recordinghacks



Rode SmartLav Review

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013 | by


I don’t usually get too excited about lavalier mics, but I think this one is going to be a big deal. Why? Because it turns your Apple smartphone or tablet into a high-quality voice recording device.

Better yet: the RODE SmartLavRØDE SmartLav does it invisibly! The iPhone can sit in a pocket, merrily recording away at any sample rate up to 48kHz. The miniature mic clips to your lapel or collar. The mic is tiny, at 5mm x 25mm.

To be clear, this is not a studio microphone. Rather, this is an inexpensive, totally convenient portable voice recording solution that’s great for recording one person speaking. If you’re giving a presentation and you want to record yourself, this is the best bargain I’ve seen for an unobtrusive, decent-sounding audio track. Or if you’re recording a panel discussion on video, give each speaker one of these. Sure, each would already have a mic on a stand in front of them for the PA, but what about when they turn their heads or walk around? They can’t walk away from a lav mic!

The SmartLav is fully compatible with Rode’s new “Rode Rec” app for iPhone (also compatible with iPad and iPod Touch). There are two versions, LE and HD; the latter costs $5.99 and adds editing and export options, compression, EQ, and iZotope presets for optimizing a variety of recording types (some of which are likely more useful for other external mics like Rode’s RØDE’s iXY). But the free LE version is more than adequate for recording and exporting high-quality audio.

Introducing the SmartLav

In Use

Using the SmartLav is extraordinarily easy: plug it into your iDevice’s headphone/mic jack, and clip the mic to your shirt or jacket, about 6 inches from your mouth.

The mic will hear you, but will not pick up much ambient noise from the room. And because it is an omnidirectional mic, it won’t hear much of a level change if you turn your head away from the microphone while you’re speaking. That’s one of the reasons lav mics work well for voice capture.

Audio Samples

This test tries to answer the question, “why not just lay your iPhone on the podium or conference table in front of you, and record with the built-in mic?” I plugged the SmartLav into an iPad, and simultaneously recorded myself with an iPhone5.

This test is a bit unfair to the SmartLav, because I did the recordings in my home studio, which is a relatively well-treated space. In a hall or conference room, the reflected sound — the size of the room — is much more apparent. Nonetheless:

Rode SmartLav
iPhone 5 internal mic

I matched gain levels during tracking to within 1dB, using the analog level control within the Rode Rec app. Then I emailed both tracks to myself from their respective devices, imported both to Pro Tools for gain matching, compression, and limiting — as you’d do for most podcast and speech tracks.

The difference is clearly audible. The iPhone built-in mic hears an awful lot of room sound, even in my treated room. There is a hiss in the Lav track, an inescapable consequence of using a miniature capsule, but the noise in the iPhone’s track has a wider frequency range — broadband noise that is harder to filter out, and to my ear, more distracting. The SmartLav track is significantly better sounding.

In a bigger room, say a church or conference room, the room sound would be even worse.

Alternatives

Your iPhone’s built-in mic is not a reasonable alternative; it is designed for close-range pickup, which only happens if you can hold the phone right in front of your mouth. That’s not an option during a sermon, presentation, or wedding ceremony.

How about a portable digital recorder, like the Zoom H2 or H4N? Those are great for capturing the sound of a room, which is precisely what the SmartLav is designed not to do.

How about the Apple earbud mic? This certainly approaches the lavalier model, and probably sounds fine, but you can’t exactly wear earbuds in any of the environments where the SmartLav was intended to be used.

How about a lav mic from another vendor? These work well, so long as you have a portable recorder to plug them into. I’m not sure any of those recorders offer Dropbox, email, and Soundcloud filesharing, though, so the combination of the SmartLav and RodeRec app seem to provide a superior solution. I imagine you could find an adapter cable to plug a 3rd-party lav mic into the iPhone’s TRRS jack, if you want to hunt one down. On the other hand, the SmartLav just works.

RØDE Rec

I bought the HD version of the app for $5.99, in part because I know that the guys at Audiofile Engineering had their hands on it. (See my recent review of the company’s SampleManager application, which has become a key part of my audio file workflow.) I have not yet played with the various filters and editing features, but I found the app easy to use for basic field recording and file-sharing.

Conclusion

The SmartLav is an inexpensive, portable, unobtrusive, high-quality speech capture solution. If you need a lav mic and can leverage iDevices for recording, storage, and filesharing, the SmartLav and RØDE Rec app provide a unique feature set that puts them at the top of your shopping list.

Posted in Broadcast, Podcasting, Reviews | 36 Comments »




36 Responses to “Rode SmartLav Review”

  1. Jeff Geerling

    January 31st, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Thanks for the review! I’ve been hoping to get a copy of the SmartLav myself, as I think it will be a lot more convenient than my existing setup, which is an adapter + an Audio-Technica lavaliere.

    I’ve been using a variety of solutions to get microphones and external audio sources into my iPhone for video and audio recording, and I’ve posted some of my favorite combos here: http://www.lifeisaprayer.com/articles/photography/iphone-4-ipad-external-mic-audio-input

    There are a lot of other options for the mobile recording artist—and some rival what was possible on even top-of-the-line PC/Mac solutions ten years ago, especially on the iPad.

  2. Guy Cochran

    January 31st, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Great review! I think RODE hit a home run with this one. There is definitely a need in the marketplace. I can see myself using this one even in the video mode, maybe with an extension cable? The self noise is higher than some of the higher end lavs from Countryman, DPA, Sennheiser, Sanken etc, but this one is also a fraction of the cost. Looking forward to comparing it with the original RODE lav.

  3. Robert Shaver

    February 1st, 2013 at 12:15 am

    If the client has an iPhone this might work … but for me, a Zoom H1 with a lavaliere plugged into it work just the same is $500 less.

    Apple has left me in the dust with no choice but to move to Windows. They have a long, long history of doing this, so I’m not at all surprised. That’s fine. I’m not bitter. :-)

    That’s one way to get rich … always look out for #1. I don’t fault them for that, but I’m not going to reward them with more loyalty for them than they have for their customers.

    But that’s just me.

    Peace,

    Rob:-]

  4. matthew mcglynn

    February 1st, 2013 at 8:00 am

    @Robert, it’s true that an H1 plus 1/8” lav gets close to the SmartLav feature set — minus the easy file sharing and dropbox integration. But I think you’re missing the point of this product. It’s for people who already have iPhones and iPads. Even if you don’t have one, perhaps the people you’re recording do?

    Remember too that the SmartLav works with the iPod Touch, the current model of which can be had for $190 on Amazon. I haven’t finished my evaluation of the iXY yet (24-bit XY stereo mic for 30-pin Apple dock connector), but frankly I’d be more tempted by an iPod Touch plus iXY than an H1, just because the feature set of the iPod Touch is so much bigger than audio recording. IMO, palm-sized computers make dedicated hardware devices (like the Zoom) a much harder sell.

  5. Andreas K

    February 3rd, 2013 at 11:53 am

    What about using this lav with a Zoom H1? It does cost a lot less then the normal Rode lavalier, does it need an adapter?

  6. Mike

    February 7th, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    I just ordered a new normal lavalier from rode. Will the rec app work with this mic and a 3.5 adapter? Could be pretty handy over stuffing our pants with an h4n.

  7. matthew mcglynn

    February 7th, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    @Mike, the Rode Rec app seems to work with any audio input. I tried the iXY, the built-in mic, and the Blue Mikey Digital. So long as the hardware recognizes that a mic is plugged in, then I think the answer is “yes,” Road Rec will drive it.

  8. henri

    February 7th, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Great job on the review.

    The SmartLav has too much noise for me.

    So much noise a fooley artist could use the noise level to simulate rain.

  9. Michael

    February 7th, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    @Guy, re using it with an extension cable direct into your camera, the connector is a specific TRRS one that apparently won’t work that way, according to Rode when I asked them – https://twitter.com/rodemics/status/299295587180883968

  10. Piotr

    February 7th, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    There is definitely a market for this but I would never tell a client that this is how I am recording the audio or rely upon a a device that is likely to run out of batteries or have other missteps that could hinder getting the audio right. Speaking in particular about the iPhone. But as a personal recording device I think its clever but not to ever be mistaken for or replaced by professional recording techniques and devices. Side note I would think that when audio recording an interview if there is the slightest chance that the talent will get up and move or turn his head to talk the I wouldn’t be putting a mic on a stand and I would be keeping a boom on the at all times. The reason I bring this up is that lavs have a tendency to suffer from a tilt of the head as the lav is usually attached to the chest this happens often when interviewing multiple talent. I do use the rode Lavalier and I do love its sound and low handling noise but I do know that its omni directional pattern isnt as rounded at the Sanken Cos11 and the rode lav mic durability is also at a loss comparative to the sanken but the rode lav strength lays in its price and its exchangeable parts but the sanken is industry standard for a reason. Sorry to rant just don’t want people to forget the soundies!

  11. Christopher w

    February 8th, 2013 at 1:17 am

    I would love to see a comparison of the new Rode SmartLav against the Sennheiser ME 2-2… The one that comes/came with the Sennheiser’s starter ‘presentation’ wireless kit.

  12. Chris

    February 11th, 2013 at 5:37 am

    it’s 60bucks – yeah I’ll take it and the iXY, they’re not going to sound as good as my pro gear but they’ll always both be on me, in my pocket or bag just like the iPhone, very handy!

    The new batch of lighning enabled iXYs hit in March and for $180
    I think this will be great too, I hope Rode add “Auphonic” to their upload list within the Rode REC (Road Wreck) app, which is great and already has Soundcloud and Dropbox, if you haven’t yet checked it out you need to – “Auphonic” is authomated and takes care of the loudness to EU broadcast and US broadcast levelling standards and cleans the noise floor etc, a great app which hopefully soon has it’s functionality built into SoundCloud.

  13. Chris

    February 11th, 2013 at 5:43 am

    sorry it’s Auphonic.com – it’s free on iOs and on computers it’s web based at Auphonic.

    They talk about this free service with it’s creators on Floss Weekly episode 240 on Leo Laportes TWiT podcast network here – http://twit.tv/show/floss-weekly/240.

    PS – Am I the only one that doesn’t understand why google and the like haven’t yet tried to buy SoundCloud? I mean this is the youtube of audio! it’s big already but it’s going to be HUGGGGGE soon.

  14. Jacek

    February 14th, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Please answer if this mic will work with other recording devices such as the Zoon h4n. #5Andreas also asked this question. Why is it that I can’t find a quality wired lav for $100????

  15. Steve Self

    February 28th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Where can I buy the SmartLav? As far as I can tell they are not “out in the wild” yet… Anyone have a link for buying?

  16. Ross

    March 5th, 2013 at 3:58 am

    Is there any way the smartlav could be hooked up to a MacBook for recording? Not sure if OSX Mountain Lion supports TRRS though? Any chance anyone could test it out and see if it’s recognised?

    Thanks!

  17. Travis - Minneapolis Wedding Photographer

    March 18th, 2013 at 8:41 am

    I’m curious to see how this stacks up against some of the other lav’s out there like the “squid” one or the more expensive lav mics like those that come with wireless systems like the Sennheiser g3 or Sony system. My purpose wouldn’t be to replace the more expensive units, but to be able to buy a handful of these and get many more recordings from a wedding (singer, instruments, each person speaking, etc.).

  18. Erin Stafford

    March 24th, 2013 at 11:59 am

    I want to have someone record my wedding video and audio with my iPad/iPhone. What would you suggest to utilize so that our vows (the ceremony) can be heard? Thanks!

  19. Chris

    April 17th, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    The smartlav will work in macs sure its tip ring ring sleeve .
    Jacek best wired lav for H4n hands down is the SHURE Sm93, SHURE have terrible resale so check eBay you’ll get it for under 100 and SHURE build their stuff tank like so even if its been kicked around it’ll still work as new. Even on the H4n there is very low noise with the sm93 hardly any hiss, likewise for a SHURE sm89 I use which makes me think the noise floor on the h4n is not so bad as people make out I think it’s people using bad mics.
    I think Rode will make a killing with the IXY and Smartlav just not sure how good the iXY will be for lightning, which is a tiny brittle connector also the headphone is right next to the lightning which means it’ll be blocked by iXY so rode will have to have audio monitoring pass through light ing into a headphone output built into the IXY lightning adapter which may not look as sexy as the 30 Pin version.

  20. TChristian

    April 17th, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Piotr the smartlav is an omni mic so heads turning aren’t a problem.
    In 2013 I say forget wedding photographers and soundies.
    A wedding photographer is a 24-70 and a 70-200 lens.
    A soundie is a sound devices 702 and a sennheiser 8040 mic, a painter is someone holding a paintbrush. As tech has become more affordable it’s levelled the playing field.
    Have a look on YouTube videos at some soundies and you see a bunch of morbidly obese 50 year olds, now why would I want a lazy sound man when I could buy the gear and do it myself without panting because I ate a big lunch. Fat = lazy, soundie = obsolete. Everything is DIY and own it.

  21. Ryszard. S.

    April 21st, 2013 at 9:35 am

    Thank Matthew you for good review. I was listening this two samples Rode SmartLav and iPhone internal mic on my Adam A7X. I notice that sound of Rode SmartLav is better but in this two samples you able to hear some hissing noise. Perhaps was recoded over 0.0 db. But any way for $ 60.00 is a good mic to have. I’m going to buy one.

  22. GREG

    May 10th, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Hello, i’ve looked all over the net for this question but could’nt find the answer. Does the smart lav works with a ZOOM H1?
    Thanks for helping me to find the answer.

  23. Graham Spice

    May 14th, 2013 at 6:44 am

    The iXY is stellar. Finally, some gain control in loud situations on an iOS device! I’m really impressed with it.

    The smartLAV is really noisy…too noisy for most professional situations. My thinking now is to get an inexpensive wired lav and solder an iOS end on it. Should work better than this one.

  24. Mariann

    May 21st, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Bought the smartlav today because they didn’t have any other lavs in at the moment. Not very impressed so far but I will try it in different situations. The seller had never tries it and wanted me to report back how it worked and I could return it if I didn’t like it. For the cheap price I might keep it as a back up.
    I plugged it into my H2n. Nothing happened. So it doesn’t seem to work :(

  25. Ingrid

    June 20th, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Sound is flawless with the app. So far I have not been able to transfer a file that is audible on a computer, but sounds great on the iphone. If you use a regular recorder, there is quite a bit of hiss in the background. Anyone know how to create a file that actually works when transferred to a computer. It may be my new windows 8 nightmare… I’m not sure.

  26. Feng

    July 4th, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Hello. Do you know wether is possible to record the sound with the Smartlav at the same time you are shooting video witt ProCamera app? Thank you. Feng

  27. Mike

    October 9th, 2013 at 7:32 am

    Hi. This is just to give the heads up to those interested who were asking if the Rode SmartLav can be connected to devices other than smartphones (like the Zoom recorders). And the answer is YES, as long as you build yourself an adapter cable. I made a little youtube video to illustrate the point.

    http://youtu.be/OCZlWMnA6iE

    Hope this helps
    Mike

  28. Tony A

    November 10th, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Does anyone know if there is an extension cable for the Smartlav so you can take video from a decent distance. I would say you need 2m at least.

  29. Mike

    November 14th, 2013 at 6:44 am

    As a follow up to my previous post and video I’d like to inform those interested that a cheap commercial adapter cable DOES exist. It is made by Startech and is available on amazon.com if you search for “StarTech MUYHSFMM 3.5mm 4 Pin to 2×3 Pin 3.5mm Headset Splitter Adapter – F/M”

    Mike

  30. Mike

    November 14th, 2013 at 6:49 am

    Direct (abbreviated link): http://snipurl.com/2860qtk

  31. Andy Barnard

    November 19th, 2013 at 10:53 am

    I recorded a client’s lecture using a Smartlav through an iPod touch using the Rode Rec ap. it was supposed to be for a video sound track. While I checked all systems’ (Rode Rec, Canon XA 10 & Final Cut Pro X) bit rates matched I found the audio I impossible to marry the audio to the picture because of drift… Meaning the audio wouldn’t fit the pictures. Most annoying!

  32. Mike

    November 21st, 2013 at 1:21 am

    Only some needed clarification about the StarTech adapter mentioned in my previous post. Like I said it DOES work, but please be aware it will ONLY record on the **left channel** of your stereo recorder. Whereas my homemade adapter will record on both channels.

  33. Parker

    January 13th, 2014 at 10:10 am

    How do I get rid of the hiss!? Easy ProTool/Audition solution? Or easy wasy to do it in the app?

  34. matthew mcglynn

    January 13th, 2014 at 10:35 am

    @Parker – tiny microphone capsules will hiss. It is unavoidable. You can try a high shelf EQ to roll off the highs. Use your ear.

  35. Bob Christy

    January 23rd, 2014 at 4:07 am

    Hi, Anyone out there know the wiring of the Rode SmartLav. It uses the TRRS jack plug and I wish to change the plug for a TRS (3 pole) so that it will fit into my Tascam recorder. Only if I plug in the 4 pole TRRS half way will it work so I need to change the original plug to a 3 pole. I could use a female 4 pole to male 3 pole but still would need to know what pin is for the mic etc Thanks

  36. Mike

    January 31st, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    @Bob Christy

    please watch this video http://youtu.be/OCZlWMnA6iE

Leave a comment