The Sennheiser MKE 2 Digital: an iPhone Lav Mic with Apple Watch Integration

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Sennheiser recently introduced the MKE 2 Digital microphone, a tiny mic that you can clip to a shirt on one end, and plug into an iPhone on the other, for the purpose of recording audio into mobile apps. Similar products exist on the market, but what makes this one special are the extremely high-caliber parts involved: the MKE 2 microphone head is a favorite among professionals, and its digital converter is handled by Apogee, a name synonymous with world-class digital sound.

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details about this new microphone, it’s important to understand its purpose fully. Why is it desirable to have a high-end lavalier microphone that plugs into an iPhone, and how would you use it?   

You could clip the MKE 2 Digital Microphone to your own shirt or a family member’s, and make rich-sounding recordings of your voices. It could also be used for a journalistic interview by clipping it to the interviewee’s shirt. You could even make recordings of a single voice for a podcast; however, you’re usually much better off using Broadcast/Voice Over mics for this purpose. Perhaps the best use for this microphone is recording an on-camera subject’s voice in video production.

The importance of recording clear, easy-to-understand dialog in video can never be understated. When someone is speaking onscreen, the viewer absolutely must be able to hear every word. As basic as this is, capturing dialog properly has always been a challenge. Good sound equipment is expensive and, for video producers who are visually oriented, operating audio gear is foreign and confusing.

When your subjects are speaking in front of the camera, they often need the freedom to move around without being tethered by microphone cables. In the past, this often made wireless microphone systems a necessity. They are also prohibitively expensive, and technically complex to operate.

As an alternative, budget-minded video makers started connecting lavalier microphones directly to portable digital recorders. They would hide the recorder on the subject (just as you would hide a beltpack transmitter of a wireless system), and clip the lavalier to their clothing. After the shoot, they would sync the audio from the recorder with the footage in their video-editing software. This practice cut out the expense and complexity of using wireless mics. (You can learn more about this workflow in this B&H article).

When smartphones became popular, people started using their phones in the place of the portable digital recorders, cutting out yet another expense. This is where a product like the Sennheiser MKE 2 Digital Microphone comes in. It fills this role by outfitting you with some of the best-sounding components you could hope for.

I used to work on the sales floor in the audio department of B&H, and during that time, I interacted regularly with seasoned professional sound people, who referred to this microphone head as the “Mickey Two.” It’s a product with such a solid reputation for excellence that the pros had given it an affectionate nickname. Your goal is to provide the audience with clear, natural-sounding dialog. When properly positioned near the sound source, this is exactly what the MKE 2 delivers.

Having the Apogee 24-bit 96kHz converter built into the MKE 2 Digital is a major sonic bonus. A partnership between Sennheiser and Apogee is an audio aficionado’s dream. Add Apple to the mix, and you have something really special.

The front end of the MKE 2 Digital is arguably the best-sounding lavalier microphone Sennheiser has ever made; the analog-to-digital wizardry is handled by Apogee; and it plugs into your iPhone with Apple’s Lightning connector. You can use this mic with the Apogee MetaRecorder app for the iPhone and, optionally, the Apple Watch. Other iOS recording apps could be used as well, but the Apple Watch aspect of MetaRecorder adds some attractive perks.

I mentioned earlier how the MKE 2 can capture amazing audio when properly positioned on a subject, but there’s another important step involved: setting proper audio levels. It can be tricky to set levels when your subject is wearing a lavalier that’s plugged into a pack that they’re also wearing. People have the tendency to dramatically change the volume of their voices without realizing it, and this can be problematic when you can’t access the gain control on the device into which the mic is plugged.

The sweet thing about using the MetaRecorder app with the MKE 2 Digital microphone and an Apple Watch (besides being able to control the start and stop of recordings, adding markers that Final Cut Pro will recognize, etc.), is that you can set the audio levels remotely from the watch. This isn’t an absolute necessity, but it is a very useful feature. Finally… a legitimate excuse to splurge on the latest gadget from Cupertino!

An important aspect to the story of the MKE 2 Digital microphone is that it has a sibling. Sennheiser also recently introduced the Clip-Mic Digital, which is essentially the same thing, except that the microphone head is the consumer-level ME2. The ME2 is the mic that’s often included with the popular Sennheiser EW 100 wireless systems, and people are generally pleased with its sound quality. However, the MKE 2 is the superior-sounding mic, hands down. The MKE 2 is also better equipped to deal with the environmental conditions you encounter in the field. If overall production quality is a top concern, the MKE 2 Digital is the better choice.

The coolest thing about the MKE 2 Digital microphone, besides its close relationship with the Apple Watch, is how small and lightweight it is. It’s essentially a short, glorified wire, and that’s about it. There aren’t too many pieces of gear that can deliver top-notch quality with such an undeniably inconspicuous footprint.

The MKE 2 Digital and the Clip-Mic Digital are both compatible with the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad (4th generation), iPad mini 3, iPad mini 2, iPad mini, and the iPod touch (5th generation). A clip, a foam windscreen and a metallic windscreen are included.

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