What is a "lavalier" Microphone and How to Use One
| Reuben Howe
We recently took a dive in to USB studio microphones and examined terms like Condenser and Directional mics. However, Studio Microphones are just one type of recording device. A second is Lavalier Microphones (Also called Lapel Mics for reasons that will become apparent).
Learn all about "lav mics" and their pros and cons today
What Does Lavalier Microphone Mean?
The terminology of audio tech can be a little complex and carry very specific technical requirements as we saw with Polar Patterns. On the other hand, sometimes terms are self-explanatory!
In this case a "lavalier" is a term originally for a piece of jewellery. The particular design has a stone set into the necklace itself rather than hanging from it off of a loop. The jewel is more akin to a charm on a charm bracelet than the pearl is a hanging earing, for example.
While the history of the style is riveting, the most important thing to know is that lavalier jewels were set inline with the chain without a loop or hook.
How does any of that matter to modern microphones?
A lavalier microphone is inspired by Lavalier jewellery in that the microphone sits seamlessly on its cable, with the small addition of a clip so that the mic can attach to chains, belts, lapels, collars, ties and more!
Just like the jewel, a lavalier mic will attach and sit directly inline with your current clothes and accessories rather than hanging off of you or needing an anchor.
Are Lavalier Mics Condenser?
Combining this new type of microphone with the other microphone jargon, you might wonder if Lavalier Microphones (Lav Mics for short) can benefit from those features; condenser, polar patterns, noise gates.
Lavalier Mics are almost always not condenser microphones. This is not a sign of low-quality but a sign of the intended use. To elaborate; condenser microphones are more sensitive than normal microphones with a wider audible range. This is great in a silent studio with high-quality instruments.
However, out and about doing on-location interviews and video recordings a condenser mic would pick up traffic, wind, seagull caws and airplanes going over due to the sensitivity.
A lavalier microphone keeps it simple, not using condenser engineering. This limits the audio range but lowers the chance of background noises intruding on your recording!
How to Make a Lapel Mic Sound Good
Due to a Lapel Mic's small size and focus on portability, they sacrifice many of the technologies that make studio microphones so clean. However, all is not lost! While a Lapel Mic cannot be condensed or use a stable boom-arm, there are ways to improve the sound quality:
#1 Check The Distance Between the Source and the Mic
The very first thing to check when using a lapel mic is the position it is clipped in. Just like how a directional studio mic needs the right set-up to work, so too does the simpler lapel mic.
The key thing is the distance between the microphone and the speakers mouth / instrument. If a lapel mic is too close to the audio source it will begin to "peak".
"Peaking" is a phenomenon in audio recording in which the recorded audio exceeds the limits of the microphone. In this case, the volume.
When the audio is so close that the sound waves hit the mic with full force, the small microphone can't take the amplitude and records fuzzy, bad-quality audio.
To avoid this make sure the voice carries through the air a short way before being received by the microphone. A minimum of 15 and maximum of 30cm is recommended for these lapel mics by August International for example.
#2 Apply a Wind-Shield
One of the few attachments that a Lavalier Mic and a Studio Mic share is the application of a windshield muff. These foam covers simply pull over the top of the microphone and reduce the impact of fast winds and background noises by physically muffling them!
Of course, the foam doesn't know what audio is background and which is for recording so when using a foam windshield muff make sure the wearer is speaking more loudly and clearly than normal.
#3 Fix it in Post
A little reference for anyone who has worked in recording. "Fix it in post" is a throwaway line performers use when editing software will remove an error, so a re-take of the actual audio isn't required. Ordinarily the work to fix it in post is actually far more effort than doing the re-take so the phrase is used with a mix of irony and passive aggression. But, I digress.
In the case of lapel microphones you can use free software like Audible to remove background noises from the recording after the recording is already made. Filtering certain frequencies and volumes of sound can digitally refine your audio in many situations which has consistent background noises like traffic or audience chatter.
In situations with dramatic changes in background noise, particularly if it overlaps the speaker, "fix it in post" will be less successful.
#4 Use Direct Cable Connections
Lapel mics are useful for their lightweight and versatility, but you still want the signal to be as looked-after as possible. Rather than using a 3.5mm microphone and then converting it through a USB adapter, simply use a USB microphone.
Both 3.5mm and USB / USB-C microphones are available to ensure you can plug right in to phones, tablets, laptops and more. Choosing the right cable connection for your audio is vital, with speech only needing a strong USB connection while musical instruments should use 3.5mm for full stereo recordings.
Consider Your Options
Choosing the right tool for the job matters when you want to make the most of every interview, conference, meeting and lesson. Using a lavalier mic is certainly a viable option, but if you have access to a flat surface in a controlled environment then a desk condenser USB microphone will almost always outclass a lapel mic.
Make your decision based on the real-world use you're planning to use the mic for so that you can ensure the best quality recording possible!