dragged my laptop across the desk.
Not so great.
I’d been eyeing up wireless equivalents too. I won’t like, my recent wave of vanity was on full show here. I hate most of them because they have big high-contrast logos on them! The Hollyland Lark M1 was interesting and seemed like good value, but that big logo and LEDs didn’t appeal, and some of the stuff in reviews put me off.
And so to the mid-range where lots of people talk about the Rode Wireless Go. But this was about 3 times what I wanted to pay. There’s an ME version of this, that is a less feature-rich package, and it appealed until I discovered the DJI Mic.
Enter: The DJI Mic. Still about twice what I wanted to pay, but SUCH an appealing package. A little touch-screen on the receiver; gain controls; lightning and USB-C connectors; a dual charging cable; a not in-your-face design; an option to use a magnet instead of a clip; mic input on the transmitter; every output you could want on the receiver.
I just kept opening it in a browser window on this to check if it was on sale. And generally, my rule about purchasing new tech is that I have to keep going back to see it before I buy it. I have to hold the “Oooooh, that looks like something I neeeeeed!” for a while before I buy on the basis that if I don’t need it I’ll forget about it. But this just seems like such a versatile little package, and I couldn’t shake off the temptation.
Aside: Yes, I’m confusing “need” with “want” here in a big way. I’m very privileged to even be considering spending this much on a gadget but as you’ll see, I don’t do this lightly.
The final thing was a reminder from a colleague that I will use this thing for several hours most working days. And paying good money for good quality equipment you use every day and that will last is a good idea!
And so I bought one to try out. (Note: I bought the kit with the single transmitter and receiver)
And this little thing is a triumph of miniaturisation. The receiver is SO tiny but has this brilliant little LED touch screen which shows you levels and status. It’s well built. It’s a really versatile little device with USB-C and Lightning adaptors to plug straight in to a mobile, a USB-A cable cleverly designed to charge both transmitter and receiver at the same time and a hot-shoe mount for a camera. Adding a strong magnet to the clip is great, though it only works through a shirt or thin jumper. It connects fast and just works really slickly.
And it sounds great too! There’s some background noise still, but that can be filtered. But it’s not accompanied by loads of echo and it levels out my voice nicely – not too boomy or poppy. ALL in a really convenient and versatile little package.
There’s a few downsides – the transmitter is a little heavy and weighs down whatever piece of clothing you clip it to. And there’s just the faff of having to charge the two parts and plug things in and connect them.
But it’s a really cool piece of kit, and hopefully it’s made my calls a little better for my colleagues! (And I have other plans for how to make good use of it too!)