Guide to Lavalier Microphones
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Guide to Lavalier Microphones

By Sam Mallery

The incredibly compact microphones that get attached to a person's clothing in order to pick up their speaking voice are called "lavalier" microphones. They're also referred to as "lapel" microphones. These microphones can serve a number of purposes, but to capture someone's voice inconspicuously is by far their most common use. Don't let their small size fool you. The most important voices in broadcasting, politics, and the entertainment world all have to wear lavaliers. They have to sound good.

Lavalier microphones are used both wirelessly and with microphone cables. This article's focus is on the nature of the microphones themselves, regardless of how they connect to their source. It should be noted that with wireless lavalier microphones, the type of connectors that attach the microphone to the transmitter of the wireless system vary greatly. If you're curious about what kind of lavalier microphones you can use with your specific wireless system, don't hesitate to call us at 1-800-947-9923.

The need for a lavalier arises when hands-free operation is required, and when the sound must be clearly picked up without the obtrusive visual presence of a larger microphone. These circumstances can also apply when a shotgun microphone is used, but lavalier microphones offer certain advantages shotguns cannot. Lavaliers are usually only a matter of inches away from a subject's mouth, so the audio quality is often more present and consistent. A shotgun microphone usually requires an extra person to operate a boompole, but lavaliers function without manual assistance. Lavalier and shotgun microphones don't necessarily replace one another; in fact, they're commonly used in conjunction with one another during a production.

Lavalier Mic

Using a lavalier clip with two holders allows you to create a loop in the cable to cut down on vibration noise.

There are a few different pick-up patterns available in various lavalier microphones. The most popular pattern is omnidirectional. A common misconception about omnidirectional microphones is that they pick up the sound of an entire space, no matter how far away the microphone is from the person's mouth. This is not so. Omnidirectional does not mean omnipotent-directional. Omnidirectional lavalier microphones are popular because they tend to sound the best. Also, when the person who is wearing the mic turns their head while they're speaking, there is no dip in volume because there is no area in the pick-up pattern the microphone is trying to cancel out. Another reason for their popularity is that they are physically smaller than the cardioid lavaliers.

Cardioid lavaliers are really only used in high-noise environments, or when feedback from monitors in a live sound situation becomes an issue. In both of these cases it's often a better idea to use a headset microphone as opposed to a cardioid lavalier.

Lavalier microphones are used universally in TV and film production, as well in live stage productions and houses of worship. In theater it's common practice to conceal a lavalier microphone in the hair or the wig of the performer. In film production lavalier microphones are often hidden beneath clothing. This is done in situations where the microphone needs to go completely unseen.

When a lavalier is obscured behind hair or clothing, some of the high frequencies can get cut because the microphone is physically muffled. Manufacturers compensate for this by designing and building lavaliers with a boosted high frequency response. Because of its flat physical shape and its excellent sound quality, the Tram TR-50 is a popular choice for a microphone to conceal under clothing.

Voice Technology VT506

This Voice Technologies VT506 features a 6dB high frequency bump. It also includes various mic clips and a microphone cage.

Countryman B3

Due to its extremely small size and resistance to moisture, the Countryman B3 is widely used for hiding in a performer's hair or wig.  Countryman also makes a lavalier with a high frequency boost that's good for concealing, the EMW Peaked Frequency Response.


EMW Peaked Frequency Response.

Lavaliers can be used for a variety of purposes, in a number of different ways. From surveillance operations to sound effects creation, their miniature size finds its way where other microphones cannot. Musicians will sometimes use lavalier microphones on their instruments. The multi-tasking Audio Technica AT831B comes with one clip to attach the microphone to your clothing, and a second clip to attach the microphone to a musical instrument.

Below we have listed some popular accessories that work universally with all lavalier microphones:

Microcats – These are little fuzz balls that fit snuggly over lavalier microphones in order to cut down on wind noise. They enable you to use a lavalier in a high wind environment.

Undercovers A disposable system from Rycote that enables you to mount the microphone under clothing (you don't need a clip), and it prevents rustling and contact noise as well. This is an excellent solution for use with lavaliers that do not have a microphone "cage" accessory available.

Stickies An adhesive pad from Rycote that allows you to easily mount a lavalier to clothing or skin.

Overcovers – A disposable system from Rycote that enables you to easily mount a lavalier microphone to clothing or skin, and protect the microphone from wind noise when used in high wind environments. Microcats.

RKR Micro – An inexpensive universal microphone clip solution.

Here's a short list of some of the more popular lavalier microphones we sell:

Make/Model

Frequency Response

Pick-up Pattern

Pick-up Pattern

Price Range

Audio-Technica AT8991

20Hz – 20kHz

Omnidirectional

Excellent sound quality in a sub-miniature design

$200

Audio-Technica AT831

40Hz – 20kHz Cardioid Good for miking both voices and instruments $100 - $200

Countryman B3

20Hz – 20kHz Omnidirectional Extremely compact design. Resistant to moisture / make up. $200

Countryman EMW

20Hz – 20kHz

Omnidirectional

Available in flat, shelved or peak frequency.

$200

Sony ECM44

40Hz – 15Hz Omnidirectional Good choice for budget conscious productions $200

Sony ECM77

40Hz – 20kHz

Omnidirectional

Good sound, small and easy to conceal

$300+

Sony ECM88

20Hz – 20kHz

Omnidirectional

Excellent sound, dual capsule design eliminates cable noise

$400+

TRAM TR-50

40Hz – 16kHz Omnidirectional Excellent sound, hides easily, includes multiple accessories $300 - $400

Sennhesier MKE2

20Hz – 20kHz

Omnidirectional

Matches well sonically when using Sennheiser shotguns

$300 - $400

Sanken COS11

20Hz – 20kHz

Omnidirectional

Pristine audio quality

$400

Thanks for checking out our introduction to lavalier microphones. In the near future we plan on delving deeply into the different arenas of wireless lavalier usage. Should you have any further questions about lavalier microphones, we encourage you to contact us on the phone, online, or in person at our SuperStore in New York City. 1-800-947-9923.

Please email feedback on this article, or suggestions for future topics, to emailfeedback@bhphotovideo.com.  

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